Playing for Change Interview: Q&A with Mark Johnson

Audio-Technica is proud to announce a global sponsorship with Playing for Change (PFC), a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music. Through this sponsorship, Audio-Technica will provide global support and equipment for PFC, the PFC band, and related events.

As Playing for Change Day is coming up on September 15th, we sat down with PFC’s co-founder Mark Johnson, a Grammy award-winning producer/engineer and film director. Johnson has recorded and filmed music across the globe in over 50 countries, dedicating his life to creating music he is truly passionate about. Over 15 years ago, Johnson and his colleagues joined together, traveling around the world to record musicians and later edit their performances together. Since then, the group continues to travel, bringing people together around the world through the gift of music.

In this exclusive interview, Johnson gives insight into PFC’s mission, their past projects, and plans for the future! Read on to learn more about the organization.

Playing for Change Interview: Q&A with Mark Johnson

For those who may not be familiar with Playing for Change, can you describe what the organization does?

Playing For Change was born out of the idea that we can make a much better world if we all work together as a human race.  We believe in the power of music and inspiration to raise the consciousness of the planet. The Playing For Change Organization creates Song Around the World videos to reach the masses through YouTube and a worldwide Touring Band to unite the planet though concerts and live events. All of our efforts support the PFC Foundation (501c3) bringing music and art education to the youth around the world.

Where did you get the idea for Playing for Change?

Many years ago I had an experience in NYC that opened my eyes to the power of music.  I was on my way to work as a recording engineer at the Hit Factory and I was in the subway when I heard two Monks painted all in white singing and playing a nylon guitar in the subway.  On this day everyone on the platform stopped and watched this music and I witnessed a homeless man standing next to a business man and a little girl standing next to an elderly woman and I saw how connected everyone was while the music played.  I also realized the greatest music I had heard in my life was on the way to the studio and NOT in the studio. That was the moment Playing For Change was born, the idea to bring the studio to the people performing in natural environments and use this music as a tool to connect us all back to our shared humanity.

How has Playing for Change developed since it first began?

In the beginning, Playing For Change was an idea to discover the role music can play in uniting people around the world in positive ways.  As the project has progressed we have traveled to over 50 countries recording and filming music and learned first hand how different cultures use music to create their identity.  The project has evolved into a movement of people all over the world who know that music is the greatest tool we have for re-connecting hearts and inspiring people to make the world a better place.

Where are some places that Playing for Change has visited over the years?

Playing for Change Interview: Q&A with Mark Johnson

We have traveled to many parts of the world over the years and I am always so moved whenever I visit the ancient village of Kirina, Mali.  This is the home to one of our PFC Music programs and it is in a 1,000-year-old village made up of musicians and hunters. Many of the musicians today trace back 75 generations learning to play music passed on from parent to child.  Music is their life and they show us how deep it can be and how powerful a tool music is to connect a community and help resolve any conflicts that arise. They teach me so much but essentially whenever I leave I want to give more and take less in my journey through this life and never forget how happy people can be when they live in true harmony with each other and their surroundings.  This is what we all come from.

Can you talk about some of the artists that Playing for Change works with?

Playing for Change Interview- Q&A with Mark Johnson

We have recorded and filmed over 1,000 musicians around the world so we have been introduced to so many talented people from all walks of life.  That’s the best thing about music, no matter who you are or where you come from music is everywhere! Grandpa Elliott will always have a special place in my heart and he was one of the first musicians we met while recording and filming “Stand By Me” Around the World.  He has been playing on the streets of New Orleans for over 60 years and he made everyone who passed by him feel better about life through a song. To me that is true success.

You also have a charity, Playing for Change Foundation, a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to building music and art schools for children around the world. Can you talk about some of the positive things that have come from it so far and how people can become involved?

Playing for Change Interview- Q&A with Mark Johnson

As we traveled the world the musicians and the communities we were visiting invited us in their homes, played us their music and shared with us their stories. We knew we wanted to give back and that is why we set up the Playing For Change Foundation. We asked the communities we were visiting what we can do to give back and help them leave each location better than we found it.  We learned that all over the world there is a need for music schools to offer the children, the future of our planet hope. We have since created the Playing For Change Foundation (501 c3), building music and dance schools around the world.

Each Playing For Change Music School is equipped with recording equipment and cameras so we can document the process, including interviews with the children and teachers as well as offer the entire world a chance for direct connection. This interactive process helps to remove the stereotypes all children face in their lives and offers them a direct link to the outside world.  This is a two way process of inspiration and one that will lead the way towards a future where we directly participate in and see clearly the value of what we give to others. This concept also removes the myth that “Giving is not getting,” for when we give to others we receive something far more meaningful then what we can ever purchase for ourselves.

People can visit our website to learn more about our programs and see how they can get involved!!

You guys are all about the music, so can you describe your all-time favorite recording equipment for the different music setups you support?

Our original idea with Playing For Change has always been to bring the studio to the people so we are always evolving what we bring into the field for our recordings.  Today is the best its ever been and I am proud to say we use the ATH-M50x Headphones since I first saw them being used at Capitol Records during the “New Basement Tapes” with Elvis Costello and Jim James and more… The recordings sounded so good and I wanted to bring those headphones on the road with me along with my newly acquired A-T condenser mics and my Grace Lunatec mic pres.  All the music for PFC is recorded into my laptop with pro-tools. The other main ingredient in our recording process came from a comment from our great friend, Keb’ Mo’. He once told me, “Music is a feeling first, and if it feels good it will always sound good…” We try to make each musician feel good and as though they are performing on something bigger than all of us, music for humanity.

Playing for Change Day is coming up on September 15th, can you let us in on what this global event is about?

Playing for Change Interview- Q&A with Mark Johnson

Playing For Change Day is an annual celebration of music around the world. We invite both musicians and fans of music to set up local events to raise money and awareness for music education both locally and through our PFC Music programs across the globe.

How can people around the world participate in this day?

You can learn more at Visit the site to either find local events to support or else create an event of your own and invite your friends and family to celebrate music and change the world at the same time!!

Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?

Playing for Change Interview- Q&A with Mark Johnson

The best advice I ever received for my journey with Playing For Change came from a coin that was a gift to me from my brother, Greg Johnson. On the coin it translated to “Supreme success through perseverance.” It takes conviction and love to follow your dreams and each day you can always learn what to do or what not to do in your own journey… That idea combines with another great piece of advice I received, “The Journey is the destination.”  Be present and humble in your life and in your music and there is no limit to the joy you can receive and create for others in the process.

One Love,

Mark Johnson

Images courtesy of Playing for Change.  

What has been your favorite Song Around The World video? Let us know in the comments!


One Comment

  1. So many great songs on the albums, so for sure one of my favorite songs and so appropriate for PFC: Listen To The Music.

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