Why do songwriting challenges?

Before I was aware of the songwriting challenges out there on the web I set myself my own challenge – write, produce and upload a new song every week to my website for a year. I did this from April 2009 – 2010.

Now this may sound a little extreme but it was an amazing way to practice my writing skills and it gave me an excuse to keep up the contact with my email list. In fact, it was how I created my email list. When I finished I got a lot of people telling me they missed the weekly new song, which was a relief, because you never know when you’re bugging people! In May I released an album with 13 of the best songs called ‘Song of the Week‘, many of which have been placed on TV and Film.

Shortly after I had released the CD I noticed a songwriting challenge called 50 Songs In 90 Days and I thought, “Don’t be silly, that’s impossible”.But I couldn’t stop myself and started writing a whole bunch of new tunes. But it was the school summer holidays and there just wasn’t time to keep it up, what with travelling to the UK and other kids stuff. Although I didn’t come anywhere near to finishing, I did get the bulk of a new album, ‘Treehouse‘, which I released January this year.

So it’s FAWM time – February Album Writing Month. I had no intentions of doing this at all. I had just put out a new album and had broken my collarbone… and where was the time? Well it turns out that just about the only thing I could do with my injury was play the guitar for short periods of time. Housework was completely out of the question so I had extra time. So I started on Feb 1st and am just over half way through and I swear it is keeping me sane. Some songs take a day or two and others like ‘Lemonade’ took an hour to write and record. I just love writing and recording. It’s a good thing my kids are old enough to get their own food!

So why do these challenges? Here are some great reasons:

1. With this much songwriting you can only improve.
2. It gives you an excuse to keep in contact with fans.
3. You are giving fans something new on a regular basis.
4. You improve your recording skills and discover new ways to produce.
5. You end with a large catalogue to draw from, which is especially useful if you are pitching to TV etc.
6. You really learn how to finish songs and move on.
7. It gives you something to tweet,FB etc.
8. It’s fun!

Some great songwriting challenges to check out (and it isn’t too late for FAWM)

RPM Challenge

I hope to see you in the forums on any of these challenges and if you want to follow my progress, please visit my FAWM page – http://fawm.org/fawmers/helenaustin/

Recording in Isolation

When I write and, especially, when I record for a new album, I tend to do it in isolation. Meaning that I don’t listen to other music.I know it sounds odd that a songwriter and musician doesn’t listen to other people’s music. It’s like a writer not reading, which of course, is essential.

But while recording I don’t want to get overly influenced by others, especially those whose music I love. I want to avoid sounding in any way generic or derivative in my production and execution of the song.

This latest album, Treehouse, came from writing a whole bunch of songs for a forum called “50 songs in 90 Days” run by FAWM.org. (which I didn’t get anywhere near to completing!) In late Sept I noticed that I had enough songs that I liked for a new album, plus I wrote a few more along the way.

So from October onwards I have listened to very little music other than my own, which has been very tedious for my kids as I do a lot of listening and tweaking while driving to and from school and activities. My musically picky 13 year old daughter is very handy in her criticisms on these rides! She is a huge music consumer (and I make her save up and buy her music!) so she makes up for me during these times!

Now I am done the CD (mastering gets done this week and then artwork gets sent to predisc.com). Now we can all start listening to other music and we are all relieved! First thing I did after giving the album a final listen before sending it to the masterful masterer, Hans DeKline, was find some Bon Iver and crank it up! Ahh… nice to hear a guy voice for a change!

And when I am done my own albums I tend not to listen to it much again, unless I’m assessing tunes for submissions. I move on to the next thing very quickly… although I have no idea what that will be right now.

I am going to take Dec off (yeh right!) and put up decorations and bake with the kids (gonna try!) and now I need new music to listen to… any suggestions in the alternative folk ish genre?