Songwriting Challenges

I’ve been participating in various songwriting challenges for a few years now. They come in all shapes and sizes, with various criteria, and definitely have their place in honing your songwriting skills.  The basic goal  of a songwriting challenge is to get you to write a song with some regularity.  To some, that means lyrics only, others are purely instrumentalists.  I primarily lean towards lyrics, melody and music, but others hae good success with shorter song cues, geared towards film and commercial placement.

The song challenges I regularely participate in are FAWM, GYAWS, 50/90, and intermittent challenges such as ForSongSake, and Songwriting and Recording Challenge.  

– FAWM, or February Album Writing Month, is a month long burst of creativity.  The goal is to write 14 new songs during the 28 days of February.  Sign up is free, and this challenge has an international following.  Various sub-challenges, including themes, writing prompts, song skirmishes (one hour challenges to a given theme) etc help you reach your goal of 14 songs.  

– 50/90 is more of a marathon version of FAWM.  The same inspiration is involved, but you have 90 days to write 50 songs, from July 4th through October 1st.  I have never completed the 50/90 successfully, but have finished some of my better songs during that time.  

– GYAWS, or Get Your Ass Writing Songs is a nine week on, one week off challenge.  A theme is provided on Sunday morning, and you have until Saturday midnight to write, record and release a song on Soundcloud.  The following morning, songwriters who opt in have part of their newly crafted songs played on a UStream podcast.   People who write song cues (no lyrics) have the first 1 minute played, while those with lyrics have 1.5 minutes of air time.  Some time later, a second video podcast plays the weekly songs in their entirety, again, for those who have opted in.  There is a loose overlap with TAXI, a song placement group, but membership is not required.  Many members are in both groups, and write their themed songs to fill a TAXI listing.

– Songwriting and Recording Challenge is an intermittent challenge with a required lyric, and an optional theme.  The participants are also the judges with four categories of best song, 2nd best song, best lyric, and best music.  Small prizes are often awarded, and again, there is a one week limit to complete and post a full song.

– Lastly, ForSongSake is a local challenge that runs intermittently.  There is usually a required theme, and turn around times vary.  The unique benefit to this particular challenge is, if selected, you have the opportunity to perform your song at a very classy VIP private venue.  Last spring, I was part of a show with 2 winners and a headlining trio of ladies performing in the round.

The result of all these challenges is a constant stream of new songs being written.  Not every song will necessarily be good, but with so many being written, far more good songs arrive than if I only wrote occasionally, as the mood struck.  My lyric writing is much stronger than it was  a few years back, but there is a catch.  With so little time allotted to produce a song, I find it very difficult to strengthen my skills in melody or instrumentation.  FAWM and 50/90 require a song every 2 days to keep on track, so discovering new chords to explore or unusual melodies isn’t really possible unless you already have a strong library of options to dig into.  One week, sounds like more time, but the reality is that life often gets in the way, and my turn around time is frequently less than a day, from idea to recorded demo.

The double edge sword  with all these challenges is an abundance of song selection for album release, but a lack of time to actually work on recording that material for release, rather than the  quick challenge demos produced in rapid and varied quality.  The goal of writing more songs has definitely been met, and some writing skills have been improved.   I’ve gotten to know many fellow songwriters, and discovered an amazing pool of quality music most will never have the opportunity to hear.

Think you might be up to the challenge of having fun while writing songs?  Check out www.fawm.org and sign up for a month of musical adventure.  The fun kicks off in just two weeks! 

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