It’s probably come to your attention that I have been working voluntarily with the excellent Global Voices news site in order to present and produce the monthly podcast. If you think I do this by myself – you’re nuts.
If you read the commentary that I tend to add to the blog, then it is also likely that you have sussed out what a decentralised network is. If you have, then you can skip the next paragraph.
A decentralised network is more normally associated with computing. So, a network of computers where some control is spread over different nodes. Consider this with a global set of writers, clever clogs, great thinkers and fun people and that’s a thin description of the network I am talking about.
The nice thing about this sort of network is that you not only bring yourself to the party but you can also draw in your own connections, spreading the goodness a little further. This is a post about growing that network and the happenstance that has lead to the kind of support that really keeps me running from day to day.
Before I totally embarrass the person I am about to highlight, let me also point out that for each podcast a group of people get together online. They swap stories and ideas that might translate well into audio. Global Voices editors, directors, managers, writers, tech gods and contributors drop the a line to say “Hey! Think this will work?” Nine times out of ten, it’s a brilliant idea and frankly it makes sure my blood pressure is even and makes me a very happy editor – so thanks are always due and will always be due to those people. Please keep ‘em coming too!
So. In creating the podcast I was calling out for audio and ideas from that team and they continue to provide. Along with this I was trying to design the stings and idents that furnish the podcast. To give it an identity that is ours. So I called out on Twitter, “Where can I find some free music to play underneath those idents and to give the intro and exit some flavour.
Twitter’s a funny thing. There are people you know up close and personal and there’s folk that drop by as easy digital company here and there to chat sometimes. One person I had enjoyed the odd conversation with was Mark Cotton – known as @McFontaine. Friend of a friend is a friend of mine more often than not on Twitter.
When I called out – he offered me some lovely instrumental music. He wrote it. He and his band played it. Original music and free for me to use. Even better, he tolerated my messing with it unmercifully to change the shape a little for the podcast furniture. As a creator – that’s pretty free with your material.
I am ever grateful to Mark for that initial move as it sets the tone each month for the podcast intro. That’s his music right there. He made that. I just phaffed with it.
Mark and his lovely partner in crime Sarah also said if there was anything that the podcast needed, to call on them. So there it is. From a casual network to new friends to contributors to the GV podcast network.
Call on them I did. Sarah has read beautifully for the English language voice overs and Mark, well, Mark pulled off something so trusting and spectacular that I am still humbled each time I think about it.
The music that surrounded the interviews from the Arab Bloggers Meeting in Tunisia – that was all new. Written, performed and recorded in the weeks before the event. Ready to run before I got on the plane so that I could use it straight away for broadcast.
Allow me to break this down. I asked for the moon on a stick. For free.
Mark said “Yeah. Of course” as though I had asked for a spare pen in an office.
He thought about the original themes on the podcast. Persuaded spectacular musicians to play for him (and for us) then designed more music himself and mixed beautiful tracks. Then he made more of them for variation. Then he sent them all to me to listen to.
Here is where Sarah also helped edit the music. One of the tracks was almost there but somewhat busy. We both had the same thought and let the ever generous Mark know what we thought. He stripped it down and created a piece of music that I still get chills listening to.
Here’s the first sample that Mark sent to me to illustrate the direction he was heading with the music. I love this clip.
There are other musicians to be smiled at and thanked too. I’m looking at you guys – Mark Print, Simeon Georgiou, Russ Cooper and Ian Anderson. Without you, we wouldn’t sound as good as we do and that beautiful music would not have been enjoyed by so many of our listeners.
So. Just who is this Mark Cotton then eh?
One good thing about being a girl is that we are sneaky and I had a super agent who snooped out some interesting things about Mark for us. Step into the light Special Agent Sarah!
Mark’s musical background appears to be influenced by Lou Reed, Will Sergeant and later bands like The Wedding Present and Tindersticks. (I know – pedigree right?)
Special agent Sarah also tells me “As far as I’m aware Mark has not had a guitar lesson and has learnt everything he knows by practising and his determination to play as well as his musical heroes do.”
Which basically is magic and we should probably burn Mark as a witch, but because we like him and his music, I have ordered a reprieve.
Not only is Mark a badass with an electric guitar – he also plays alllllll of these too -
Acoustic guitar, Bass guitar, Cabasa, Kazoo, Bouzouki, Keyboards. Sarah points out “All self-taught I hasten to add and the last two are very recent additions and a tentative forage into the unknown for Mark, all in the name of producing something great.”
“Mark’s love for the songs Just Fontaine write and record is obvious whenever he talks about them,” Sarah tells me. I can believe it too – just have a listen to Just Fontaine and judge for yourself.
That’s a pretty decent musical run down. But the man himself? Sarah has another great example, “Mark will do anything for anybody. When an old friend of ours (Andy Clarke) wanted to make a Christmas album he did anything he could to help and this resulted in three Christmas albums over four years (I think), he was singing parts in Christmas songs, playing Christmas songs with Just Fontaine, acting in Skits between songs and this is where he started getting involved with mixing music and audio editing which again has been self-taught and practice and trial and error as well as getting the best equipment for the job.
“He has an amazing ear for music and can hear a bum note or something that’s slightly out of key or is flat in amongst a cacophony of noise, he is self-critical and will go through everything he does again and again so that he knows it is 100% right and will never leave something he is not happy with even if it’s indistinguishable to a ‘normal’ ear!”
So how did Mark go chameleon with the musical stylings for our podcast? Apparently ‘just like that’. Sarah says, “The Arabian music was not much different from his usual process other than it involved a lot of different people that he knew who would have the talent to provide the sound he wanted and although others may have played some of the instruments he gave them all direction about what he wanted and edited the end product to ensure perfection, but as the piece with the guitar on its own shows, Mark always knows when there’s nothing he can do to improve the sound and he left it as it was recorded.”
“Oh so many gigs I don’t know where to begin but suffice to say Mark will always see if he can speak to someone he admires and shake their hand and thank them for the music they made (which is always genuine), always a gentleman, always down to earth,” says Sarah. And I can quite believe it.
Beyond the extraordinary musical talent. Sarah and Mark have also provided so much emotional and inspirational support for me personally. There’s always a tweet here and an email there where they seem to push me a long and make me want to make new things and make them better.
So, to you two saying thanks seems a little pallid in comparison with what you do, but it is what I have to hand as a writer. Thank you and thanks for working with me. It’s one of the happiest accidents online I’ve had all year!