Author Archive | nick cody

Chris DeGirolamo

DeG is an ukulele performer/Songwriter based in Atlanta, GA. He performs original songs and covers of pop songs, but also Hawaiian language songs at luaus and Polynesian festivals. His original music has appeared on 2 charity compilation CDs, Ukulele Underground United : Song Still Remains, and Ukulele Players United to Decrease World Suck, Volume 1.

He founded the Southeast Ukers ukulele club in 2009 which currently has over 450 members on it’s Facebook Group. He also is the organizer of Chattahoochelele, which is an annual ukulele event near Atlanta where a flotilla of innertube riding musicians drift down the Chattahoochee River playing their plastic ukuleles. The 2017 event expects upwards of 50 participants.

A multi-instrumentalist (bass, guitar, drums) he plays cajon in the ukulele reggae band Drop Ready, featuring Seeso and Greg Golden.

Follow DeG on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DeG.ukulele/

Follow Drop Ready on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dropreadyukulele/

Support Kiva microloans to help improve the lives folks in developing countries by downloading this CD or donating to the Kiva fund: https://ukuleleplayersunitedtodecreaseworldsuck.bandcamp.com/releases
https://www.kiva.org/team/ukulele_players_united_to_decrease_world_suck

Proceeds from this Ukulele Underground compilation will benefit the Duchenne Foundation for boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy:https://store.cdbaby.com/m/cd/UkuleleUnderground

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How best to develop ukulele skills?

There are many reasons why people enjoy and play music. Some people are happy to learn to  strum a few chords and there’s definitely a place for that. Others like group strum alongs which can be terrific social events. Many ukulele and other niche festivals can be social meet ups and places where people would rather jam that actually listen to seasoned performers. A major ukulele social media site ran a poll where only 22.8 % of those polled would attend an event to see experienced performers v 52.9 % would prefer to jam with friends. Online there are lots of people asking questions about how to develop skills and the advice can be at times “questionable” at best although well intentioned. Phil Doleman wrote a great article on this very subject here 

In the UK there’s a great interest in promoting ukulele festivals and festival style events with one happening almost every 3 weeks, often with the same core artists. Some of these events have workshop opportunities for learning usually in a 60 minute or 90 minute format. In the past these snapshots have been a lot of fun, but of course there’s only so much you can do in this limited period of time. Memorable ones to date include a claw hammer introduction from Aaron Klein and a rhythm workshop by Phil Doleman. My observation in recent years is that many workshops are not fully sold out even though the actual festival is fully subscribed. This again reconfirms that the festival format is often focused on social interactions rather than learning.

The more intensive learning retreat model is in my view a much better way to develop skills for the following reasons. Firstly those attending have committed a period of time (usually a weekend) solely to musical learning. This makes such events a real immersion process. I have personal experience of attending two wonderful Martin Simpson workshops. This would typically be for a maximum group size of 30 attendees. During this time, we each have a unique opportunity to ask questions and learn a huge amount about the technical aspects of learning but also many other aspects of performing. The frame of the learning environment means students can really forget about worldly activities and only focus on music.

In the UK Sorefingers  have ab excellent reputations for providing excellent learning for students. Both Phil Doleman and Percy Copley are teachers with this group. In June this year Matt Stead is providing a very welcome new learning initiative with a residential ukulele retreat that looks very well organized with some really excellent teachers. See https://theukeroom.com/retreat/

OUS is all about creating NEW ORIGINAL MUSIC. Musical education is a key element in making this possible and in my view investment in developing such skills is time well spent. We never stop learning and being in the company of music professionals is only going to help with that process.

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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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San Blas

 

San Blas – Transforming the traditional tones of the ukulele and infusing it with the energy of British rock, it has taken over 6 years to develop a concept first thought of under a palm tree whilst watching a hut burn down.

Now releasing their debut EP this Hertfordshire rock band would like to take you for a drive, a dance, and to reminisce about the colourful moments in life as they attempt something new with the little island instrument.

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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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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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