Reflections on FAWM 2016

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If you follow my Twitter feed (and/or my other social-media outlets), and have a slightly lengthy memory (sorry, I’ve had a lot on…) you will probably be aware that during February I participated in FAWM (February Album Writing Month).

For the uninitiated, this is an Internet “challenge” where hundreds of intrepid musicians, composers and lyricists set out to write and record, from scratch, 14 songs in 28 days. It sounds either crazy or impossible (or both!), but it can be done: as long as you accept that you’re highly unlikely to pen 14 masterpieces, FAWM can be an exhilarating and satisfying experience, and can lead participants to write material that otherwise might well not exist.

2016 was my fourth FAWM (if you count 2015, which I bailed out of after two songs due to particularly pressing family commitments), and you can hear the outputs from 2013 and 2014 as the albums “Homecooked” and “Conditions Apply”, at my Bandcamp page.

And now… I can add “Blackbirds Banquet: Songs From FAWM 2016” to that list!

To cut a long story short: 2016 was, I feel, my most “successful” FAWM yet. In composition terms, as in previous challenges, my creations run a pretty wide gamut of musical styles:

  • Power-pop/rock (“The 90s Called”, “Turnaround”);
  • 50s/60s-flavoured (“Lunchtime”, “So It’s Friday”)
  • Instrumentals (“62nd Street”, “Seventh Planet”, “Snow Moon Waltz”, “Father Time Reflects”);
  • Guitar-based singer-songwriter-type material (“Where Letters Keep”, “Odd Love Song”, “Running On The Spot”);
  • Americana (“Helmsman”);
  • Synthpop (“Outside The Space”);
  • Spoof vintage “music-hall” (“Going To The Tearooms”)!

There are a couple of differences this year, it seems to me. I think the studio-recording/engineering course I went on last autumn has really helped my recording, especially on the mixing side of things. This may be clearest with the rockier and up-tempo songs; “The 90s Called” and “Turnaround” are probably the hardest I’ve “rocked” in my recording “career”, and I feel I was able to beef up the overall sound with these songs, better than I could have done before.

Moreover, this FAWM has seen me produce no less than four instrumentals, the most I’ve contributed since starting the challenge in 2013. I always include a couple of wordless pieces in these projects, but I basically found lyric-writing pretty difficult this year (although I’m generally happy with what I did write).

In recording terms, this FAWM has been less reliant (at least in terms of sound) on electronica, with more emphasis on perhaps more “conventional” instrumentation. This is partly misleading: I actually made increased use of the GarageBand app for iPad, particularly driven by the addition of the Drummer feature (migrated from Logic Pro X), which can be heard on five of the songs. Two of these tracks began life on Apple’s new Music Memos app, which auto-creates drums and bass parts from what you play into the app. The musical styles may appear less electronic, but there is plenty of technology behind the scenes!

There’s also been an upgrade on the recording-hardware front: at the start of this FAWM, I acquired a Line6 Sonic Port VX, a combined recording-interface and condenser-microphone “package”.With the exception of the odd overdub on the Mac, the audio-recording was done on iPad and iPhone via the VX, making this my first FAWM to be recorded at least partly at 24-bit quality. (On iDevices, I’m not sure GarageBand can record 24-bit, but the songs I laid down in Multitrack DAW and Audioshare were set that way.)

So yes, overall I feel this has turned out to be my most “successful” FAWM yet, both in terms of composition and recording. Perhaps I “flagged” a bit in the last quarter or so, but even then I think the quality more or less held up.

I hope you can judge for yourselves – “Blackbirds Banquet” is now available for purchase and download from Bandcamp. This time, I can say unreservedly: I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it!

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