The dangers of overexposure for artists?

I was talking to a fellow musician recently about balancing “overexposure” and “underexposure” as a performing and/or recording artist. I think it’s a very interesting area of discussion and inevitably one that will provoke all manner of responses. She was commenting how in one area of music, in her opinion the exact same artists seemed to be headlining all the main festivals and other festive events. One the one hand you could reasonably say “Let market forces dictate who is most in demand”, but I think this does raise a genuine issue of overexposure which has its own consequences. 

Booking agents and festival promoters understandably want to hire artists that will put bums on seats, and they don’t call it “the music business” for not reason. This is a commercial reality and one of the side effects is that often most of what we see and hear is a repeat of what has already been seen and heard.  This commercial reality means that with a few exceptions promoters will take the safe route and book the same individuals. The performers often also take what IMO is the safe route and play familiar material. Again nothing wrong with this, but it doesn’t really factor in a great number of opportunities for anything new or dynamically interesting. 

 In the UK, you can literally drive from one end of the island to the other in a number of hours. There is a definite limit to the number of festivals and locations you can play at in a fairly small geographical location. This would be quite different in the USA, which is of course a number of “united states” many of whom are very different.  If an artist is perceived to be playing almost everywhere, the demand for them is inevitably diminished through “overexposure” If they are almost never seen they run the danger of “underexposure” In the conversation my friend commented that she stopped attending festivals as she rarely saw or heard anything new, so in her opinion it was no longer good value for money. In these times pricing has become a big factor with the cost of travel and accommodation now being quite high in the UK.

Robert Cialdini – The Scarcity principal 

A really well respected authority on the subject of persuasion “Robert Cialdini” talks about “the scarcity principle” as one of the six key elements in human behavioral responses. 

Principle #6: Scarcity

In fundamental economic theory, scarcity relates to supply and demand. Basically, the less there
is of something, the more valuable it is. The more rare and uncommon a thing, the more people
want it. Familiar examples are frenzies over the latest holiday toy or urban campers waiting
overnight to pounce on the latest iPhone.
o Experiment conducted
In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company made their infamous switch from their traditional formula to
the sweeter formula “New Coke.” Their taste tests indicated that 55% preferred the new Coke
over the old. Most of those tests were blind, but some participants were told which formula was
new and which was the original. Under those conditions, the preference for new Coke increased
Despite the taste tests, the switch to new Coke triggered incredible backlash against it. Time
magazine later dubbed it “the marketing fiasco of the decade.”
“The company must have looked at the 6% difference between blind and non-blind preferences
and said to themselves ‘Oh, good, this means that when people know that they’re getting
something new, their desire for it will shoot up.’”
“In fact, what that 6% really meant was that when people know what it is they can’t have, their
desire for it will shoot up. Later, when the company replaced the traditional recipe with the new
one, it was the old Coke that people couldn’t have, and it became the favorite.”

Robert Cialdini

Another Farewell Tour?

The famous “farewell tour announcements” work using Chialdini’s principle and are well known strategies to regenerate major audiences. This is a perfect example of the scarcity princile in action. Festivals and events that announce their final trow of the dice, inevitably  generate increaed attention from using this principle. Sometimes such acts and events truly have called in a day and sometimes it’s a marketing ploy of course. Numerous artists including The Eagles and Phil Collins and Cream have used this farewell tour tactic to boost ticket sales. However, Cream did wait a respectable 37 years before playing again. 

In marketing “difference dictates” For example, if the exact same artists appeared at the same event, then geography and price mostly become the main variable factors. Of course, the artists are only one part of the attraction for some events. Others can be meeting up socially and whether there’s a good supply of beer on tap! Often music festivals leverage the same artists to try to generate interest and sometimes events are cancelled due to lack of headliner availability.

When there’s a lack of scarcity, there’s ultimately increasingly less interest. Despite the sentiment in the song “I wish it could be Christmas every day” if that were true then it would no longer remain a unique once a year event. Every day would essentially be the same as every other day, so Christmas would no longer stand out as a special day for many. 

Playing only for exposure?

Another regular topic among artists is the question of playing only for exposure also known as playing for free. The term “for free” many means that there is no financial exchange, but there may be many other benefits that are as or more valuable. Such benefits include being able to network during the event, photographic opportunities and getting good live video. That said any artist wanting to earn a living from music needs to generate predictable income. The key word here is “predictable” A lack of predictability in income streams can create all manner of problems. Some artists and promoters are well intentioned but delusional when it comes to making basic business decisions and this can cause them major long-term problems. 

Getting useful exposure and “playing the long game”

With my own band “The Small Change Diaries” we received our first overseas festival invitation on the basis of reputation and online presence. We have since had other overseas enquiries and I have made sure we don’t appear as a what many may think of as typical ukulele band as that’s not really our target audience. We also play 100% original music which is not a safe bet in terms of audience reactions. Martin Simpson paid me the highest compliment by saying “You really don’t sound like anyone else” 

With the band, I make sure that everything we put out was of good quality and there were no shaky camera videos taken on IPhones! Personally, I would never want to reply only on music for an income and professional artists I know comment that this is not exactly an easy life. The balance again is maintaining some exposure in the public domain but not oversaturating the market so you appear everywhere and lose impact. Once again Robert Cialdini’s observations are worth bearing in mind. This is IMO all about “playing the long game” and that means careful investment of time and money. Inevitably there are major lessons along the way of course.

Online video

Another challenge is the increasing amount of material posted online on video platforms, especially YouTube. If you put everything online members of the public can think “I’ve seen that set” and not bother to see you play live. Kate Bush pleaded with her audience not to video her string of shows to maintain the scarcity element and of course one fan couldn’t resist. Artists who post everything online also can create problems for themselves in terms of overexposure.

Final thoughts and a counter example

Interestingly there is a counter example to all of this in that an increasing number of popular artists make EVERY SHOW available to their fans. You can literally buy every show of Springsteen’s “The River” on CD, high definition audio and mp3, literally hundreds of hours of listening. Artists like Nick Cave have technology that in some cases allows you to have a recording of the show directly after you have attended it. These are exceptions to “the scarcity principle” 

Of course, the other extreme is underexposure which is equally problematic, but that’s the subject for another blog

robert cialdini

Setting up for the main stage at The Lagoa Guitar Festival 2016

Finally this is not a new topic and despite some folks dismissing the whole subject out of hand, its been written about extensively from many angles and perspectives. Thanks for all the private messages about this and those who have contributed in a mature way to the discussion

Stand for something or stand for nothing?

I had a long conversation recently with a very established artist where we talked about “artist positioning” and artist identity. He pointed out that those artists who have created a body of work that has stood the test of time, stuck to their guns in maintaining a very definite musical stance, while at the same time evolving their own material. There are many examples of such individuals, including David Bowie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan among many others. When Bowie released “Low” there was some surprise as to how an artist who created “Ziggy Stardust” could then release an album that was 50% instrumental! Of course Bowie was a brilliant composer as well as a performer and was often well ahead of the curve. Decades on its appreciated as a classic. Hendrix had the same experience with Electric Ladyland, another of my all time favorites. Of course when Jimi touted “Hey Joe” most record companies were not interested…

Similarly Neil Young drove his record company crazy with some of his releases causing Geffen Records to suggest his music was “noncommercial” Dylan has always massively inspired and frustrated me in his choice of releases. At his best, he released “Blood on the Tracks” “Oh Mercy” and “Time Out of Mind” but the last two had the magic Daniel Lanois ingredient that worked so brilliantly with Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball, another superb album. Emmylou received a lot of grief from people who preferred “the traditional country sound” but I applaud that she stuck to her guns and didn’t simply pander to what people expected. The best artists in my view have the metal to challenge an audience and create something new. This is NOT the safe option and it’s far easier to just roll out a familiar tune that will instantly be recognizable to an audience. Yes, there’s absolutely a place for that, but please lets also have music that takes people to new places and is gimmick opefully free. Without new music we are left with an endless recycle of what has gone before. Without artists taking risks and sticking to their gugs many of the classic albums would never have been made.

I therefore continue to have a massive respect for artists that maintain a consistent position, even if I’m not a fan of their actual music. This is one of the reasons i prefer original material as by its nature such music always brings something brand new to the table. Its also clear to me that a lot of the best music requires cooperation with like minds. Even though Dylan and Young are known as solo artists, without “The Band” and “Crazy Horse” a lot of the best music would never have manifested.  

“With Crazy Horse, it’s all one big, growing, smoldering sound, and I’m part of it. It’s like gliding, or some sort of natural surfing”

Neil Young

There are many other examples of this including “The Talking Heads” and although “The Tom Tom Club” created many great tracks. the full Talking Heads ensemble were quite extraordinary. Long term collaborations are rare as its like a marriage, there needs to be some give and take. Years ago I was in a band called “The Guest List” and out of the four of us, one member always used to freely proclaim being a lazy person, which at least was an accurate description! Ultimately we parted ways as he was being carried by the rest of the band and it wasn’t even remotely an equal collaboration. These days I’m very careful to ensure that I work with people who have a shared creative vision and who are prepared to put in the actual work needed. 

I have come to respect folks “who stand for something” rather that those who don’t hold a particular view and try to be all things to all people! I’m not a fan of this as in trying to be “all things to everyone” IMO you end up being “no thing to anyone”. Far better in my biased opinion to maintain a stance that you remain true to. The artists I respect the most have always done this and in doing so they have received all manner of negative comments. This weeks is the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper, a classic Beatles album which set the world alight all those decades ago.  Most of the greatest music is ahead of the curve when released and its only later that it gets fully recognised. Of course ultimately its a personal choice and I fully admit that my taste is not the same as the masses!

Ultimately the best art and music comes from cooperation and collaborations, with essential focus and stamina. I’m lucky to increasingly know a bunch of folks who have a great love of music, as well as terrific skills. 

Binge drinking & substance abuse for musicians

In my other life as “the other Nick” I work with individuals with behavioral issues as well as teaching groups about addictions and compulsions worldwide, especially in Japan. I have been involved in this work for almost two decades and seen literally thousands of clients in private practice. A significant number of these clinets are musicians who have binge drinking problems and substance abuse issues.

There are increasing examples of creative types experiencing excessive drinking or substance abuse. Of course this is not news, but I am noticing a definite upward trend. I don’t take a morally righteous view on what people choose to do personally and  suspect that much of the very best music was created while performers were “in altered states” My own preferred artists include Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Steve Earl and David Bowie, all of who were “chemically assisted” in their creative work. That said there can be all manner of repercussions from such behaviour and in extreme cases whole careers get damaged or even destroyed. Interestingly both Bowie and Waits packed in all alcohol and drugs with Tom abstaining for the last two decades. 

Digital thinking issues and mental health issues

The difficulty with excessive drinking and substance abuse is that the world becomes very black and white or as we say in the business “digital” I know of some artists who after a gig immediately drink to excess like there’s no tomorrow, barely able to even stand up. Again each person can choose what they want, but such repeated behaviours usually have all manner of problematic consequences. Usually concentration is affected, which leads to poor decision making and time management. Typically in this black and white existence individuals become depressed for long periods of time, and do more of the behaviour to try and escape this issue. Many touring artists have tough schedules and turn to “additional help” to cope. When this reaches a certain level, problems often ensue and poor mental health is top of the list. My own theory is that conditions like Altzeimers are hugely influenced by longterm over stimulation of the nervous system through alcohol and substance abuse. Now people are generally living longer, this is becomeing more evident.

Bruce Springsteen in his audio book “Born to Run” talks about staying clear of such activities, but still struggled with depression. The nature of being immersed in creative work often means that artists can stream ideas and creativity in an unfiltered manner. To do this well, it requires a lack of definition which in this context works well. However in other areas of life this lack of definition can create all manner of problems and result in literally car crash behaviour.  People with these habits tend to find it difficult to get motivated, have poor time keeping and struggle to maintain relationships. They will often do the minimum workk needed in a situation and don’t have the stamina and focus for success in long term creative projects.

If I’m starting to sound like a killjoy, lets remind ourselves that I’m not talking about bringing back Prohibition, but rather extremes of behavior which affect the creativity and ability of an artist. Long term abuse leads to all sorts of mental health issues which is no surprise with the nervous system being massively overstimulated far too often. I talked to one world class musician who commented on the challenges of working with an original band member who developed a cocaine habit which almost split the band. Often what starts off as “casual interest” becomes a regular habit and the person doesn’t realise how much effect this is having. David Crosby wrote about this in his excellent autobiography, but managed to survive and continue to make great music.

Traditional approaches for help

There are many “traditional” approaches for help with these issues, but in my experience they focus on the wrong aspects of the behavior. Simply talking about the problem often is ineffective or worse still reminds the person of how much the problem impacts their life through “recollections” of experience, rather than empowering them to think, feel and experience something different. General hypnotherapy also is IMO pretty ineffective unless you can really connect with the person in a meaningful way where they can discover how better to run their own brain. I respect approaches like the 12 step process, but I do have issues with some of the thinking that makes the sense of identity linked to the behavior. I have seen clients who have had scores of therapuetic sessions “talking about the issue” but with no remote sign of effective change. 

Long term effects

Most people I have had as clients or have observed experience similar long term effects. Often the problem behaviour is reinforced by social groups. Group X may all meet for an activity and then head off to the pub. Nothing wrong with this at all of course, until this starts to become increasingly excessive. The group behaviour leads to increasingly greater excessive drinking and this becomes a daily occurance with a real acceleration at weekends, which usually stretch from two to three days!

For musicians this often means problems to musical commitments as folks literally have to factor in “recovery time” and inevitably become far less productive. Precision in playing instruents starts to suffer and the creative output usually slows down. Of course such folks will usually deny this is happening and in a band context it can lead to all manner of fractures. Alcohol also aids depression and results in quite severe mood swings which are not great for better decision making crucial if you want to achieve any kind of creative success.

Final Thoughts for now

As I said at the start of this blog, its all about the degree of the behaviour and the context. I suspect much of the music I love would not have been created without “assistance” That said the world has lost many brilliant musicians through excessive alcohol and/or substance abuse. Many artsists go though a phase of this behaviour and then realise that if they want to create a lasting body of work they need to review such excesses. In these tougher economic times even the most creative artists need to have real focus and stamina as well as talent. This mostly means having the clearest head for decision making and the well being that will allow them to create the best possible work. 




Expanding sonic horizons – Nick Cody

As well as finalizing The Small Change Diaries second album “Lullabies for Cynics” due for release November 3rd, as Nick Cody, I’m starting to put in place a number of side projects. These will unfold in 2018 and 2019 with a focus on expanding sonic horizons. Some of these will be with “SCD fractions” and I’m keen to use “the King Crimson model” where alongside the full band there are smaller band units that work up material. The reason for this is to maintain creative momentum and also to explore other musical dimensions.

My plan is to release a series of EPs that showcase different musical explorations and these will be quite diverse and probably a bit of a surprise to some people.

The Small Change Diaries is a long term project and “The Small Change Diaries universe” is not just about the music, it incorporates other mediums like movie shorts. In 2017 ts obvious to me that there is a danger of artists becoming pigeonholed into very niche mediums and of course in the ukulele world this is not uncommon. SCD is not in my view a stereotypical ukulele band a point noted by both Phil Doleman and Ben Rouse in reviewing the “Adam Blames Eve” album. Martin Simpson also commented “You don’t sound like anyone else” which I take as the highest comment. SCD is not “The Nick Cody band” but rather four distinct musicians that create the whole. 

The move to greater sonic exploration also includes incorporating new instruments and artists. This adds a very different sonic dimension to the mix, both literally and metaphorically. One of these instruments is a Gibson A50 wide body mandolin from 1937 which I recently acquired. This was previously owned by Martin Carthy and is very different to anything else I have played to date. My good friend Doug O’Brien commented “But you don’t like mandolins!” This is not strictly true, a more accurate version is that to date I have never warmed to them despite many attempts. The Gibson changed this view and I already have the basis for a track around this wonderful instrument.

I have never considered myself to be “a ukulele player” rather someone who plays (and loves) the ukulele, alongside many other instruments including mandola, walking bass dulcimer, electric and acoustic guitar, national reso uke and dobro. I don’t claim to be a virtuoso on any of these, they simply support my musical intentions as a songwriter. The OUS project will continue, but I’m going to change aspects of that in 2017/2018 so it remains creatively interesting and more diverse. In recent times I have become more aware of ensuring the best use of time and energy and this has given me great pause for considering which projects and who I want to be most associated with in the musical realm. I think such reviews are healthy and I’m excited about the new changes ahead.

Expanding sonic horizons makes playing and recording far more interesting to me personally. The exploration is for the love of music and inevitably some will like what results and some definitely won’t. All such sonic explorations will involved creating more original music and certainly a lot (but not all) of it will be lyric based. I plan to start recording over the next few months, but the EPs won’t appear until 2018. I’ll  be trialing some of the new solo material in Japan this July to gauge audience response. 

Different acoustic spaces for live ukulele playing

David Byrne in his excellent “How Music Works” talks about different acoustic spaces and how they change the experience for both artist and audience. My own personal experience is that this can be a fascinating process and its amazing how quickly the brain adjusts to playing in different situations.

The first time The Small Change Diaries played The Grove in Leeds I thought “Where are we all gonna fit?” Now we have played a few times, its obvious how we organise “Grove Formation” Of course platforms like “The Tiny Desk Concert” show that even in the smallest of spaces its possible to deliver a great performance. When my band first played GNUF last year, we played the underground stage which was more like a club to great effect. I looked at the main stage and thought “Wow that’s big!” After playing The Lagoa Guitar Festival where the stage was literally three times bigger, this time when playing GNUF main stage I thought “Wow it’s shrunk!”

The physical is neither “good” or “bad” just different of course, but dies result in some very different experiences. Its not just the space that determines the overall experience of course. The acoustics of a venue make a big difference as well as “the sound guy” In Lagoa we had brilliant acoustics as the venue was built with acoustic playing in mind. Also we had a brilliant sound guy and we had lots of time to sound check, something which is all too often very rare.

The strangest gig to date was a duo set in Leeds market. Yes, there was a PA, but the acoustics were terrible and during the set I kept hearing the memorable chant “Get your fresh fish, best price today!” All these experiences are invaluable in building stage awareness and this is why such performances make live playing such a fascinating experience

live ukulele

live ukulele

That’s Entertainment

During The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival aka GNUF I had a brief chat to Andy Eastwood. I suggested to him that with respect he reminded me of “an old fashioned entertainer” and he replied “Yes, how come there’s not a lot more of that around these days?”

I confess to never being a fan of George Formby, but I was totally blown away by Andy’s workshops and his stage performance. Here was a genuine entertainer who wonderfully engaged the audience and clearly had perfected his craft. Yes he was technically brilliant on ukulele, banjo and violin, BUT crucially he was able to interact with the audience and give them a magical experience. This is the hallmark of a true entertainer and give me one of those above anyone who is technically brilliant, but lacks this aspect.

I have frequently blogged about the need for musical events to evolve and continue to attract/engage audiences. The same principals apply and in this internet era people are easily bored. On social media one individual was questioning the stage times at GNUF of being 20 – 25 minutes, suggesting it in his view might be a great deal longer. I pointed out that this exact formula made GNUF different to the standard festivals, GNUF had been successfully running for 5 years, they have over 50 artists in one weekend (many times anyone else) and over 100 artists were declined due to performer demand. This is a winning formula and “That’s entertainment” Over the week I met some amazing performers who have also become good friends including Alan and Terri Thornton, Katy Vernon and Matt Hicks. All these folks are genuine entertainers and gave great performances at GNUF.

In these uncertain times, IMO we all need the best entertainment we can find and I applaud any artists striving to entertain the public regardless of whether this is to my own personal taste. I also hear that this year will be the very last for the Cheltenham Ukulele Festival. Anyone who runs an event for eight years reserves recognition, but as Bob Dylan would say “The Times they are a Changing” and inevitably new events will appear and existing festivals will evolve. Let me also be clear without doubt that festival has provided many with excellent entertainment for many years and kicked off a festival uke trend in the UK

On planet earth in many ways and my hope is that platforms like The Original Ukulele Songs initiative will support and encourage original artists that seek to entertain the public. 


Earn a living from music? No Thanks!

A number of people have asked me recently about the possibility of earning a living from ukulele music. I can’t imagine anything I would like to do less for a multitude of reasons, some of which I’ll detail in this blog.

For the sake of 100% clarity let me remind folks “THIS IS A PERSONAL VIEW ONLY” It would bonkers to suggest that nobody should earn a living from music as there would be no seasoned artists! Ok, now that’s cleared up, read on…

I am lucky enough to know a number of professional musicians and there’s a good reason why they call it “the music business” Any profession requires investments of both time and money. Often people have a romantic and quite delusional idea of what its like to be a professional artist. Its a similar situation with authors.

Years ago I had lunch with a friend who had written a biography on George Harrison. He had previously written one on Carlos Santana but was especially pleased with this new piece of work. I said “If its not too impolite, does being an author pay well?” “Yes he replied this one generated a full 9k, but it did take almost a year to write” I said “Is that an annual anticipated earning” “Nope he said, that’s what I expect in total…”

My point is that few writers earn a reasonable living from simply writing and its the same with other artists including musicians. Of course its important to clarify that independent musicians work in a very different manner to signed artists and performers, but either way there’s a lot more work involved than many might imagine! Shows like X Factor and American Idol  do little to dampen the illusion of instant fame without developing a craft…

Two good friends of mine have been earning a living from music  for 30+ years. The first one I have known since the early 1980s when after being played on the John Peel Show got signed to Sire Records. The band was on an 8% royalty rate which is similar to a book royalty. This was the deal and the band were delighted to be signed. This delight soon subsided when the record company lost interest in promoting the band. Of course every “album advance” was simply a loan against future sales. the record company holds the rights to the master recordings and is keen to protest their business investment. 

In recent years I have been quite shocked at the amount of record company advances and how small these can be. I appreciate that “the record company” wants to protect its investment and to have input into what is released and when it is released. They can also in fact refuse to release any material at all. Bruce Springsteen’s excellent autobiography “Born to Run” is a brilliant insight into a lot of what happens in the “music business” and an essential read for any artist.

Robert Fripp released an excellent audio book on his experiences in “the music business” and commented “Every time I hear a band is signed, I think oh dear…” His observations are quite fascinating, especially around record deals. 

“I recommend my students not to be professional unless they really have to be. I tell them, ‘If you love music, sell Hoovers or be a plumber. Do something useful with your life.’

“Being a professional musician doesn’t mean you spend 12 hours a day playing music. It means you spend up to 12 hours a day taking care of business, dealing with litigation, with the various characters who’ve stolen your interests, or fending off hostile lawsuits from former members of the band”

Robert Fripp

Of course this isn’t every artists experience, BUT often from the outside people don’t see how hard it is to maintain consistent regular predictable income in being “a professional musician”

There’s an old saying in show business – “It takes ten years to become an overnight success”

nick codyIn my other life as “the other Nick” it’s taken that time to develop a unique skill set that means I’m in demand across the globe, BUT it’s taken a massive amount of time and energy. In 2001 I released a spoken word CD called “The Adventures of Well Being Now” I did all the writing, production, artwork and recording myself. The unit cost of a proper glass mastered CD as a pound a unit and I pressed a thousand. I sold them via distributors for between 6.25 and directly to the public for eighteen pounds in CD format. In total I sold over two thousand which I am told was pretty good, my first foray into music. 

In niche musical circles including ukulele music, often people can imagine a wonderful life playing gigs and receiving wonderful applause. The reality for most (not all) is of course somewhat different. In recent times I saw a jazz musician selling beloved bass with regret and I have known many artists part with treasured instruments to make ends meet. Those who earn a reasonable living have to mostly tour endlessly and that can be a big strain on relationships. 

Many artists have posted on social media requests for couches, advise on whether anyone knows of available part time jobs and many other factors that suggest it’s tough to earn a living in this way. Don’t get me wrong I APPLAUD any performer that decides to go this route, BUT I’ll never do it, even though I have already had a good taste of some financial success from music alone. This is 100% a personal choice NOT a suggestion for all creative artists on planet earth of course.

I am lucky to be able to fund all band recording and rehearsals from my other life. This means we can record how we want and when we want. We can play as much or as little as we want and are not beholding to anybody. Its a wonderful freedom, but it requires an immense amount of unpaid time and energy. I reckon on at least a full day and a half each week dedicated to the band or my own musical education. Its a wonderful life and I have met and continue to meet many extraordinary people. 

There’s nothing so fulfilling as being asked on a number of occasions to play overseas and to date to have played a major guitar festival. The invite came form the work done on the band’s online presence. There’s nothing so great to hear your own material played on the radio and to have respected musicians applaud your work. Personally I find it impossible to really take a view on my own work and there always the thought that it all might in fact be a bit shit! For that reason external appreciation and positive feedback is always welcome! 

 I would never want to solely reply on music for income, sign to a label or “be managed” All of those factors would eat into the absolute joy of doing what I love. 


The Small Change Diaries at GNUF

Here are some of the photos of The Small Change Diaries at The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival, also known as GNUF. These are by Karen Turner the band photographer

Frogs, Scorpions and Reality Tunnels

There’s a great fable by Aesop that is as true today as when it was written

The Scorpion and the Frog

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”


In my other job as “the other Nick” for over many decades I have worked with exploring and teaching aspects of human behaviour. Inevitably after thousands of hours of seeing clients and running trainings in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia, it’s amazing how certain patterns appear time and time again across all demographics and areas of life.  The Aesop fable highlights that some people can’t help themselves when it comes to behaviour. Of course on planet earth we all have our own individual subjective views or what Robert Anton Wilson would call “reality tunnels” 

Here are some examples of different types of behavior that form very specific reality tunnels and subsequent behaviors 

The Attention/status seekers

These individuals tend to endlessly seek to be the centre of attention and tend to be obsessed with personal imagined status. In the world of music there is of course a pecking order, which is to an extent understandable,  However often this attention seeking becomes so self serving that it often results in poor manners and ultimately such individuals tend to be quite isolated as people become increasingly alienated by this kind of behavior. The attention seeker will endlessly seek reassurance and free advice, without much if any consideration for others. 

The Bully/victim folks

These individuals tend to try and strong arm everyone to their own point of view. The bullying behavior can be overt or covert. If they don’t succeed with the head to head approach, they usually back down and “play the victim” often with verbose explanations and apologies about how its not their fault! Those who work in management will recognize this kind of behavior whereas others may not spot what is going on.

The Connectors

The connectors tend to be the polar opposite of the attention seekers. These individuals are always working in the service of others and by nature “connect with others” The danger they have personally is that they can be greatly affected by others ill considered actions. The connectors think the best of people and tend to be selfless in their actions and can if they are not careful be manipulated by others. they are classically the folks “who can’t say no” and often suffer for this

These are just three examples of behavior, but are surprisingly common in both the music world and other areas of life. Ultimately of course everyone has their own “reality tunnel” and as one of my lyrics states

“No one of us is smarter than all of us”


GNUF 2017

I just got back from GNUF 2017 and without doubt it was the best event yet. The sheer range and quality of artists was quite extraordinary. The Small Change Diaries played the main stage Saturday and it was a great opportunity to showcase some of the new tracks that will appear on the Nov 3rd release of ‘Lullabies for Cynics” The highlights were quite spectacular, including Victoria Vox, Katy Vernon, Astraluna, Terri and Alan Thornton, Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson, Percy Copley, Andy Eastwood among many others. Next Year’s GNUF will be May 11 – 13th and personally I can’t wait to attend. 

It was also a pleasure to run the first ever OUS stage on the Sunday, with a terrific range of artists. We managed to take some excellent photos and take some really great video with the Sony MV1 cameras. There are many events described as “ukulele festivals: but only one GNUF, which literally has more artists and stages than almost all the other “festivals” put together. Crucially here you can discover  extraordinary diversity and acts from all over the world. Of course this genuine festival is often imitated by never bettered and all those who love music LOVE GNUF. Hats off to Mary Agnes and the GNUF team that have created the SXSW for Europe

The Unplugged the wood stage stage was also excellent. Hats off to Krabbers and I can’t wait for 2018 May 11 – 13th