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S2E3 – John Atkins (aka The Ukulele Teacher)

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The Ukulele Teacher is one of the most well known uke players in the world and has taught thousands, if not millions, of people how to play through his popular YouTube tutorials. In our interview John Atkins talks about his goal with the channel, some of the challenges, and other fun tidbits about his YouTube star ukulele career.

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Edited for clairity

Brad Bordessa (00:01):
Aloha welcome to the Live ‘Ukulele Podcast. My name is Brad Bordessa and have a special interview guest today. He’s a YouTube star, probably one of the most famous ukulele players on the planet at the moment, John Atkins, AKA The Ukulele Teacher. And I say ukulele, because that’s how he says it. It seems only correct to use his pronunciation for his title, The Ukulele Teacher. So really interested to hear what he’s got to say about running a very successful YouTube channel and his approach to ukulele and kind of his, his background, and just hear some stories about what that’s been like for him. Cause it’s a very different side of the business and of teaching than what I’m used to seeing and kind of… He’s far outside of my circle of influence. And so it’ll be interesting. I’m looking forward to it. Don’t forget that Live Ukulele and the Live Ukulele Podcast is supported by listeners and viewers, readers of the website. So if you aren’t already subscribed to the podcast, go check out LiveUkulele.Com, download some of the songs and the lessons that I’ve got going on there. And if you want to support further, maybe consider buying an ebook and taking some additional knowledge home from the internet. I don’t know if home from the internet is really a thing, but you get the idea. That’s always appreciated and helps keep the lights on.

Brad Bordessa (01:31):
So without further ado, here’s my interview with John Atkins, AKA The Ukulele Teacher. Here we go. So welcome John. Thanks for being on the podcast.

John Atkins (01:44):
Hey Brad, thank you so much for having me. It’s really cool to to speak to you.

Brad Bordessa (01:48):
Yeah. So you are known as The Ukulele Teacher.

John Atkins (01:53):
Yeah. And I was wondering if it’s okay to say ukulele on this podcast because when I’ve been listening to it the last few nights and you guys always say ukulele and I do get a bit of stick on that online sometimes for saying ukulele so I was never quite sure how I should say it.

Brad Bordessa (02:07):
No, that’s, that’s fine. I actually, I think of you in my head as The Ukulele Teacher, even though I say ukulele, just because that’s like, that’s your brand, that’s how you say it. That’s how the people over on your side of the pond say it. So that’s fine with me if it’s fine with you.

John Atkins (02:22):
Absolutely. Cool. Well, yeah then yes. Thank you for having me, The Ukulele Teacher on your podcast.

Brad Bordessa (02:28):
Great. So, I mean, a lot of people know of your work and your tutorials on YouTube, but you’re, I mean, as far as I’ve seen, you’re a little bit of a mystery man, as far as your background, but I was, I was looking at your interview on DCP entertainment. I think it was. And you said that the first video started as a joke. Can you bring us up to speed on… Kind of to that point?

John Atkins (02:52):
Oh wow. It’s funny you say I’m a bit of a mystery man. I feel like I’m kind of an open book to be honest with you, but cause you know, I have like Instagram and Twitter and people of, I felt like everyone knows all about me and it’s sort of hard to have a little balance with, with the private life. But but yeah, the first video that I made was 10 years ago, this October. I’ll have been doing The Ukulele Teacher channel for 10 years later this year. And yeah, I basically just made it for a bit of fun. I had a friend of mine at work. I used to have a regular nine to five office job and he played ukulele and he had a few videos of him playing on YouTube. And I’ll be honest with you. I was really jealous. I thought he was really good and I just thought I’ll make a little fun video to sort of poke a bit of fun at him. And I posted the video and it was just sort of your typical how to play the ukulele in 10 minutes, C, F, G. And I guess people liked what they saw because it sort of became like a rolling stone and it just sort of grew and grew. And so I made more videos and it grew from there, but yeah, the first video is absolutely to poke fun of a guy in my office, basically.

Brad Bordessa (04:02):
Nice. And so did you have… Once, once you kind of realized that there was a demand for the tutorials, did you have any idea how to go about growing your brand and growing your business? Because it’s always, at least when I first started noticing you, it seemed like you really had it together. I was like, wow, this guy is polished and knows his shtick.

John Atkins (04:21):
Oh, wow. Okay. Well, that’s really cool of you to say, because I have stumbled into a lot of this stuff, to be honest with you. And and pretty much everything you see with my sort of name or face on it is like almost a hundred percent me because I don’t have any like webmaster. I don’t have any sort of graphics people or you know, social media people or anything. So it’s, it’s basically all been me except for The Ukulele App, by the way, I didn’t program that. But everything else is sort of all stuff that I kind of had to figure out for myself. And it’s been tough, but it, it, wasn’t a massive sort of calculated plan for world domination. It’s just I sort of got lucky and I was in the right place at the right time and I worked hard and you know, yeah, like you said, once I realized there was a demand for videos, I kept making them. And you know, I think I started off, I maybe made like one a month if I had time as sort of something to do on a Sunday afternoon. But the more people watched them, the more I made and it just grew from there. Like I said, it snowballed, you know?

Brad Bordessa (05:30):
And so what is your relationship with the ukulele kind of leading up to that point and then to now?

John Atkins (05:38):
Well, yeah. I, I have since I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old, so guitar has always been my main instrument, but when I was about 16, 15, 16 in the window of our local music store, which is long gone, sadly in the small town in England, that I’m from, they had a little ukulele there and I think it cost something like eight pounds. And even then as a 15 year old, I still had to save up a couple of weeks pocket money or wages to be able to buy it. But I was like, wow, I can’t believe I can buy a musical instrument, you know, for eight pounds with my own money. So I bought a ukulele there and I actually used it for a few months just sort of wow, I don’t want to sound too obnoxious, but as a sort of party piece, you know, like it was just like a funny thing to “oh, look at this guy with the kind of tiny guitar thing.” so I was using it for that and I actually did a GCSE music composition using the ukulele. I don’t know if you know what a GCSE is. It’s I’m not sure what the equivalent is in the US like SATs, it’s sort of the exams you take between the ages of 15 and 16 in the UK. So for my coursework, I actually had to do a composition and I was like, well, I’ve got this little ukulele, let’s see what I can do on this. And I wrote a piece of music on the ukulele called Ukulele Feedback, which I still have on a cassette somewhere, but sadly I don’t have a cassette player to play it. So it’s lost to the mists of time at the moment. But one day I’ve got to dig it out and listen back to it.

John Atkins (07:18):
But so yeah, for about a few months when I was 16, I played the ukulele. And then I guess, I don’t know if I lost it or broke it or gave it away or something, but sort of put it to one side for many, many, many years. And then when YouTube became a thing all of a sudden it was sort of popular again. And like I say, I saw my friend playing it. And also again about this time, about 10, maybe 11 years ago, there were a lot of other sort of YouTube ukulele people doing it to various degrees, you know, sort of professionally and less professionally, but it felt like anyone could join in. And also at that time, the sort of perfect confluence of the ukulele actually became popular for a brief spell. It was in a lot of pop music, like Train and 21 pilots. Um a lot of, you know, movie soundtracks and TV commercials. And all of a sudden I was like, Oh, hang on a sec. I can play that. I’ll buy one, you know, because I’m like, I can be a part of this craze again. And and again, not with any sort of grand designs to you know, make a career out of it or, or gain kudos, but I just thought it was a funny thing to do, you know, it’s a little guitar and I could already play the guitar itself. So I just thought it’d be a fun thing to sort of gently poke fun at people and put a few videos up on YouTube for, for a laugh. And and again, like I said, it snowballed, it sort of really just took off from there.

Brad Bordessa (08:48):
Wow. That’s, that’s an amazing, amazing start. You say you got it kind of as a party piece, so to speak, how much of The Ukulele Teacher on your channel and on your platforms is like a persona and how much of it is the genuine you, John Atkins?

John Atkins (09:08):
Firstly, I don’t know the answer to that and secondly, I’m not sure I want to find out. I really don’t know because whenever I, whenever the camera turns on, I feel like I really have to perform. And I’m sort of like, “Hey, it’s me The Ukulele Teacher, what a lovely song we’re going to learn now.” And I guess that is really me, but I’m also performing, but then when people leave comments, they often say you’re so wholesome or natural on camera. And I sort of am, but I don’t know the answer to that question. And I’m not sure there is one. I think I am really the person you see, but just on a night out, maybe not just sort of watching TV or something, you know, I’m the person who I am, but just amped up to, I was going to say 11, that’s a cliché – amped up to about seven or eight, maybe, you know? Okay. But yeah, that’s me.

Brad Bordessa (09:59):
I also learned that you used to announce wrestling, which was sort of like a light bulb. It’s like, Oh, so has that kind of performance, I’m on stage background.

John Atkins (10:08):
Exactly. That’s well, that’s exactly it as well, Brad. Because I yeah, when I finished university and this is a long time ago now, I had no plans for a job. I, there was no career that I was going to kind of fall into nothing I wanted to do or was desperate to kind of be involved with. Other than I knew I wanted to get involved in wrestling. I was like, I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but I want to be a wrestling commentator or an announcer. And so that was all I really thought about when I left university at the age of sort of 21, 22 years old. And I actually found a company in London. So I moved to London to to be a part of it. And I spent many years going around the country. I was a ring announcer, like a, an emcee, like I would stand live in the ring and performing from a crowds of well, thousands on occasion, but sometimes it would be a crowd of sort of 12 or 13 as well. So big and small crowds and also hosted various sort of TV shows you know, nothing huge, but just sort of introducing fights in front of a green screen and that sort of thing, and doing commentary and stuff like that. So, yeah, I’ve got before I even did The Ukulele Teacher, which I’ve now been doing for 10 years, I’ve still got 10 years plus of sort of on-screen experience or, or performative experience in one way or another. Which I think helped me when I started doing YouTube.

Brad Bordessa (11:40):
So a lot of people find you first when they’re on their ukulele journey. It seems like you mainly focus on song tutorials these days. Are you finding that that’s the, the overwhelming requests or are there more…

John Atkins (11:54):
Yeah, that’s it, that’s a really interesting question as well, because it’s something I think hard about. And yes, song requests are by far my most popular requests, you know, for song tutorials. And once I realized I was getting views and I don’t mean this to sound cynical in any way, but once I found, when I find what’s getting views, I sort of stick to it. And a lot of people say “can I learn this song by 21 pilots” or “this song by the Beatles” or whoever it is. But very few people sort of say, can I learn I dunno, diminished chords or you know flamenco strumming or whatever the thing is. So, and also even if they do, like, I mean, I’ve made a video on chucking. I made a video on strumming techniques and I’ve made the video. So over 10 years, I mean, I’m not sure how many videos you can make.

John Atkins (12:53):
But yeah, certainly in terms of also, I have to say as well, and again, not in a cynical way, but I absolutely gear my channel towards sort of beginner players. Because one of my philosophies of the ukulele has become that. I want anyone who wants to be able to play it, to be able to play it. You know, I’m actually looking into doing guitar lessons. I really would like to set up a guitar channel certainly by the end of this year, but hopefully much sooner. And that’s something I’d like to go into a lot more depth in doing, but in terms of the ukulele, what I like about it is you really can give someone a ukulele and give them sort of 20 minutes and teach them three or four chords. And that, I’m not saying they’re going to be an expert at the end of 10 or 20 minutes, but that really opens up a lot of doors for them. And the amount of people I’ve seen in real life, just say, I didn’t know, I could play music. You know, it just opens up a new thing. And then from there they can find, you know, more advanced tutorials or maybe go on to play the guitar or another instrument. But I really like to just kind of keep it simple and just sort of appeal to the biggest possible audience because, you know, I want to share the fun of the ukulele.

Brad Bordessa (14:09):
That’s, that’s great. And I appreciate that so much because I, I guess I come from a little more of like a classical ukulele study background. And for me, that’s, that’s sort of not my jam. So it’s nice to know that there are people who are kind of in that lane and filling that gap of the specific songs and geez, you have like 816 videos or something now…

John Atkins (14:31):
Is that right? You know, I keep meaning to check and I’ve completely lost count, to be honest with you. That’s been hard to be honest with you because… Have you heard of the, Oh, I don’t want to sound like a whingeing YouTuber, but have you heard of the YouTube algorithm at all in your travels? Yeah. Right. One of the things that apparently, and I’m sure I fall foul of the algorithm constantly, but one of the things that they always drum into you is that regular uploads are the key to keeping a channel, not just successful, but like alive. You basically have to post sort of one or ideally multiple videos per week, forever. In order to keep your sort of channel in the public consciousness. And I’ve done that for, like I say, coming up to 10 years in October, I’ve posted between one and sort of three or four videos per week throughout everything that I’ve gone through in the last 10 years, whether it’s sort of moving house, moving country, the birth of my son, getting married, coming back to England, all kinds of things I’ve gone through. And I still had to post videos throughout that time. So yeah, it’s I know that wasn’t what you asked me at all, but it was, it just, it triggered me. And I’m sorry about that.

Brad Bordessa (15:51):
That’s great. Are you feeling like you ever get burned out or do you have like a master plan for, I don’t, I don’t know. Cause you see,

John Atkins (15:59):
No, I feel now I’m feeling the burn. I’m feeling burned out to be honest with you a lot of the time, but I’m just trying to change my… Over the last, I dunno while the last five or six months we moved back to England, so it’s been like a busy time and I’m very lucky. I mean, so, so it’s, so… I hate to hear people complain when they’re doing YouTube because it’s such a privileged position to be in and it is my full-time… My only job is making YouTube videos. So I can’t complain and it’s given me like a great life and great experiences. And so, but just the last five or six months have been difficult for us because we’ve moved house and moved country and sort of had to adjust to a whole new way of life. But basically I am trying to streamline my workflow a little bit better.

John Atkins (16:44):
So for example, I’ll try and film all of my lessons for the month in maybe the first couple of days of the month. And then I can edit at my leisure. So if I can just spend a couple of days dedicated to filming and then not have to worry about that. And just, you know, little things like that, trying to get a schedule. And the thing is I’m really bad at that sort of thing. Anyway, one of the reasons I initially liked being a YouTuber was because I hated having a nine to five, you know, for all my life before that I had a nine to five, I had to sort of arrive at this time, leave at that time, answer to this guy, you know, wear these clothes. And it didn’t appeal to me at all. So one of the beautiful things about being a YouTuber is I am my own boss and I set my own schedule. But yeah, I am trying to find a better way of doing things. I mean, constantly, you know, I mean, all my… Just by looking at my videos, you can see hopefully the quality of them has improved of course, most of the way through the last 10 years. And I’m still always working on trying to get it looking better, visually more interesting, tighter edited while still maintaining the educational content as well. That’s something that I don’t want to sort of sacrifice, you know,

Brad Bordessa (18:04):
So something that’s always kind of interesting to me from a business standpoint is like you say, the YouTube algorithm and the fact that, you know, you’re kind of at Google’s whim of sending people to your videos and providing that, basically, ad revenue. Right? Yeah. So do you have a, I know you’re, you’ve moved to Patreon, you do a lot on there. Do you have any other plans as far as like maybe a course or something along those lines to maybe help with the, the amount of burnout, something that can be sold repeatedly?

John Atkins (18:39):
Well, yeah. I mean, yeah, yeah. And no, because sorry. Yeah. That’s very vulgar. Yes and no, Brad. Because the thing about YouTube, like I say, you have to keep pumping out content. So I’d love to take, for example, a month off and just make the, the ultimate ukulele beginners course, or like I said, this guitar channel that I’m thinking of doing or would really like to do. But I have to keep making these YouTube videos and it’s very hard to sort of find the time to do extra stuff as well. So yes, I would like to do those things. What were you, was there something else? Another part of that question, I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve skipped.

Brad Bordessa (19:23):
The second part of the question is Patreon the extent of your diversification as far as revenue in case YouTube change something and throws you off the turnip truck?

John Atkins (19:36):
Yeah. I mean, to be honest with you, if it wasn’t for Patreon life would be very different for me. Patreon has changed my life. I mean, like really, because certainly with my channel because of the size of it, perhaps, and because of the nature of what I do, I… Songs tutorials basically almost every video I put out eventually gets demonetized or half monetized to some degree or another, because I’m doing songs that I don’t own the copyright to, I suppose. At the beginning actually YouTube wouldn’t let me monetize them at all. And then they, I think this is about eight or nine years ago came to an agreement with PRS and various music publishing houses to allow us to even post these videos and, you know, have a sort of ad share.

John Atkins (20:31):
But it’s like you say, it’s at the whim of Google and the whole thing is at the whim of Google. I mean much larger channels than mine have been closed down overnight. And with no reason, or I’m sure there’s been a reason, but no sort of course of no recourse, no way of appealing or even contacting them to find out what’s going on or to overturn the decision. So when I became a full-time YouTuber, I mean, I really took a gamble with my life. I mean, it’s paid off big time at the moment, but I’m very… One of the things that occasionally does keep me up at night is that I’m very much at the whim of Google and YouTube, and I could come home any day and they could have reversed the… They could have changed any policy. They could shut my channel down with no warning. They could completely demonetize it. Yeah. They could, you know, erase everything I’ve done. I mean, I hope they won’t. And so far I’ve been lucky and I’m not doing anything against the rules, but it’s just, you know, every now and again, you know, often due to advertisers or something, they will change their policies. They will remove like a section of their content. Do you remember the adpocalypse a couple of years ago?

Brad Bordessa (21:50):
It rings a bell.

John Atkins (21:51):
Basically, I think this was about three or four years ago, overnight they de monetized any YouTube channel that had anything to do with wrestling or guns. And again, whether you’re a fan of wrestling guns doesn’t matter, but just basically you have people who have sort of gone all in on YouTube and made it their livelihood or their career and overnight they’ve been completely demonetized and sort of, you know, hung out to dry in some ways.

John Atkins (22:23):
So it’s a concern of mine, and that’s why I’m so grateful to Patreon for the alternate revenue stream. And that’s something I’m really trying to build up and I’ve dabbled with things like t-shirts, but again, it’s very hard because like I said, I’m one guy on my own and you know, I’ve occasionally tried to get people to help me out or you know, take care of that side of things, but it’s just very difficult to find the people and to kind of oversee the people and run all these side businesses when you’re also constantly making content. And I mean, really like churning out content because like I said, you have to keep pushing these videos out there just to keep the channel. So yeah, I would like to diversify more. I would like to maybe do t-shirts again, I’d like to, I’d like to spend some time making our own music as well at some point. And I would like to perhaps do a guitar channel. I’d like to do a course or courses, but at the moment it’s just difficult to find the time and keep the YouTube thing ticking over, but that’s not to say I won’t do this and I really hope I will do them, but it’s just, it has not been easy the last, you know, 10 years to get these things done.

John Atkins (23:41):
I’m very, very grateful to YouTube for the, the lifestyle that I’m enjoying. And again, like I said, we’ve done a lot of things this last sort of six, 12 months. And, you know, I’m in a really fortunate position. I’m still able to carry on working. I’m still able to carry on earning money and I’m also able to stay at home. And I’m also able to spend a lot of time with my young son who’s two years old. If I was in any other job, I would not have these opportunities. So YouTube has been incredible for me. And that’s just on a day-to-day basis. Like I said, just being able to sort of stay at home and see my wife and son all the time. And that’s to say nothing of the other like great experiences and travel and festivals and people that I’ve met and, you know, experiences that I’ve had off the back of it. It’s incredible. And I’m sorry I was so churlish earlier moaning about it.

Brad Bordessa (24:36):
What has the fame of YouTube brought kind of to your experience of different festivals and interacting with the other YouTube stars and other just ukulele stars?

John Atkins (24:47):
I mean, I’ve met loads and loads of people through this and without exception, everyone has been incredible. I mean, everyone has been really nice and really fun and very friendly. And I do wonder if other sort of circles are like this or is it just – is it unique to the ukulele community? It seems to be very free of sort of politics and backbiting and backstabbing, or have I just been fortunate enough not to encounter any of it? I mean, I’ve met loads of people and everyone to a person has been just absolutely first-class and yeah, everyone has been so cool.

Brad Bordessa (25:26):
Nice. Yeah. That’s my experience. I think it’s a lot to do with kind of the, the Hawaiian home of the ukulele, that’s a very, the Hawaiian, you know, encompassing, Aloha kind of thing. That seems to have, cause everybody likes that and appreciates that and they try and perpetuate that with their, their own ukulele circles.

John Atkins (25:45):
Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s part of it.

Brad Bordessa (25:49):
It seems like every video I watch a view you’re playing a different ukulele. How many do you have at current count?

John Atkins (25:56):
Oh, I’ve actually stopped counting, but I think it was about… I mean, at one point it was certainly over 20, I think. But it got a bit much, and my wife wasn’t super happy about all the ukuleles that I had, but to be honest with you, I never, unless I really love it, I never keep a ukulele for long. So for example, for a year or so, I had a deal with Kala where they would send me a new ukulele every month, but at the end of the month, I would give it away to one of my Patreon supporters. So it looked like I had like a constant stream of new ukuleles, but which I did, but I wasn’t, it wasn’t like I was kind of hoarding them or storing them. Although I kind of am hoarding and storing them a bit now.

John Atkins (26:41):
Yeah, I think I’ve got, I don’t know, maybe 20 or so ukuleles including like basses and banjoleles and things like that. Again, when I started, especially when I started sort of making a bit of a name for myself on YouTube, I really liked novelty ukuleles. I know they’re not always good quality instruments, but as long as I can keep them in tune for a five minute video, then it’d be great if I could get like a ukulele with say, SpongeBob Square Pants on it or something, because that’s the kind of thing that people enjoyed watching when I started doing the channel, if I could get like a SpongeBob or an Adventure Time ukulele or, you know, a cool sort of electric ukulele with, you know, neat design or something then that was something that I really liked about the ukulele. Actually, it was all the different sort of shapes and styles and colors and patterns that it came in. Both personally, I like to, and again, like I say, because it was something that seemed to appeal to my YouTube audience,

Brad Bordessa (27:43):
Well then the whole popularity of it and the fact that all these companies are realizing, Hey, if we make, I saw that there’s now like an Elvis ukulele starter pack, I think it’s from Kala, but that never existed in the early days. So that must be kind of interesting for you to see all these new options coming out.

John Atkins (28:01):
Yeah, it is. I mean, it’s cool. I mean, I went to… Have you been to NAMM at all? I haven’t, no. Oh yeah, that’s too bad. I mean, there wasn’t one this year, obviously, but I’ve been for the last couple of years, particularly when I was living in LA, it was obviously easy to get to. And there are, I don’t know, thousands upon thousands of different ukuleles you know, there’s like a whole floor dedicated to them almost. And there are crazy designs. I mean, you know, Elvis would be, you wouldn’t look twice at an Elvis ukulele at NAMM because there’s all kinds of, sort of weird and wonderful and wacky ukulele designs out there. And again, I think that’s something else that’s part of what’s made the ukulele so popular is there’s one for all tastes, you know, people can get all kinds of ukuleles, and it doesn’t just have to be a, you know, one with a cartoon character on it. I mean, you know, even as a musician, there are different sort of facets of ukulele that you may enjoy or not enjoy playing. And you can find, you know, you can find one to suit your sort of musical requirements as well. I think,

Brad Bordessa (29:06):
Have you found an instrument that really spoke to you from like a musician standpoint that you really like over others?

John Atkins (29:12):
I have, I do have a favorite ukulele and it’s the long neck gloss soprano from that’s a Kala ukulele, soprano long neck gloss ukulele. And I’m not even sure if it’s because… I’m not really sure what I like about it. It’s just so comfortable to feel, to play. It just to sort of fit. It just fits me really well. And I can’t really describe it any better than why it’s such a good ukulele for me. I don’t know if it’s a great uke for everyone, but it just, it just feels good. It’s just very comfortable to play and it sounds good as well. I mean, obviously that’s important. And to be honest with you, I mean, the look is okay. Like, I don’t mind the look, but with that ukulele, it’s actually the last thing I think about, I don’t really worry too much about what it looks like. I just enjoy how it feels to play.

Brad Bordessa (30:09):
It seems like the popularity of the ukulele, they would be something that you would have a real strong pulse on. Have you noticed it continuing to trend up or has it turned down, or I know like when COVID hit and everybody was home in lockdown for those few months that my traffic went way up and I heard the same from other folks. Have you noticed any kind of trends over the years?

John Atkins (30:30):
Yeah, I mean, I heard you talk about that with James Hill on the podcast a few… When was that? A few months ago? A few weeks ago.

Brad Bordessa (30:38):
Yeah. A few months ago.

John Atkins (30:39):
Yeah. A few months ago. And I was thinking about that definitely when the first lockdown started last when was it March, April, I suppose there was absolutely a big uptick on my channel and my Patreon which is great to see, but as someone who’s been doing this for 10 years, I would actually say that was a very small resurgence. And actually it was way more popular, say 10 years ago, eight years ago, seven years ago. And I would say there’s actually been quite a steep decline in the popularity of the ukulele over the last maybe three or four years. And then, yeah, as lockdown started, there’s been a small uptick, so noticeable, but a small one.

John Atkins (31:27):
Because it goes back to what I was saying earlier about how, you know, back 10 years ago, the ukulele somehow became a part of popular culture, as well as just a sort of niche instrument or a, you know, sort of community instrument. It was, you know, in hit pop records and movie soundtracks and commercials. And that isn’t the case so much anymore. I don’t think, you know, you don’t sort of hear ukuleles all over the place anymore and they’re not in a lot of, you know, popular songs anymore. There are still people wanting to learn it and it is still a popular thing, but I’ve definitely noticed a big drop off over the last maybe three or four years. And that’s probably just because I’ve been doing it so long. I think that I’ve noticed it.

Brad Bordessa (32:17):
Oh, that’s interesting. Cause that’s, I mean, I don’t, I feel like the initial resurgence has kind of tapered off, but I haven’t noticed it really going down. It seems like maybe, maybe other parts of the world are kind of picking up the slack as far as interest goes, because it seems everything that I’ve seen that like Taiwan and all of the Asias are just exploding right now and all over it, but that’s, that’s interesting to hear,

John Atkins (32:42):
Well, maybe it’s the audiences that we both sort of appeal to as well, because like we’ve discussed, I’m mainly doing song tutorials of popular songs. So I guess I’m sort of appealing to a young, mainly Western audience, I suppose, and you know, their trends and tastes are different. So yeah, I guess we have, we would have a different experience of that. And again, you’re in Hawaii, right? So that’s forever the home of the ukulele I would, I would imagine.

Brad Bordessa (33:15):
Right. Well, that’s interesting, even if it is just from a demographic downturn standpoint, if younger people aren’t as inclined to be picking it up, that’s sort of interesting in the whole grand scheme of things.

John Atkins (33:30):
Yeah. Yeah.

Brad Bordessa (33:32):
Great. Well, this has been super interesting. You have anything else you want to share? Anything new you’re working on that you’re excited about?

John Atkins (33:39):
Anything? Well, no, not especially. I mean, I would encourage people if they haven’t heard of me. If you don’t mind, I would just say check out my YouTube channel, The Ukulele Teacher on YouTube. And I’ve got a Patreon page, or if you want sort of additional or supplemental materials, then you can go to Yeah. One, one last thing I was going to say, actually I forgot to mention earlier, Brad, is talking about sort of meeting other ukulele people and YouTube people, especially is, you know, you’ve been doing this a long time when I went to NAMM last year and I met a 20 year old girl who does this now. And she said, “Oh, I used to watch your videos when I was a kid. And you made me want to become a ukulele teacher on YouTube.” And now she’s doing that. She is a ukulele teacher on YouTube because she watched me when she was a kid. So one of the reasons maybe I’m personally seeing a downturn is because I’ve sort of reared like the, my successors, my own sort of people who are actually taken over from me. Like when I started, I, I honestly feel like, I mean, obviously there are a lot of ukulele people, but there were only sort of in terms of teaching, I feel like it was mainly just me and the Canadian guy, Ukulele Mike, I don’t know if you remember him, the fishermen, I think. And then now there’s scores of people teaching the internet. And a lot of them are sort of a lot younger and prettier and have a fresh take on it than I have, you know, so it’s yeah, it’s just interesting. Something I’ve noticed anyway is not only have I influenced people to play the ukulele, but I’ve actually sort of made being a YouTuber an attractive job proposition or career prospect. And I don’t know, that’s just something that I thought was sort of funny or interesting to,

Brad Bordessa (35:35):
Well, that’s great. We all want to be like when we grow up!

John Atkins (35:38):
Right? Yeah, yeah.

Brad Bordessa (35:39):
That’s yeah. It’s definitely been interesting to see all the, all of the new, the new YouTubers and the new teachers coming out and everybody has their own, their own spin their own take on the instrument and how they like to approach it. So it’s great that people have so many options these days.

John Atkins (35:55):
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Brad Bordessa (35:58):
But thanks so much for coming on. Thank you for your time. And yeah, if you folks want to learn more about what John is up to The Ukulele Teacher on YouTube and Patreon, and… What about the app? Tell me about the app real quick.

John Atkins (36:11):
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, sure. We have an app still. The Ukulele App on Apple and Android. Some developers from England contacted me and this is many, many years ago now. And basically helped me put together an app. It’s pretty comprehensive and very straightforward to use. And it’s free, although you can upgrade if you want to get rid of the ads. And that’s been a sort of bonus, extra revenue stream for me as well over the years. But it’s a free app and it’ll just give you, you know, a few basic things get started, like a tuner and chord diagrams and chord progressions, and a link to most of my YouTube videos as well. I think you can access through there as well. So yeah, you can check that out and it’s free.

Brad Bordessa (37:00):
Great. Well, what does the future hold for you? Do you think you have any predictions or ways you might be going?

John Atkins (37:09):
No, I have no idea. I actually, I really would like to I really want to parlay my ukulele, my YouTube experience into something else whether it’s like TV presenting or acting or something. And that was something I was about to start looking into. Cause I used to live in Hollywood until about six months ago. And then when the pandemic sort of got really bad we decided to kind of get out and come back to England to be a bit nearer my family and everything. But I was really hoping to kind of use my, I mean, I’ve basically got 10 years of on-camera presentation experience and I just thought there must be something that I can do, as well as keeping on YouTube. But using that kind of on-camera experience for, you know, other purposes and see if I can like do something like that. But at the moment I’m very happy just being a dad and making these YouTube videos and enjoying the quiet life in England. And then when the pandemic clears up, who knows what the future holds, you know?

Brad Bordessa (38:10):
Right. Well, all the best to you in the future. And yeah. Thank you for your time and for jumping on here.

John Atkins (38:14):
And thank you so much for having me. It’s been really fun, Brad, thank you.

Brad Bordessa (38:20):
Once again, want to thank John for coming on the show. Very interesting to hear about his life as a ukulele player and as The Ukulele Teacher, if you want to find out more about his work, visit YouTube and punch in The Ukulele Teacher, he’ll come right up. You can’t miss him. He’s got 816 videos as of this recording. You can learn most, any pop song you’re interested in learning on there. He’s got a real comprehensive style, just get right to the meat of the material and teach you the chords. And off you go. He’s also on Instagram and Twitter and Patreon, of course, if you want an extra level of access and resources from his content. There’s also The Ukulele App, which includes a tuner and metronome and chord charts and things like that. You can check out if you want some quick and easy references on your phone.

Brad Bordessa (39:20):
Once again, I’m Brad Bordessa. Thank you for tuning in the Live Ukulele Podcast is published on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss anything. And as always keep an eye on for many more resources and lessons, tabs and songs and some reviews. And of course it’s the home of the podcast. So until next time, take care of one another, be safe out there and I’ll see you down the road. Aloha.

brad bordessa avatar About the author: Brad Bordessa I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honoka’a, Hawai’i, where I run this site from an off-grid cabin in the jungle. I’ve taught workshops internationally, made Herb Ohta Jr. laugh until he cried, and once jammed with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me