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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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Reviewing Original Music or, Those Who Can’t Do, Preach… by Mike Turner

I’m active in a number of songwriting groups on FaceBook. I was recently asked what I’m looking and listening for when I review a song – here’s an edited version of my answer, which applies not only to the songs I review, but also to my own original songwriting: For every song I review, I try to provide honest, constructive feedback – sometimes, I fear, perhaps too honest. But I’ve seen some great promise on the part of many folks who’ve honored us by sharing their works on FaceBook, and I’d like to think that my thoughts, as a fellow writer, storyteller, and avid listener might help some to grow in their craft.

With that in mind – and since (a) sometimes, if you read my comments, you may be confused by a certain apparent lack of consistency on my part; and (b) you may at times note that, in posting my own songs, I don’t follow – or at least live up to – my own advice – I thought I’d try to briefly set out a few of the things I look for when I’m reading your lyrics and listening to your music here. And please don’t think I’m setting myself apart or above you in writing this – I’m an aspiring writer, just like you. I’ve been lucky enough to be honored with a couple of awards, but have yet to have any of my stuff picked up by anyone for album cuts or sales. But I’ve studied the craft of songwriting, and that’s what I’m trying to grow, both in myself, and in my comments in this group.

So, what do I look for, when I take a look at the next big hit that you’ve offered up for our consideration?

(1) Originality. This is really important to me as a songwriter. Each one of us has unique experience, intellect and emotion that we bring to our songwriting palette. I want to see that on display. A fresh perspective on a common topic, a great turn of phrase, inspired rhyming. I’m looking for things I wish I’d thought of, wish I’d written. And at the same time, I’m on the lookout for well-worn phrases that threaten to pull your song down into cliche, common rhymes (moon/June, love/dove) that have been overused a zillion times already and would cause a professional producer or artist to chuck your song in the ashcan and move on. And I’m PARTICULARLY on the lookout for phrases, melodies, and the like that are so close to “classic” hits, as to draw unfavorable comparisons. While it’s true that no one can copyright a title, would any of us really want to take on writing a song called, “She Loves You” or “MacArthur’s Park”? Those are grossly exaggerated examples, but you get the idea – and, just as important, in this litigious age, should you decide to go down the commercial, music industry path, you don’t want to be sued (take a look at the whole controversy and court cases around the Marvin Gaye/”Blurred Lines” copyright issue to see how treacherous some of this can be).

(2) Authenticity. I believe that we need to invest every song we write, with something of our authentic selves. It can be writ large, as in an autobiographical song. Or it can be more subtle, as in putting some of our experience or emotional history into an otherwise fictional tale. For example, I’m a recreational sailor, and I wrote a song a couple of years ago about a sailing tragedy in a storm in my community. I was supposed to be in the sailboat race involved – in fact, on one of the boats that sank. I knew people involved. I’ve been in rough weather. I took what I knew of sailing and tried to put my listener in my place, had I been on the water that day. Another song dealt with a train wreck in our town. I wasn’t on that train – but I went to the remote site of the wreck to try to soak up some of the spirit of the place, and to see the memorial stone that had been erected.

So when my lyric talks about the memorial – I’ve seen it. I also tried to use some of the fear and panic and terror I’ve known in other instances of my life, in describing what the passengers on the train must have gone through. So when the lyric talks about the screams in the night – I’ve heard them. I think our listeners can sense that authenticity, in writing and in performing, and they respond to it and empathize with it. I’m looking for that type of response and empathy in myself, when I read your words on the page.

(3) Craft. We don’t need to be bound by convention – but songwriting conventions have developed for reasons, some of which have to do with learning over time what listeners respond to. Some of the “standard” song structures have some basis in psychology – what a person internalizes of what they hear, and what they reject. Some keys evoke peaceful, happy feelings in listeners; others, discord, unrest. We as songwriters make use of all of these aspects in our songs. Remember, we’re trying to impart knowledge (say, the story we’re trying to tell) on an intellectual level; we’re trying to get our listeners to feel something emotionally; and we’re trying to get them to do something – learn something new, feel a certain way, be motivated to take some action. And so I’m looking for uses of the songwriting craft – structure, shifts in key or from major to minor, rhyming schemes, etc. in the cause of imparting what you want the song to convey. And I also look for consistency as we move through the song – if you’ve set up the first line of your first verse to have 10 syllables, then I look at the consistency of that as we move through the song – it will drive singability and melody. But at the same time, if you break that consistency – and breaking all these rules is a way to achieve the originality and authenticity I’m looking for – do you do it in workable ways? This is also where I watch for overused words – if you’ve used the same word multiple times, it’s either time to get out a Thesaurus, or to recognize that maybe that’s one of the “hooks” of your song.

(4) Storytelling. I like songs that tell a story. That story can be broad brush, or very detailed and specific. But I like a song that takes me somewhere between beginning and end. I want to feel, when it’s over, that I’m in a different place than when I began. To me, verses tell the basic story; bridges comment on it; and choruses tell me what the story means and where the singer is as a result of the experiences in the verses. Obviously that’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s kind of a guide I use as an outline of a song. And so as we progress through verse, bridge (if any – not all songs need them), pre-chorus, chorus, etc., I’m looking for things that (a) advance the story and (b) are superfluous. Particularly the latter – if we’ve said the same thing already (unless it’s a hook, or central to the storytelling – after all, some repetition is good in a song, particularly on points we want to highlight or reinforce) – perhaps it’s time to break out the editing pencil.

(5) Variance. Think about the worst karaoke performance you’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through. Someone who sings in a dead monotone. Don’t you wish they’d change things up a bit? We’re all like that as listeners. I’m looking for that in our songs. If we’re using differing structures -verses, bridges, choruses – there needs to be variation and differentiation between them, partly to hold the listeners’ interest, partly to serve as a sonic roadmap of the song as we progress through it. I look for sonic variance in the musical elements as well – range, dynamics, meter/tempo, all helping to propel the story, convey emotion, support the storytelling and carry the listener through on a journey from beginning to end. There are plenty of other elements that may strike me as well – for example, if the story being told is a sad tale of woe, is the meter, tempo, melody and accompaniment in support of that? A sad song in a major key can work, but a minor key could be more effective.

Things like that. And one thing to bear in mind – I’m only one listener, I’m only one opinion. If perchance I don’t like something, that’s not a judgement on the song or its writer(s) – I’m just one listener. I readily admit I’m not a fan of the music of Kanye West or Taylor Swift – I’ve listened to their stuff, and it doesn’t speak to me. But I absolutely respect them as writers and creative artists – there’s a LOT of craft in what they do. And I also respect their fans – there are millions of people who ARE moved by their music, and you have to recognize that. So, the next time you read one of my reviews – and I’d like to think that I only take the time to write a review, if I feel there’s something meaningful in the song that I’d like to comment on or see more developed – you’ll have a little more of an idea of where I’m coming from. And in listening to some of my songs here, you’ll see (hopefully) how I try to use the same standards for myself in my writing – and, probably, how I occasionally fall short, or ignore them, or intentionally throw them out the window.

It took me a long time to get comfortable with calling what I produce “art” – but, that’s art, baby! And, to quickly close by coming back to writing original music on the ukulele – the uke has elements that contribute to everything I’m looking for here – originality, authenticity, craft, storytelling, variance. I’ve written more extensively on this before (see my essay, “Original Music – Why the Ukulele” on this site), so suffice to say here that the ukulele can be an important part, not only of making your song stand out from the pack from a musical perspective, but of forming part of the tone and mood and emotion of the story you’re telling in your song

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Getting out from under the covers – Gerald Griggs

The Naughty Corner Ukulele Band of which I am one third, play a mixture of original material and covers. To put this balance in perspective for my main point that follows, of the two CDs we have now recorded, 13 tracks are original songs and 10 are covers. As the one who normally puts the draft set list together, the dilemma continues to be how many original songs should we put in our set list when we play live?

Received wisdom from many musicians seems to be that we would do well to do only covers for street busking, weddings and high profile gigs. The logic appears to follow the line that you give the public what they want to make them happy…and that’s not your own material. So when is the right time for it exactly? Tucked away on a CD for a special audience that might somehow appreciate you more?

While I understand the bigger picture point I don’t think I’ve swallowed the argument. If we believe in the songs we write and record then we have to believe they are good enough else why bring them out in to the light? Do people really believe that passers by will suddenly stop putting money in the case because they don’t recognise the song? Our experiences with The Naughty Corner Ukulele Band do not suggest this is true.

The same has been true of recent gigs though wisdom perhaps shows you shouldn’t give them too many original songs in one go in some contexts. In a busy pub who were clearly up for a sing song, personal reflective pieces on childhood nostalgia did raise a knowing smile but they seem to perk up somewhat when they could sing Sweet Caroline back to us at the top of their voices! I guess as with all performances it’s about judging the moment but not I would say at the complete sacrifice of original material. On other other occasions we had people singing and dancing to our own stuff so I know it’s possible even for a uke band.

To finish this brief piece I had an interesting experience recently when we played a wedding and I was asked if I’d discuss the set list with the happy couple to be. They had been listening to our YouTube videos over breakfast that week and wanted to share their thoughts on our efforts. They had gone through every video and noted down which ones they would like us to play if we could (no pressure or expectation) and to my delight, many of these were our original songs! There was something of a raised eyebrow when I took this information back to my other band members, Kevin and David, especially when they highlighted that some of the topics covered were perhaps less than appropriate for a wedding – misery and break ups being cases in point. But encouraged by the comments of the bride and groom we sang songs of break up and loss to them and their wedding party and they loved it!.

As far as we are aware, the happy couple are still together and listening to our first CD that we gave them as a wedding present.

Gerald Griggs
The Naughty Corner Ukulele Band

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Original Music – Why the Ukulele? by Mike Turner

I’ve been writing, producing and performing original songs for over five years. Virtually all my songs are original composed on, and frequently performed on, the ukulele (tenor and baritone) in both traditional and alternate/open tunings.

I’m frequently asked, “Why the ukulele?” The more I’ve reflected on the answer, the more I realize that my reasons for composing on the uke, are much the same as my reasons for writing original songs. Let me share a few:

* Originality – Obviously, original songs are, well, “original.” But that doesn’t simply mean that they’re “new,” or something that no one ever produced before. In my songs, I seek to tell a story, impart a message, evoke emotion. And I seek to do those things in ways that are extraordinarily personal – to say things from my own, unique point of view and experience, in ways no one else has ever said them before. I believe that’s the goal of all songwriting. By extension, I want the sonic component of my songs to be just as original. Using non-traditional musical instruments is one way to achieve this; and the sound of the ukulele is certainly non-traditional. In performing and recording, I use the uke as my primary instrument, and its higher chordal voicing helps the music to stand apart from music performed in more “traditional” formats like keyboards or guitar/drum combos. The ukulele’s tonal voice adds a unique tonal quality to my songs overall – which helps to highlight their originality.

* Authenticity – I believe that any song or performance, be it of original material or a cover, benefits when invested with something of the true self of the writer and/or performer. If I can put some of my experience or emotion into my songs, listeners will hear that authenticity, and respond to it. I want to show them a part of myself, so they can relate to that and see a part of themselves in the song. The ukulele becomes an extension of that authenticity, injected into the song. I don’t play the ukulele because I have to; I certainly don’t play the ukulele because it’s what people expect when they come to hear my blues, or folk, or gospel songs. I play the ukulele because, for whatever reason, it’s the instrument that has opened up music to me. I tried guitar, I tried banjo, I tried harmonica, and I had a limited degree of proficiency with all of them. But I took to the ukulele like no other instrument, and while I won’t claim to be a great player, I’ve not only developed a degree of technical proficiency, but also some strum and picking techniques that are particularly my own. I think that flows into the songs as I write and perform them, and listeners can sense that authenticity. They can tell it’s a part of me that I’ve really put into my music, and they respond to it – and that responsiveness is key to my hopes of relating the story, message and emotion I set out to convey.

* Uniqueness – I’ve already alluded to this, but the ukulele has a very unique chordal voice, different from the typical guitar/drum or keyboard that listeners are conditioned to hear in the blues, folk and gospel songs I write and perform. It’s a particularly good contrast from my other main instrument: my voice, which runs from a low- to mid-baritone (and I can hit a few deep bass notes on occasion, which doesn’t hurt when I’m doing my Johnny Cash impersonation!). I’ve found that the combination of 6-string guitar and my voice is a LOT of bass, both performing live and recording. The uke’s higher voice provides a nice contrast and a more rounded sonic experience for the listener, particularly when I’m performing solo. I also tend to write/sing a number of songs in the keys of A and Bb, which are great keys for the ukulele (thank goodness for capos!).

* Musical Choices – The ukulele has a great voice for a wide range of genres – from blues to folk, gospel, pop, rock, Americana, jazz. Granted, the guitar covers similar ground – but I find the ukulele easier to play, and more advanced chords (particularly in jazz genres) easier to form. That’s a great aid both in writing and performing. And my experience has been, once audiences get over the initial surprise over seeing me holding a ukulele instead of a guitar, they also appreciate the contributions the instrument makes to their sonic experience.

To sum up – I believe that as songwriters we all quest to be original, authentic and unique. The ukulele is a valuable tool in achieving those goals, and lends itself to a wide range of musical genres. In the end, as both a writer and performer, I’m trying to effectively tell a story, give a message and stir emotions in my listeners – and the ukulele is a part of the process and performance of achieving those musical goals

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