Posts By: Nick Cody

Working on solo release for 2018 – Nick Cody

In the lest two months having completed The Small Change Diaries 2nd album, I have started working on a solo project “Dark Tales” This is a very different style to The Small Change Diaries material to date. The instrumentation is also different and the first recorded and mastered track has mysef on vocals. Alice Higgins on piano, Adrian Knowles on double bass and Laurent Zeller on violin. For once I’m not playing anything, just focussing on vocals.

The material is lyrically pretty dark and also different to the SCD material. We are recording with Carl Rosamond who did all the SCD material and its sounding great. There’s not a ukulele in sight and I suspect a few folks will be surprised at how different this material is to what I have written and released previously. I’ll be back in the studio before the end of the year as I have two more tracks ready to go and several others waiting to be finished. 

The plan is for a 2018 release and some live gigs to showcase the new material.

Nick Cody

Making an great impression & balancing the books

In recent times, I have blogged about the importance of making a great impression and balancing the books as an artist. Both are essential if you want to achieve genuine success, whether creatively or financially. This blog is based upon my own experience where I have made some ill-advised decisions which at the time I thought were great, but in hindsight really were not. I’m also writing based on my observations of other people. Lets remember we are all learning, but here are some pointers for anyone interested in such matters.

My own business background

I come originally from a business background in 1980s, setting up and running some substantial business concerns. This period was a real baptism of fire in learning how to manage time and financial margins, especially as most of my income depended on getting good results. This also meant working extensive hours, so a working day was often 7am – 6pm. In my other life as an international trainer, author and therapist I built up a body of work which funds my ability to invest in musical projects and instruments. This also allows me to personally fund all band recordings and ensure all musicians are paid properly for rehearsal time.

I work as a  consultant for many business concerns as well as working with a number of business leaders on a 1 – 1 basis. 

 In terms of my own musical interest, not constricted by commercial considerations is wonderfully liberating as I don’t depend on generating a living purely from music. It also allows me to sponsor (sometimes anonymously) musical projects and I often joke that “the one Nick has to work like a dog to support the excesses of the other Nick” In recent years I’ve been interested in exploring the commercial considerations of being a musician and/or running artist events. This has proved to be quite revealing and this article details some of those observations. If you consider any such discussion as “negative” then stop reading now, but in my view it’s an important discussion.

Managing time and reliable income

My business background taught me a great deal about managing time and income. When I made a comment about not being surprised that a longstanding festival had thrown in the towel, this sparked a surprising level of fury from some music enthusiasts. They of course totally overlooked my comments congratulating the festival for its longevity. The hosts had a brand with years of success but in my view made a number of basic errors. The website was not great and in the era of WordPress there’s really no reason not to have a good online presence. The main issue is that they failed to focus on differentiation, so they became just another festival and inevitably this affected the attendance of paying customers. I applaud the enthusiasm for creating such musical opportunities, but unless you balance the books then such enterprises will inevitably be very short lived. 

Similarly, if any event wants to attract serious sponsorship, then it needs to be credible as a potential investment opportunity. If presented properly this should not be a massive task as the whole budget for the event is more than reasonable and the history alone should be attractive to some people if its presented in a positive and realistic manner. As an artist differentiation is also crucial. This is why I strongly endorse people creating and playing original music, as this lends itself to differentiation. Of course, it needs to be well considered and there’s absolutely a place for artists playing cover versions of existing material.

 Begging to be subsidized to play music doesn’t really create the best image

I’m lucky to know a number of people who earn a living from music and all of these have a very strong work ethic and are relentlessly touring and recording to maintain a standard of living. They of course also are highly talented, but talent alone doesn’t pay the bills. Many musicians would benefit greatly from learning some basic business skills which could make a big difference to their ability to connect to a wider audience. I understand the sentiment but I’m amazed when some artists have pages on their websites virtually begging for PayPal donations to allow them to subsidize their musical activities, but that’s just a personal view. A discreet box saying, “If you love my music, I welcome PayPal donations” is one thing. An entire page dedicated to charitable donations with an extensive life story of the woes of being a working (or not) musician is in my view not the best idea. Far better to think about ways to generate good value for appreciative rather than just ask to be bailed out financially. There are many ways to do this of course and most professional artists ensure that they have a number of different income streams, rather than rely on charitable donations to subsidize their musical interests.

Social Media, yes, it’s a business, but remember you don’t own it

The internet and social media platforms can be highly useful in connecting to a wider audience, but they can create an illusion of success that is borderline delusional. One artist proudly pronounced a record number of people liking a video on FB, but only had a tiny number of live appearances schedules and lamented a lack of income generation to support musical interests. The reality is that if you want to connect with a wider audience you need some basic marketing and business skills to make it happen. If you don’t have these skills then it’s worth learning how to acquire them or find somebody who can help you. I have noticed that some performers are so desperate to be noticed they will do almost anything to make this happen and often basic smart strategic thinking goes out of the window.  It’s important to remember that with platforms like FB, the customer is the advertiser NOT the user. The company exists like any business to generate income and like other platforms is there primarily to serve its own agenda: that’s business…

Live earnings

Its increasingly clear that live gigs and festival appearances can generate huge variations in income. My own personal experience is that for a festival set my band The Small Change Diaries have been paid anything from 100 to 1600 pounds! Of course, it’s not all about income, but simply the love of music alone will not pay bills. My own belief is that professional musicians should be paid a fee that is appropriate for their skill level and always seek to look after support bands and fellow musicians. I’m interested in exploring better live opportunities for original artists at present. I was talking to a seasoned musician recently who lamented the lack of enthusiasm in the UK for many people wanting to see even the most seasoned and skilled performers. Part of the problem is the number of enthusiasts just wanting to play for exposure setting up the unfortunate trend of free entertainment. Increasingly seasoned artists get replaced by performers of a lesser standard, and the quality of the entertainment inevitably is affected.

Common Mistakes worth watching out for

Here are some things to consider 

  • Not updating websites and blogs – many individuals start off with great enthusiasm, but then lapse so such information is very out of date and it sends out a message that you are not really bothered
  • Poor quality control on photographs and video – it may seem a great idea to post lots of material taken with an iPhone but as the old saying goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” Better to have less material, but of a higher standard
  • Poor use of language and excessive use of superlatives – if everything is described as “awesome” then such descriptions become essentially meaningless.
  • Connecting with too small a pool of people. When I interviewed Bill Collins for a magazine a few years ago, his first question was “What’s the circulation?” These days paper format magazines are in decline and circulation is everything. Even niche music magazines generally have tens of thousands of subscribers to attract essential advertising in these tougher economic times. Before paying for any advertising look at the circulation potential
  • Poor time management. Proper management of time is essential if you want to succeed in any activity. This means a discipline and realizing that “what you want to do” and “what you need to do” are not always the same thing
  • Confusing social and business elements – This is a very common issue. You don’t have to like somebody to do business and its important to focus on “the trades” in any relationship. Many artists and promoters limit opportunities by only interacting with people they consider friends. Yes, it’s of course better if you like the people you do business with, but the focus should be on the business, not who’s your mate. This can result in a kind of evangelism that’s not especially attractive to a wider audience as it seems to be a self-congratulatory group dynamic. Smart artists are always seeking out new opportunities and this means looking beyond FB friends.
  • Over exposure – this can happen with both event hosts and artists where they become a bit hyperactive with gigs and events. The lack of scarcity usually dilutes customer interest.
  • Good communication. I’m amazed at how unresponsive some people are in communications. I have many examples of this including wanting to book advertising and despite promises never receiving information from business owners. All they had to do is e-mail rates and the money would be in their bank account. Similarly event organizers can be very slow to reply to artist applications or worse not reply at all, creating a terrible impression. I know of artists that won’t play events due to the promoter’s dreadful communication skills.

Conclusion

I’m mindful that this is a complex issue and these are my own opinions, others may disagree, which of course is fine. The purpose of such articles is to provoke discussion which is how we can all learn from each other. 

 

 

Beyond the ukulele – instrument exploration

I never consider myself “a ukulele player” rather a musician who plays ukuleles along side many other instruments. Here are some of the ones I love and have or will use in recordings and live work. Please excuse the chat at the begining of the mandolin track, this was one of our “sketch ideas” where what you hear is the first time the others in the ensemble had heard this idea and it shows how quickly these guys can pick up a musical thread and run with it which is why they are so great to play with! 

As much as I love ukuleles, I’m not a ukulele evangelist and have a great love of all instruments that help produce really sonically great music. Bill Collings, Stefan Sobell are great makers and Gibson despite its recent history has had some periods where they made really excellent instruments.

Each instrument inspires a different way of playing and I’m a great believer that learning and playing a wide range of instruments only makes for becoming a more skilled artist. These days I’m mostly looking for how things sound regardless of whether I have immediately play what is in front of me, I’ll figure that out later. 

After signing off on the second Small Change Diaries album due for release in November (digital world wide release in Oct) I have started working on some solo material with the addition of some new musicians as well as old colleagues. The first track is now fully mastered and sounds great. It also doesn’t have me playing any instruments, I leave that up to my colleagues who supply piano, double bass and violin. This is a different direction to The Small Change Diaries and the solo material is planned for release in 2018.

I have always had a great love of music and am fortunate to know some really talented musicians who have helped shape my own ideas on musical direction. Those who know me also appreciate that I have a love for original music and tend to speak my mind while also appreciating that others may have different views. As a collector of instruments I have over 25 ukuleles,  a great electric and acoustic guitar collection and one off instruments that include a Sobell mandola, Gibson mandolin featured here, National dobro previously owned by Martin Simpson, walking bass dulcimer from Austin Texas and other items. 

Carbon Fibre Ukulele Cases

One of the best finds from my latest trip to Japan is the emergence of carbon fibre cases for ukuleles. I had heard about these previously but only saw one last year in Tokyo at the end of my 2016 trip and had no space left in luggage to entertain a purchase. This year I rectified the situation and ordered a tenor from Ukulele Mania ahead of time to collect. 

Most people will be aware of fibre glass cases and there are some quite respectable ones out there which offer good protection to instruments. For my guitars I always went down this route and have a number of Carlton cases as used by Martin Simpson. For ukuleles Crossrock make fiberglass cases but these are very different to  Aranjuez carbon fibre cases which are made in China. Such cases will be familiar to violinists who want maximum protection but the lightest possible option for travel. The first thing that struck me about these carbon fibre ukulele cases is how well they are made and how they are literally half the weight of the lightest case I have come across to date. Of course this comes at a price and many uke players would be reluctant to make such an investment as these are not inexpensive to say the least. 

On this trip I was travelling across most of Japan and had a tenor in a carbon fibre ukulele case and another uke in a standard respectable uke case. The carbon fibre uke case was a fraction of the weight and the difference was astonishing compared to the standard case. These are available in standard colours as well as what Aranjuez describe as the camouflage spec. At present these are  incredibly rare and I can’t find any reference to any online and you certainly won’t find them in the UK. eEven in Tokyo I know of a couple of great stores that can get these items. There’s a specialised company in the USA making instrument cases with this material, but that is an even bigger ticket item. In the meantime, here is a photo of a tenor and concert sized case. I love them and hope that they become more available for musicians. 

carbon fibre ukulele case

 

Sofla soprano ukulele by Shun Yamazaki from Japan

This is a Sofla soprano by Shun Yamazaki. Brazilian Rosewood headstock, fretboard, bridge and pickguard. Body binding is Indian Rosewood. Nut saddle cowbone. Huron pine top, cuban mahogany back, mahogany neck. This is without doubt one of the sweetest sopranos that I have played, a brilliant sound and superb to play as well as a great looking instrument. I played around 20 ukuleles, before settling on this one. 

Japan remains the place for the best ukuleles at all price points and especially custom builds. There are four great stores in Tokyo alone and this one was from a store outside Osaka, “The Ohana Store” no relation to the ukulele brand. Its the second soprano I have bought from these folks and its always a joy to visit.

Shun Yamazaki is a new builder to me and this is a very different instrument to anything I have played before. Clrealy he knows his woods and I love the design on this instrument. Its sonically superb and very mellow to play. I instantly took to it and I suspect it will be a great instrument for writing. I already have dates to return to Japan in 2018 and 2019 and I’m constantly amazed at the great instruments I find there. 

Playing live in Japan – Nick Cody

I just got back from playing with Brian Cullen and guests in Nagoya Japan. This was a wonderful evening in a small bar Country Joes which was like a small part of Americana in the middle of Japan. It was fascinating to play some of my songs for the first time arranged for mandolin and guitar as a duo. It was also great to sit in with many other great artists. There’s a wonderful “Anything can happen” vibe to the proceedings and I loved it. I’m hoping to do something similar in Austin Texas this Sept. Its a real joy to be playing original music in Japan and showing how the mighty ukulele can be used to create a wide range of music.

Japanese design by Nick Cody

This is my 16th trip to Japan and I continue to be inspired and delighted by Japanese design, especially with musical instruments. I’m very aware of whats available in the UK, Europe and USA, but in Japan there seems to be a whole new level of atttention to detail. I’m also increasingly discovering many amazing ukulele stores which have led to some new family members returning to the UK. Whether its musical instruments, gardens, buildings or trains, the Japanese in my view are ahead of the rest of the world. I already have the diary booked for return trips in 2018 and 2019 and can’t wait to explore more of this amazing country

I’ll let the pictures here speak for themselves

Ukulele explorations in Japan

This is the 16th time I have visited Japan and this visit reconfirms to me just how much the Japanese love the ukulele. In the last two days I visited 3 stores in Tokyo alone which have a vastly greater range of ukes that anywhere else I have seen or heard of in the UK or Europe. The range of quality is quite staggering and today our guide my good friend Takahiro Shimo showed us many of his instruments and some stores, one of which has been around for almost 100 years. The final store on our “Shimo trip” had a museum of ukuleles including many extremely rare Martin ukuleles that I have only seen in books.

These three stores have the standard range you would expect for beginners and enthusiasts, but what is crucially different are the high-end instruments that you’d never see in the UK at all. It’s an absolute joy to be able to play these in the same acoustic space and shows just how much the Japanese regard the ukulele as a musical instrument rather than something to bang out a few chords! (Not that playing a few verses of Wagon Wheel is a crime) I am also struck from talking to be people about the OUS platform that there is more of a seriousness and enthusiasm for music rather than the uke being a focus for community get togethers. Such strum alongs are of course fine and fun, but there seems here to be a greater musical appreciation and that’s reflected in what’s on offer in the marketplace.  I think many players and builders would love to visit here and see what’s on offer

The Therapeutic Benefits of Music

In my other life for my years I have taught about treating and resolving all manner of problem behaviours including depression, anxiety, food disorders and phobias. I teach my own PCW model in 13 overseas countries and this week I’ll be teaching medics in Japan for 16th time, before heading back to the USA for the third time this year in September. 

Creating CDs using music for a change in well being

nick codyAs well as being a massive fan of listening to music, I have used music in my own work for almost two decades including releasing many spoken word music products long before discovering the mighty ukulele. Back in 2001 I recorded the CD “The Adventures of Well Being Now” which was specifically for clients with anxiety related conditions. Often such clients have hyperactive thinking which triggers anxiety and this usually leads to bouts of depression. This is unfortunately very common among musicians and over the years a number of high profile artists have been clients of mine. The Adventures CD used Ericksonian language patterns to assist clients in slowing down to discover a better sense of “Well, being now” which of course itself is a deliberate linguistic ambiguity.

It’s no surprise to me that music is now commonly accepted as highly useful in treated all manner of psychological conditions and especially those that involve memory loss as music is seen to stimulate the brain in useful ways. Other client conditions like anger issues usually are the result of too much hyperactive thinking. Of course, “hyperactive thinking” can be as useful as it is problematic depending on the context where this is taking place. Many such clients often speak at a fast rate which is a mirror image of their own internal thoughts. Such folks usually have problems connecting with work colleagues and become frustrated with other individuals, as everyone else seems “to be driving way too slowly” The upside is that the quick thinkers can usually multi task and problem solve in ways others can’t.

The introduction of music changes the way in which internal dialogue is being experienced and crucially addresses the issue of problematic speed. It’s like having a car that previously only has 6th and 1st gear; by involving music a person can discover “the others gears” essential for a healthier life. I have had many articles published on the importance of changing internal dialogue which in turn changes unhelpful states of mind. In these instances, music is mostly used to slow down a person’s thinking, but this is just one of many uses.

Working with athletes

In working with athletes’ music can be used to crank up states as well as slow them down. This of course is nothing new and it’s easy to spot all manner of professional sportspeople wearing headphones to block out external sounds and suggestions as well as focusing the mind and emotions. In my own work, I mostly focus on how a person processes information rather than on content which is usually not helpful. Here’s a testimonial from one of the clients I have worked with, where in this case we explored changing internal thinking with music and other elements. What I love about such client conditions is that its measurable.

“In the space of a month I met with Nick on three occasions and made instant improvements in my approach to competitions – I was happier, more confident, less effected by poor weather conditions and always ready to race. Each time I visited Nick I was able to tell him – almost unbelievably – that I had won another race. It was almost becoming boring. But only almost!

After a successful early season, the help Nick had given me really came to fruition on the day of the 2014 Commonwealth Games Trials. I was approaching the most significant race of the weekend, where the outcome would determine whether I would or would not be selected for Glasgow 2014. The pressure was intense, weather conditions were far from ideal and added to that I was tired having already run three top level races that weekend. I believe that ordinarily and without Nicks help I would have “gone to pieces” in that situation. Instead I ran a lifetime best time of 23.94, breaking through the elusive 24.00 second barrier to land on the podium.

Five days later I was officially selected for The XX Commonwealth Games – Glasgow 2014.”

Lucy Evans – International 100m, 200m and 4×100m relay athlete

Working with Alzheimers and other conditions

When somebody keeps thinking exactly the same way, they usually feel the same way as well and of course the exact same behaviours then follow. In conditions like Alzheimer’s music has been shown to usefully stimulate parts of the brain that allow for greater connectivity and expression. The “Alive Inside” movie in 2014 made some very useful observations which mirror my own longstanding experience of working with clients.

See https://youtu.be/CYMSK2T0T3s

Conclusion

Of course, the very act of physically playing an instrument can also be highly useful in changing a person’s feeling state as well as developing a sense of rhythm.  Small instruments like the ukulele are often a good starting point for creating and exploring music. There’s also a community benefit to people playing instruments that is good for emotional well being. I have often lamented the fact that in “uke world” music comes second place to community gathering, but such gathering and sense of belonging to a tribe does have many benefits and of course from a psychological perspective communal strumming is a terrific way of creating group rapport.

We live in a world of sound and vision, so it should be no surprise that adjusting these elements will in turn adjust how we then experience life. I’m about to head to Japan where I’ll be running another 3 day conference on this subject and I continue to be inspired at how music can produce all manner of great therapeutic benefits as well as be a terrific amount of fun.

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