Ukuleles are “trending.” There are hundreds of ukulele clubs around the country along with dozens of annual conventions, many of which attract thousands of people. Why the explosion of popularity for an instrument that saw its last spurt of public acceptance during the 1950’s? That was due to TV and radio icon Arthur Godfrey who endorsed a line of plastic ukuleles that sold millions of instruments.
Some might trace the current popularity of ukuleles back to Train’s 2009 mega hit “Hey Soul Sister.” The song featured a ukulele playing the major background to a very catchy tune. Also, many of popular actress Zooey Deschanel’s video clips featuring her playing the ukulele went viral around this time. Young people began embracing the instrument after realizing that it was now hip to play it.
YouTube made video performances of ukulele virtuosos like Jake Shimabukuro and others available to a wide audience. Add the facts that it’s easy to play and that really nice, playable ukes can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and you have what I believe are the prime factors that combined to push the humble ukulele into worldwide superstardom.
I was looking for interesting things to do after I retired last year. I ran across a local ukulele club here in Northern California. I was surprised that it had over 400 members and that upwards of 70 people showed up for each of the 2 monthly jam sessions. The demographic surprised me. The majority of ukulele players in the club are female and over 40, many 60 and older.
This demographic stirred the TV shopping host in me. Female, 40 plus is the main demographic for all the TV shopping channels. Since no channel is currently selling ukuleles and related merchandise, I tapped some of my resources, trying to spark some interest.
Some of my former associates laughed at the idea. I will point out that theses were the people I always thought were asswipes when I worked with them. Not sure if it’s great to be proven right in this case.
Some people didn’t laugh and said they would check it out. In business “we’ll check it out” is usually the polite way of laughing at a concept. I thought I was a pretty good salesperson but I have yet to be able to convince anyone that ukuleles would be bigger on TV now than guitars were in the early 2000’s. Back then, one of the channels sold ten of thousands of guitars. Sadly, they were awful and the bad publicity they engendered has somewhat poisoned the well for selling any musical instruments on TV. Luckily, making a bad ukulele is a lot more difficult than making a bad guitar. Most ukuleles in the $100 to $300 range sound great and are very playable.
While I’m very passionate about the instrument, I don’t want to get involved in the whole vendor route. I have a great deal of respect for people who represent products for shopping channels. They have to handle everything from sourcing the product to getting the on-air talent to product returns. I’m not lazy, but it’s way out of my skill set. I’m an on-air host and doing that properly takes a lot of time to develop compelling presentations for a product. The responsibilities of a product rep don’t leave a lot of time to create and execute a successful on-air sales strategy.
One of the shopping channels is very celebrity-centric. They seek out famous people and develop product lines that fit their celebrity persona. Since I’ve made no secret of my belief that ukuleles could be extremely successful on TV, it wouldn’t surprise me if they find a celebrity and put them up there with a proprietary ukulele. They already have the factory contacts overseas to make an instrument to sell on TV. Unfortunately, those are the same factories that made the really crappy guitars they sold in the past.
There are so many reputable ukulele makers these days it would be much easier to have them put together a package. That way the ukulele would be a good quality instrument. And the sales potential of television would be very attractive to most of these companies.
I know I took a chance when I started making inquiries about selling ukuleles on TV. There’s nothing to prevent any of these people from running with the ball themselves. You can’t copyright an idea. But the idea would have died in the back of my journal if I didn’t get it out there. My consolation is that anyone they choose as a guest to help sell ukuleles on TV would never be as effective as I am. With over 20,000 hours of live TV sales experience, I am really good at it and confident in my abilities. Add my passion for the instrument and you have real force of nature in the TV sales arena.
I will keep beating the bushes to see if I can drum up some interest in selling ukuleles on television. But I won’t be surprised if I tune in one day and see HSN touting “How to Play the Ukulele with Morgan Fairchild.”