Posts By: Nick Cody

The artist search for the appreciative ukulele audience?

“We human beings are tuned such that we crave great melody and great lyrics. And if somebody writes a great song, it’s timeless that we as humans are going to feel something for that and there’s going to be a real appreciation.”

Art Garfunkel

I was talking recently to a fellow musician about the challenge of finding appreciative audiences, especially for artists who play ukulele in live sets. Note here I’m say “appreciative audience” and by that I mean one that is primarily there to listen to the music.

When I first started exploring the ukulele, I was taken aback by two comments independently made by people who were very familiar with this musical niche.

The first commented

“Remember Nick, these folks mostly want to play, not to listen”

The second said

“Twenty minutes is the maximum period of attention you’ll get from the audience”

As a longstanding lover of music, this struck me as highly unusual, but recent years have confirmed that both observations were spot on.

Rather play than listen? (both are fine of course)

“Intimacy comes from being yourself on the stage and making the audience feel, without trying, that you’re sittin’ down there with ’em, playing, and that can happen in a big hall, if you have a good audience that want to listen.”

Doc Watson

I have noticed that online there are often comments made about people preferring to strum at “festivals” in small groups rather than see the headline acts. Some of these acts may have travelled a great distance, so this personally surprises me. Don’t get me wrong, I think people can decide for themselves whatever suits, but it does mean that “the listening audience” is probably far smaller than many might imagine in what is already a niche musical field. In terms of 20 min sets, I fully appreciate that this strategy allows the audience to have a taster of a wide range of acts, so there is some logic to that way of working. However as a performer its a very short period and even an additional ten minutes allows for a lot more musical variation.

I was also surprised that at some events a set may be just half this time and I have even heard performers travel hundreds of miles playing such slots for free. Hats off for the enthusiasm, but it does again highlight a theme. I also know of a number of really superb ukulele artists who regularly comment on how hard it is to get live work.  All this makes me wonder how big the listening audience might be for this niche. 

“There is of course significant playing enthusiasm with ukulele clubs appearing all over and of course many events even allocate a substantial part of the time of the event to people playing, as opposed to  listening to artists. This can of course create a dilemma for event promoters in attracting paying customers and of course the changing trends in ukulele festivals are well documented in recent years.  Of course, it’s useful to consider both these dynamics. A lot of ukulele meet ups can be primarily social events and there’s is a definite place for that.  Teaching schools often put on end of year concerts where players can perform to friends and family who would mostly constitute what I would term “an appreciative audience” I help out providing PA assistance for such events and when done well these can be great fun.

The wider picture?

ukulele magazineI set up The Original Ukulele Songs platform to give original songwriters a collective voice online. Its been a fair investment in time and money as the site receives substantial traffic and now there are 81 individual artist pages. In talking to many artists, I am discovering that with a few exceptions many find it tough to find appreciative listening audiences. Those who have managed this have from what I see done so by writing really good original material or reinterpreting older material in new ways as well as doing regular tours.  

Victoria Vox and Biscuithead Biscuitbadgers and others have in my view managed to reach wider audiences and built up diverse audiences. Andy Eastwood is also a great example of a hardworking multi-talented musician who seems to endlessly be touring and is a true artist. I recently blogged about these artists, but the responses on social media focused on almost everything but the quality of entertainment I was writing about! This entertainment factor is essential in connecting with a greater listening audience.  

The OUS platform is an initiative that gives voice to all artists who are looking to connect with a wider public and I’m happy to fund this as I think it’s important that such artists are able to be heard. As I predicted 18 months ago this platform has polarized some opinion and I have had (I’m being polite here) all manner of responses about what folks believe “I should do” and how “lots of people think x“. Personally, my view is that d debate is an essential part of the creative process and if the ukulele is to reach a wider audience such debate is essential. I have the greatest respect for all artists who are seeking to entertain audiences in creative ways and who stick to their guns in terms of the music they create. I may not always like their music of course but in my view congruency is a key part of building a body of work. 

Final Thoughts

The ukulele is in my view a terrific instrument for writing and performing. Despite my enthusiasm for the instrument I would never class myself as “a ukulele artist” but rather a musician that plays many instruments including the uke. Many of the most appreciative the listening audiences with my own band to date have been at Arts and Guitar Festivals where there is generally an appreciation of music on a wider scale. Two of the most well-known ukulele based artists The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Jake Shimabukuro, have attracted wider audiences mostly though smart arrangements and playing well known material.

These folks provide superb entertainment and many of my friends who have no interest in the uke, have and will continue to see these artists when they come to town. I’m happy to be part of an appreciative paying audience with usch artists and as well as being entertained, I have learned huge amounts from such individuals. My view is that despite the enthusiasm online the actual listening/appreciative audience for ukulele based music is smaller than many might imagine. My hope is that this will expand and in my view the best way to do this is to show how the instrument can create a wide range of truly diverse and original music that bucks the stereotypical idea many have about the instrument.

Nick Cody

“Getting in state” – developing live performance skils for musicians

In my other life for the last decade I have been teaching communication and performance skills across the globe in the USA, Europe and Asia. In fact I was doing this long before I started playing live gigs. The most common anxiety on planet earth is fear of public presentations, which often starts at an early age. Over the years I have also had many well known professional singers and musicians as private clients. 

Even the most seasoned performers can get stage nerves or in extreme situations have melt downs on stage. Its therefore highly useful to develop  set of skills that allows people to mitigate against this. Many clients I see 1 – 1 and by skype have previously sought help for these issues without success. Often they have talked about the issue for hours on end and may have had “general relaxation” but crucially not found a way to change their feeling state when on stage. I created a model called “Provocative Change Works” or PCW that is now publised internationally in a number of books including “Innovations in NLP” and “Transforming Negative Self Talk” by Steve Andreas. I have also have articles published in numeous magazines as well as UK newspapers on this subject.

I always tell students that once you have seen your first 5000 clients as a coach or therapist, you start to notice that its all about the process of thinking – feeling – final behaviour. Any feeling state has to be created by some form of thinking and this splits down into four main catagories which are

  1. What you see externally 
  2. What you hear externally
  3. What you picture internally
  4. What you say or think to yourself internally

In sort every feeling state is created by a way of thinking and the common factor in performance issues is that the person’s brain is running too fast which means they are in a right old state rather than the right state for the performance.

One of the most common themes is that a person can play with absolute confidence to friends or a small group and have no unhelpful self talk going on, but when on stage they start to think very differently. Often the internal self talk starts to crank in an unhelpful manner and they arev literally talking themselves into an anxious state. No amount of reassurance or analysis usually helps change the anxiety, instead the key is to change the speed of thinking through specific exercises which then means the person feels more at ease. Usually the negative self talk splits into two forms

  1. A self diagnostic with the person giving commentary on their own state
  2. A commentary on how they imagine others are thinking ablout their own performance

Examples of number one include

“Don’t feel anxious!” (thought in an anxious voice) or “Don’t fuck it up!” (thought in an anxious voice)

Examples of number two include

“They are not enjoying it” (thought in an anxious voice” and “We are losing them” (thought in an anxious voice)

This internal messages creating an unhelpful feeling of being way too self conscious which then triggers the feeling of anxiety.

The anxious feeling usually locates in one or more of the following places

  1. Head
  2. Chest
  3. Stomach

The key is to teach the person to slow down the feeling, so they them find a greater sense of ease in the previously problematic situation. 

These state control skills can usually be taught comprehensively in a couple of hours and I’m pleased to have helped many performers over the years. I teach some of this material in the UK and New York workshops I run with my co trainer Doug O Brien. We are also currently writing a book on this subject which focusses on developing creative writing skills as well as developing excellent state control. Some of these groups I teach are pretty big and this work allows me to fund all my musical explorations and to sponsor stage opportunities for other creative artists.

SONY DSC

Global musical explorations, next stop Japan…

Having just got back from Vienna and seeing some great folks to talk about music, OUS and instruments, next week I’m heading back to Japan for the 16th time and this is a terrific opportunity to catch up with old friends, many of whom are musicians or instrument builders. First stop will be Takahiro Shimo in Tokyo as well as Dean Leoni at his excellent store. Both these guys have been hugely useful in obtaining some really terrific instruments that have been used on most Small Change Diaries recordings. I’ll also be playing with Brian Cullen in Nagoya as a duo and this is gonna be a lot of fun. As well as SCD tracks I have some new solo material to preview.

I’ve already been to New York twice this year and will be back for a third time after first visiting Austin and Nashville. Hopefully I’ll be able to hook up with the guys again at Collings Guitars as well as visiting Hill Country Guitars which carries amazing stock. After Austin I get finally to visit very old friends in Nashville for the first time and then drop back to the UK via New York and attend my good friend Zeke’s book launch which is bound to be a great focus for NYC musicians.

Most of October will be spent finalising arrangements for the album launch and I’m already letting some people know what to expect. There will of course be the full SCD band with guests as well as no less than three UK support bands. There’s a lot to figure out in the rest of 2017, before a total revamp for the OUS platform in 2018 and 2019.  I’m lucky to have met some amazing people around the world who share a real love of music and an interest in smart musical discussions. In 2018 I’ll be back in Europe, USA and Asia, for more explorations and even have some 2019 dates in the diary. The OUS platform has meet meeting up with music lovers around the world in person rather than just online which is really exciting. 

 

That’s Entertainment Part 3

The previous two blog posts were about folks who I considered as artists to be great entertainers. These were entirely at random and the posting was purely on the subject of ENTERTAINMENT and nothing else, despite what some may imagine or insist!

Here are some more great examples of folks who I personally think are great entertainers. These are some of my personal favorites and of course each person will have their own as this is 100% subjective.

That’s Entertainment Part 2

After the last blog which featured male performers, here are some more terrific  entertainers.

Victoria Vox

 
 
Victoria Vox came over to my house with 16 other performers and her husband Jack, this May. They performed a couple of tracks in my kitchen and blew me away. Rarely have I heard such great harmonies and playing. The combination is a bench mark for all duo acts. This is music at its best, smart lyrics, great melodies and terrific playing. That’s entertainment in spades!
 

Astraluna

There are countless female artists online these days, but few who can play and sing at this level. Astraluna is quite exceptional especially live when she is playing all manner of loops, building up a sonic feast. 

 
The set at GNUF on the OUS stage was really exceptional and an example of genuine and crucially original entertainment
 

Katy Vernon

 
Katy is a seasoned performed and this is one of the songs that appeared on the OUS sampler at GNUF 2017. Its very catchy and a great example of how to create a simple captivating tune.  Live she has great skills to engage an audience and creates a really good range of music which is rare these days.
 

Nicole McNally

 
 
This is a great example of a younger emerging artist with a great voice. I have never seen her live, but in my view this clip suggests great things ahead.  One of proofs of a good entertainer is when somebody can play a simple tune and entertain an audeince
 

Conclusion

These are 4 great  entertainers. There are of course many more, but these are the ones that come to mind. They are this time all original artists but that wasn’t the main consideration in picking them. The world is better for such folks.

That’s Entertainment – 4 of the best

Many people will know me for my enthusiasm for Original music, but of course that’s not my only interest in music. The key to any great music and/or performance is whether it entertains and/or inspires. With that in mind here are a few artists that I have found to be excellent and memorable performers

Andy Eastwood

Let me start by saying that I never really warmed to the music of George Formby, BUT I had to review my thinking on this after seeing Andy live and sitting in on two of his workshops. I described him as “a great old fashioned entertainer” and he commented “How come there’s not a lot more of that these days?” Andy is a hardworking professional who seems to be endlessley touring and travelling. He is technically excellent on a number of instruments and has a great manner in interacting with an audience

Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson

I have met Phil many times and always found him to be a superb teacher with a genuine love of music. I saw him and Ian Emmerson live last year on the GNUF main stage and really enjoyed their performance. It was a great set with lots of variation. This year I saw tham on the GNUF underground stage and they knocked it out of the part. The 20 minute set was a master class in entertainment, just brilliant. The interaction onstage was superb and as well as being technically very skilled they were terrific entertainment. I could have listened for hours. Ian is a supeb performer in his own right “a dark horse” and also a genuine entertainer

Biscuithead and Dean

My bandmate Jessica told me about Dean and Biscuithed and I have seen them a few times. Dean has supported The Small Change Diaries a couple of times, most recently being at The Grove in Leeds. This lastest slot was a brilliant example of entertaining an audience. The songs are smart, witty and melodic and in my view the world is better for such music

Percy Copley

I met Percy a year ago and saw him play the GNUF mainstage. I admit that in “uke world” there are a lots of ok artists, but not a great number that I find captivating in a live situation. Percy is without doubt a real exception and again a genuine entertainer. I was blown away by his set and later when he spent and evening at my house I was amazed at how technically skilled he is as well as how good he is at creating his own material. I suspect years of association with Disney has done him no harm and I highly recommend seeing him live. He also did a brilliant job adding music to “Barter Blues” and we’ll do some more work together.

These are four artists that spring to mind this wet Wednesday morning in Yorkshire. All are very different and have provided what I consider to be excellent entertainment. There are of course others, but these are the ones that came to mind for this blog. All of these folks are true professionals and great musicians with a helpful sense of humour. These are of course all guys, women to follow soon

Nick Cody Live in Japan July 22nd

Next month I am delighted to be playing in Japan. This is a country I truly love, with great people, great music and terrific instruments.

This will be ny 16th trip there and I never get tired of visiting. I’ll be with my good friend Brian Cullen playing 

Country Joe’s 2 Chome-8-9 Shinsakae, Naka-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi, Japan 460-0007 on July 22nd at 8pm.

This is a small club, so we advise getting there early. We promise a great provocative evening of great acoustic music and original songs. This will be the first OUS outing in Japan and my plan is to have many more in this wonderful country

 

There’s a FB event page here – https://www.facebook.com/events/775084982673519/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A%2222%22%2C%22feed_story_type%22%3A%2222%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D&pnref=story

This will be an opportunity to play some classic Small Change Diaries tracks as well as some material off the 2018 solo release for the first time.

Brian is a terrific artist in his own right and plays a variety of instruments including mandolin, guitar and ukulele, He writes terrific songs that stick in your head. We have jammed together during my Japanese trips but this will be the first time we have played an actual gig.

I’ll be travelling light with a Rob Collings purple heart tenor and any other instruments I pick up on route! Its going to be a great night out and I welcome all Japanese friends and fellow musicians to come and join us!

Positive and negative use of social media for artists

In a positive sense, it can be great to generate conversion and maintain contact with like minds. Good photos, on topic posts and good information are all great ways of using social media in a positive sense. Building a community of like minded people with mutual enthusiasm works well, BUT inevitably such platforms always attract detractors as well and especially what are wonderfully called “keyboard warriors” who are mostly self employed and status seekers. A positive way to guard against this is to ensure that such characters respect the rules of the group or exhibit good manners if posting to your personal page. Remember if its your page or group, its good manners for others to adhere to good behaviour. With these considerations in mind social media can be a terrific tool for artists, expanding their reach to new audiences.

Even though people may imagine that everyone has endless time to post online, of course working professionals mostly only have limited time for social media unless they have somebody doing this on their behalf. Social media used positively is terrific as a medium to connect to a global community. The key is IMO to offer good quality material, thought provoking posts and unique information. Its also important not to flood social media with poor video and photos as that usually dilutes audience attention. 

The OUS platform is a great example of positive social media in action. The public FB platform has 2700 plus members and the main webpage has 60+ artists with their own pages and of course many more have applied to be on the site. Its a free resource for original artists and in 2018 this project will be greatly expanded. With my own band The Small Change Diaries, we have received some great opportunities though having a good social media and online presence including being invited to a major international Guitar festival overseas.

The Negatives

Just as a village can have a positive communal spirit, there can also be disruptive characters also known as trolls. Such individuals are always status seekers wanting to be the center of attention and they usually hunt in packs of two or more. Anyone who starts to achieve any form of increased profile in the public domain inevitably attracts such characters. On a basic “Punch and Judy” level the behaviour is usually endless negative attention seeking negative posts. At the other extreme, this can mean actual attempts to hack your website and/or clone your account. I have experience of both of these and have a restraining order in place against one character!

Usually ignoring and/or blocking such characters is the best strategy. Mostly there will be a small group that will back each other up and egg each other on. ALWAYS screen grab any particualarly libellous comments and store up information. If you go a legal route this will require detailing a full paper trail and that can take time. Fortunately the law has changed in recent years so this is a lot easier these days. Its useful to remember that social media can massively distort communications and of course over hyped claims usually backfire and genuine artists also look to “play the long game” and build up a body of work that stands the test of time.

Conclusion

Social media is one of many ways to connect to a wider public. Aside from my musical projects I have FB platforms that connect with substantial numbers of people. I teach communication skills in 13 overseas countries and many countries have their own social media platforms to ask and answer questions about courses. I also run many blogs which are mostly specific information about subjects. I have a policy of growing interest organically platforms like OUS have in a short time brought together many terrific artists who may have not otherwise got to meet each other.

I recently met Gregor Nowak in Austria who I met on FB and Alan and Terri Thornton stayed for a week at my house after having only known them on FB. I also had a great meeting with Bernd Holzhausen in Vienna, who I had previously only known online. These are great examples of turning virtual friends into real life friends.  

STOP PRESS – Seems from pm’s these observations are not uncommon in this cyber age!

 

Nick Cody meets ukulele luthier Gregor Nowak

I just returned from Vienna after interviewing Gregor Nowak about his work

We talked extensively about what makes for a great instrument and of course Gregor builds a range of instruments, not just ukuleles. I’m a massive fan of ukuleles, but in my view the ukulele is not some kind of mystical instrument, its simply a great tool which if used well can create wonderful music. During out morning conversation I tried out a ukulele tenor, a guitaralele and a mandola. I am pleased to report that all of these were exceptional.

Folks who know me, appreciate that I have a great love of well made instruments. To date I have interviewed many great builders from all over the world including Takahiro Shimo, Bill Collins, Pete Howlett, Zachary Taylor, Rob Collings to name a few. All these individuals have a definite point of view and an absolute focus on creating the best possible playing instrument. The approaches may vary from one builder to another, but there also some noticable similarities.

One of these similarities is the reassuring mahogany neck which in my hans always feels and sounds great, regardless of whether this is a ukulele, guitar or mandolin. Gregor is clearly a designer and builder with excellent attention to detail and like all great builders one with terrific curiosity about what is possible beyond the stereotypical build. 

I always know when I have found a really excellent instrument, when I pick it up and after thirty minutes I’m still playing it. This was the case in Japan when I came across Shimo’s work and has been the same for the other builders I mentioned. On this visit I was really taken by Gregor’s guitaralele which is different to anything else I either own or have played. Every instrument sparks a particular kind of music and melodic inspiration and this is no exception. For some reason this instrument inspires a Mali style blues. Its got a really wide neck with two wound and four unwound strings. This one was a prototype and I am pleased to say has now joined the ever growing “Cody family” I’ll certainly be recording with it.

Take a look at his site here http://www.grenosi.com/ 

Life The Basic Manual Video Platform

I  was approached a while back by the guys at “Life the basic manual” to shoot some video taking about the ukulele and ukulele related subjects. Of course there are wholly my opinions and observations and to paraphrase Groucho “These are my opinions, if you don’t like them, I have others” It was fun to bring out and talk about a number of different instruments from around the world as well as the growing OUS movement that is gathering pace.  This platform covers a massive range of topics and I think its great that the mighty uke is now included. Inevitably people will have all manner of opinions, but discussion and debate only enhance learning and in this era its wonderful to have such platforms that connect people all over the globe.