This year I only managed to write eight songs instead of fourteen. While the the usual suspects, hubris and illness, played a part, there were other aspects that tripped me up and I think they’re worth noting so I don’t make the same mistakes in future. I want to make a whole new set of mistakes!
I’m a big fan of Limitations. They can really help you “get on with it” and cut out one of the most insidious forms of distraction – ‘choice’. There’s lots studies that show that if a supermarket stocks 25 types of jam in the supermarket they won’t sell any because the customers can’t decide which to buy. Only stock 3 varieties and sales are much healthier. But for creativity there’s a tipping point where too many limitations make it harder to work.
FAWM has a massive limitation built in: you have to write a lot of songs in a short space of time. Adding any other artificial constraints could be asking for trouble. In my case I had chosen to ‘co-write with my younger self’, digging out old tapes and using the ideas to write new songs. Just consider how many other steps that assumes.
- Digitise the tapes
- Edit and label mp3s
- Listen and evaluate which ideas are worth working on
- Relearn old ideas (many of which were badly recorded and a quarter-tone sharp). Where there were mistakes, try to discern what my intention was. Try to work out if I had used a capo or an alternate tuning
- Compile various versions of the idea scattered across different tapes
This is all work I had to do BEFORE I could get down to writing a song. As opposed to the FAWM-friendly approach of grabbing an instrument and strumming away till I come up with something.
One of my favourite FAWMers is American multi-instrumentalist, Izaak Wierman. He often sets himself narrow artificial limitations like writing a song in every key or every mode. But this year he was stranded in Australia with only a mandolin and a phone to make music with. So, wisely, he chose not to set impose any additional limitations on himself.
Secondly I was already out of my creative comfort zone. I had been ill before FAWM, seriously enough to make me cancel some work commitments. I also had some building work done at my studio which required changing the layout. Just like the Beatles during Let It Be, this was a signal that I should have just done the old familiar things rather than introduce some more chaos and variables. Maybe even spent time fixing the broken things in my system. Getting the room and recording space into a workable state?
Thirdly I failed because I didn’t really want to write. I’ve been on a kind of crusade for the last 5 years trying to make myself a better writer by writing a lot. Some 200 songs later I think that’s worked. But the natural by-product of that process is a bunch of good songs that I haven’t had the time to demo, let alone post online or release officially. So I’m feeling the drag of “what’s the point of writing another 14 songs that are never going to see the light of day?” Part of me wants to stop writing new songs, or at least slow down, so I can fix the next part of the supply chain – how to release music. And if part of you wants to write songs and part of you doesn’t, you’re going to have problems.
I really want to revisit my old music and see if there’s any way to absorb some of the more complex compositional approaches I’ve been neglecting. I’ve pursued a deliberate strategy to simplify and become truly melodic rather than churning out monotonal melodies over tracks constipated with chords and riffs. But I think I’ve got some kind of handle on that now and I need time to go back to the drawing board and explore. And leisurely exploration isn’t what FAWM is about.
So with hindsight I should have attempted everything I wanted to do … in March through December. And let FAWM be a sandbox for my subconscious to play with whatever catches it’s eye.
Next year, whatever I’m feeling and whatever my plans are, I’m going to take February off and just play. And whatever happens, happens.
Lesson (hopefully) learned.
THE END … or is it …?
Why I DIDN’T fail at FAWM
I wrote 8 songs
Writing songs of any description is a victory. If you write bad songs, you may be a bad songwriter, but if you write no songs, you’re not a songwriter at all.
I wrote 3 or 4 songs I’m happy with
One popped right out of my subconscious with no warning. Another is an idea I’ve been trying to write for 2 years. I doubt any of these would have been written without FAWM kicking me in the pants.
I wrote 1 song I love
Other people seem to love it too. The fact that FAWM is so non-judgemental made it easy for me to write and record something so left field for me. The network of writers, musicians and producers meant I could easily hook up with people that had the skills to complete it. The positive response from feedback on the site encouraged me to go all the way and release the track.
A few old ideas have been turned into songs
Some revealed they weren’t worth much and can now be cleared out of my ‘song starts’ folder. Many more ideas didn’t even make it to the writing stage, so again FAWM prompted a kind of spring cleaning of ideas. Others, while not great songs, have proved that they’re good ideas worthy of shaping and developing in the future.
I learned a few things
About co-writing and myself as a co-writer. And of course I have learned some valuable lessons about the right and wrong ways to use limitations and about how I can self sabotage my work.
So did I fail to deliver 14 songs in Feb. Yes.
Did I fail FAWM? No.