Posts By: Nick Cody

Effective artist promotions in the music industry?

I’m currently engaged in doing a lot of research about effective artist promotions and this is resulting in some really interesting feedback. I’m lucky to have access to a number of professional artists who I can talk to about this as well as having the means to gather really good information on how the market is changing.

Its clear to me that with musicians, the actual music itself is only one of many ingredients needed to generate any kind of useful profile. I have seen and heard some fantastic artists who have only ever reached a very small audience. It may be that this is 100% their choice of course. In this fast changing world its important to have a multi layered delivery system to connect with a wider audience. These are my personal opinions and of course everyone will have their own views about what works for them!

Focus on quality and detail – sound and vision

When my band “The Small Change Diaries” were due to record our first album, a now departed member from the first lineup suggested we get a bunch of microphones and do all the recording and mastering ourselves! My background in successfully creating spoken word and ambient music from 2000 – 2006 told me that this was at best optimistic and to be frank, totally delusional. Yes, we might record some tracks, BUT the art of “music production” is about capturing the best sound and then ensuring that the mastering and mixing is to the highest standards. Working with a producer with decades of experience ensures that there is a good chance for this happening.

Of course this route means an investment of time and money, but that’s always going to be needed at some level if you want to produce something of a very high standard. When promoting your music its always a good idea to have the best possible representation of your sound. This  means paying proper attention to the recording process. Fortunately there are all manner of inexpensive options alongside getting an actual producer. Programs like Reaper will do everything you could possibly want in terms of recording.

Just as the sound needs to be of a high quality, the visual element needs also to be really good. I’m amazed at how many artists pay almost no attention to this and forget the old saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” Good professional make all the difference, especially when used online. I’m amazed at how poor some photos are on artist websites. With my own band we have always made a point of using great photos and this has really helped promote the band to a wider audience.

Video is also a great example of a medium to connect to a wider audience, BUT my advice is again to ensure its of the best possible quality. In the era of the mobile phone often audience members can enthusiastically film artists. The problem can be that this usually looks and sounds terrible and not create the best impression. One launch party in particular showed a huge venue with a very small group of people. Nothing wrong with that of course, it looked like a fun event, BUT I suspect the promoters would have preferred not to have this aspect highlighted on social media. 

Sony MV1 units or similar units are highly recommended and in my view its better to have a less video of a higher quality rather than a mass of poorly recorded material posted online. The challenge with video recordings is to get both great sound and vision . This is why the MV1’s are so excellent. They do just one job brilliantly. At the time of writing I hear Sony have stopped making these, but Zoom have similar options worth looking at.  

Online presence – social media and web presence

Every festival application for artists I have seen asks for the band’s social media and website details. In my view if you have a few hundred likes on FB, the chances are you are not going to get the same attention as if you have ten times this amount. Whether we like it or not, social media and online presence is crucial for artist promotion. This means a lot of work behind the scenes and keeping everything current.  Often “band news” on sites is out of date and again attention to detail is everything. I blogged in the past about one artist who had an entire page almost begging for financial contributions to “help her art” This again does not send out a very good professional message to the wider world. The internet has been a game changer for musicians, BUT it can result in over saturation if you are not careful and the habit of enthusiastically taking live poor quality video with mobile phones does little to present a great image.

In terms of web presence I highly recommend Steve Krug’s book “Don’t make me think” Its a goldmine of useful information. With my own band we have been invited to a number of overseas opportunities to play, mostly based on our web presence and social media presence. A longtime USA music producer paid us this compliment on seeing our site “You look very established and like you have been around for a very long time. 

Balancing time and money

There’s a saying in show business – “It takes ten years to become an overnight success” This means playing the long game when it comes to promotions. The challenge for most artists is to balance time and money.  Artist promotion requires time and money in order to be effective, Its also essential to know what to do with your time and money. You can have all the time and money in the world and never achieve anything. Good information is invaluable. 60 second music marketing is another invaluable resource for artists.

Take a look at https://www.facebook.com/60secondmusicmarketing for some really invaluable concise practical advice.  Many musicians can be great creatively but lack essential basic business skills. This can result in all kinds of problems including a real downturn in reasonably paid work. The professional musicians I know work really hard to earn a living from their craft. 

Getting played on the radio

BBC Introducing is a great platform for independent artists. When they played over 50% of our first SCD album I fully expected a big jump in public attention. Guess what? It made no difference whatsoever in terms of sales, web traffic and live requests. Similarly I have seen other artists get similar exposure and this factor alone not make a significant difference. My point is that radio play is simply one of many ingredients in effective artist promotion, BUT no single ingredient alone will make the difference. My own experience is that its best to have a coordinated approach across many platforms. This takes time and patience and in this X Factor era where instant fame is the new mantra, many artists don’t have the stamina for this.  

Festival Opportunities? 

The term “festival” describes a multitude of experiences that are so varied that its almost impossible to define the term these days. Most artists I speak to lament the lack of playing opportunities at such events and experiences can vary massively. There are of course many excellent established festivals that have great reputations. There are also many events described as “festivals” that are not such great opportunities for effective artist promotions. The festival application process can at times be quite bewildering and some artists seem desperate to have any playing opportunity even if its for a few minutes and they pay to be there. In short it can be a great deal of work for little gain, so its really work doing your research ahead of time.

My own experience is that “appreciative audiences” vary massively and a lot of the festival organisation can be at times chaotic which is one of the reasons why many events fail to succeed. Niche music festivals may attract a few hundred customers at best and in recent times there is a noticeable downward trend in numbers attending such events. Some of the communication from festival promoters to the wider world of artists may also be well intentioned but in my view often not well thought through. One of many examples of this is the message below 

 

Working with like minds

The “music business” is like any other business and a great deal of success depends on connecting with the right people. When I was in Nashville this year I spent an afternoon with Van Fletcher who is Jake Shimabukuro’s manager. My friend asked him about the relevance of record companies in this day and age and he pointed out that such companies can be invaluable in generating audience reach. Ditto Music is a good resource for getting global digital distribution which is essential for “reach” to a wider audience.

One of my golden rules these days is to work with like minds and people who have shared values. This includes promoters, musicians and create teams. The best relationships are where both parties benefit. Those who know me appreciate that I will happily give my time and energy to help others who do the same. I like straight talking folks who have a point of view, even if its different to my own.

My advice is stay away from people who can’t separate social interactions and business transactions.  I had a conversation recently with a very established artist about this exact same subject and his advice mirrored totally my own thoughts. I am hugely grateful for all those people who had engaged in conversations around this subject. There’s no substitute for personal experience and its clear to me that the music market is changing at some rate. This means paying careful attention to how as an artist you connect to the wider world. 

Final Thoughts

Effective artist promotion requires a great deal of dedication and investments in time and money. In my other life I set up and ran two major business concerns and have realized that the principles in making any project successful are very similar. As artists we are all in a process of learning and of course if you want to get audience attention you need to spot and seize opportunities. In recent times its clear to me that niche musical genres can be a lot of fun, but there is a massive limitation on audience reach and often these musical trends will ebb and flow. Similarly its smart to think about international artist reach and that requires some strategic thinking. 

The UK in particular is in my view going to see some very tough times as the public increasingly have less disposable income. That factor alone will affect artist promotion as well as the whole Brexit situation and how this affects subsequent European artist opportunities. In 2018/2019 I’ll be unveiling a new musical initiative and continue to work with some really great folks who give me hope that its still possible to get great music to a wider public. The OUS platform has done well to date in the first two years. The next project is much more ambitious and more expansive…

2017 Looking back at some great times!

 

This year has been a fascinating year full of many terrific memories. I have been overseas on nine separate occasions and had the opportunity to play music in the USA and Japan as well as the UK. In Jan 2017 I had a terrific week in New York meeting up with old friends. I also bought an amazing 1920s Martin soprano ukulele from Zeke who was working at Matt Umanov Guitars. This is a truly wonderful instrument and the first Martin I have bought.

I was back in New York in March and caught some amazing shows by Bill Frissell at The Vanguard. Bill is a constant inspiration and quite brilliant player. 

In April I was in the studio with the band finalizing tracks for our second album “Lullabies for Cynics” I was delighted to have some really brilliant musicians guest on this release including Laurent Zeller, Phill Doleman and Kev Bishop. 

Alan and Terri Thornton came to stay for a week and we talked a great deal about the OUS platform. I also ran an open house for all OUS artists and had the brilliant Victoria Vox and Jack Maher play in my kitchen. They are a shining example of how to really deliver a performance and did a brilliant job. I named them OUS artists of the year.

I also had the chance to see the wonderful Percy Copley in action and we co wrote this track

I continue to meet up with Martin Simpson for 1 – 1 tuition and he has become a big influence on my own work. 

In early June I traveled to Vienna and met up with Gregor Nowak and fell in love with one of his instruments that is featured on my forthcoming 2018 EP. Gregor is a superb builder and I’ll be sure to check in with him when I am back in Austria.

 

In July I headed once again to Japan and met up with my good friend an brilliant builder Shimo. Unsurprisingly I bought another one of his instruments a concert pineapple ukulele, that is quite wonderful.

I also had the chance to visit The Ohana uke store and pick up a wonderful soprano 

On the same trip I played a duo set in Nagoya with my good friend Brian Cullen. This was my first opportunity to play in Japan and I loved it. We played some of the SCD material and some old classics

 

In September I traveled to Austin, Nashville and back to NYC. This was a terrific trip and I ended up buying a great Waterloo acoustic from Hill Country Guitars.

Nashville was fantastic and myself, my wife and my good friends Michael and Liz Ross spent a mindblowing afternoon with Van Fketcher, Jake Shimabokuro’s manager.  We heard some unreleased material and let me just say “World watch out, you’ve hear

In October I played my first solo gig at the “We will Overcome” day at The Grove in Leeds. This was the first time I played material from my forthcoming solo project and it was a great evening.

The rest of October was spent preparing for the album launch in November. We decided to make this a “pay as you feel event” so it was affordable for everyone. This was a terrific evening with over 200 tickets grabbed a few weeks before the actual event and more walk ins on the day.

Terrific support from Sleepy Kev, Phil Doleman, Laurent Zeller and Astraluna. 

During this week I spent two more days in the studio working on solo material and with Adrian Knowles being unwell, Dave Bowie from UOGB stood in and did a brilliant job. Laurent Zeller continues to maze me with his playing, just extraordinary. His work on my solo project alongside Rich Ferdi and Dave is amazing.

During 2017 the OUS platform grew to over 3000 members on FB and 100+ artists with their own pages on the main site. Despite this I have come to realise that the uke world is far too niche to attract a wider audience and interest in the UK has peaked. After some somewhat bizarre exchanges on social media earlier in the year I decided it was time to focus on a more diverse and expanded project which will be unveiled in 2018.  

Plans are already in place for some really exciting events in 2018 and the focus will be on quality of music and great entertainment. I am lucky to have a number of like minds who will be central to this project. Most of December will be working on this as I hibernate for a while with a wonderful new log burning stove at my Leeds home with Bill the cat and my wife.

 

As well as working to keep Bill in the life he is used to, I also continue to feed what seems like the entire bird population of the UK and those “peckers” get through 20k of sunflower seeds each month

I feel blessed to know so many great folks and to be able to travel around the world sharing a love of music and meeting so many amazing folks.

 

Studio update on Tales of Dark and Light EP

We have been very busy in the studio recording tracks for “Tales of Dark and Light”, a solo project that I have been working on for some time as a side project to The Small Change Diaries.

At the time of writing we have now completed all four tracks for “Tales of Dark and Light”

These are

  1. Dunning Kruger Blues
  2. He’s shooting blanks
  3. No more street parties
  4. Hear in the silence

The musicians on this project are Adrian Knowles/Dave Bowie Double bass, Laurent Zeller violin, Rich Ferdi percussion, Alice Higgins, Paul Conway piano, myself on vocals and stringed instruments. Carl Rosamond is producing the material.

The music is different to what I have recorded with The Small Change Diaries and as suggested in the title some of the lyrics are pretty dark. This is proving to be a fascinating project and an opportunity to stretch out sonically into some very different territory.

On “He’s shooting blanks” I don’t play any instruments, rather focusing on singing. This is a true murder ballad and one of my favorite tracks to date.  “Dunning Kruger Blues” reminds me of Steely Dan, which “Hear in the silence” has a  more Indian feel with some extraordinary playing from Laurent Zeller who is key to the main sound on this project. “No more street parties” is possibly the saddest song ever written, a commentary on Brexit.

“No more street parties on this little rock,

Pack away the bunting, brace for the shock”

 Many songs were written on the ukulele, but the final recordings to date contain very little uke, rather focusing on other instruments.

I am grateful to have the support of so many superb musicians and remain fascinated by the whole creative process. This material has “more bite” than what I have written and recorded to date and I plan to play this new material live in the UK and USA in 2018. I am also looking at a second EP for the back end of 2018 with different musicians and a different feel to this EP

Nick Cody 

Music for the Head and Heart

Friday Nov 3rd was the launch party for Lullabies for Cynics from The Small Change Diaries. This was also a beta tester for a bigger future platform which will be revealed in 2018. This is a platform for MUSIC of the best possible kind and nit limited to any niche style or instrument! I’m a great believer in smart music and live entertainment and this was a great group effort in every way where artists supported each other. Special thanks to the Trouble at Mill Team who organised the logistics for this evening

There was no “star of the night” the event and the collective experience for the audience was the purpose of the evening, in short

“Music for the Head & Heart” 

Here are some of the photos

New thinking for music promotion?

Throughout 2017 I have been looking at music promotion models and figuring out the best way forward in a changing market. This means talking to a lot of seasoned performers as well as some established promoters and people in the music business. What is increasingly clear is that its definitely a time for new thinking in these tougher economic times. People are increasingly looking for a more complete experience, and hosts and promoters should avoid dismissing this at their peril.  I ran a series of polls to ask people what they looked for when choosing to see a live performance (excluding A list artists) and it produced some very interesting feedback.

The Small Change Diaries launch party was a beta tester for a bigger project. We focused on ensuring that all attendees received excellent value and added value to make it a really memorable evening. We were also keen to reach a wide section of the public and not any niche music enthusiasts. The uke community like to play, but don’t always make for the best appreciative music audiences. With this in mind the evening had a range of seasoned performers who provided a wide range of music. There were deliberately no strum alongs etc so popular with some audiences. This evening was only about creative musical entertainment of the best possible kind with an emphasis on mostly original music.

We released over 200 tickets to the event and had a full house on the night with some additional last-minute attendees. The physical space was a terrific mill and great attention was paid to giving all attendees seated accommodation, inexpensive food for all tastes and a full bar as well as free parking. Everyone received the new “Lullabies for Cynics” CD as well as the original SCD CD on arrival. In short this was a no risk event for the public and the onus was on the artists to provide a great night out. Music started at 8pm and ran until 11.15pm. We ran this as a “pay as you feel” event to ensure it was affordable for all. If an event is 20 – 30 pounds, this makes it a very expensive evening for a family and worse still there’s no food options provided. 

The feedback on the vent was excellent and highlights for me were hearing Phil Doleman and Laurent Zeller playing together for the first time and Jessica Bowie and Astraluna doing harmonies on “Not one of us” which was one of the encores. In 2018 I’ll be looking at a new platform that will showcase events in UK and USA with an emphasis on offering the best possible music from some really excellent artists.

Organizing a launch party – creating a complete experience

We started working on the Small Change Diaries launch party a few months ago and we are now in the final stages.

“Music for The Head and Heart” is promoted in partnership with the excellent Trouble at Mill organisation, who really know how to create a great customer experience.

We had a number of key considerations to address for this night, to make this a complete experience for those attending. This inevitably means a lot more work and a lot of attention to details. I’d looked at some events described as “launch parties” and often folks in my view really missed a few tricks, which made the event “ok” but probably not that memorable. You can usually when this happens by the lack of activity online pre and post event. We don’t claim to have everything nailed, but its all about the details.

These key details include

  • A great space large enough for 250 attendees with some real style
  • The best support acts we could find providing a diverse range of music 
  • Great affordable hot food for all tastes including vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and other tastes
  • Free parking
  • Full bar for the evening
  • The best front of house sound guy as well as a lighting assistan
  • Proving a great dressed stage for artists
  • Proper remuneration for all musicians for performances 
  • Working on a “pay as you feel” model so its affordable for EVERYBODY who attendes
  • Attracting a diverse audience, not just hardcore uke enthusiasts
  • Friendly support team so everybody experiences a great evening

As well as meeting all these considerations we decided to give ALL attendees not only the brand new album, but also the first Adam Blames Eve album, so a 20 pound gift for everybody who attends on the night.

All these details mean that those attending the launch have a complete experience. I have been running polls in recent months and one key factor people love is a proper healthy great food option, an affordable bar as well as comfortable seating.  

We quickly hit the initial 200 ticket allocation and were able to get special dispensation to offer some additional tickets which are now almost all taken. Its going to be a terrific night and a beta tester for a much bigger project in 2018. Special thanks to everyone who has supported this including Jessica Bowie, Jen Birch aka Astraluna, Phil Doleman, Sleepy Kev Bishop, Laurent Zeller who is flying in from France. 

I’m blown away by the enthusiasm for this launch and we have Karen Turner on had to take photos of the evening as well as our band produced Carl Rosamond to run front of house. The band are keen to bring our music to as wide an audience as possible that includes uke enthusiasts BUT crucially attracts an appreciative listening audience that have a genuine love of great music.

Tales of Dark and Light by Nick Cody

The Small Change Diaries 2nd album “Lullabies for Cynics” is due for release in 2 week’s time. I’m also working on a solo album “Tales of Dark and Light” This project was initially intended as an EP, but I already have nine potential tracks and one “He’s shooting blanks” already mixed and mastered.  Tales of Dark and Light will have some familiar Small Change Diaries musicians, as well as some new folks.

“He’s shooting blanks” has Adrian Knowles on Double bass, Alice Higgins on piano, Laurent Zeller on violin and myself on vocals. Yes you read that correctly, unusually I don’t play any instruments on this track. This may change with additional material, but it certainly won’t be just ukuleles. At present there’s also a possibility of including mandolin and Gregor Novak’s wonderful guitarelle. 

I already have a gig scheduled in New York in 2018 and will be exploring other live opportunities. At a recent solo gig at “The Grove Inn” in Leeds I played “Here in the silence” which was well received. The graphics for this project are by Japanese illustrator Junko Hosomo who drew a sketch of me during a solo gig in Nagoya earlier this year which is just fantastic. I’ll be recording more tracks with SCD producer Carl Rosamond in the next few weeks and Laurent Zeller will be playing on the new material. This is an exciting new initiative and in many ways different to the Small Change Diaries material. The track “He’d shooting blanks” is probably the darkest set of lyrics I have penned to date and probably not for the fainthearted. 

The release date for this will be the back end of 2018 if all goes to plan. 

Laurent Zeller

In 2016 my band The Small Change Diaries were invited to play at The Lagoa Guitar Festival in Portugal. This was the first full band outing overseas and it was a wonderful experience for us all.

We were supporting a french trio Les Kostards and met up with the musicians the night before as we were both staying in the same hotel. Little did I know that this would spark a great friendship and some wonderful musical collaborations!

This is when I first met violinist Laurent Zeller. At this time I had not heard Laurent play, but we got on well and both shared an obvious enthusiasm for photography. Our host took both bands on a wonderful tour of Lagoa prior to the gig and were able to see some wonderful scenery.

On the day of the gig I was blown away by his playing. Below is an example of this 

The Les Kostards set at the festival was extraordinary and the guys rocked the house. Prior to the gig we met up to see if we could do a group jam on the night and I am delighted that Laurent agreed. We decided to play “Slow News Day” as an encore and as you can see from the clip below his solo during this track is extraordinary. Fast forward to 3 min to see him in action

The following day I asked him if he would contribute to some tracks for our next album. These tracks included a version of “Birdman” and his wonderful violin part can be heard on the movie short of this track seen below

Laurent then contributed to some additional tracks on “Lullabies for Cynics” “Not one of us” as well as “Draw you out” His playing is just extraordinary and I am delighted that he is going to be joining us for the album launch on November 3rd in Leeds – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/music-for-the-head-and-heart-tickets-37057548124

He is also featured on my next solo project and we will be recording more tracks in two week’s time in our Leeds studio.

Instruments investments and joyous purchases

Over the years I have become a genuine instrument collector and have spent many hours chatting to my good friend Martin Simpson about the joys of purchasing and playing great instruments. Many people will know me for my love of different types of ukuleles, but I have a really diverse collection of many stringed instruments, not just ukes.

I’m lucky in my other work to be able to travel around the world and Japan and the USA are wonderful places for seeking out new creative tools. My favorite stores across the globe include Ukulele Mania in Tokyo, The Ohana store outside Osaka, Poe Poe in Tokyo, Matt Umanov Guitars in NYC, Mandolin Brothers in NYC (no longer in existence) , Hill Country Guitars in Austin and Carters Guitars in Nashville. All these stores have a fantastic range of instruments and great customer service.

I also have a number of instruments that can’t be bought through retail stores including guitars and a mandola by Stefan Sobell. The Sobells came as recommendations from Martin Simpson and there’s usually a two year wait for these instruments. Similarly Takahiro Shimos instruments are also custom builds and of the highest quality and there’s a waiting list for them. In terms of instrument brands I’m a big fan of Collings and when I met Bill before he passed I mentioned that I had never played a Collings that was not excellent. The recent Waterloo guitars are more examples of the highest standards in building and an absolute joy to play.

I’m a big fan of instruments where the main focus is in using the best woods and the investment is in the woods rather than ornate decoration. I recently saw a ukulele advertised for thousands of pounds where the store commented that huge amounts of time had been spent on the inlay, so it looked really nice but I prefer a more simple well constructed instrument. Every instrument will spark different creative ideas and the best ones are always those that I may pick up in a store and find I’m still playing 30 – 40 minutes later. There are thousands of “ok” instruments, but few which really are keepers. 

In terms of electric guitars I have some great instruments including two Parkers, a George Benson Ibanez, some custom Ransom strats and Telecasters from San Francisco and some Warmoth guitars as well as a brilliant Collings I35 Deluxe. This is a growing family that continue to provide countless hours of musical joy as well as being great investments. I always advise people to try out instruments for themselves rather than rely on online advice as production models which in theory should be the same often vary wildly. There are no “best instruments” only different ones. If you want to create great music, its a lot easier if you are playing an instrument you truly love.

shimo ukulele shimo ukulele

 

Unplugged at The Grove Inn for Charity Event

This Saturday I played a stripped down unplugged set at The Grove Inn with a couple of dear friends. This was an opportunity to try out new material as well as playing some old favorites.

The set list was

There’s only one of you

What you gonna do (new song)

Perfect Place

Here in the Silence (new song)

Not one of us

Encore

Draw you out

 

This was a great crowd and very unusual for me to not have any of the band playing with me