Six degrees of separation

This week, we welcome Mark Fishlock as our guest blogger! A good friend of the Songwriting Charity, Mark was originally a sound engineer, working with Haircut 100, Modern Romance, Psychic TV, Juliet Roberts, Dave Ball and the film director Derek Jarman. His work includes television (Flesh and Blood, The Adventure Series, Eldorado, The Wars of the Roses), video (Heart of the Nation, Patrick Moore’s Guide to Astronomy, Paul McKenna’s Hypnosis series, A Thin Red Line), radio, library music and commercials. Mark also voiced the telephone-based Bizarre Jukebox for nearly 10 years and in 1998 was co-host of the Accumulator Quiz on Talk Radio. Mark is the Chair of BASCA’s Media Executive Committee. Biography taken from the BASCA website.

Over to you Mark, and thank you ……………

I sometimes get asked to speak to students on songwriting or music technology courses. The students look at me, their faces tense with anticipation, their pens hovering expectantly over blank sheets of paper, ready to record the magic formula to a career in the music business.

This optimism turns to disappointment the second I mention the “N” word – networking. It’s a modern, business-speak way of expressing what my well-intentioned mum, in an attempt to steer me away from a music career, summed up as “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Except it isn’t … it’s much more fun than that.

It’s not a case of getting a foot up at the bank, thanks to Uncle Eric who plays golf with the manager. It’s simply about meeting people and leaving some sort of impression … even if it’s just that they know your name and what you do. I tell students it’s like planting seeds. You never know if they’ll flower, lie dormant for 10 years – or indeed for ever – or if they’ll grow into a magnificent Redwood.

The more you do this, the more you start to construct a kind of web, where a series of connections is made. The more links there are, the more chance there is of connections being established among themselves, without you having to play any active part. People talk to each other and you can also tap into other people’s connections. The UK music business is relatively small, so the Kevin Bacon game, Six Degrees of Separation, can involve many fewer degrees once your web has grown to a reasonable size.

This week I had the satisfying experience of seeing my web operate in a fascinating way.

My brother is a music publisher in South Africa. One of the bands he represents has a large local following, selling platinum albums and performing at major venues. However, he wants to launch them in the UK and Germany and as a result, some of the material needs rearranging and remixing for the European market.

He asked me if I knew a producer who could take this on. No one came to mind immediately, but I said I would give it some thought. Last week I was MD-ing a session and during a break was chatting with one of the singers. She mentioned her boyfriend who was playing in a band with a drummer I used to play with (another connection). It turned out he’s a producer who has just finished reworking some tracks for an opera/crossover artist. It sounded like a potentially perfect match. Emails went to and from Cape Town and I hooked my brother up with the producer.

As I was checking the CV on his website, something began to sound familiar. In 2008, I had been involved with the organisation of the BBC New Talent competition, a nationwide event that culminated in four two day workshops/masterclasses in Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow and London. The producer had been one of the finalists.

So, not only had I met him four years ago, but I still had the CD he’d given me after the workshop.

In a very gentle British way, the network had worked its magic. What would now be great is if the producer reworked the South African band’s songs and delivered massive hits across Europe. When the band go on MTV to explain how they got to conquer Europe, they can say it all started with a chance conversation between a singer and an MD during a break in a session.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Mark Fishlock is a songwriter and composer  writing mainly children’s songs for the language teaching market. He is a director of BASCA, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

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