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Working on the BIG project – “Music for the Head & Heart”

To be revealed in 2019…

I set up Original Ukulele Songs three years ago and its been quite a ride bringing together many amazing artists. I originally had the idea to sponsor stages for uke based music and did actually do this for a UK event back in 2016. However it taught me that much as I love uke based original songs, this sector is far too niche and I needed to think much bigger. Also as with niche music genres there tends to be a lot of unhelpful politics and status seeking, so I started working on what I call THE BIG PROJECT, with a few like minds.

OUS was always a beta tester for what will be known as “Music for The Head and Heart” This will be an international platform which will operate by invitation only and grown organically. There will be a strong web presence as well as live events and collaborations. We already have 12 artists involved, but its a lot of back-end work, so it won’t launch until later in 2019. It’s a big undertaking and as with all worthwhile projects, requires a lot of attention to detail, especially on the back end. 

The focus is on the love of music in all forms and what inspires artists to create and perform music. I’ll gradually be giving out more details and inviting artists to the platform. It’s NOT uke based, and quite deliberately more expansive in reach and content. 

Regards

NC

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What to watch out for in 2019 

2018 is almost concluded, so we thought we’d highlight a few things in “Uke world” to watch out for in 2019

Phil Doleman original album due 

Phil Doleman

Phil Doleman has been one of the leading lights in the ukulele world and has produced some excellent teaching materials essential for all ukulele players. In 2019 he is releasing an original album and we recommend  folks to watch out for it here

MUMF Festival 

There are many ukulele festivals around the world and especially in the UK. MUMF is a breath of fresh air in doing something different rather than repeating the same formula. Bravo and check out the festival HERE 

Geraldine Festival in NZ

I have been watching Fi and Hugh Mc Cafferty’s work from afar and blogged on Geraldine earlier this year. Without doubt they are pushing the boundaries in entertainment. Check them out HERE  

Matt Stead Workshops ukulele store

Matt Stead has been key to creating some great learning opportunities with his Uke retreats. He also has an excellent store for instruments that makes him my number one choice in the UK with great quality and selection of instruments

Check him out HERE  

 Best Regards

Nick Cody

Founder of OUS

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Finding Just the Right Word by Mike Turner

There’s no question I’m my own worst critic. I write and re-write, edit and re-edit, to find just the right word to convey the story I’m trying to tell; get just the right timing and phrasing down to match the melodies I compose. In this essay, I invite you to a visit to my lyric-crafting world.

I’m envious of those who have the ability to pump out a fully-formed lyric on the first draft, in ten minutes flat. I know those people are out there – I’ve met a few. But I’ll never be one of them.

Let me give you an example. I spent months working on a 3-chord rocker, basically about a guy begging a girl to have sex (which, truth be told, is what about 80% of male-written rock songs are about). It’s intentionally what I like to call a, “lyrically challenged” song – that is, a song with minimal lyrics, relying heavily on the musical and performance elements to carry the song and convey the emotion. In fact, this is one of the few songs I’ve written, that started, not with lyrics, but with a chord progression and musical “hook”, with lyrics added later.

Anyway, I spent two days or so sweating over one word in a couplet and I thought showing the process to you would give you an idea of the warped levels my writing and editing can reach.

The couplet went through multiple versions until it came down to these two versions.

[version 1]
We’ll join our hearts and minds, let our spirits bind
Our souls will combine

[version 2]
We’ll join our hearts and minds, let our spirits bind
Our souls will entwine

Version 1 “sang” a bit better in the melody.

And yet, I’ve gone with version 2 in the final. Why, you may ask?

Well, if you go back to some of my earlier blogs on this site, I think it’s very important that we put something of our authentic selves, in everything we write. Part of that, for me, means that I make an effort NOT to write anything in my songs, that I don’t personally believe. Obviously that can’t be a hard and fast rule – I’ve written songs in which the protagonist murders someone, and I’m not a big believer in murder and violence (27 years in law enforcement will do that to you – and in those songs, I try to make sure the protagonist pays a price for their transgressions). But whenever I can, I try to write things that, in their underlying meaning, reflect my worldview.

And, while it’s a subtle distinction, that’s what’s happened here. It has to do with something I believe about relationships. We’ve all heard about two lives, hearts, souls becoming one, etc., etc. My wife and I, by contrast, believe that while as a loving couple we mutually support and encourage each other and work towards mutually beneficial ends, we should not and do not surrender our individuality by coming together in love and partnership.

Now, as I say, it’s subtle – but to me, the word “combine,” used here in the context of the song, infers a merging of two souls into one – in direct opposition to what I believe. The word “entwine” by contrast, to me expresses the joining of two souls, curling around each other in a mutually supportive way.

One my argue with my definitions – as I said, it’s a subtle (but to me, important) distinction – but what counts here is what the words mean to me. Why? Because they’re expressing what I believe. They’re part of my authentic self that I’m injecting into the song. Even if the words might not make a difference to my listeners reading them on the page, they would sense SOMETHING inauthentic if I chose to sing the word that I don’t really believe with – and they’ll sense SOMETHING authentic in my performance when I’m more invested in the word I do believe in. So, “entwine” it is.

I’d also point out that I just like the word “entwine” a little bit better – it’s not a word you hear every day, particularly in song; where “combine” is pretty common. I like the little extra “oomph” that the more unusual word gives.

Imagine going through this type of analysis for an entire song, and it becomes easier to understand why I can take weeks or even months to come to a “final” version of one of my creations. Clearly this isn’t the only way, or even a preferred way, to write lyrics – just ask the folks here who can turn out 10-minute masterpieces, or who can post 3 new lyrics a day, every day. My hat’s truly off to them. But that’s not the way I’m wired, that’s not the way I work, and I won’t “release” a song until the words I’m using, convey the message I’m trying to convey.

Anybody else go through this type of inspired lunacy?

Oh, and for anyone interested, here’s a link to a work tape of the final version of “Come On”: https://youtu.be/5k3d2Lx2rHw

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The Importance of encouragement and support

The FB OUS forum has been running for over 2 years and now has over 3000 members. Its generally a friendly supportive space and over the last 26 months many of the artists who have posted there now have pages on this site.

I recently deleted a new member, which is highly unusual as most people who join the site are there to support other artists and to post their own material. This person decided to do neither and even suggested that promoting original material was “an obsession” When asked to perhaps post something original himself he made an excuse and ducked the opportunity! I welcome open discussion and debate but only with basic good manners, so we nipped this in the bud!

I’m however grateful to experience this nonsense as it reminded me of the importance of encouragement and support for artists. The irony was that the character who posted endless negativity was not really a shining example of great vocals or musicality and could have learned some useful skills from the OUS family.

As established or aspiring artists we are all on a learning curve of one sort or another. Hats off to anyone who aspires to entertain others, but special kudos for anyone who puts themselves out there to create something original. Creating something new, requires a genuine courage to put yourself out there. Yes, not everything is going to be great first time round, but that’s the same for everyone. Developing any craft takes time and application.  OUS is all about creating a safe space to encourage and support creativity. This does not mean suggesting that everyone and everything is “brilliant” but at the same time slamming everything as being “sub standard” is equally naïve and unhelpful.

Special thanks to Alan Thornton and Harry Parker who moderate the FB group and to all those who have posted there. Also thanks to those who have contributed guest blog articles here. We are a space dedicated to creating something new.

Best Regards and Merry X Mas to all

Nick Cody

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Victoria Vox knocks it out of the park

Victoria Vox and Jack Maher are the OUS 2017 artists of the year.

I therefore expect music from Victoria to be of a very high standard, BUT in my view this latest track just out is a new level

Go listen here, I’ll let the music speak for itself

This is really what excellent music is all about and I for one look forward to hearing the full album

BRAVO! (:

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Is the Ukulele a gimmick? (As seen by the general public)

If somebody told me five years ago I’d fall in love with the ukulele as an instrument, I would not have believed you. Back then I had no idea of the sonic possibilities or the diversity of sounds possible with the instrument and imagined the ukulele a gimmick in many ways.

Of course I now know better!

An accepted definition of a gimmick is

“something designed to attract extra attention, interest, or publicity”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a gimmick of course, but personally I would love to change this stereotypical image that many people have which does not reflect the wonder of this musical instrument.

A few things started to change my mind about this misconception. The first was seeing the superb Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain play their version of Shaft on YouTube. I had always imagined the ukulele as a solo instrument and a novelty item for cabaret acts. There’s nothing wrong with cabaret and/or novelty acts, but in my mind its not what I would call great music. The second thing to change my mind was purchasing a Collings pre production concert ukulele in New York from Zeke in Matt Umanov Guitars.

I knew Collings by reputation to be an excellent brand and saw the concert in the store before trying it out. Zeke enthused massively about ukes and was the spark that set me in motion to create everything that has subsequently occurred including creating this site. When I played the Collings concert I had no idea how to play it, BUT I love the size of it and the sound. I now own 24 ukuleles and am fascinated by how these tiny instruments can be used to express some truly excellent music. I have also recorded over 30 original songs written on the uke, and played a number of great gigs in the UK and overseas.

I set up the OUS site to showcase how the ukulele can be used to create a wide range of diverse and fascinating music. I deliberately focused on original music as a lot of what I saw and heard online were endless cover versions of classic songs. many of these to my ears although enthusiastic, were not great to listen to. I started to notice that there is a wide diversity of opinion for those who love this instrument. There are lots of social meet up groups that run strum along’s and have a great deal of fun. I have run a PA system for such groups and its clear that this social connection is a love for many people. There is also a huge number of people online playing cover versions of classic songs. This is of variable quality, but its great that people are learning how to express themselves through this instrument.

The growth of OUS showed me that there are also a great number of musicians who are interested in creating new music for the wider world. I was blown away by the quality of a lot of the submitted OUS video footage. One of the aims of OUS was to show the wider world the ukulele is a genuine dynamic and extraordinary instrument.  Despite all of this my view is that the ukulele is more often than not seen as a gimmick or novelty item. I appreciate that many people love presenting the uke in this way and many events and festivals encourage this impression. As with all niche interests there are some genuine fanatics in the ukulele world who talk about “non ukers” Fortunately there are also many great musicians who appreciate that the ukulele does not in itself posses any magical powers and is one of many instruments.

In recent years Grace VanderWaal won America’s got talent and of course this brought an awareness of the ukulele to a wider audience. Personally her material is almost everything I hate about “packaged artists” deeply affected vocal expression and production coated with endless reverb, BUT clearly I am in a minority as many folks love this type of output. I increasingly see the ukulele presented as a prop for some artists. In “the music business” the record companies want a return on their artist investments and this is especially true with talent shows. The label “ukulele” has in my view niche appeal and I would never describe The Small Change Diaries as “a ukulele band” Similarly if I promoted the album launch this November as “a ukulele evening” I know from conversations we would have had far less people attend it.

In stark contrast Jake Shimabukuro is a guy who is an exceptional musician and who also has caught the public’s imagination especially with his brilliant covers of Queen and Beatles material.  Another great example of someone I consider a brilliant creative artist is  Eddie Vedder who I saw live in New York where he played his “Ukulele Songs” set of all original material. It was a brilliant showcase for the instrument and demonstrated how the uke is a fantastic tool for singer songwriters. Of course brilliant songwriters like George Harrison, Elvis Costello and Loudon Wainwright 3rd all know this. I love writing with and playing ukes, but of course its not the only instrument I play. For me the uke is a truly extraordinary instrument and my hope is that increasingly more people will discover this for themselves.

 

 

 

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The BIGGER Picture….

I set up the Original Ukulele Songs platform almost exactly two years ago to explore the interest in artists creating original music. This was always to be part of a much bigger project and not limited alone to any one instrument.

Much as I love the ukulele as an instrument, I am increasingly aware that the image of the ukulele in the public domain is not always a positive one and it many instances can be quite the opposite. In the last two years I have come to realise that there are many superb artists who are invested in creating original material. There are also many who see the ukulele as more of a focus for social meet ups and that of course is totally valid but quite different.

Many who play the ukulele love mass strumming, sing alongs, uke festivals and all such activities. There’s a genuine demand for all of these activities, but the focus is not really on the creation and delivery of music. While many have embraced the OUS platform, there are understandably those who prefer to play cover versions of existing well known previously recorded material. Most ukulele festivals prefer to book artists who play cover versions and there’s very limited opportunities for the public to hear anything new. I fully appreciate the commercial considerations in shifting tickets for such events, but remain surprised at what I see to be a really missed opportunity in reaching a wider audience. There’s an enthusiasm simply for the instrument itself which inevitably is not shared by a wider public. I even hear the term “non ukers” used by people suggesting very much an “us and them” scenario. This is fine, BUT lets remember that the appeal will only ever be to a relatively small market…

My interest is to take what I have found in the OUS experiment and create something much bigger that maintains the focus on quality of material. This is never going to be for everyone, but  am delighted to discover I am not the only person with such an aspiration. In 2018 and 2019 I’ll be rolling out a much bigger platform that explores bring the very best music to a much wider audience. In the meantime special thanks to everyone who continues to support the OUS platform and makes this such a great place to visit, whether on FB or here on this site.

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Does it really have to be a ukulele? by Percy Copley

I was lucky. My first instrument was the ukulele. From a young age I began playing songs I found in old song books with ukulele chords printed over them. I played along with dance bands and Formby 78s and had a great time. I didn’t realise I had found myself in the era that suited the ukulele so well and the ukulele suited that era too. As I then branched out into other types of songs and music things became a little more complicated. Songs were in odd keys, didn’t have the chord windows printed on them, and I seemed to be missing something. But I carried on regardless as it all seemed to work out in the end.
Then one day I found myself in a jazz band. The ukulele worked ok but I was missing that banjo sound. I realised that I needed something different. A different instrument perhaps…
So I found myself with a banjo. A big one. I actually ended up with a 5-string before I got myself a four string tenor. And so I embarked on the trail of different instruments for different sounds and different music styles. Later followed the 5-string banjo, guitar, and mandolin – and bagpipes.
The ukulele is often promoted as some kind of magic instrument that can do anything. In some ways I agree – up to a point. In the same way you could say the guitar is good for everything – up to a point. The ukulele is a great tool to strum chords on and accompany a song, happy or sad, fast or slow. It can also be finger-picked to produce melodic lines and song accompaniment. Its portability and adaptability make it a great tool. But sometimes you just need something else.
When I first started using the guitar it seemed to be rather like a ukulele with two extra strings on. I was not at ease to start with. It seemed huge. I subconsciously avoided the big thick strings on the bass side. But sometimes I realised that that big guitar sound was something else. I began to use more bass notes. Different kinds of chords. I started to play it like a guitar. It was a whole new instrument, even if it did have some similarities to the ukulele. In fact those similarities hid the difference. Strumming a Beatles song just worked better. I had also been playing round with the 5-string banjo which eventually led me into the bluegrass, folk and country world. Later on I started on the mandolin. I wanted a way to play fiddle tunes without a fiddle.
Each instrument has its sound. Its place. Its uses. Some overlap. There are some things I do on the ukulele that I do on the banjo and visa versa. Some on the mandolin and guitar. And so on. But there are also many things that I only do on one instrument.
It all comes down to personal choice and judgement. The sound I want, what I want to sing to, what I feel sounds best for the song or tune.
People often ask me which is my favourite. Impossible to say. I don’t have one. They all have their place, their job to do. I recently did an evening where I played everything on the ukulele. Most was absolutely fine, if a little confusing sometimes. However there was the odd occasion when I thought “this really sounds better on the guitar”. Or banjo, or mandolin.
Sometimes the sound inspires a song to sing. Whether self written or not. Songwriters get their inspiration where they find it. Sometimes an instrument or a sound can unlock something. A big fat D chord on a guitar can sometimes open up the mind more than a C chord on the ukulele. Or a fingerpicking ukulele riff feels better than on the mandolin. They all appeal to different sensors in the brain. And on some occasions that can lead to something I wouldn’t have found with a different instrument.
This is not to put down the ukulele or any other of the instruments. Quite the opposite. It makes me realise the strength and value of each instrument, and encourages me to make choices based on what is best for the sound and the song, rather than insisting it has to be  all on one instrument. The more instruments you can use comfortably and well then the more strings you will have to your bow as a performer and a writer.
The one down side is making a choice for a gig. If you play fifty songs on twenty different instruments it’s going to be a hard gig! So I try to keep it as simple as possible. It is great for an audience to have variety, especially if I am solo. But too much messing about taking instruments off and on, tuning, sound etc can be a bore for any listener. So I try to use each instrument for several songs in a row if possible. And limit it to two or three instruments. (Travelling is a great decider for how much you want to drag around!) The songs are more important than showing off how many instruments I can cram into one set!
Ultimately it comes down to this. I love my instruments. I like to have several out at a time. Sometimes I reach for one more than another. I get a feeling for one for a song or maybe another. Sometimes I might try the same song on different instruments. But I don’t feel I must impose one instrument on myself more than another. I love the ukulele. But sometimes I just have to use something else.
So – ukulele was my first instrument. But it is not my only instrument. And they all feel better for knowing each other.

 

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You Can Die From Over-Exposure by Mike Turner

I have a friend who runs a local “listening room” venue. A few months back, he booked in a very popular local singer/songwriter, and looked forward to a standing-room-only crowd, at $15 a head.  But come show night, only about 10 people showed up for the performance.

Could it be because the performer had three other shows that week at local bar venues, for free? How many of his fans made the choice to see him that week for free, over a burger and beer, versus for a $15 ticket price?

Another friend completed a recording of his latest original song, and uploaded it to his Web-based audio platform. He posted the link to social media, and looked forward to growing his “viewed” and “liked” count. But after a week’s time, only a handful of people had listened to the cut.

Could it be because within a half-hour’s time, he posted the link to 15 different singer/songwriter groups on FaceBook? I saw them all in my news feed – how many times do you suppose I listened to the track?

The truth is, our music is a commodity. And whether we’re looking for a monetary payout for consumption of your product; or streams, views, likes and shares, flooding the market and overwhelming our fan base can be a poor strategy.

Let’s take the listening room example. The singer/songwriter has a large local fan base, and is popular on the local bar circuit. So, the marketing strategy for the listening room gig should be different from his normal bar show. Maybe he bills it as an, “all original,” night; or promises to debut some of his latest stuff; or works up a special merchandising tie-in for the event. He needs to give fans a reason to attend THIS show as a special event, even if they just saw him in a free bar gig – otherwise, he risks fans skipping the pay-to-attend event, in favor of the next night’s bar gig.

An alternative would be to branch out a bit locally – if he does a lot of bar gigs in one local town, forego the listening room gig in the same town – find a venue a town or so over, where he can attract some fans from town “A” as well as some from town “B.”

In the audio release/social media example, the singer/songwriter could stagger his social media posts to 2-3 a day. He still reaches the same audience, but at a more measured pace – and, for those fans who are members of multiple groups, there comes a better likelihood that they’ll give multiple listens to the track as it appears in their news feeds over successive days. In fact, given the way that FaceBook news feeds work, if I belong to, say, 10 groups, and my singer/songwriter friend posts to all 10 groups within a few minutes of each other, there’s a fair likelihood that the posts will become “buried” in my news feed, and I may not see them at all!

I have a third friend who is a prolific songwriter – he’ll record and post 3-4 new songs every day. I’d love to listen to them all – but the truth is, when 4 songs by this guy appear one after another in my news feed, I might listen to one or two, and then I’m a bit burned out on him for the moment. Will I circle back later and listen to the remaining tracks? Most likely not – particularly since tomorrow, there’ll be another 3-4 new tracks in my news feed (how in the world he has time to do all this is beyond me). Far more effective to post one, or at most two, a day, and then not every day – I’m far more likely to listen to all of them as they cross my virtual “desk.”

You see the point. Over-saturation of your fan base works to your detriment – folks will skip your live show if they know they can catch you a night or two later, and particularly if they can do it for free versus a ticket price for admission. On-line fans will listen to a song once if they see it posted on multiple sites on the same day, but perhaps give it multiple listens if “prompted” to do so every couple of days in different groups they subscribe to. And they’ll listen to more of your songs if they’re not bombarded with them hour after hour and day after day.

There’s an old saying in the theater – “Leave them wanting more.” That’s good advice when it comes to strategizing how you roll out your on-line and live performances.

Because remember – you can die from over-exposure.

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Wow 97 original artists now on the main OUS site

These last two weeks have seen some of the fastest growth with OUS. The FB page continues to attract members and crucially this site now has 97 original artists with their own pages. The OUS platform will be two years old next month and is unique in bringing together the very best original artists from across the globe.

In a world of cover versions its truly rare to see and hear so many performers that focus on creating original material. Bravo to everyone who has contributed to date making this a great place to showcase the ukulele as being a great instrument for creating inspiring, entertaining, original music.

I’m currently looking at live opportunities for OUS artists. Its clear to me that many of the traditional outlets don’t really showcase original talents in the best light and its time to explore better models for performances.

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