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S2E4 – Performing With the Ukulele

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In this episode I talk about some things that can help improve your uke performances. Stage presence, song choice, rapport with the audience, telling stories, and more.

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Edited for clairity

Aloha! Welcome to the Live Ukulele podcast. My name is Brad Bordessa. And in this episode, I want to talk about performing. It’s something that a lot of musicians are really missing right about now and not able to do. And it’s a fun subject. There’s a lot of dynamics to it, and a lot of different approaches, different things that can go wrong. It’s certainly kind of a culmination of all the things in music and life that you’ve learned that you get to put it all together and get up in front of people and lay it all on the line.

If you want to get involved in the conversation and discuss this podcast episode, I’ve now created a Discord server for Live Ukulele that you can join. If you check out the show notes on, you’ll find a link, an invite link to the new Discord. Jump on there and join some of us and discuss the podcast. Or if you have any questions about playing technique or different lessons, please feel free to join in.

I think of performing as any time your playing is influenced by somebody listening to it. You can play by yourself in your bedroom or in your car or wherever your private space is. That’s like you – you’re listening to yourself and there’s no pressure. There’s no outside influence. That’s really, you can play, play things as many times over as you like that sort of a thing. But as soon as some person is listening, maybe besides partners and spouses. Because those are people – or roommates – that you’re just so comfortable being around, you just have, you know, ceased to give a crap what they think. And you just do your own thing regardless of what it is or how well you’re playing or how bad you’re playing. But anybody outside of that, like if I’m sitting at the beach and I’m jamming on my ukulele, that’s sort of a performance, if there’s anybody within earshot who can hear me. And I’m going to be playing a little bit different than maybe I normally would.

And so with that in mind, you can approach the performance mentality, which is playing things better than you normally would. And bringing kind of a next level of attention to, not necessarily the music because you don’t always want to be thinking about the music. The whole idea of practicing is so that you can play things more easily and not have to think about what you’re doing. So that’s not necessarily the part of performing you want to think about.

It goes kind of without saying, and a lot of people are surprised. Somebody tells them this, but you shouldn’t be thinking about the music when you’re performing. That should be the music should be so easy that you don’t have to worry about it. And you’ll find that if you’ve practiced the music, to that extent where you’re feeling so comfortable with it, that you can just rock up and not even think about the music, you’re going to, when you perform have one less thing to be nervous about. You still might be nervous that you’ll forget something or that you might play a wrong note because that happens even if you are well-practiced sometimes. But the majority of the playing itself, won’t be a factor in your headspace as you get ready to perform, and your entire attention can be on the performance. Because it really is a different thing. If you are just playing your music back for folks, that’s one thing. But if you’re performing, you’re kind of, you’re in a different delivery space. You are delivering that music in another way.

Of course, there are different kinds of performances. There’s the, “Hey, I just wrote a song for you. I’m going to play it for you.” Like two people performance, where it’s very private and intimate. And for me, those are the hardest by far. But there’s also like the open mic. You might think of the open mic as the next level or performing in front of your ukulele club or whatever it might be where, you know, you’re looking at like 10 to 30 people. And then there’s like, you know, a size up from that, which would be maybe like at a wedding or in a restaurant – a big restaurant – or things along those lines. And then you get into like stages and festivals. And…

So how do you perform well? What are some tips that I can give that will help you improve when you’re in that space? Well, very first I’ve already said, practice the material. Learn the songs so well that you can do them in your sleep and that that’s not even a consideration. Your fingers just autopilot play the music. Because then you can think about other things in the performance. Things that make you more accessible and relatable as a performer.

Most of my tips are going to be going towards folks that have the opportunity to play for an engaged and receptive audience. There’s more to the performance when somebody is actually caring and paying attention to what you’re doing. If you’re just, if you’re playing background music in a restaurant, it’s kind of a performance, but no one’s tuned in, or really listening. Usually they’re talking politics or about the storm that’s coming into town or whatever the dinner conversation might be. But in a performance where people are tuned in and listening to you actively and, like, trying to engage as an audience with you, then you kind of have to decide what your persona is. What is the attitude that you want to put across in your stage presence? Cause you know, you have different personalities when people get on stage. You have Jake who is super enthusiastic and he’s, like, doing his shredding stuff and he’s holds the ukulele up so that the neck points at the sky and, you know, he acts like a rockstar and he uses up the stage and he runs around a little bit, not as much as he used to, but when he was younger, that was really his persona. It was like the really active, energetic ukulele guy. Whereas on the other hand, if you go see like Herb Ohta, Jr. perform, even if he’s performing in front of a thousand people, he couldn’t even seem to be bothered. He is just like so low key and almost bored. He always jokes about himself looking like he’s falling asleep on stage because he’s just like, he’s there to play his music. And his personality comes across in the little stories that he tells and, like, between the songs and the emotion of his playing more than, like, having stage antics. And so there are lots of stops on the spectrum between, but there are also other different sort of personalities. You know, are you like a punk emo kid who’s like super angsty and you know, hates the world or are you like a “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” kind of extravagant, over the top, wearing a rainbow tie sort of person. It’s really just the flavor of who you want to portray yourself as onstage.

And so we’re going to, as an example, we’re going to talk about me. Cause I have experience performing as me. And so I think that I kind of strike a, a fairly middle ground of just like a straight ahead, straightforward, engaging, but not too kitschy kind of ukulele performer. That’s where I try and fit in is like, you know, “Oh, I really liked listening to Brad because he played well. He played some nice songs. He sang, well, he had some fun stories. I felt like I could sit down and have dinner with him and it would be very enjoyable.” That’s sort of the vibe that I try and put across for people. And I’m sure most people do that, but they do it in different ways.

But my way is you open up and you kind of, you’re allowing these people to see you and to be part of your show for a moment. And I find that one of the best ways to do that is smile, smile for God’s sake. I always… Growing up, I was kind of a -tony faced kid. And even though I could be completely enjoying myself, having the time of my life, I would be completely stoic and people would be like whispering to each other like, “is Brad having fun? Is he okay?” It’s like, yes, I’m so pumped, having a great time. But it didn’t come across like that because I wasn’t sure how to… I couldn’t be bothered to express it. That was not part of my thing as a younger person. And I’ve realized as a performer and as a teacher and as somebody who wants to engage with my audience and with my students, that it’s okay to show some of my emotions and to have that smile and to let it out.

And at first, you know, you might have to ham it up a little bit and it might feel like you’re being really cheesy. Like if you go up on stage and you just smile right off the bat, you’re going to have to kind of convince yourself before you can convince the audience. But the more you do it, the more you get used to smiling and that smiling kind of portrays that confident attitude. And will do you wonders of good. I feel as a performer, it’s a lot easier to relate to the guy who’s smiling. Like, oh, they seem nice. As opposed to the guy who’s like staring you down with a death stare. And try and loosen up. That’s really where a lot of people get stuck who are just starting to perform as they get really uptight about what they’re doing and they’re, like, so worried about the music or so worried about anything else. Whereas a more experienced performer knows that the performance is kind of its own weird thing and that if you can take it less seriously, you’ll come across a little bit smoother and more easeful.

If you don’t believe me, set up a camera and play a song to the camera as if you were performing on stage and see what you think. See how engaging you look and appear and come across. You’ll be surprised. You’ll be awkward because if you haven’t performed much before you probably haven’t like heard your voice played back to you before, and that can be very uncomfortable at first. That’s something you got to get over when you start talking into a microphone on a big PA and you can hear yourself coming back in your ears. That’s weird. You’ll also notice all the annoying, weird stuff about your appearance that you don’t like and the different mannerisms that you have, but that’s usually fine because that’s part of who you are. But what you want to kind of pay attention to is what are, what are the things that are blocking you off from being more engaging? And usually it’s like a smile and just a freedom in your attitude.

Something else that can be an asset to a performer is using your eyes for yourself to kind of protect yourself. Because at first, when you get up on stage and you want to focus in on the music, the crowd is going to be the biggest factor and distraction in what you’re doing. They’re going to be the part that makes you nervous. Being on a stage, playing plugged in is usually not that big of a deal, but as the audience and the people watching you that are a big deal. If you get up on stage, usually… Like say, you’re playing at a little ukulele festival or whatever, and “blahdy, blahdy, blah, please welcome to the stage, Brad Bordessa!”, you know? And everybody politely claps, cause they don’t know exactly who you are. But you get on stage. You say like the bare minimum that you can get away with and still seem friendly and not surly. And then you play a song. Because if you’re comfortable with your music, you can kind of take refuge in the song and live in your little bubble for those three or four minutes, just to get acclimated to being in front of people and to feeling the eyeballs on you. One way to sort of protect your bubble is you don’t necessarily look at the audience to get started. You know, this is kind of going at kind of more of an amateur level of performer. Maybe somebody who hasn’t performed as much. Because if you’re an accomplished performer, you probably won’t do this. The audience is going to be no big deal right off the top. You can look at them, you can banter.

James Hill talks about the time to first laugh. Because he’s such a funny guy, but he also has done some reading into like humor and things like that. And if you can get the audience to laugh in a very short amount of time, that kind of eases the tension for both people. They know, they realize, oh, okay, he’s not super uptight. And then, you know, you build that rapport with the audience. You feel a little more secure in that, oh, they laughed at what I had to say. They must think I’m all right. They’re not going to judge me too harshly.

But by living in that world of my song for the first little bit, it can help you survive that first song. As opposed to like, just completely freaking out that there are 30 people watching me play and the most people in the past who’ve ever watched me play as my dog. Right? By having that little bit of refuge just to get you used to, it can be super helpful. So if you have to, if that’s feeling overwhelming, just, you know, watch your fingers, play your song. Something else you can do that’s a little bit more engaged, but not quite as intimidating is you look over the top of the crowd, like to the back of the room or far away from the stage. So you’re kind of like looking out in their general direction, but you’re not necessarily engaging with the people.

And then once that first song goes by, usually that’s when I feel like, “Okay, nobody died. I’m doing okay. I didn’t completely bomb the first song. I can still remember how to play.” Cause that’s a funny one too, is you, like… You realize the impending march of time as you’re going to perform. It’s like, “Oh my God, I’m up next! I’m up next!” You’re biting your nails. And you’re wondering if you actually remember how to play. It’s like, have I ever played ukulele before? It doesn’t feel like I’ve ever played ukulele before. I am just so nervous that I forget something that is so innate to my abilities and my life. I’ve spent, like, you know, the majority of my life playing ukulele. And now I feel like I don’t even know how to do that. So by just getting through the first song, you can kind of get that concern out of the way. Yes, you do remember how to play. Yes, you can do it. Yes, the audience isn’t going to throw tomatoes at you. Yes, yes, yes. All of these things. So then by the time you get to the end of the song, then maybe it’s less scary and you’re ready to engage a little bit more.

I can’t tell you how to be a charming person, really. I’m an ukulele instructor. I’m not a people instructor. People skills are not my super strong suit. I’ve learned to build rapport with people better and better over the years and get more comfortable being in kind of that Brad-plus-10% sort of public personality face that I put on. And that served me well. But I don’t… There’s no, like, one liner secrets that are always going to unlock the audience and make them feel like they’re relating to you. There’s just, you’ll have to kind of figure that out on your own because every place in the world is different as far as audiences and expectations and, you know, who the heck is this on stage? Are they your fans? Are they people who have never heard of you? Are they indifferent? Do you need to win them over? Do they need to be impressed? You know, like what is their status as an audience? And so there’s not one size fits all for stage banter, but usually you want to talk to people. Especially like in the ukulele world, it’s a lot more involved and engaged and people feel included in the ukulele community more so than like…

I’ve heard of people who have gone to see like Eric Clapton and he walks out on stage and he goes, “Ah, thank you. Great to be here.” He plays his full entire set and says, “Yeah, you’ve all been great!” And he walks off stage. That’s like all he says the entire time I’ve heard of shows that have gone like that. And if you’re an ukulele player, especially one who doesn’t have a lot of name recognition, that’s going to be hard to pull off. Everybody’s going to go like, “Oh, well he played fine. But like, I didn’t feel any connection to this person.” And so, so much of the ukulele community and the ukulele scene is building a personal connection so that people feel included and they feel special. And the better you can do that, I think the better people are going to like you and be more receptive of your music and what you have to share with them.

A great first place to start is tell a story about the song. Talk about how you learned the song. You know, don’t ramble on about it, but share a little bit and let people into your life, a window into kind of your music. Because I have, lots of different songs that I play, songs that I’ve written, cover songs… But no one, not even like my closest friends and family really know the stories behind those songs or what motivated me to learn those songs, or, “why is this song important to you, Brad?” That’s just not something that ever gets expressed unless you explicitly tell somebody, “Oh, I’ve heard this song in whatever year. And it really moved me. And the message meant this, this and this to me. And it seemed appropriate for me to play, but I couldn’t sing it in that key. So I had to change the key and I changed the arrangement and blahdy, blahdy, blahdy, blah.” These are things that people won’t know unless you tell them. And by telling them, you kind of give them a glimpse into the world, into your world. And especially ukulele players, if they play a little bit, they’re going to have some of that musical understanding. And as you talk, if you throw in a couple different musical tidbits and maybe why you did this thing or the other thing, or this is the style I like to play it in because of this. They’re going to go, “Oh yeah!” You know? “Yeah. I know how to play in the key of A, that’s a great key. It fits my voice too.” It’s just that relationship building of the rapport and things like that.

So that was a real important part of my kind of time under the grindstone with performing. And I was super blessed to have this opportunity. When I was in the Institute of Hawaiian Music, we had a regular gig at the Fairmont Kealani, down towards Wailea in Maui, down South Kihei. And we would set up in the main lobby, big, giant, beautiful hotel, bunch of ratty, you know, college kids coming in, kinda know how to play our instruments, really don’t know how to perform. Four of, kind of my closest cohorts, we formed a group early on in getting to Maui that… We played a whole lot of the gigs because we were just, like, we were the first guys to always say yes, and like, “Yeah, sure. We’re available. We can come play.” And so I ended up with these guys playing this regular gig at the Fairmont Kaalani for many, many weeks in a row.

And every time Uncle George would come and I think he would open up the show for us. He’d play like three songs in the beginning. Let the people, the few people in the lobby who are sitting around, know who we were, know that we were kind of under his tutelage and we were legit and they should listen to us. Not necessarily that they should have, cause we were pretty bad at that time. But just to have a little bit of context. And then after that, he would sit down in the back with his iPhone and he would take notes the whole entire time we were on stage playing. And at the end of the gig, we’d “Okay. Yeah!” We’d be all stoked and feel good about ourselves and we’d go home and we’d receive an email like that night or the next day. Like here are the notes from Uncle and it would be this big, long list of all the things that we could do better.

As an up and coming musician, that was one of the most valuable things that I’ve ever received, advice wise. It’s just like, solid performance tips from somebody who’s been in the industry and has been performing for so long as Uncle George. To just have these practical feedbacks of, “This was good. This was good. You blew it here. You could do better here. Try this next time.” And you know, a lot of times it would be super humbling to hear these pieces of advice because we thought we did great at the gig. There were other times when we felt like, oh yes, we finally succeeded in a previous critique. And the more we did it, the more comfortable we got with these different things that he encouraged us to do. And really that was the blueprint for my performance skills. I learned from Uncle George how to perform better and some of the key boxes you need to tick off.

Just for fun I thought I would pull up… I actually was able to find some old emails with some of these notes from Uncle and I thought I would share a couple. I hope he doesn’t mind. And the IHM guys don’t mind. So here, “Uncle G’s comments, everyone dressed great with shoes, leis, and on time,” exclamation point. “Need to set stage plot in semicircle so everyone can see each other before the show. Speakers need to go to our side, not behind. Two: general comments, beginnings and endings week throughout the night. Three: great thing is that there was a great song list with keys to go by.” I remember I would always print up a set list with the keys and some, maybe some notes if we needed them about what we were doing. “Four: Need to Paʻani,” that’s like a solo, “in between each verse of each song once in a while to feature each solo artist and give each artist a chance to shine.” Right? This was back in our days when we were just bent on getting to the end of the song in one piece and surviving it, as opposed to thinking about arrangements and how we can help each other, not show off, but to highlight our skills as individual artists. Cause some of us were good instrumentalists. Some of us were good singers. And you need to lean to those different directions, to make the performance cohesive and to let everybody kind of stand in their, their space where they’re comfortable in their spotlight.

And so it goes on and on and on. It’s it’s fun to look back on these notes, but he would have like song by song break downs. Here. “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai. This A key is too high for you. You can’t hit the notes, try F or G. Most notes okay. Record yourself on your iPad and listen to yourself. You are too sharp at times and flat other times. You can’t stay on key. Please practice and find a better key for your voice.” It was always things like that that were… Yes, they were kind of hard to hear in the moment and we felt discouraged slightly when those kinds of things came up, but it was always like, here’s how you fix it. Uncle knows how to fix it. Let me help you. And he’d give us that advice. And off we go. And then, you know, next week we’d come back and we’d be that much better.

So if you can, see if you can get somebody to critique your performance. Even if it’s just, you know, your roommate or your spouse or whoever, it might be. Just having a different set of eyeballs and ears on what you’re doing is going to yield some interesting results. This should be somebody who can be completely honest with you without any hard feelings. Because that’s the whole point is to be completely honest. Like, what sucked, what was, okay, what can I do better? That’s the critique. And that’s what you want to find out is like, well… You could record a video of your performance. That’s a really good start. You’d learn a lot from watching that, but you can only see as far as your mind and your interpretation of what you’re doing. By having somebody else watch it as well and give you that feedback or take notes, then you’re getting even more criticisms and constructive ideas that you can enact towards your next show.

One of the big things that Uncle emphasized was definitely telling stories about the songs. It was like, how can you bring the audience and share with them about… Especially Hawaiian songs. If you’re singing in Hawaiian language, no one, except a very select few are going to be able to understand what you’re singing about. And so if you’re playing in a hotel, well, duh, you have to explain what the song is so people can appreciate the beauty of it a little bit better. That’s an important part of the performance. It was like, you know, what is this song about? Oh, it’s about this story and these metaphors and by bringing people in, they can understand it better. And they’re going to be more likely to really stick around. Because in a lot of these different performance situations, especially playing like in a hotel lobby, you’re kind of like earning your audience’s time every step of the way. And if you blow it and they’re feel disengaged, or like, they’re not getting much out of watching you play, they’re gonna go to the beach or go have dinner or go do whatever and it’s no skin off of their nose. You want to try and create as many opportunities as possible for those kinds of people to get involved in the music that you’re playing and to understand where you’re coming from. And so that’s the importance of stories and background, and also background about yourself and who you are, because they won’t know that either if they’ve never met you or heard of you.

Cadence is something that is also very important when performing. Because you could play brilliantly, you could introduce your songs brilliantly, but if you put them in the wrong order and you are, you know, maybe you hit the ground hard with three fast songs and then the rest of your set is all like sleepy times, slow stuff. You’re going to lose the interest of people because it’s just gonna be like, “Oh, another slow song, another minor song, another major song,” whatever it is. So you want to think when you’re building your set list or when you’re choosing songs, what contrasts? What will be interesting and different and stick out from what I’ve already played? Not necessarily all of what I’ve already played, but like the last song. A lot of times what I’ll do when I’m building a set is I will play the outro to the song before that I’m thinking I want, you know, to have a song after it. And then I’d play the intro of the song I think I’m going to put in that next spot. And if it kind of flows together, or if like, the contrast is good or interesting, then that’s great. Because sometimes you want songs that lead right into each other, be the same key, same feel, same tempo, that kind of thing. And sometimes you want them to be quite different.

And so that is something to keep in mind. Keys change the feel of a following song as does the speed of the song and the feel of the song. So don’t try and put too many songs all in a row that are the same. Like it probably wouldn’t be a super-duper idea as far as engagement goes and interest goes, if you have like… You do a few like folk-rock covers that are of different tempos and then it’s like, okay, it’s like Tin Pan Alley time of my set. And you play five Tin Pan Alley songs in a row, all in the key of C and all at the same tempo. That’s going to be super boring because there’s no differentiation between the songs. The only thing that’s going to be different if you’re playing… Especially if you’re like just a solo ukulele player, unless you have a lot of tricks up your sleeve, the only thing that’s going to be changing is like the chord progressions and the melodies. Otherwise it’s going to be all the same. So you want to try and create diversity. Maybe you would have a Tin Pan Alley song and then like a Tin Pan Alley ballad. I don’t even know if there’s such a thing, please forgive me if there’s not. That would be a contrast. And then you can play another Tin Pan Alley song, or maybe you have one Tin Pan Alley song, and then you play the next one in a key that’s like way higher up and you have to sing in a higher register. That would be interesting as well, but you definitely don’t want to repeat yourself too often.

Someone, I think it was Les Paul said that, “no one remembers the middle of a song. They only remember the beginning and the ending.” Which is also kind of true of a set of music. So if you go on and you just kind of like drift your way into your music, that’s not very memorable. On the same hand, if you play “Dream a Little Dream of Me” on as your outro, you could make that work, but if you play it super boring and super straight and stiff, it might not work as well and that might not be very memorable either.

What I tend to do more so is I’ll come out with one of my best songs, one of the songs I’m most comfortable with, that I know I sound good playing and I just bang it out. That’s my bubble moment where I can kind of get into the feel of being on stage again, play a song that I’m super comfortable with, something I know sounds good, and something that is just completely rocking. It also serves the purpose of getting people engaged. They’re like, “Whoa, this guy is like, kind of going for it! It’s great. You know, I feel like tapping my foot. It’s groovy.” It’s, you know, as good as it could be, maybe for a solo ukulele guy. And that’s great. That’s the whole idea is to bring people in. And then from there I can kind of do whatever feels right as far as dynamics and fast songs, slow songs, different keys, different feels, different stories. And then at the end, again, one of my best songs. A little bit more up tempo, a little more groovy, and you just kind of hit them with that.

Because especially in Hawaiʻi, we’re used to the hana hou and they’re sort of like… These days, the hana hou has become like politically correct. You play song and you’re at some big venue or, like, you go to a theater or something and you watch somebody play, the MC will come out and they like always give you a hana hou. Or some sort of festival or whatever. If there’s time, there’s always a hana hou and it kind of puts off some musicians. Cause it’s like, if you don’t really want us to play some more, don’t ask us to play some more. That’s like, that’s silly. Just let us play our thing and if it’s really that great, you should push us back up on stage so that we can’t leave. But it’s also something that I’ve learned you have to kind of incorporate into your set planning. Is that you have that one banging last song, but if you don’t have any more songs. If that’s like all the songs you know and they call for a hana hou, you’re going to like have to go up there and either repeat a song or you’re going to have to do the sheepish thing of like, Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t know any more songs,” neither of which is super ideal. So you sort of want to have that hana hou in your back pocket. That song can be kind of anything you got, but also it’s like another last song. So again, I would save a really good song for the hana hou as well.

So a couple random things about performing. Number one is when you perform, you are being a professional. That is a professional application of ukulele playing. And so one must act as a professional. That means showing up on time. You would be blown away how hard this is for some people. For a lot of people. Like if you can be a competent musician, just a mediocre musician, but you show up every single time when people tell you to or ask you to, and you’re always 15 minutes early for your soundcheck or for your performance slot, boy, people are going to invite you back because that is just, it’s easy to deal with. And people would rather deal with the guy who always shows up on time and is just an okay player than the guy who might be pretty good. But he’s just a pain in the ass to work with. I’ve found there is no comparison between the two, because at the end of the day, you need somebody who shows up. You just need somebody who shows up.

So always be early if possible. How early depends on the kind of gig. If you’re like the only act that’s going on. If you’re like the main bill, you can show up two hours early and if the sound guy’s there, you could help them set up, you could tell them how you like to place your mic, you can check your mic height, you can set up your pedals if you have any. That’s a lot of fun for me. I get a big kick out of that. Even if it’s not much, it’s like, “Yeah, this is my zone!” Or if you’re the first slot at the festival, yeah, show up early, get there and, like, get your stuff set up, put your water bottle in the perfect place. That kind of a thing. But if you’re playing later on in the in the midst of a festival, you probably don’t need to be there but 15 minutes beforehand or whatever they ask you to be there before. Because you know, even if you’re ready to soundcheck, the other band might still be playing in and there just might not be time for you to be any more early than 15 minutes.

Another big one when you’re performing is to create a rapport with the soundman. This is super important because if the sound man doesn’t like you, or isn’t a bad mood, boy, your life is going to be really, really rough. Really rough. It’s not good news. So if you can, I always go up to the sound man, when I’ve got time and when it’s possible, like, “Hey man, I’m Brad,” you know, “thanks for being here. Thanks for running sound.” Just that it’s super simple and you kind of create an opening. It’s like, “Oh, he’s all right. I know his name, at least.” That kind of thing. “He was decent enough to take the time to come say hi.” And then, you know, if you have any requests, you could say, you know, “I’m going to need an extra DI for my second chain on my pedal board,” or whatever it might be. And then they know. As a sound person you like to know what’s going on. If somebody just has random requests from onstage, that’s hard work for a sound guy, cause you’re like scrambling to figure it out.

But if you get there ahead of time, build a rapport, if you’re polite to them. Being polite is really important too. Then they’re more likely to help you out to work hard to make you sound good. And music scenes aren’t that big. You’re probably, especially for like ukulele music scenes. There’s only so many sound guys on the Island. And so if I’m a dick to one of the sound guys, they’re going to remember that next time. And also if I’m super nice to them and I, you know, treat them with respect and appreciate them and shout them out at the end of the show, they remember that too. Like there’s a number of sound guys where they know me by sight and it’s kind of like, “Hey, how’s it going?” You know, “you’re great to work with!” “Yeah, you’re great to work with too.” And so that really makes a big difference.

And you also just… Whether or not you have a rapport with the sound person, you need to be aware of them and they need to be aware of you as far as when you’re plugging and unplugging. Because if you plug in and the system’s hot, or if you unplug and the system’s hot, you’re sending a huge amount of sound through their very expensive sound system and they’re going to be annoyed with you no matter what. And it’s going to sound bad for the audience. It sounds bad for your ears. It’s a total bum deal for everybody. That said, sometimes you slip under the radar and, you know, they say, “Yeah, you’re clear. You’re good.” Boom! You pull out your jack and you’re still hot. That has happened to me before. And it’s kind of one of those moments like, “Yeah, sorry, man. You know, that’s on you. I tried to ask and find out…” But for the most part you can avoid that just by checking, like, “Am I clear? Am I off?” You know, “is it good for me to plug in or unplug,” or whatever, because that is a big bummer for everybody.

So there’s really only so much I can share. Performing is so much a doing art and, as I said in the beginning, it’s a really bad time for doing musical things as far as being out and about and getting to try these things yourself. It just kind of sucks right now for that, but it’s an interesting thing to think about. And even if you’re not performing, if you have the interest in it, you can be thinking about these things even while you’re practicing in your bedroom.

Something that I’ve done in the past is, set up a mic in your bedroom and like, you know, ideally run it through your amp or a mixer or something so you can hear yourself in headphones and play like you were playing to a thousand people. Just to practice having that mindset of like being on and sending a show, bringing the heat. “How’s it going, Hilo!?” Or whatever your shtick is, whatever you’re going to say. By practicing that you’re just getting more and more used to it and when it’s actually time, you’re going to feel that much more comfortable, just pulling out the stops and making it happen.

And that’s another thing too, is you can practice your stories. You can practice your, “This is what I did with this song. This is who I learned from,” you know, blah, blah, blah. You can practice all that. And if you don’t have a mic or a mic stand, you know, no biggie. Go stand against a wall and sing there so you can hear yourself bouncing back against the wall, bouncing off the wall. And also I find that that kind of blank slate of being in a, you know, in a space where there’s nothing to look at, you can kind of envision what it’s going to feel like to be on stage a little bit easier and a little bit better.

Just because you can’t perform doesn’t mean you can’t practice performing and practice your stories, practice your persona, practice the whole nine. Just by putting on fancy shoes and putting on whatever your performance clothes are and singing to the wall like you’re singing for Wembley Stadium is a big step forward in comfort for when it’s actually time. Because then you’ll have… Like the music, practice the music so much. If you practice your stories so much, you’re going to be more comfortable with that and that’s one less thing you have to think about and worry about.

There are always going to be variables because it’s performing. That’s what the beauty is of reforming. Like somebody could heckle you from the crowd. I’ve never had to experience that because that’s like no bueno in Hawaiʻi. That’d be super rude. But I know in a lot of places, that’s kind of how people roll and you learn to deal with that. Or you learn to like, “Oh, my mic just turned off by itself. That’s cool.” How do I improvise? And you know, adjust what I’m doing to continue the performance. Even when the situation isn’t going exactly as I expected. So Murphy’s law. And the more you do something, the better you get at it. That’s just always my spiel.

But those are some things that I feel were useful for me in improving my stage presence. Do it a lot, practice doing it a lot, perform for your pod, if possible. Anything they can kind of get you out of your comfort zone as far as performing goes, if that’s something you’re interested in, that’s a good thing to work on amd to practice. And you could… There are lots of, like, ZOOM recitals happening now. You can get on… You know, check in with your ukulele club, see if there are any opportunities to perform at, like, a virtual open mic or something along those lines where you can be in front of people that you don’t necessarily know that would be… Kind of bring up that since that heightened sense of, “Oh gee, I’m playing in front of people who,” you know, “are judging me!” Right? That’s kind of the bottom line concern.

Anyways. Hope that’s helpful. Thanks for tuning in the Live Ukulele Podcast is published on the first and third Saturdays of every month. The next episode is going to feature an interview with Brad Donaldson, who is a great ukulele builder and had a lot of really interesting things to share about the craft of building ukuleles and a lot of surprises. I was really, really excited to talk to him and I really enjoyed talking to him and finding out what he had to share. So be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss that. It’s going to be really interesting for folks to hear his knowledge. And, as always, check out And yeah, feel free to join into our Discord chat and communicate with myself and other ukulele enthusiasts about whatever you’re working on or studying in regards to the ukulele. Be safe out there, Take care of one another and I’ll see you in the next episode, 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