The FAWM organization recently asked me to complete a survey about songwriting. Unless you're a rabid amateur songwriter, you most likely don't know what FAWM is. FAWM stands for February Album Writing Month. Every February it challenges participants to write fourteen songs in twenty-eight days. For a songwriter who's experiencing motivational problems or one who simply wants to challenge himself, that little push is invaluable. One can upload recordings, even rough demos, of finished songs to the site and allow other songwriters to comment on them. Because everyone is in the same boat, and because it's in no way a competition (except with oneself), the feedback is invariably positive. (Someone once compared a song of mine to something Townes Van Zandt would have written. 😲)
I participated in FAWM for four consecutive years, and frankly only a couple of the songs I wrote passed muster with me and ended up being professionally recorded, though achieving professional results isn't even the point of the exercise. Then I essentially retired from songwriting.
But I'm still in FAWM's database! And thus the survey.
It asked the usual questions: Do you write lyrics or music first? How do you select a subject? When/how do you decide that a song is complete? Think of one song that you are particularly proud of. What aspects of that song's writing process or the final result stands out to you?
Here's a new one: How do you feel about AI writing songs? (My response: "It's okay, I guess, if you dislike human emotion.") Honestly, I could just as well ask my washing machine to write a song. Its only apparent emotion is "churning".
And the last question: What advice would you would give to someone who is just starting out in songwriting?
I don't like to overthink things, so I answered quickly: Trust your gut and don't be cliche.
On my personal blog I sometimes do an exercise in which I review the top ten songs from a particular week in a particular year, and I critique the tracks as if it's the first time I've ever heard them. About a quarter of the time it is (and I've been around a while).
My biggest quibble with many of these songs is that listening to them makes me tired. They don't say anything. They're lazy. Or they're a rehash of the same storyline I've heard thirty thousand times before. Perhaps that's what happens when one is a professional songwriter and pushing out song after song is vital to the bottom line. As a non-professional, I had the luxury of writing songs that meant something to me. (And by the by, a few of them have been accidentally successful.)
My point? If a songwriter desires a legacy, he or she needs to care. Caring shows, just like disinterest pummels the listener's ears.
The survey asked me which songwriter is a role model to me. Again, I don't overthink, so the first person who came to mind was Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson painted a story with his words.
More songwriters would do well to emulate him.