So, we’ve got to the end of February already and I’m happy to say I managed to get through my first attempt at February Album Writing Month (or FAWM as it’s known – think NaNoWriMo for songwriters) more or less successfully. I say more or less because, while the aim of the challenge is to nominally to write 14 songs in 28 days, whether I really have ended up with enough good material to make an album is…under review. But that’s for the future, this post is to report on how I found the process.
FAWM is not really geared towards quality. It’s main purpose is to drive creativity and production, with the emphasis on peer cheerleading, cross-inspiration and collaboration. The result, for me, was that while I found getting to my 14 tracks relatively comfortable, they’re all a bit underdeveloped. But that’s to be expected when you’re writing so quickly. In the most part, for me, the lyrics came first and then I put some music to them, recorded the whole thing on my phone and then moved on to the next one. So, like NaNoWriMo, there’s an element of removing the critical side of things, which I liked, but it means there’s definitely some tidying up to do at some point in the future.
One of the obvious worries going into something like this is: what if I have no ideas? I’d intended to go into the whole thing with a completely clean slate but to give myself an easy start I dipped into my lyric scraps folder for a handful of them (New Sleeves, Losing It, Always Something Left In The Well, In Pursuit Of JOI and Vinage Jazz Slide). After that the creativity seemed to flow pretty naturally with others arising from current affairs (Waking Up, A Broken Child), and a few that just drifted in from nowhere (Counter To The Clock, When Harry Went, What Do I Have To Do?, Your Loudmouth Friends). (The last of these was actually written in a nearly empty restaurant when a boisterous group of thirtysomethings sat right next to the writer already struggling for attention span and proceeded to be all oversharey. The song is my revenge.) And then there were the songs written to respond to specific FAWM challenges: Slights and Waking Up came out of skirmishes, where a prompt was provided and the song had to be written in one hour; while Lost Cat and We Regret… came out of a super-fun D20 challenge, where every element of the song from theme to key to time signature to structure was dictated by a roll of the dice. This element of the FAWM community was one I hadn’t expected – that of pushing you quite some distance out of your comfort zone. I loved that.
The other result of dispensing the blockers of criticism and perfectionism is that the demos are all … well, rough as a badger’s, to be honest. They’re just piano and vocal recorded with my phone sitting up on the piano music stand. The balance isn’t actually too bad but the performances are full of the kind of imperfections you get when you’ve not really nailed all the bits of a song down yet – pitchy entries, word stumbles, timing issues, bum notes and sometimes just not quite getting the tone right. But the important thing was to get the done. I’ve now got 14 songs I didn’t have before, and you know what? I pretty much like them all, mostly.
And, just as importantly, I got to listen to new music by hundreds of genuinely interesting, engaged, inspirational songwriters. I think I’ll be doing FAWM again.
So what’s the next step? Definitely to take wee break from the song side of things (although I still have my other challenge to record and publish one of my old songs a month this year), and then go back and see if I can maybe choose four or five tracks from this session to arrange and record properly and release later in the year as a Proper Thing.
ps To editors – I’ve still been writing this month, honest! I’ve just been time-sharing my creative brain with the music side of things for a few weeks.
pps Someone is bound to ask, so yeah, if you can bear the idea of the sound of my voice, you can find the demos on my soundcloud page. Probably keep them up for a few weeks and then take them down when I’ve got a better idea of what I’m doing next.