Why great music is not enough by Nick Cody

I have always been a passionate advocate of original creative music. As Nick Cody, I have also blogged extensively about those artists who have inspired me over the decades. Many of these artists I have followed forty years on with equal enthusiasm and genuine appreciation. Most of these folks  stuck to their guns and “played the long game” in terms of “the music business” This meant taking risks and not simply going along with the latest musical fad.

In 2017 its clear to me that creating great music in itself is not enough. I’d love to believe otherwise, but its definitely not the case. Of course in days gone by artists needed promotion to reach a wider audience, but now more than ever its crucial for artists to develop a public profile which means aligning many other elements. These include good social media presence, strong visual image, using video and making sure that anything that is released is of the highest possible quality. This means not blasting out low quality audio or video online. To quote the old adage “you never get a second chance to create a first impression”  In this “X Factor” era I lament how the quality of music seems to very much be second place behind many other factors, BUT creating great music is not enough, if you want to reach any kind of audience.

Differentiation is essential to stand out from the crowd

There’s an old phrase in marketing “difference dictates” If you are not different, then you essentially get lost in the crowd. Of course getting attention can be achieved in many ways. On TV shows often acts will have a backstory or a gimmick to stand out. I have a personal dislike for gimmicks, but appreciate that many folks in the ukulele world love acts who frame performances this way. My own preference is to create smart provocative original music, but I appreciate that I am probably in a minority in this respect! 

I set up the Original Ukulele Songs platform to promote those artists interested in creating original ukulele based music. To date I have been blown away by the quality and delivery of a lot of the material that has appeared from these artists. With my own band The Small Change Diaries I have spent a considerable amount of time investing in making the band’s online profile. This requires a great deal of energy and some funding. It took a while to get the best band line up and find the right producer for our sound.

The importance of visual image

I have also previously blogged about having great photographs and a strong visual identity. Karen Turner is our band photographer and Max Wootton is our illustrator. Max’s designs are very distinctive and wonderfully compliment the music and lyrics. Karen knows how to capture expression like no other photographer I have come across. Many artists don’t get the importance of having good professional photos. You don’t need to spend a fortune, just get some really good photos if you want a better chance of being noticed above the noise.

Another key element is to have a good well constructed website and to regularly blog about band activity. This can be massively time consuming, BUT is essential in this day and age. Aside from playing live gigs, regular rehearsals are essential. The core of the writing for The Small Change Diaries are myself and Jessica Bowie. We meet 2 – 3 hours at a minimum every week and have done so for the last two and a half years. 

Underexposure v Overexposure

In recent times as Nick Cody, I have chatted to many UK artists. Two of them lamented the lack of good paying gigs commenting “Its perfectly possible to get lots of free shitty gigs” Any effective artist promotion means getting the balance between underexposure and overexposure. This is always a judgement call. Our producers manta is “One gig is worth ten rehearsals” and I 100% agree. Live appearances give instant feedback on the band’s performance, whether positive or negative. With The Small Change Diaries last year’s festival appearances in the UK and overseas were invaluable in developing the band’s sound.

Make connections and have good manners

In my other life as “the other Nick” I teach communication skills globally in the USA, Japan and various parts of Europe. The core principals I teach in workshops definitely apply to the musician model. Any business requires good investment of time and energy as well as financial investment. Its important to seek out like minds and find people who have skills that you many not have. I groan when I see people talk about building their own websites “to save money” not realizing that a small investment will usually result in a much better end result. Similarly there are all kinds of possible playing platforms and audiences. In the ukulele world the quality can be like night and day. The best ones of course are massively popular and are like South by South West in Austin. Others will struggle creatively and financially and are not always such a great association for performing artists.

Most people have good manners, and its important to never underestimate the power of good will. The Small Change Diaries have an inquiry to play in New York. I’m there next week, so I’m going to talk to the promoter, especially as there are a number of logistical considerations when playing overseas. I have no idea if this will be viable, but its always worth exploring opportunities and taking the time to talk to people.

Final Thoughts

Creating and playing great music is not enough. If you want to reach a significant audience you need to address all the points mentioned here as a minimum requirement. My observation is that artists who play the long game generally do the best. This means having a strong work ethic, good organisational skills and of course the ability to create great music, BUT creating great music alone won’t cut it, if you want to reach a more substantial and long lasting audience. 

nick cody

Interview with Phil Doleman

Transcript of Nick Cody interview with Phil Doleman 

nick cody: Hi, this is Nick, and I’m here with the mighty Phil Doleman 

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Phil Doleman: Hello, nice to see you, Nick.

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nick cody: Good to see you, Phil. Down in Belper. I thought, seeing as I have the opportunity to talk to Phil, I’d talk to him about the very many things that he’s involved in, starting off with the new book, which has been out for how long?

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Phil Doleman: It was released at the end of August.

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nick cody: Okay.

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Phil Doleman: How Music Works On The Ukulele, yeah.

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nick cody: What inspired you to write How Music Works On The Ukulele?

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Phil Doleman: Well, at workshops lots of people were asking me, “Can you recommend a music theory book? Because I want to learn a bit more about this theory, but I don’t want to have to learn to play the piano or read music.” And I couldn’t recommend anything. There was just nothing that talked about theory and how all this stuff worked together, but was mainly aimed at chords, which is what ukulele players are playing most of the time, and didn’t involve having to learn all of the sort O level music stuff. That’s where it came from really, more of an accessible version of the music theory.

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nick cody: What sort of interest have you had since you’ve launched it?

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Phil Doleman: It’s gone crazy. I think I’ve sold almost 700 copies with no advertising, and the only other places it’s been available is through World Of Uke shop, the rest of it has sold direct from me. No budget, no nothing. Just Facebook posts and that’s it, yeah.

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nick cody: Well, clearly people are enthused.

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Phil Doleman: Yeah.

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nick cody: I know that with the uke, we’ve talked a lot about this, a lot of the time people have this idea that it’s an easy instrument to play.

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Phil Doleman: Yeah, well, the funny thing about playing an instrument is, there’s two aspects to it. There’s the physical thing of playing an instrument and then there’s music. Music is the same whether you’re playing a tenor guitar or a banjo or a ukulele or whatever. Music is the same. The rest of it is taking what’s in your brain or what you hear, and turning it into music via whatever medium you choose, whatever instrument you choose. Yeah, it’s pretty easy to pick up a uke and show someone a couple of chords, and unlike the violin, if I strum a C chord or anyone I’ve just shown strums a C chord, they’ll sound like anybody else strumming a C chord. Whereas, a violin, you go through that screechy phase of producing a tone. Beyond that, it’s just as hard to play music on any instrument, because it’s much more about music than it is about the instrument. People know me as a ukulele player, but they’ve just seen me playing … And you as a ukulele player and you’re playing a tenor guitar and I’m playing a tenor banjo.

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nick cody: I’ll be lynched. He’s moved over to the Dark Side.

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Phil Doleman: But these are not tuned like ukuleles, these are completely different instruments. But if you understand how notes work together to make chords and how chords work together to make song it’s actually quite easy to get to grips with another instrument and fit those same notes together in the same way. If you’ve got an understand of how music works. That’s the title!

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nick cody: So for people watching this, and they’ve got that ukulele, they’re happily playing their certain number of cords and may be part of a ukulele club, but they want to progress and develop. What would your core advice be for people like that?

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Phil Doleman: I think you’ve got to develop your ear, and I think people concentrate far too much on this aspect and this aspect. So you’ve got develop your ear, and the only way to do that is to listen a lot, and really listen, not just have music on, but listen to it and think to yourself while listening, “What’s happening? Can I do that? Or if I’m playing that song already, do I do it like that? Or is there something different from what I’m hearing to what I’m playing?”
That’s how you develop the ability to jam with other people. Like, we were just playing together then, I mean, that’s not something we’ve played together before other than just quickly going, “How does it go?”

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nick cody: About an hour ago.

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Phil Doleman: Yeah, it’s that. So, it’s the idea of listening, and hearing it in your head, and then being able to… I think the easiest way to develop your ear is to sing.

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nick cody: Yeah.

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Phil Doleman: And a lot of people who play are a bit frightened of singing, because maybe they’ve been told that they can’t sing, or they’ve just never done it with any, it takes a certain amount of confidence. But if you can hear something, and then sing it, then it’s in there, it’s got as far as there and this apparatus, we’ve already had a lifetime to learn how to use to turn something we can hear there to something here. So, that’s quite easy.
The hard bit is turning something that you hear there to something coming out to your instrument.

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nick cody: Yeah.

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Phil Doleman: But if you can sing it, you’ve done the first bit, which is actually quite hard I think. So sing!

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nick cody: I think there’s a lot of truth to that. As somebody whose previously was not a singer, and I’ve had my first ukulele lesson years ago with my dear friend and co-performer, Small Change Diaries Jessica, who said in the first lesson, “Let’s sing a song!” And I went, “WOO!” In shock.
But I have to say it absolutely does something in the brain to pay more attention, without fail.

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Phil Doleman: And if you think about all of the jazz greats, who are playing instruments that they don’t have to blow, will come along, and sing along, with all of you. If you listen Thelonious Monk play the piano, he’s singing and humming to himself as he’s doing it. If you listen to people like Jim Mullen on guitar or people like that, even if they’re not singing out loud, you kind of see their lips moving a little bit, and that’s because they’re not going, “Oh, that sounded nice.” They’re actually going, “I want to make this sound,” and singing helps to get that idea out of their brain and out into the world.
And you would see other people like George Benson who will play mind-blowing guitar solos and sing them at the same time.

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nick cody: Yeah.

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Phil Doleman: And you know then that he is completely in control of his instrument, because what’s coming out of here is matching what’s coming out of here.

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nick cody: Yeah.

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Phil Doleman: It’s all about listening and that’s what music is. People forget that quite often. It’s just vibrations in the air and how you create them is completely up to you, and what instrument you use.

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nick cody: I hear you’re back playing with Ian.

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Phil Doleman: Absolutely, yes! [crosstalk 00:07:30]

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nick cody: Duo gigs all over from what I’ve been seeing.

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Phil Doleman: And it’s such great fun to do it again, because most people know Ian as uke player, but for a long time before that he was a guitarist and quite a busy, successful guitarist, and it’s so great to have… we’ve always had that kind of chemistry where we just play and kind of lock in together, and that is something that is actually quite hard to learn. But if you find someone it works with it’s great, and it’s lovely for me because Ian’s just, he is my entire band. So he’s my drummer and my bass player and my guitarist all rolled into one. Which means I can relax, and I can just do stuff over the top of that, and that Ian’s always going to back me up all the time on that. And, he’s also a harmony singer, so it’s lovely to have a little bit of vocal harmony come in, and just lift the vocals a little bit. But yeah, we’re having great fun with it.
And the stuff we play now, it’s so loose that we don’t have to play the same thing every time. We can surprise each other, we can throw little things in as and when we feel like it. Change the tempo of the song, change the feel of the song, and just go with it, which is a lovely thing to be able to do.

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nick cody: Well, I didn’t know him so much, I knew him sort of as playing with you, because I saw him play Good Enough last year.

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Phil Doleman: Yeah.

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nick cody: But I saw some clips on YouTube, and I was like, “Oh my God!” He can play any Jazz stuff. [crosstalk 00:08:54]

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Phil Doleman: Oh, absolutely.

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nick cody: He can sing! So I was really, not that I was underestimating Ian if you’re watching this, I’m not underestimating you, but I thought, “Oh my God!” I mean, he is solid, solid performer.

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Phil Doleman: Oh absolutely, he’s one of those guys. It’s just like we were talking about there. An amazing ear. So, when it comes to rehearsal time for a new song, we don’t ever go through the whole, “Let’s write this, let’s work it out.” It’s like, “What key is it in? Play it.” By the time we’ve around it once, he’s there. By the time we’ve gone around four or five times, he’s got so really some really nice little bass runs or little interesting bits. And, as he will tell anybody, what takes, then it takes six weeks before we can perform it, because I can’t remember words. But if there were no words to remember we could do a song one day and perform the next. And that’s Ian’s trick whether he plays the guitar or the uke, an incredible good ear. I think that’s something that a lot of players, it never occurs to them to think how to listen to stuff, which is important.

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nick cody: And I hear you are also doing stuff overseas now as well.

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Phil Doleman: Yes, I was lucky enough to go to the West Coast Ukulele Retreat last year, I’m going back again this year. It’s an amazing experience, there’s like anything I’ve been to in the UK. It’s not a festival, it’s truly a retreat for a relatively small number of people, around about a 100 people.

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nick cody: Okay.

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Phil Doleman: Who stay there for several days, this year there’s actually an extra day for people that want it. So it would be from Tuesday to Sunday, and it’s full time table. You get up in the morning share your meals with all the students. You have breakfast and then you go and teach, and you coffee and then you teach, and then you have lunch together and then you teach, and then by the time you get to the evening they’ll be some kind of evening event, but you will be… if you’re not… not so much performing, more facilitating other people performing. So might in the house band for other people, or you might be working on some way of backing up people to encourage them to get up to see sing songs you’ve worked with them during the day.
One things we all had is all the chiefs just have a band, and you teach the band that song.

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nick cody: Oh wow.

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Phil Doleman: An arrangement, and you train them. But then, they go and perform it in the evening. It’s very, very hard work, but it’s really rewarding and it’s unlike anything I’ve done in the UK.

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nick cody: Wow.

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Phil Doleman: Plus, you get to the West Coast of America and go to San Francisco.

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nick cody: Not to shabby!

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Phil Doleman: No! It’s a nice place to go, it’s gorgeous!

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nick cody: So, if people want to find out about what’s happening in the world of Phil Doleman what’s the best way for them to do that.

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Phil Doleman: The website is phildoleman.co.uk, all one word, and you find me on Facebook, I’ve my own page but I’ve also got Phil Doleman music page on Facebook. And, yes, all of those have all the gig lists and the workshops and things like that, and also if come along to a festival, next one is going to Grand Northern Ukulele Festival at the beginning at May. And I’m at a lot of festivals, and just come and say hello, and accost at a festival somewhere and take it from there.

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nick cody: Well, thank you so much for chatting to us.

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Phil Doleman: Always a pleasure mate, always a pleasure.

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nick cody: Cheers.

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Phil Doleman: Cheers.

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Playing an all original songs set?

In recent months I have been talking to a number of musicians about playing original music at gigs as opposed to cover versions. Before I go on, let me be clear that I love cover versions of great songs, BUT I love original songs even more, especially when I hear them for the first time. Last year at a festival a well known artist commented “I have to give them the occasional cover version as a reward for listening to my material”

I set up The Original Ukulele Songs Project (OUS) to bring together artists who were writing original music. My own band The Small Change Diaries only plays original songs and I increasingly believe that we need to write and perform songs that capture audience interest. Personally that’s part of the challenge and the craft in writing and performing. Its in my view not the easy option, but one that I feel is important. I have often commented that without original songs there would be no cover versions. I fully appreciate that in the ukulele world this is not a majority view and I totally respect that other folks may totally disagree!

So far The Small Change Diaries have recorded and released 17 original songs and this year we will be adding another ten to this total, when we release “Lullabies for Cynics” At The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival this May we will play an all original set and OUS are sponsoring a stage for original artists. The OUS project is totally separate to my band, although The Small Change Diaries are one of the OUS artists. Last year we played 3 main festivals in the UK and overseas and every song in each set was original material.

My personal belief (and others are welcome to disagree) is that the best artists push the boundaries and constantly seek to find what’s new and inspiring. This is not to say that covers of existing material can’t be inspiring or remakes of classic movies can’t be entertaining, but there’s no greater joy for me personally in creating something brand new. I’m lucky to work with some brilliant musicians and to know many folks who share this enthusiasm for original songs.

Collings tenor guitar

I have been a big fan of Bill Collings’s instruments for many years. I own a great acoustic which I bought from Mandolin Brothers in New York, an I35 electric, and four ukuleles including I got Bill to sign when I interviewed him. The latest addiction to the Collings family is a Collings tenor guitar. This is pretty rare, but I managed to find one in Hill Country Guitars in Austin, which is an amazing store. Even my friend and longstanding musician in Matt Umanov Guitars in New York commented that he had never seen one,

This is a fascinating instrument with just four strings and reminds me of my Stefan Sobell instruments which is the ultimate reference point sonically. As with all Bill Collings instruments, the build quality on this Collings tenor guitar is superb. There is no other builder I know other than luthiers that custom build, who make instruments to this standard. Here’s a short workout in my kitchen which I recorded as many folks have asked what this sounds like.

My friend Martin Simpson talked about how different instruments inspire different ways of playing. This is certainly true with the Collings tenor. Its really easy to play and is superb for a picking style which suits me just fine. In the brief few months I have owned it I have already started to write new material with it, some of which may make the new Small Change Diaries album.

Developing business skills for artists

The importance of working on the business and working “in the business”

shimo up coseI was reflecting today on the importance and difference of “working on the business” and “working in the business” Many artists who are self employed can miss the real need to “work on the business” and learn about developing business skills which will be a key part of any overall long term success. Often people can be so busy working in the business they don’t allocate time to work on the business. You can always spot such folks as they well always cry “I don’t have time for X and Y” and this is usually because they have not planned ahead and factored in how to balance time and money. Many artists can be extremely busy, but financially impoverished and emotionally exhausted as they have yet to take a step back and look at the full consequences of their actions

Of course its everyone’s right to dedicate as little or as much time they want to do in both of these aspects. In my other life (aside from music), I have started up and run a couple of multi million pound concerns and this has been a spectacular learning curve. I made some massive errors, which have led me to think carefully about how proceed with any project. This is not about becoming the next Steve Jobs, but rather paying attention to the simple factors that will make things easier and more fun.

Personal Experience with my own band The Small Change Diaries

This current band has now been going for two and a half years. Its been a lot of work and a massive learning curve in strategic thinking. Its also for the most part been a great deal of fun and at times a genuine baptism of fire, which is IMO no bad thing. When we had our first BBC Radio play by Alan Raw on BBC Introducing he commented “This band is everywhere, on Facebook, on Twitter, online and on bandcamp”  This was no coincidence, when deciding on the name of the band I also ensured that the online presence and social media were also fully in place. Whether we like it or not, social media is now key to marketing. With the advent of YouTube and Facebook, there has never been a better time for artists to connect directly with the public. I spend a significant time each week ensuring that these mediums are up to date. People can bemoan the amount of time needed for social media marketing, but our biggest gig to date came from a promoter noticing the band’s online presence…

Common Mistakes people make

My business and marketing background has taught me the need to importance of investing both time and money in making any enterprise a success. Of course there is no “right way” to do this, but here are a few of my observations of some common mistakes that in my view can limit the possibilities of success.

Online Presence – consistency and congruency

Nick CodyWhether we like it or not, we are now all in the computer and internet era. If you avoid spending time using these tools and mediums you are with respect pretty optimistic (many might say delusional) about marketing your services. I have often quoted the old adage “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” This is especially true with an online presence. 

Your website is like a shop front out into the universe. Its therefore worth making sure that you create the best possible impression and all information is up to date. Amazingly some folks forget to update courses, dates and news which shows a lack of attention to working on the business. The site also needs to be easy to navigate, Google mobile friendly and search engine friendly. Like a store shop front to get the best results you need to ensure that the site is attractive and easy to navigate. Also its useful to remember that Google searches on content, so regular blogs and article are essential if you want to maintain customer attention. Its also important to have a congruent message. Its also crucial to have professional photos and to invest in this. Anyone can “take a pic” BUT a pic is not a photo and there’s a good reason why all smart businesses and artists invest in professional photographers. You don’t need to go crazy, just have a few great artist photos that literally show you in the best light.

I saw one artist site that was wonderfully visual with useful investments in professional photos, BUT the main images on the site were of the artist posing with a glass of wine rather than an instrument, which looked rather odd to say the least. If you are clueless about creating a website FIND SOMEBODY WITH SKILLS TO DO THIS. The internet is littered with really poor websites that are a terrible advert for the artist. Sometimes people make the most basic of mistakes, because they don’t know any better. You wouldn’t open a shop on the high street with a terrible window display would you? Well consider your website in the same way, if you want to attract interest.

Balancing the books and time management

Deciding how to invest time and money and when to do so, is a real skill. I blogged recently on a colleague who was seeking music tuition and was finding it almost impossible to get a tutor to reply to his requests for help.  These tougher economic mean that we all need to work smarter and harder to maintain viability. Note I say “viability” rather than “success” as its pretty tough out there at present. this means making sure that you can cost your time properly so that all the key tasks receive an appropriate amount of attention.

Pricing services and products will filter the kind of clients you will attract. How you cost your time is crucial. My advice is always to be mindful of managing time to best effect. Its easy to get lost in time consuming activities, which would either be worth delegating or not doing at all. The idea that the lowest price is always the most attractive option is flawed thinking. There’s a fundamental difference between price and cost. The price is the financial element, the cost is what is involved in the overall trade. For example an artist may get a live opportunity that seems attractive until they factor in the amount of time travelling and other considerations. Sometimes the trade is worthwhile even if you are doing this at a financial loss BUT its not viable to do everything at break even or a financial loss. That is a recipe for disaster.

Working with like minds – “Hanging with the smart brains”

The first band I was involved in was “The Guest List”, almost twenty years ago. There were four of us. Myself and the singer attended all the rehearsals on time and spent a great deal of time planning the band’s material. the drummer and bass player always dragged their feet and this made the whole endeavor really hard work! In the end I split the band as I realized I was doing the majority of the work and two of the band seemed to have very little appreciation of the amount of work the two of us were putting in. Yes everyone has different strengths, but there needs to be an overall collective contribution to the project. Since then I have realised that sometimes you have to change personal lineups for a band to move forward in a productive and creative manner.

The dynamics of being in a band is different to being a solo artist. With bands there is always a dynamic of different individuals coming together and inevitably occasionally falling apart. Its similar to a business in that the overall success requires cooperation and working for overall project rather than any personal needs. Just as in business, different members of the band offer different perspectives and often the best creativity comes from discussion and debate. Its also smart to network and I find it highly useful to “hang with the smart brains” and have a number of folks I can productively chat to. If you become too insular in your thinking, there is a real danger that you will make more mistakes than if you interact with others. This is a two way trade and I am more than happy to assist others when asked.

Investing in the best gear you can afford

There’s an old saying “Buy cheap, buy twice”  I’m mindful that everyone will have different budgetary constraints, but in my experience its always smart to get the best gear you can afford. I have talked about the difference between musical instruments and “instrument shaped objects” Yes you can but a ukulele for thirty quid, but the chances are that there will be massive compromises in how it’s made. These days there are some great instruments which are affordable to most folks and its worth saving up to get something that will stand the test of time. Similarly with amplification there are many great cost effective options. After all with music its all about how you sound, so anything that will help you sound better can be no bad thing can it? A great source of information for this aspect is Barry Maz’s “Got a Ukulele” site which has a huge amount of practical help for anyone starting out.

Final Thoughts

My business background in marketing and running companies has been invaluable in working on music projects like The Original Ukulele Songs Project and The Small Change Diaries. Its clear to me that if you want to succeed you have to commit 100% and have an attitude of constantly learning and developing skills. The most successful business owners and professional artists have a great work ethic and are totally focused on developing their craft. Such creative folks have my utmost respect and admiration. 

 

Cocobolo Super Soprano Kitchen String test – Test 1

This is the first kitchen string test for this uke. I have changed the original Worth Browns to a new set of strings. The recording is in the same space as the previous recording that showed the base line test. The recording gear and physical space is exactly the same, with me using a Sony MV1 recorder. There are no edits, what you see and hear is what occurred. In forthcoming weeks I’ll be auditioning more string combinations

 

Lack of basic business sense for music artists?

I called this article “lack of basic business sense for artists” after a few recent discussions about this matter as well as a FB thread. Just to be clear I am NOT talking about major business acumen, just what I would class as basic common sense that is all too often not that common.
 

Responding to requests for services, basic politeness…

A friend of mine recently tried to hire a music tutor. He wanted to engage somebody on a long-term basis and quite happy to pay above the standard rate for help. He contacted his first choice by phone and e-mail, but never heard anything back.  he second one stated that during the holiday period he would not respond to e-mails. This is fair enough in my view, but I do question extending “the holiday period” to a full three and a half weeks. Finally, he made phone contact and an appointment was arranged. He suggested doing the first session at half price and my friend suggested making it full price and taking it from there.
On the day of the first lesson the tutor decided he was too busy to take on another student and sent an e-mail as well as a lengthy phone message detailing his change of heart. Of course, this decision is 100% his right to make. That said if he had engaged in conversation he would have found out two key considerations that may have swayed his decision. The first was that my friend would have been happy to wait and the second is that this would have been a long-term engagement and created a reliable predictable income stream for the tutor. It’s completely his right to decide how much work he takes on, but I can’t help but think this could have been a missed opportunity and at least one worthy of greater discussion. He also created to poor impression for the potential student.
 

Do you really want to say that on social media?

Social media is a powerful medium for communication and there are over a billion people on FB alone. When used well it can be an invaluable platform for connecting with a wide range of people. The Original Ukulele Songs Project started on FB and in just over a year attracted almost 2500 members many of who post new original songs on a weekly basis. It also fueled the creation of www.originalukulelesongs.com which is an international platform for original artists, many of whom have their own pages. I have made sure that the message on FB is clear and concise. The page is for original songs, not cover versions and not adverts. Characters who spam the site have both themselves and their posts deleted as spamming the site is not only rude but poor business strategy.
If you are a professional artist its always useful to be mindful of what you post online and the impressions that are created. Sometimes posts are well intentioned but not especially well informed. When an artist posts “Anyone know of any part time jobs as I’m financially struggling?” may well be truthful, but does not perhaps create the best impression. Late night rants and abusive comments about others views also don’t perhaps enhance professional reputations. I’m a fan of provocative debate and discussion as such debates often afford us all the opportunity to reflect on our own views. As the famous line in one of my bands songs goes “Not one of us is smarter than ALL of us”
 

The need for attention to quality

I remain mystified at a lot of the quality of a lot of video that is posted online. Yes, I appreciate that everyone has different equipment and budgets, BUT some basic attention to detail is always helpful. When advertising a new song, it’s smart to ensure the audio is of a good quality and avoid bathing everything in massive amounts of reverb. I recently watched some show reels from artists that were mind-blowingly bad.  Yes, I appreciate the enthusiasm but just a little more attention to details at no greater cost would have produced a very different end result. Once again, we all have the potential for improvement, but this requires investments of time and money. Often time is the key consideration, which brings me to my final point.

 

The “I don’t have time” excuse and the real value of worthwhile trades

There is a big difference between a hobbyist and a professional artist. A professional artist earns their living from the work that they do and their business sense (or lack of it) will impact directly on their livelihood. A hobbyist has other means of financial support. Each is fine of course, but quite distinctive. I’m not a professional musician or a professional journalist. My income comes from my other work as a communications trainer and consultant.
Building any kind of reputation requires investments in time and money as well as ongoing skill development. Many artists don’t have the stamina, awareness or inclination to do this. Often enthusiasm trumps actual basic business sense and individuals can find themselves in trouble, both financially and creatively. In these tougher economic times, I advise all individuals to consider the value of predictable income. Last year I heard about a folk duo that seemed to be doing a lot of local gigs and then simply disappeared. I spoke to a colleague about this and they replied “Yes person X, got fed up of just playing unpaid gigs and they decided to take a break from music”
 
The whole question of being paid for work is the subject for a whole different blog, but in my view any worthwhile transaction should always result in a trade that is useful for both parties. To the right is a helpful guide to consider with this age old dilemma!
The trade may not always be a financial one of course, BUT unless they have independent wealth, most artists still need to pay the bills each month. With the recent Brexit shenanigans, it’s highly likely in my view that there are tougher financial times ahead for UK folks. I hope I am wrong, but I am somewhat relieved that I have already invested in musical instruments and equipment, a lot of which would now cost 30% more than previously.

Conclusion

The point of this article is to highlight the benefits of paying attention and developing good fundamental business skills. None of us know everything and we all inevitably make mistakes, but the key is not to make the same mistake over and over. The smart folks consider the long term and appreciate that it takes time, energy, investment and attention to detail to make any worthwhile venture a success. Some folks only want to put in minimum effort, which is of course their absolute right, but as they say in Hollywood “It takes ten years to become an overnight success”
 

I do love New York

New York is one of my favorite cities, with an abundance of great stories and great music. Its a fascinating place, constantly changing, so there is also something new to see. Of course there are many stores that inevitably disappear and I do lament the loss of Mandolin Brothers, Rainbow Records and many other unique places. That said, Matt Umanov, Rudy’s Music, Murray’s Cheese, Two Hands Café, B and H Photo still stand strong alongside some brilliant restaurants and of course The Vanguard Jazz club.

When you hear the dreaded words “Can you just?” RUN!

Anyone who works in audio or video production is familiar with the dreaded phrase

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 “Can you just?”

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This specific question usually reveals a lack of awareness of the amount of time and energy is going to be required to complete the task at hand. It’s not that the questioner means any disrespect but rather they just don’t have the awareness to appreciate what work is involved in the recording process. Often, they are optimistic (some engineers may say delusional) about how to create a really good end product and are especially unrealistic about the amount of time and money involved in doing so. I have learned that many (not all) musicians don’t appreciate the importance of investing time and money in a sensible manner. Yes, I get sometimes people have budgets, BUT as the old saying goes “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” The internet is littered with artist performances that were rushed with little or no attention to good audio or video capture. 

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music productionYears ago, as a favour I agreed to audio record some performers in my home studio. I don’t class myself as a professional sound engineer, but I have mastered and mixed a number of spoken word products that went on to sell in the thousands on an international basis. The challenge I had in almost all instances was to get the artist to appreciate the importance of preparation ahead of any recording and crucially the amount of work involved in taking the initial live performance into a final mastered product.
In recent years the technology that is now available is extraordinary and far beyond what I had access to back in 2001. Companies like Audient and UAD have produced products that are literally game changers when it comes to audio recording. Similarly, on the video front companies like Go Pro have also afforded artists with quite extraordinary new possibilities. I’m currently working with a Sony HDR MV1 which is proving to be excellent. Like most great technology, it does one thing really well.

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nick codyThat said, it doesn’t matter how much great technology you own, the human element is the ultimate factor that determines the end result. When The Small Change Diaries recorded the debut album “Adam blames Eve” a local musician suggested I buy a few mics and record at home. “It will save you a bunch of money” he spouted. He spectacularly failed to appreciate that the point of recording in a studio is not just to have the right acoustic environment, but also to ulitise the decade’s experience of the sound engineer, which is the difference that makes the difference.  When he mastered and mixed the album I sat in to see the process. “Nobody else does this” he said. “They have no idea of the work involved to produce a great good end result” Often artists think that once they have laid down a track, the work is done. Yes, their part in the process may be completed, BUT that’s only 33% of the whole process of course.