The premise? Write 14 songs in 28 days.
February Album Writing Month (FAWM) is not a contest, but an opportunity to take on a personal challenge as part of a larger international community.
“FAWMers are a motley mix of music professionals, students, homemakers, and folks who work day jobs but rock nightclubs,” explained the email from ‘Founding FAWMer’ Burr Settles. “Tell your Whitehorse songwriters that FAWM is the best way to stay warm during the winter! ;)”
I had been meaning to take on this challenge for years now, but this year I finally did. It helped that I wasn’t on tour at the time.
I made up my mind a couple of months before, so that I could prepare psychologically and prioritize my time.
The challenge begins when the clock strikes midnight February 1 anywhere in the world. It continues until it’s no longer February anywhere in the world.
I think that means there are a few bonus hours in there somewhere. But, hey, it’s not a contest.
I wrote my first song – “And When I Walked Out on You” – the first day. It only took an hour to write and record on the Garageband software on my laptop. I guess it had been waiting awhile to come out.
Truthfully, I hadn’t written a full song in a year. As to what I was doing, that should remain for another article.
Due to gigs and other commitments (something to do with money), it took four days to write the second song.
It went on like this. Over those four February weeks I averaged about one song every two-and-a-half days. If you do the math you’ll know that I got a little behind in the challenge. I didn’t feel worried, though.
That’s the beauty of FAWM. I knew that if I had to, I could write a really crappy song and no one would judge me for it. If I didn’t want to post the lyrics or the recording of my creation, I didn’t have to … and it would still count toward to the goal.
I did two co-writes as part of my 14 songs. That’s allowed, too.
One was with a complete stranger from North Carolina, by the name of Kimberly Kime, who asked me to write music for her lyrics. Her lyrics were kind of knotty, so it was a real envelope-pusher for me. But it kind of opened another door for creativity. FAWM helps you put on your “Don’t Care” hat.
The other co-write was with Janice Durant of Whitehorse, originally from New Brunswick, about people journeying back to l’Acadie from Louisiana. Its called “Moi J’va Back En Acadie”. Really enjoyable to work on. Sad but spunky.
On the last day of the month, I ended up having to write three songs. I had hoped another co-write with an Alaskan FAWMer comrade would come through to get me off the hook, but it didn’t.
So that’s when the bluegrass old-time kicked in: “Don’t Sleep Down by the River Tonight” and “Catch His Eye and Maybe Then Some”.
The last song I wrote late in the evening on day 28 was called “The SS Goddard Shipwreck”. I had been reading up on it over the last year. It was a surprising little number for me, using the 123456 chords.
The month was epic. I have never been so creatively productive in my life: not just spending the time pondering what to write, but just opening my mental orifice and letting it go.
Don’t be precious! Just blow it out! Not that there’s any wrong with being precious. Sometimes a project is so important that you have to be.
But this month was not about a 40-below sphincter. It was about givin’ ‘er.
OK, maybe I wrote a few too many dying songs, but that’s what letting go is. To get to the comedy and lightness of being you have to do your time with the dark side. Touch bottom. Bounce back.
Boy, I feel happy now.
Over the month, I got into a routine. I did most of my writing in the morning before my head got too buzzed with music biz obligations. Cup of tea, bowl of oatmeal with kiwi. Another cup of tea…
I also found my writing and the music took on a fair bit of variety. That’s what happens when you write songs close together; you are more conscious of making them different from one another.
Writing in different keys helps with exploring your voice, its character and its range. I wrote quite a few lower-range songs and explored genres such as Americana, blues, Nirvana-style (I was told) and old-time Appalachian bluegrass.
I laid down harmonies and even added some washboard here and there. I wouldn’t make a record on it, but Garageband’s multi-tracking makes it easy to explore a bit of music production. It’s a great songwriting tool.
I hope more Yukoners will take on the FAWM challenge next year. Maybe we could have a concert at the end so folks could show off the songs they are most proud of, or follow up with some co-writes.
For other writers who enjoy testing their limits without the pressure of competition, there is also Script Frenzy Month in April (www.scriptfrenzy.org) and the National Novel Writing Month in November (www.nanowrimo.org).