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Uke can do this! (Collaborate and Co-create)

In huge and different news, I would like to announce that I am recording an album! Well, it’s not my album, and it’s not just any album; it’s a collaboration with hundreds of ukulele players around the world. It proves that my passion for collaboration and co-creation can find itself in many strange and mysterious places.

How did this start? Like many, I decided to buy a ukulele during one of our many Melbourne lockdowns. Then I found this amazing ukulele player, James Hill (check him here doing Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child). I’ve been doing James’ online Uketropolis courses and gradually getting better at it, perhaps building on my drumming skills and previous life playing in heavy metal rock bands during my teens.

And then (drum roll) James puts out this crazy opportunity. To co-create an album, along with hundreds of others. As James says, “It’s a community, it’s an album, it’s an art project… it’s Uke Heads!” You can check out James’ interview with Ukulele Underground for a deep dive into the Uke Heads backstory.

James outlined three steps to be part of this community. Firstly, purchase one of his NFT Uke Heads (that is mine showing); then be available for James to teach the Uke Heads ensemble the parts we are to play and finally record your part while listening to the base track and send it in. After that it’s all up to James and his team to bring it together in the studio. Simple eh?

There are few things I believe James and his team have done really, really well, to enable this collaborative journey to happen. And these things are great lessons for any collaborative and co-design efforts. Here goes:

1. James wants to do more than just a ‘transaction’ (record an album). He wants to build a worldwide community that has fun, learns from each other, and brings joy to others. He has shared this vision and we have bought into that. (Speaking of ‘community’ I have already connected with some other ukers in Melbourne and we plan to catch up. Things just happen when people get enthused about a vision!)

2. Uke Heads has a structure; it is not about ‘anything goes’! James has written the songs, and he has worked out where the Uke Heads ensemble can add value. In other words, it is clear what we can influence, and what is solid and set.

3. Despite a clear scope, James is also open to ideas, suggestions about how the Uke heads community can connect with each other, and bring the community to life in different ways. There is a compelling ‘why’ behind it all; yet there is scope to explore ideas and other ways of ‘being the community’. There are many possibilities.

4. There is support to enable people of different abilities to contribute. Some of the ukers are very experienced; uke teachers and performers. Others like me are novices. The lessons are clear and really helpful. There are also a 100 or so free uke heads available for people who cannot afford one. It is a truly inclusive process.

5. There is regular communication; not too much to be annoying; but enough to be connected. Ukers can be as active as they want to be; but everyone knows what is going on and how to join in. The invitation is an ongoing one, and everyone is affirmed for what they bring.

6. It is fun! James organised a ‘Listening Party’ so we could hear the songs on the album to be recorded and there is great banter on the Slack platform (if you are a uke nerd!).

I can also say that the five key principles of Authentic Co-design are also being met. So, it's clear that this is a successful example of collaboration and co-design. Always worth checking in if your project can relate to the success factors mentioned above.

Anyway, I’m off to learn and record a uke lick.

Max Hardy

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