14 songs, 28 days: Pittsburgh-based group challenges musicians to write | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

14 songs, 28 days: Pittsburgh-based group challenges musicians to write

click to enlarge 14 songs, 28 days: Pittsburgh-based group challenges musicians to write
Photo: Courtesy of Burr Settles
Burr Settles of FAWM: February Album Writing Month
Novelists have NaNoWriMo, a popular writing challenge that encourages them to work on writing pages toward a novel for the month of November. You may not know it, but musicians have FAWM: February Album Writing Month. While FAWM originated in Madison, Wisconsin, its creator, Burr Settles, moved to Pittsburgh and brought it here. People that participate in FAWM  often referred to as “fawmers" have used the challenge to produce numerous songs over the years.

Settles says the idea for FAWN came from its creative writing counterpart after he participated in NaNoWriMo in 2003.

"I wrote a crappy novella that I never let anyone else read, but it was a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and I wanted to project that energy onto my songwriting, too,” says Settles.

He says he pitched the idea to a few friends, and together they arbitrarily picked February and a 14-song goal (one song every other day).

"I made a blog-like website in 2004 so we could track each other's progress," adds  Settles. "It wasn't meant to be an annual thing at first, but other musicians stumbled across that 2004 blog and emailed me to ask if they could join, too. So I've kept it going ever since.”

After Settles moved to Pittsburgh in 2009 to work on his Ph.D., FAWM really started to become a global community. Settles says certain cities seem to be particularly strong FAWM hubs, including Toronto, Washington, D.C., New York, London, and Los Angeles. There are even fawmers in Finland.

Settles says he would love to see more of the Pittsburgh community get involved in the project. Since its inception in 2004, the challenge has generated 150,000 songs. Settles says he has worked on many FAWM projects with his former band, Delicious Pastries.

“Even though it's called ‘February Album Writing Month,’ the goal isn't really to produce a complete album," says Settles. "The aim is to silence your inner critic and just make a ton of music (even if you don't hit the 14-song goal)."

Still, he says some writing done during FAWM does turn into something bigger and points out that searching the #fawm tag on the Bandcamp website brings up hundreds of albums.

There are also volumes of FAWM songs available to buy on the group's Bandcamp page.

When it began, Settles says FAWM was more of a singer-songwriter community, but as the years went by, different genres and different music styles have participated in the challenge, bringing about a more diverse voice. About 10% of all FAWM songs are collaborations, a change that was brought about when Settles jokingly recommended that participants write an extra song for the extra day in a leap year.

“I want to see [FAWM] continue to evolve as a platform that encourages community and creativity. Each year, people tell me that they used to hate February because it's in the dead of winter, but now it's their favorite month of the year,” he says “Or that participating in FAWM is one of the most positive things they've done for their mental and emotional health. That's hugely fulfilling for me, and why I keep doing it every year.”

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