2/12/10

Friday Playlist: Amateur Hour (Return of FAWM)

As both of my faithful readers know, February is a big month for songwriters (and aspiring songwriters!), as it plays host to both FAWM and the RPM Challenge. I've blogged before about FAWM and written about the collaborative process it inspires, but for the uninitiated who are too lazy to click, FAWM stands for February Album Writing Month, a collaborative online community that helps people reach the goal of writing (and ideally recording) an album's worth of songs during the shortest month of the year. It's amazing what a constraint can do to kick the creative process into gear, as my wife wrote about recently on her blog.

Last year I wrote a handful of songs, and even blogged about them a bit, but I kept most of them under wraps (only listenable by other registered FAWM members). Well, this year, I'm letting the proverbial cat out of the bag - that's right, I'm actually letting the public hear my songs. [Editor's note: cue thunderous applause from a Jordan-starved public.]

To what do I credit this new-found confidence? Primarily on having a much better toolset than I did last year, which allows me to make even my silliest musical ideas sound like something someone put at least a little time and thought into. Exhibit A is the bad-ass keyboard my wife gave me for Christmas this year (pictured above), M-Audio's Axiom Pro 49. I'd been dropping hints that I wanted a keyboard for some time [Editor's note: "I wish someone would buy me a keyboard" does not count as a "hint."], and Mrs. Wired for Music really came through on this one. This thing is a beast - it's a keyboard + MIDI controller surface, and when I first read that on the back of the box, I didn't know what it meant either. Reading the manual wasn't much help - this is a keyboard for people who already know how to use fancy recording tools, which I'd never used before. So for a while all I could do was make a few funny sounds on the thing via my computer.

Fortunately, I have friends in high (musical) places, like my friend (and long-time musical collaborator) John. John's been doing FAWM for a while now, and he's the one (in conjunction with my wife) who really encouraged me to do it last year. This year he did me one better and taught me how to use some of the really cool DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software that lets me take my ideas from "plunking around on the keyboard" to "finished musical composition." Exhibits B & C in my "confidence toolkit" are Ableton Live and Propellerhead's Reason. Reason is a MIDI recording program which can make your keyboard sound like any number of hundreds upon hundreds of different devices - some are software versions of classic synthesizers and samplers of old, and some are just cool sounds that somebody came up with. It's amazing what kind of creativity you can unleash simply by giving yourself access to a giant library of sounds to play with. Live is a full-on recording suite, letting you record live audio (i.e. from a mic or an instrument), mix it with MIDI tracks, master the whole thing, and do about a billion other amazing things that I still have no idea how to use.

Put together, these software programs + the new keyboard + some spare time = 7 songs recorded already, and I'm aiming to get 7 more done before the month is out. I should also mention here that a big part of FAWM is collaboration - sometimes someone will post a musical track that needs lyrics or a vocal part, or someone will post words and a melody and ask for a backing track, etc. - and that leads to some really amazing and unexpected music.

Anyway, enough talk. If you're curious, you can hear the songs I've recorded (and stay posted on songs I put up for the rest of the month) on my FAWM page. Enjoy, and please let me know what you think! And while you're there, be sure to click around and listen to some people's songs - there is some really fantastic stuff out there. Also, for the record, I don't think all my songs are brilliant classics - but if you let yourself pre-judge all your creative ideas because they're not "good enough," how do you ever get to the one that is?

PS I think the collective FAWM output is a great retort to this British jerk who says that it's "too easy" for people to make music nowadays. Sure, it's not all great, and some of it's downright awful, but I have heard so much good music on the FAWM Jukebox this week that I for one am glad that the barriers to entry are being lowered. Across all mediums, the easier it is to participate, the higher the signal-to-noise ratio will get, but so what? Human culture managed to keep progressing even after peasants were allowed to learn reading and writing, and some of those peasants even managed to write great works of literature. It may not all come out the way I want it to, but this peasant is going to keep at it. And I urge the rest of you peasants to act on your creative impulses - you just might make something great.

1 comment:

Lightnin' No Last Name said...

Nice work, techno-gordo. I enjoyed this stuff almost as much as I enjoyed it when my ipod stumbled upon "tails must die" the other day...