Posts Tagged ‘songwriting challenges’

You know how sometimes you fail to reply to an email, or a letter, and then time passes, with you meaning to respond, and then more time, and more time, until suddenly you realise that it’ll now be weird when you reply, and you’ve left it way too long and don’t even know where to start?


I didn’t mean for four months to fly by with nary a post from me to let you all know I still had a pulse, I really didn’t. But one thing led to another and as the days crept guiltily by I just couldn’t think of what to write.

So what has kept me from you all this time?

My writer’s block hasn’t extended to music, not one bit. I completed FAWM comfortably with 14 solid songs, many of which are keepers. I’ve continued writing since the end of February, and even have a crazy plan to attempt 50/90 – another songwriting challenge. Where FAWM is a sprint, this one is a marathon. 50 songs in 90 days, or an ambitious 16.333333333 (recurring ad nauseum) songs per month (ish). It starts on the 4th July, and promises to be an interesting diversion. Or obsession. Tomato, tomato.

You know, I’ve only just realised this: “Tomato, tomato.” That’s one of the few phrases that simply doesn’t work in text. Crazy. Anyway, I digress.

What else have I been up to?

Well, amongst the writing, I created a brand new song in an afternoon, along with a video. The demo was basically recorded while I filmed, which was interesting, and the most complex thing I’ve attempted so far.

Videos have always seemed to me to be a dark art, and the one aspect of musical creativity I really don’t understand how to do. I go on Youtube, and I see these amazing videos, done by up and coming artists, who all seem to have tame camera operators and film editors to call on. They are also invariably gorgeous, own long flowing dresses and at least one grand piano, and live near a mystical forest, or a scenic beach, or an empty church… I try to do the same thing, and it looks like the cat got hold of the video camera, dragged it around a bit and accidentally turned it on. Given that an untrained chimp could produce a better video than me without really trying, I was actually pretty thrilled with this attempt:

It was both harder and easier than I expected. I’d like to try the picture in picture thing again, this time for something like Scarlet Casanova, because the harmonies kick in from the beginning. At this rate of video creation, I expect to be halfway competent before I’m sixty!

Anyway, sarcasm aside, if anyone out there feels like it would be fun to make a video for any of my songs, shout out. I have zero budget, but I do a good line in cake and gratitude, and perhaps worldwide fame one day! I’d love to collaborate!

What else? Well, I’ve been working part time at the University in a continued, misguided attempt to make my millions (aka pay the rent). It’s been hard this year, work seems to be thin on the ground, but I do have a good number of singing students, which is helping, and also I enjoy teaching. It’s hard to have a bad time singing duets or showing people how to stretch range and build power in their voices, it’s a learning process I’m immensely proud to be part of.

Musically, I have a few other bits and bats in the pipeline. I’ve started the process of editing and mixing the tracks for the new album. I don’t yet have a title, but I do know that it’s being released in September, and I also have an artist lined up who I’m thrilled to have on board for the artwork. I am so lucky to have the friends I do – I am surrounded by a very multitalented and generous group of individuals and I’m grateful every day for them.

York has a new radio station starting, 2 Rivers Radio, and I’m pleased to say that Vinnie Whitehead is going to be interviewing me and playing some songs from the new album for it. We’re doing a live In Session recording next Tuesday and I’m very excited about it.

To my abject astonishment and without any bribery on my part (either financial or in the form of baked goods) I have also been nominated, for the second year running, for a Yorkshire Gig Guide Grassroots Award, in the category of Outstanding Band/Artist. This is amazing and I’m thrilled to bits! This is where some audience participation can occur, if you feel so inclined, you can vote for me to reach the next stage.

So, I could say at this stage that I promise not to leave it so long before writing again. But you know, and I know, that that is simply a challenge to my subconscious to really fall off the wagon and not write another word until 2016, so let’s not, eh?

Until next time.


Read Full Post »

Hello, hello! Firstly I must apologise, because I did something totally shocking last Thursday – I failed to blog at all. Not even an apologetic animation from Simon’s Cat to make up for it.

In my defence, on Thursday, I had 7 out of 14 songs up for FAWM, leaving me 7 to do in just over 24 hours in order to complete the challenge. I’d also had some other bad news and was in the process of many long and complicated phone calls to try to sort things out. In short, life took a bit of a wonky turn down the side streets of “oh crap!” and I had to stop and deal with it all.

Things were back on a more even keel Friday afternoon, and I started to tackle the seven songs. The FAWM site doesn’t officially close to submissions until mid-day on the 1st of March, but my rule every year is that all fourteen have to be written between midnight on the 1st February UK time and midnight 1st March, so I had to be done Friday midnight for it to count for me. I also wanted to have as many as possible with demos. Writing this many songs in what turned out to be a ten hour period is what’s known by FAWMers as a “feast”, so, Friday’s feast went a bit like this:

Song 8 – Fearless

The first one up on Friday, posted at about 4:30-5pm (I forget – the day passed in such a blur once I got started!), was a song about the emotional and physical challenge that was Trailtrekker. I already had a fairly good idea about the piano part –  it was something that I’d been kicking around all month. Something about the electric piano sound I’d used was making me think of dark hills for some reason and one thing led to another. I called it Fearless. Like all of the songs posted on Friday, it was essentially one take – no redos on vocals or pianos, and given the short space of time, nothing was terribly well rehearsed, (but don’t let that put you off any of the songs!).

Song 9 – Coffee and Conversation

About an hour later, Coffee and Conversation went up. This one didn’t take too long because I’d already drafted both the lyrics and the piano backing, so I just needed to tie it together and record it. I think it’s an ok song, it’s not one of my favourites, but we’ll see what happens later this month when I go back over these. Another one take wonder – like just about everything done Friday! The chorus is too slow to my mind, I’d used a metronome and recorded the piano independently of the vocals which meant it didn’t flow as well as I wanted it to, but that’s nothing rehearsal and re-recording won’t fix. I prefer recording vocals and piano together but that needs more muscle memory, which means rehearsal, and I just didn’t have the time!

Song 10 – Being Gay Makes It Rain

One of my absolute favourites this FAWM, the concept had been rattling around since the first week of FAWM, but I was a little intimidated because what I could hear in my head and what I felt I could reasonable produce with just me and a piano and some synths wasn’t really matching up. I still want a massive gospel choir to kick in on the chorus. In fact, what I really, really want is to see this as a musical theatre number. With dancing, and flamboyance, and pretty fabrics, damnit! Instead, it was me and a piano against the ticking clock. But close your eyes and listen for the gospel choir. They’re there in spirit. I had fun recording this, especially the ending 🙂

Song 11 – Eyes Like Summer

Written for my long-suffering better half, the piano part on this took me by surprise. I wanted to write something beautiful, mellow and expressive, and I struggled, as I often do, with finding lyrics that weren’t too twee. I hope I succeeded. I have some fondness for this one, not sure if it’ll ever make an album, but it’s got a lot of potential, I think.

Song 12 – Go **** Yourself

After a break for some dinner, I cracked on with this one. I had some help from friends on Facebook with the lyrics, again, it had been a concept that I’d been letting trundle about in my hindbrain for a while, and it was cemented by unpleasant events earlier in the week, so I asked Facebook friends to brainstorm other ways of effectively telling someone to cock off. I didn’t actually want to write an overtly offensive song, I thought it would be much more effective to write something that seethed, but very politely. Despite the NSFW warning, it probably is, really. Whether you think “go blow a goat” is too filthy for young children to hear is a matter of preference and morality, I think, but it really doesn’t get any worse than that, and the f-word, although implied very strongly, is never actually used. The piano was the hardest part of writing and recording this and as a result, I definitely want to re-visit it this month and fix it.

Song 13 – Darkest Timeline

It’s rather appropriate that this is song 13, as anyone who has watched Community will probably agree. This was a co-write with my better half, she wrote the lyrics and I wrote and performed the music. I use “performed” loosely at this point. It was 11pm Friday night and I was seriously up against the clock. This is officially the fastest piece of electronica writing I have ever done. It took 20 minutes. I already had the bassline, thank goodness, so I added a basic drum placeholder, an intro, and some seriously warped vocals. And then uploaded it. The base idea is there though, and again I think this could potentially be a strong track, once I’ve done some serious work on it. I do mean serious.

Song 14 – Here All Along

So I had a little over half an hour left at this point and no idea what on earth my final song was going to be about. I do like writing a-capella songs, so I thought maybe that would be a fun way to finish FAWM, but in the time I had, it couldn’t be anything too intricate. So I started scribbling lyrics about, well, writing. The first verse still feels a little clunky to me, but it works well enough and I can always revise it later. Ran a melody a few times, then hit record. I got the lyrics posted at 5 to midnight, and I finished recording at midnight on the dot, the whole thing plus demo was live on the site by 5 past, but that was fine as the writing and recording had been finished within the time limit.

And then I went and poured myself a large serving of alcohol. Yes indeed. I won FAWM. Fourteen songs with thirteen demos in 28 days.

I should probably explain the lack of a demo for Ode to Housework. It being a comedy track, the piano is fast, twinkly, and technically a total pig to play. Because I couldn’t play it well enough to get a demo down, I haven’t done it yet. I will never understand my propensity for writing things I can’t actually play yet. I do plan to get a demo up before the end of March, and I’ll certainly yet you know when it’s live 🙂

Overall, FAWM was a total blast this year, even around stressful life events and all that jazz. Gemma and I were even lucky enough to get one of our co-writes featured on the final FAWMcast (a regular podcast which ran all month showcasing tracks people had written). So if you are interested and short of time, Clockwork Ballerina  was played an hour (1:00:40ish) into this:

If you aren’t short of time, the whole show is, of course, awesome and worth checking out, the hosts review each track on air and the tracks are handpicked for their very awesomeness 🙂

Now I’ve waffled at you all to death, I shall leave you until Thursday 😉 . Have a fantastic week out there!

FAWM writing is over, but FAWM listening has begun. There are 9894 songs on the site, so it’s well worth having a look! http://fawm.org/songs/

Read Full Post »

Ah it’s that time of year again. When florists triple the price of a dozen roses, Hallmark overdose on pink and red ink, the world’s quote of helium is used up, and mountains of cuddly, fluffy bears and other animals are adopted that will soon be homeless again when the novelty has worn off (cuddly toys are for life, people, not just for Hallmark Day..!). You can almost smell the saccharine in the air. Mmm February.

Thankfully, February is also the seat of a very awesome yearly thing known as FAWM. February Album Writing Month. The challenge? To write 14 songs in 28 days. How far you take this is entirely up to you, some people only post titles, some people post fully recorded demos. The more complete the song that you post, the more likely you are to get feedback, but ultimately the challenge is individual. The quality every year staggers me – I have managed to complete the challenge three times (none of them recently) and my quota is inevitably made up of some questionable lyric only songs, and at least one attempt that turns out to be total drivel that I cringe whenever I hear again afterwards. But what other people produce can be utter gold. For today’s blog post, I want to share some of the great tracks that have been produced so far.

First up, Please Come Out of the Snow, by Tim Wille. This grabbed me because of the unusual use of the drums, the way they roll through the verses, and also the massive, complex, soundscape that has been created. This is an example of a fully demo’ed, very polished track, and as someone who’s followed Tim Wille through many years of FAWM, I’d say this is one of my favourites of his. 🙂

For a Tori Amos-esque piano and gorgeous imagery, I adore Elaine DiMasi’s Weightless – the piano fills the space wonderfully, and the lyrics are extraordinarily evocative. This is another musician I’ve followed for a long time, and I’m always impressed by the quality of her work.

The line “you were drunk as a skunk and surrounded by punks” led me to immediately decide to listen to this next one, The Theme Tune to The Lord of the Rings, by Dominic Gray. A low-fi acoustical cracker of a track that transported me immediately to summer festivals, cider and starry nights. Fantastic piece of work and he has a great voice to boot.

Now a bit of HullHop from my good friend Vinnie Whitehead: Cash Counter (NSFW – contains swearing). With a solid hook, and a topic we can all empathise with, this is an enjoyable listen, and like all of Vinnie’s work, is practically album ready even as a demo. Vinnie’s got a lot of energy which isn’t lost when he’s recorded, and he works the lyrics brilliantly.

Finally, a lyric-only contribution, Sleepwalkers, from the wonderful Gemma Robinson-Wilson. FAWM is a great opportunity for lyricists not only to get some writing in but also to meet up with and collaborate with other musicians. What I love about this song is that the imagery is so clear, unequivocal and powerful, I can almost hear the music to go with it.

And that concludes this Monday’s blog. I’ll be posting about FAWM probably every Monday in February to share more wonders I’ve found with you all. Finally, if you are interested in following my progress on there, check out my profile. See you Thursday 🙂

If you are a musician or lyricist and want to take part, it’s not too late! Go to the FAWM website and register, write some songs and you’re away! 

Read Full Post »

So tonight after a lovely meal out, I came back and sat in front of the piano to try to catch up a bit. I now have 8/14 songs uploaded onto the FAWM website, a song about bad (BAD!) relationships of doom (DOOM!) and a song about the Clangers. I still feel behind, and like I’m running out of ideas, but hopefully this week will tick along nicely and my muse won’t go AWOL. 6 tracks to go – how hard can it be? Wish me luck!

Read Full Post »