Rhiannon Thomas – Ukulele.mov

Starting Out

Ukulele.mov came to life because I decided to bring together two things I enjoy, playing the ukulele and talking about films. I also enjoy putting my work on YouTube, I am happy to work for the sake of creating something but it brings me a lot of satisfaction to know other people see my work.

When planning the project I looked into who did similar things and what kind of audience I should be targeting. When setting up my channel I followed people who did similar work to mine and channels that commented on films. I stayed up to date with opinions on recent film releases through these channels.

Song Writing

Due to my song writing process I could see what I originally planned to do was changing. Also, seeing films currently released in the cinema did not guarantee I could write a song, I would frequently watch films and find I could not write about them. I started to lean more towards recent movies (2010 – 2014) that I had known and loved for a while and that I had lots of opinions on. I also wanted to write more about TV shows than films, but tried to keep an even balance in my work.

When I started the project I was writing two songs at once, Clara and Scully and Pride. Clara and Scully only got recorded recently due to not being able to find someone else to sing it with me and Pride is still not recorded. This is because I found instead of working on one song for two weeks then recording it, I worked better working on three or four songs at once, for a longer period of time. I still ended up with the same amount of music produced as I had hoped but all finished around the same time, instead of uploading every few weeks.

I found my ukulele playing was not up to scratch for recording. Whilst recording demos I kept hitting the ukulele as I played, something that had not been a problem during live performances. I started to play with a plectrum (I have never used one while playing the ukulele or guitar) and with a bit of practice I adjusted to playing with it and this problem soon went away. I also spent a lot of time playing any songs that contained chords since I was not good at changing chords and if one of my own songs contained a chord change that I was weak on I developed an exercise to help me master the change.

The third song I wrote was Trust Me, and after writing this I felt my writing skills picked up. I have written songs in the past and I felt like I was tapping into my old skills whilst and that my song writing had become more mature.

Recording

I originally planned to record most of my songs myself with only one or two of them at a professional standard. However, whilst recording my writing tapes and demos I realized that the sound quality was not great and I wanted the public to hear my songs at the best standard possible.

I had organized two recordings sessions but to my decision to record more songs in the studio I extended my first session from one to three hours. I was nervous about the recording session and made sure I was well prepared before going. My first session at ‘On Top of The World’ recording studio went well but I didn’t get as much recorded as I hoped for (I recorded Trust Me, Fighting The Hunger and Girl, Interrupted). It took longer than I expected to record Trust Me and Fighting The Hunger due to the multiple tracks. I also made a few mistakes whilst playing due to nerves.

Due to the pressure not to make a mistake I get very nervous about recording, even when just recording demos in my room. It didn’t help that if I made a mistake vocally or on the ukulele I had to start the entire (or a large part) song again, which should not have been the case and wasted time.

Due to time constraints the sound engineer did not mix Girl, Interrupted. The room it was recorded in was very large and echoed, creating the on going drone in the background that can be heard in rests in the song. I was also unhappy with how Fighting The Hunger was edited, I feel that the edits (breaks in the song) are very obvious and not where I would want them.

My next recording session a few weeks later went a lot better. Again, I made sure I was prepared, but whilst practicing for my recording session I wrote Why Tell A Story. I made a writing tape and demo track the night before and ended up getting very little sleep. Luckily, it was a long journey to Steve’s (my uncle) house who was recording me so I got to have a bit of a rest in the car. He is a professional sound engineer, and had a lot of time for me to record as many songs as I wanted.

Recording in progess

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With less time constraints and a more relaxed environment this recording session was far more productive than my last. I listened to the songs once they were mixed down and asked for a few changes to be made, having learned from my last session to be assertive about what I wanted the track to be like so I was happy with it. Why Tell A Story sounded like two people were singing and I wasn’t keen on that sound so Steve changed it for me. All Warmed Up/Gummed Up sounded like this as well, but Steve was reluctant to change it. After listening to it over the next few days I realized Steve was right and it sounded much better this way.

After these two sessions I still had two tracks left to record. I delayed recording Clara and Scully as I was hoping to find someone to record it with. My dad, who on hearing about the project got enthusiastic and wanted to join in and wrote If I Went Back In Time. I recorded it later as it took him a few weeks to get a demo together for me to learn from.

I recorded these myself using my laptop microphone and GarageBand. When I started song writing I thought that my own equipment was not good enough quality, but I discovered through trial and error that I could get a good sound by making a few simple adjustments although the sound levels and balance are not as good as I would like. This is due to the tracks sounding how I would like them to when played from GarageBand, but then slightly different on YouTube and iTunes.

Development

After uploading a few tracks to my channel I changed the name from Ukelele.mov to Rhisify’s Uklele.mov so that it would be easier to find my videos on YouTube. Rhisify Ukulele searched on Google also produces a page of Google results related to my project.

As I worked on the project I decided to add more elements to ukulele.mov than just a YouTube channel and blog. I wanted to be able to share demo tapes without them making the YouTube channel look unprofessional and to be able to share images of me at work on the project. I created a Soundcloud account for my demo tapes and an Instagram account to share images and this soon became another platform for me to promote my music.

I found out that YouTube compresses the audio you upload, changing the sound quality. However, this is not done to the same extent on Soundcloud, so I made sure to upload all my tracks here, as well YouTube. I also intended to make only basic videos for my songs but I received really helpful tutorials in using Adobe Premier. I took to the program really well and was able to make more interesting videos than I had originally intended which added another element to my music.

I started to develop bundles that would go with each song as it was published. This included a blog/vlog to give information and context about the song, the original track, demo on Soundcloud, a post on Instagram and YouTube video. I tired to make each individual part of the bundle accessible from wherever you accessed it (for example if you found the song on YouTube there are links to the blog, Soundcloud and Instagram for that song).

I recently set up an account on Bandcamp to sell my music on a’ pay what you like’ basis. This project for me is more about creative endeavors but using Bandcamp will mean people can download the songs for free and have them available when offline.

Challenges and How I Over Came Them

I mentioned that I originally though my own equipment was not of a good enough standard to record my songs but I did eventually record two songs using it. Through trial and error I worked out some better ways to record sound using the equipment and realized that the reason my demo recordings had been poor quality was due in part, to errors by me.

I was trained as a singer, starting singing lessons at twelve years old, studying under a well respected teacher in the industry and going to music collage before attending university. I also originally studied Music and Drama at Bath Spa University but changed the Music to Creative Writing due to the stress studying singing was causing me. I was very keen on singing technique which led me to be overly critically of voice. Due to working under time constraints I have learnt to calm down and not demand perfection. I’m happy to be getting my creations out there, as long as they are of a good standard it doesn’t matter if they are not perfect.

Through my experience in the recording studio I have realized that it was better to be assertive about what I wanted rather than have a track produced in a way I did not like and be unhappy with the result. I also realized that sometimes I need to listen to others opinions (such as my uncles) as their insight can add to my work in ways I would not have thought. Recording two tracks myself gave me a greater understanding of the recording process so I know what is realistic to request when working with sound engineers. By the time it came to recording songs myself I no longer felt anxious about recording and found the process enjoyable.

I was keen to get more views on my YouTube channel, and used Instagram to promote it. I also utilized annotations and cards that can be added to videos to encourage people to subscribe, read my blog and watch other videos on my channel. I also searched for recently uploaded ukulele songs on YouTube. This proved to be a good way to find channels with few views and subscribers. I would comment on videos I enjoyed and subscribe to their channels hoping they would do the same in return which has worked on a few occasion and, if I continue to do this a few times a week, will hopefully help me gain exposure.

Where I’m Going Next

I’m definitely going to continue this channel and keep developing my skills using Adobe Premier. I would also like to learn more sophisticated sound recording techniques and get better at mixing my own music. I feel that considering the aims of this project was to develop my creativity, it has been a success. Not only have I written and recorded more songs in the last few months than over the last few years, I have developed new and lasting editing skills and rediscovered my love for making music.

Appendix 

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