New album: “…As It Goes”, and some thoughts on FAWM 2017

Without further preamble or ado… here is the Bandcamp release of my songs and compositions for FAWM 2017:

“…As It Goes: Songs From FAWM 2017” collects the 14 pieces I composed and recorded for this, the fifth FAWM challenge I have entered (and the fourth I completed, after 2015’s enforced dropping-out). How did I feel it went this year?

Well, as always, the frantic nature of the challenge—having to write and record a new piece on average every 48 hours, for the four weeks of February, means that one does not have the luxury of dismissing that many ideas when they land in your mind! This usually means that my FAWM output is usually almost crazily diverse, and 2017 tended to follow that pattern:

  • “Rockers” (“Through The Looking Glass”, “Friday Night”, “16 Valentine’s Days”);
  • mid-tempo acoustic-style (“As It Goes”, “Serves Me Right”, “Fading Day”);
  • electropop (“One Way Street”, “The Container Ship”);
  • solo guitar songs (“It Was Enough For Us”, “Philosophical Moment”);
  • ukulele pop (“Time To Dream”, “Going Round The Tearooms”); and
  • instrumentals (“Hide The Lute”, “Figure 8”)

On the technical front, this was the first collection of songs which I have recorded entirely on an iPhone (6S). I have used iPhone and iPad (and, when I started doing so in 2011–12, on an iPod Touch) for a lot of my recording since 2012, but for FAWM 2017 I only used our Logic-based Mac home studio for mixing the material from the iPhone.

The only new instruments I brought in this time around, were my Risa Solid electric tenor ukulele (which I wrote and recorded a few tracks with) and a Meinl Travel Cajon (you can hear this on “Friday Night”). I thought I would introduce more “electronica”/electropop into my pieces this time around, but I found I just didn’t have time to experiment, due to FAWM’s relentless pace. I did, however, put together two songs using Caustic, an electronic music-production app which I hope to make more use of for a near-future new project.

How do I feel about FAWM 2017 itself, now I can look back having completed it?

Well: this time felt… tough. Frankly, a real slog at times, and I came close more than once to just dropping out. I didn’t have a problem with anyone except myself—my energy levels and overall “verve” were low-to-vapour, and quite often I just wanted to run away somewhere and sleep for half the month. Paradoxically, I am actually quite pleased with my output this FAWM—perhaps slightly down on what I feel was the “high-water mark” of 2016, with a couple of perhaps-less-than-totally-inspired items, but overall not too bad at all.

Anyway: here’s FAWM 2017, “…As It Goes”. Hope you enjoy it!


FAWM 2017 is go!

A very quick post to let you know (if you haven’t picked it up from my other “outlets”) that FAWM (February Album Writing Month) 2017 is now underway. If you’re wondering how on earth someone can write and record, from scratch, 14 songs in the 28 days of February…

…well, you can keep track of my progress on my FAWM “artist page”, and you can follow my progress via my Twitter feed (where I’ll post notifications of my new uploads within seconds of them going live).

Must go… I’ve got the second song to write! (And here’s the first: “Through The Looking Glass”. See you along the way 🙂 )

Reflections on FAWM 2016

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!

FAWM 2015: on your (my?) marks…

A quick-ish note (by my standards), to let you know that I’ve decided (after a bit of humming and haw-ing) to take part in another FAWM (February Album Writing Month) 2015.

This will be the third year I have participated in this Internet challenge, which (for the uninitiated) involves writing and recording—from scratch—14 songs in 28 days. I’ve written about my previous years’ endeavours before, but suffice it to say: such a “Herculean” task is quite possible to achieve. You have to learn to “drop your shields”—i.e. to “run with” ideas you wouldn’t normally try—and to be prepared for the possibility (or even probability) that you may write something not up to your usual standards.

As it happens, my song output from FAWM in 2013 and 2014 was, if I’m honest, a little variable, but I feel at least some of the material I wrote was decent, or in a few cases, some of the best pieces I’ve come up with. A couple of my FAWM 2014 songs will feature—slightly re-worked— on an album I have nearly completed work on, which I hope to put out in some form during 2015. Watch this space…

So: FAWM 2015—what of it? Well, it kicks off tomorrow (1st Feb), and I know this: I’m going in completely “dry” (no ideas what to start with, etc.); and I’ve decided to limit myself to only using guitars and other fretted instruments—no sequencers, drum-machines and so on. I may allow myself to use a bit of guitar-synth, but as far as possible, it’s guitars-only for FAWM this year!

So, I’m not sure quite how FAWM will work out in 2015, but then again, that’s more or less how I felt the two previous years, and they didn’t come out too badly… If you’d like to keep up with my progress, you can follow along via my FAWM artist page, and I’ll be posting updates to my Twitter feed and my Facebook “artist page” (“Like” me! 😉 ), with links to the new songs and demos. Hope to see you there…

New album: “Conditions Apply: Demos From FAWM 2014”

Apologies that this post is a little late, but earlier this month, I released a new album at my Bandcamp site, and thought it should get a bit of a “plug” here (well, if I can’t do it on my own site, where can I? 🙂 ).

conditionsapply300sq“Conditions Apply: Demos From FAWM 2014” collects together the fourteen compositions I wrote and recorded for this year’s February Album Writing Month (FAWM). The tracks are presented as I recorded them during the month, insofar as I made no further overdubs or re-recording, although I have put all the recordings through a “mastering” application in an effort to impose some sonic order on them.

“Conditions Apply: Demos From FAWM 2014” is available now, as a “name your price” download from Bandcamp. You are perfectly welcome to download it for free (just enter “0” as the price), but it goes without saying that I wouldn’t object to receiving something for it (naturally enough)!

FAWM 2014: Looking back

So, another February Album Writing Month (FAWM) is over, and as my artist page there shows, I managed to post the target of 14 songs in the 28 days of the month. How did I think it went?

This is my second FAWM, and if you haven’t heard the songs I posted to the 2013 challenge, my album “Homecooked” at Bandcamp collects them together quite neatly.

It’s interesting for me to compare my compositions from the two years. In terms of similarities: I think in both years, I posted pieces in quite a wide range of styles. In 2014, these included:

  • synth-pop and electronica (“The Radio Ham”, “In My Time”, “Leave It All Behind”);
  • rock (“Looking For The Spring”, “Song For FAWM”);
  • instrumentals (“Diamond Cut”, “Not Quite Twelve”);
  • acoustic “singer-songwriter” items (“Castle Song”, “You Started It”, “Bridge Of Crows”, “You And I And We”); and
  • one or two more light-hearted numbers (“See This Through”, “Where Did All The Fun Songs Go?”).

Re the last of those categories: I sense the 2014 output was generally less humorous than the previous year; perhaps even dark (although I’m nowhere near a depressing artist, I hope!). One could speculate on the possible reasons, but I suppose my creativity can be affected by the conditions outside the window, and if one wants to look for shadows, one may not have to search beyond the near-endless rain-clouds of February 2014 in England!

As in 2013, I arranged and recorded my FAWM demos using iOS devices (this time, an iPhone and an iPad), but in 2014 I went even further than last year, and recorded and mixed all the tracks on the devices themselves, with no mixing done on an external computer. This was partly because project files created by the latest Garageband app for iOS, can’t be imported in Logic Pro 9 on the Mac: Logic Pro X is required for this. As there is no cut-price upgrade path for LP10 (you must purchase the full product), it’s not currently an option for us here, so I had to mix the three songs I produced in Garageband, on the iPhone/iPad.

Owing to the limited non-existent EQ options in GB/iOS, this meant the resulting mixes were not ideal to my ears (especially with the vocals), but for now I have to make do with the output. I was able to process the mixes through the Audio Mastering app for iPad, which whilst not a panacea (I’m still learning how to use more than the presets), did improve the overall sound, at least to my ears.

So: what now? Well, in the short-term, I’m planning to upload the “mastered” tracks as a download album (most likely to Bandcamp). If it goes ahead, this should be available within the next couple of days—I have put together a cover in the VinylizeMe app, but I won’t unveil this until… well, keep an eye on my Twitter feed, and maybe I might have a surprise for you 😉

Longer-term? A few of the songs at least, are what I see as “works in progress”: unfinished in terms of arrangement, lyrics or a combination of these. I’d like to “take them further”, and furthermore, I have a desire to make a “proper” album during 2014, which might make use of some of the FAWM 2014 material. All I can say is: you may well hear more of these pieces in the months to come, and they may not stay in the form in which you hear them here!

So, in general: another FAWM, and in my view, a pretty successful one for me. I’d like to thank my fellow FAWM-ers (and if you gave me feedback: extra gratitude to you, and sorry if I haven’t returned the favour yet—I’ll do my best!), as well as everyone else who listened in and gave me encouragement along the way.

It’s time for FAWM 2014!

One of the most satisfying musical aspects of last year for me, was participating in FAWM (February Album Writing Month). To the newcomer, at first glance, setting out to write and record—from scratch—14 songs in 28 days, might sound like either the height of insanity, or Mission Impossible, or even both… but it is possible, and I actually achieved the full 14 last year.

Now, I wouldn’t claim that every composition was a masterpiece (although I was pleased with many of them, and delighted with a few), but that’s not really the point of FAWM: it’s largely to get the participant writing songs without the usual factors that prevent one doing so, and hopefully, to enjoy the experience in common with the hundreds doing the same.

So, from Saturday 1st February 2014, you can track my progress at my FAWM artist page, and I’ll also post updates via my Twitter feed and my Facebook artist page. I’m not sure quite how FAWM will go for me this year, but I look forward to finding out—hope you’ll join me!