Archive | October, 2017

Original Ukulele Songs – Two year anniversary

Almost exactly two years ago I had the idea to set up the Original Ukulele Songs platform. In November 2015 in a conversation with my dear friend and band mate Jessica Bowie I lamented the lack of original ukulele music online and at “ukulele festivals” There were occasional glimpses of some original work, but there was an ocean of cover versions that flooded the internet.  I remember saying “I simply cannot bear hearing yet another version of “You are my sunshine” To clarify, I don’t hate cover versions of classic songs BUT, those classics were once original songs and without artists taking the time to craft original material all we are left with is endless recycling of original material.

I started OUS by setting up the FB platform that I described as “Phase 1” of OUS. I was surprised at the amount of attention we received even in the first few months. Even though I clearly stated that all material needed to be ORIGINAL, in the first nine months we had endless posts from uke artists that would posts the same cover versions to every single uke FB group. This meant a certain amount of polite culling and after a while it settled down and we started to build some momentum. I commented “When  we hit 1000 subscribers, we’ll start phase two” Inevitably folks would say “What’s phase 2?” I replied “When we hit 1000 members, you will find out”

I’m acutely aware that FB is a useful medium for discussion, but its a company in its own right and its better to own your own platform. With this in mind with my tech guy Alun Richards we set up www.originalukulelesongs.com. The purpose of this central site was to create a platform that would showcase the best artists that originally posted on the FB page. Each artist would have their own page and at that time I had no idea about how this site would grow, The emphasis was on gathering together many skilled artists from all over the globe. One of the first videos that really caught my attention was Alan Thornton’s “Mary’s moving on” I thought “wow, this is really great!”  The FB page became and remains a daily inspiration and Alan has become central to the OUS platform.

I have been blown away by the terrific quality of music that is now on this site and the daily postings on the FB page.

 

At the start of 2017 I wanted to start exploring creating better live opportunities for original artists. With this in mind OUS sponsored a stage at the GNUF ukulele festival in Huddersfield. The stage had a four hour 20 min slot on the Sunday of the festival and we had seven artists to play in that period. I chose four of the artists and the material was very well received.

This response inspired further thinking for developing bigger opportunities for live playing and I’m running some beta tests which allow for better artist exposure. Prior to the festival I offered an open house to artists and we had an excellent attendance highlighted with the superb Victoria Vox and Jack Maher playing in my kitchen. These folks are the OUS artists for 2017, smart well delivered music at its very best.

Special thanks to all those who have supported the platform to date and all those who have contributed articles to the site. We are a small but mighty growing group. We now have 100 artists on the main site and over 3000 members on the FB page. As I always say “Its our site, I simply direct traffic” I’m now looking at expanding the platform in 2018 with live showcases in the UK and overseas where the wider public can experience the power and inspiration that stems from the mighty uke.

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Dani Joy

 

Dani Joy is a California based singer/songwriter/instructor and proud featured artist of Ko’aloha Ukulele.
Her world influenced musical style is soothing and romantic, blending old time jazz with Bossa nova/exotica genres.
​She is most noted for her crooning alto vocals and tasteful ukulele fingerpicking & accompaniment.

 

 

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Listening Rooms and House Concerts by Mike Turner

Two emerging trends here in the United States, offer options for writers seeking venues for the performance of original songs: the “listening room,” and “house concerts.”

It’s a sad fact that live venues most often available to local writer/performers – restaurants and bars/pubs – are not optimal for the performance of original music. Why? Because such venues are not primarily dedicated to music performance, and not all patrons are primarily there for the musical experience. Restaurants, bars/pubs and the like exist primarily for eating, drinking and socializing. Live music, when offered, is principally there as an adjunct to those activities – “background noise,” as it were. Yes, live acts are used as a draw for patrons – but the primary business of these establishments is eat/drink, and truth be told, that’s the major reason most patrons are there, too.

So the audience is automatically focused on things other than music: their food, their drinks, their family and friends. They’re not primarily focused on the music; they’re certainly not focused on lyrics and music they’re unfamiliar with, or have never heard before. Cover tunes they know and can groove along with may, perhaps, temporarily distract them from the primary reasons they’re present. But songs they’ve never heard before? It’s possible they’ll listen – but it’s just as likely that they’ll push the music to the background and focus on other things.

So, if restaurants, bars and pubs aren’t the best venues for those of us performing original tunes, what are our options? What venues can we find where the focus is on the music and performance?

Here in the States, two options have developed: the listening room, and the house concert. A listening room is a business venue – perhaps the basement or back room of a restaurant or bar/pub, perhaps a room dedicated to the purpose – that is set aside to present artists in an environment where the focus is on a respectful, attentive audience experience. Generally, no food, or the most basic of snack-type foods (chips/crisps, etc.) and only a minimal bar (beer/wine/soft drinks) is offered. Patrons are actively discouraged from talking, texting, etc. while the performance is underway. The setting is designed to be intimate – seating typically might accommodate 40-50 patrons, although some are larger – and to facilitate a closer connection and interaction between performers and audience.

Because the listening room is a business, there’s usually a set admission price, often termed an “artist donation.” Some listening rooms pay the full gate to the artist; others have an agreed-upon split to help the venue cover costs. Generally (though not always) the venue keeps the full amount of bar receipts. The artist typically will be given a small table to display “brand” items (CDs, DVDs, posters, etc) for sale, with the artist keeping the receipts. A key concept here is that the venue will expect to make money to cover costs and expenses.

A house concert, by contrast, is a private function hosted in a private residence (or, more rarely, in a venue such as a reception hall, rented expressly for the purpose). The host is typically a fan of the performer, and networks with other fans to provide a core audience. The key concept here is, “private function.” Attendance is by invitation only. The “house” typically does not provide food or drink; audience members may be encouraged to bring a dish to pass, pot-luck style, and to bring their own beverages. Like the listening room, the “house” will suggest an “artist donation” from attendees, but it is not mandatory – a key point in the US, which helps to avoid potential tax and business implications for charging admission. Unlike the listening room, the “house” makes no money from the event – proceeds from the “artist donations” go to the artist.

Publicity may be split between the venue and the performer – but it’s important to note that operators of listening rooms and house concerts, will expect the performer to work her/his fan base in the area to bring in attendees. House concert hosts in particularly, since they typically are fans of the performer, will network with other local fans to build a core audience for the show. But the room/house operators will be keeping their expenses to a minimum, so artists are expected to bring a good part of their audience to a given venue for their show.

You can sense that these are more guidelines than hard-and-fast “rules” for either type of venue. The important points of distinction are the “business” character of the listening room, versus the “private function” character of the house concert. Audience size is limited to, in the case of listening rooms, what the fire marshal allows for occupancy of a given room; and for house concerts, what the house will reasonably hold (and what the neighbors will reasonably put up with!).

Both of these types of concerts are trending “up” here in the US. Both overcome the typical issues of a restaurant/bar/pub. The concert is specifically dedicated to the music. Distractions such as food/drink service are kept to a minimum or eliminated altogether. Patrons are encouraged to focus on the performance and discouraged from talking or engaging in other activities that distract from the performers. Interaction between artists and audience is facilitated and encouraged.

Listening rooms and house concerts are not just for local performers. They are increasingly being used as platforms for regional, and even national, touring artists. An artist doing a tour of major cities in a region, can look for listening rooms in intermediate cities to set up gigs between tour dates. And artists are using social media platforms to find fans in smaller locales to host house concerts. In some cases, the host may also provide meals and a couch to crash on, to hold down the artist’s expenses.

The result is rewarding for both artist and audience. I’ve performed my original songs in both bars/pubs and listening rooms, and attended small house concerts. The experience is like night and day. As a performer, in the listening room/house concert environment, you can more directly engage the audience with comments about your songs, banter, and more emotional input in your performance. And you can far more readily gage audience reaction – which songs connect, which songs perhaps need more work. As an audience member, you can actually listen to the songs, hear and understand the lyrics, catch the nuances of performance, feel a direct connection with the artist. The musical experience is enriched for everyone involved.

There is ample information available on the Internet about how to set up a listening room or house concert experience. Both are viable options for writers looking to showcase their works to audiences who are there to listen. Consider the listening room/house concert options when planning your future gigs.

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Finding Your Muse by Jon Rissik

 In my experience there are three key components to writing an original song; the instrumental arrangement, the vocal melody and the lyrics. In order to create something that works as a coherent whole, these three elements need to have both an individual power and the capacity to work together to form something stronger.
Unsurprisingly, many of the songwriters I have spoken to feel comfortable with one of these components more than the other two. Personally I find that writing instrumental arrangements and vocal melodies come quite easily. My ukulele playing gets me by, but has its limits and although I am constantly trying to stretch myself, I find that putting together interesting chord progressions is a relatively simple task. The same goes for finding a melody. Although I am more confident in my singing than my playing, I really know the tones and range that suit the limitations of my voice. I also know the style of songs that I want to perform. That’s not to say I am constantly ‘playing it safe’, but that I know what I like and I am at that stage in my songwriting – and life in general – where I can write for myself first, and then hope that others like it. So, if arrangements and melodies are a relative box-tick, where do I struggle? You guessed it – I am lyrically challenged. How often do you really listen to the lyrics of a song? Others I am sure will disagree, but personally I find that the melody and overarching tone of a song are the components that excite me – or turn me off – to a piece of music.
Conversely, I am rarely either instantly put-off or attracted to a song because of its subject matter, lyrical wizardry or clichéd couplets. For me, if the arrangement and melody is the skin of the onion, the melody is the first layer beneath that, critical to the overall sensory experience, but not the first flavour to reach the mouth. So if they matter less, why do I find lyrics so darned hard? Why can I nail down a melody and arrangement in an hour, and yet find myself pouring over the accompanying lyrics for weeks! Well, I think it may have something to do with age and circumstance. Let me explain: Some of the most memorable popular lyrics ever written were born out of the passions of youth. Those years when love burns brightest, when pain cuts deepest, and when there is a naivety of the wider world. Stevie Wonder wrote ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’ at the tender age of 15, Kate Bush penned the hauntingly beautiful ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ when she was a mere 13 years of age, and George Michael famously wrote his most enduring song, ‘Careless Whisper’ – including that sax intro – as a 17 year old in Bushey, Hertfordshire.
Okay, so these three artists possess songwriting and performing abilities that sit beyond my wildest imaginings, but I reference them to illustrate the point that very often artists write their best material at a young age, when they feel emotions most acutely, when their well of creativity is at its most full and when they quite simply have lots of stories to tell. Fast forward over the careers of many successful artists and how often will you hear it said that although the body is willing and the raw talent remains undiminished, the creative juices have stopped following. I believe that one of the causes of this is security, be that financial or emotional. I am 48, and I consider myself to be very lucky. I am thankful to have a pretty good job and a loving family. I find writing about finding love, or losing love, or generally being down-on-your-luck to be challenging as a result. I just can’t fake it with any conviction. It feels false to me and therefore I think that any audience I play to will see it as such. The same goes for what could be described as ‘angry’ or rebellious songs. I might have written a song about the current US President (‘Ship Of Fools’) but that’s almost too easy a target. In general I struggle to write songs about ‘The Man’ because in many ways, I am The Man – privileged and middle-class. My life is far from perfect, but I am very content, and that’s not a condition that makes for dramatic, autobiographical storytelling. I need to find my muse – my source of inspiration. The well is pretty dry and I need to find a new source. It would be great to read other people’s thoughts in the comments section below. Am I alone in struggling to find lyrical inspiration in my late-forties?

 

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Terri Thornton (Throckmorton Ukulele Band)

Terri Thornton writes songs, sings and plays bass with Throckmorton Ukulele Band, based in Atlanta, Ga., USA. Appearances include the OUS stage at the Great Northern Ukulele Festival, Art on the Beltline in Atlanta, Oakhurst Porchfest in Decatur, Ga., the Tampa Bay Ukulele Getaway and more.

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Nick Cody

As well as being the founder of The Small Change Diaries, I also write uke based original material for solo and other projects. I’m interested in well considered lyrics and strong melodies. I’m a long time fan of the singer songwriter tradition and am known for championing the cause of ORIGINAL MUSIC. My work takes me all over the world and this means I get to play with many great musicians as well as having the chance to view and often buy many superb instruments

www.nickcody.co.uk

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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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Mark Psmith

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKifwSCrfBJiPgbzPxGwfRw?view_as=subscriber

I am Mark Psmith, purveyor of tuneful whimsical ukulele flim-flam. I live in Derbyshire and can be spotted performing at open mic spots and the odd jam session – I aspire to regular gigging schedule! For a couple of decades, I devoted myself to playing the saxophone, but always felt something was missing. It turned out the sax is deficient in two ways: 1) you can’t sing at the same time, and 2) you can’t write songs on it. I picked up the uke in 2011 and have scarce put it down since, and much as I love to do cover versions, the real thrill is to be found in writing my own songs. People have said my work is reminiscent of Beirut or the Beautiful South. I tend to think of myself as floating somewhere within a triangle formed by Gilbert O’Sullivan, Burt Bacharach and the Magnetic Fields.

I have released three full-length albums (Nouns of Quality at Wholesale Prices, Lunch, and Leave It To Me), plus two EPs (Six of One / Half a Dozen of The Other), which can be downloaded from iTunes, Google and Amazon, and streamed on Spotify.

My real surname is Smith, but the additional silent P makes it easier to find me on the internet. It’s also a form of tribute to the greatest of all writers, P G Wodehouse.

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Mike Haysom

My name is Mike and I use the stage name Haysom as there are too many Harrisons! I am a recovering guitarist and play in a variety of styles, though my roots lie in 20 years of playing classical guitar. Many of my influences come from the guitar world such as Steve Hackett and Gordon Giltrap. In terms of ukulele players I admire the talents of Taimane Gardner, Tobias Elof and Matt Stead, all of which I have had the pleasure of meeting.
I’ve only been playing ukulele for just over a year but I am a versatile player in two bands and my solo work is building a solid fanbase.
I have always had a passion for writing music and achieved 1sts for most of my compositions in my Creative Music Tech degree and have gone on to compose scores for independent films.

I am currently recording an instrumental ukulele album (inspired by my surroundings in South West Scotland) as well as multi-ukulele cover songs.

To hear some of my original ukulele recordings, visit this YouTube Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_B6PY0tKoQ&list=PL0U7ckZMGMUNeFCid5adcJVEo0E6f-Cvh
You can support my work (with special rewards) at http://patreon.com/mikehaysom

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