Archive | November, 2017

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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Captain Chucke

Captain Chucke is a traveling folk punk and flailgrass musician from Athens, OH. Sharing the experience of life on the road through music, Captain Chucke draws inspiration from artists such as Profane Sass, Rail Yard Ghosts, Merle Haggard, Woody Guthrie, Mischief Brew, and Lost Dog street band. Having only been a musician for a couple years, Captain Chucke is a self-taught on the road ukulele player. His music has been featured on 88.1fm The Beagle’s Ukulele Underground radio show in New Zealand.

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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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FiL Wisneski


FiL Wisneski has been been writing songs and playing in bands from his home in central New Jersey for more than twenty years. His song “Restraining Order” was featured in an episode of the nationally broadcast NPR program “Whad’ya Know?”. Originally a guitarist, in 2006 he switched to ukulele and never looked back. His songs often sound like a mix of Neil Young, They Might Be Giants, and Daniel Johnston.

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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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