Shaky Blog

Chris's Blog Archive: March 2021

Even though I got my first Covid vaccination and even did a bit of gardening, March wasn't one of my better months. I spent most of it feeling very low (and as I observed at the time, some of this would have been caused by the traditional post-FAWM crash.)

"But it's spring, Chris!" they say. Yeah, and by the end of the month my allergies were very much aware of that...

My latest release on Bandcamp is a fifty-eight-minute collection of highlights from my work during FAWM this year called What I Did In February. Listening to it now that FAWM has closed I can hear a big improvement in my chops as a songwriter. It's a pay-what-you-want deal, too (and that includes free, because I know times are hard for everyone right now.) Why not give it a listen?

My most recent commercial album Oneiric Tulpas is available on Bandcamp! You can also check it out on Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal and all your other favourite streaming services. My previous album Beyond is also on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal and the rest as well.

My earlier albums Generator and Fort are also available at Bandcamp, together with a large collection of other music from me.


I have bought my last book from Amazon. When the last couple of book orders I placed arrived, they weren't copies from the original publisher at all. They were cheap, poorly-finished knockoffs from a "Print On Demand" machine like this one.

If you've never had the misfortune of buying a book printed with this technology, I can sum up the user experience in one word:


When you first pick up a book that's come out of one of these machines, the first thing that strikes you is that it feels cheap. The covers of a print on demand paperback book don't stay flat; they will start to curl up as soon as you start handling it. By the time you've finished reading it, the book will look a mess. The pages are made from paper of the cheap, processed variety that fluoresces faintly in low light. The "typesetting" is extremely shoddy, with lines of text on a page varying in height, density, and kerning (because of exactly the same thing that happens when you print a letter on a poorly-maintained laser printer.) Some lines of text may end up so badly printed that they are impossible to read. Many books have been converted to the print on demand format by being fed through an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program without being checked by a human being and are riddled with typos. Such was the case with the last few books I ordered. And in each case, there on the back cover, were the damning words:

"Printed in the UK by Amazon."

Amazon entered the print on demand market way back in 2005, and a few years later they were already throwing their weight around trying to pressure small publishers into signing away their publishing rights, but up until recently I could still be relatively sure that I would get an original copy of a book if I ordered from them. That's evidently no longer the case.

And if the quality of their customer experience wasn't enough to give me pause when considering to give them my custom in future, their current response to the threat of employees creating their own union shows the sort of behaviour that would be deemed psychopathic in an individual.

So yeah. I'm done.


Drinking red wine on a regular basis ("up to" 14 units a week appears to be the figure quoted, and that's the maximum recommended weekly intake for an adult male) appears to reduce the likelihood of developing cataracts in later life by a staggering 23%, according to a study that was conducted by academics at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology.

My father would consume that amount of red wine every day so I'm guessing that he probably won't ever need to worry about developing them. On the other hand, that level of consumption resulted in him developing alcohol-related dementia and being taken into care, so there's always a flip side to these benefits. Don't overdo it, kids.


Yesterday I kept the windows closed during the day (it's been so nice this week that I'd thrown the windows wide open on Monday) and this morning my sniffles weren't as bad. That suggests to me that it's quite likely to be an allergic reaction to something outside that has been giving me the sniffles.

It looks like my hay fever season has already started. Bugger.


I heard my first chiffchaff of the year this morning, so I can safely pronounce that spring has finally arrived. The UK is back on British Summer Time, and my sleeping patterns are even more messed up than normal as a result; I had several vivid and distinctly weird dreams last night. At one point I imagined myself talking to an entity which was pretending to be David Bowie, although interestingly both it and I knew that it was not what it appeared to be...

I woke myself up by snoring. For the last couple of days I have been clobbered by blocked sinuses and a runny nose and rather than a cold, I suspect that these symptoms are being caused by my allergies kicking in. If that's the case, this year's hay fever season is going to be a brutal one because I don't normally start suffering this early.


You can tell I was suffering during last night's stream, which ended up being much shorter than usual so I could go and have a sneezing fit for ten minutes or so (it seemed to do the trick, and I felt much better afterwards.

Today is Piano Day (because it's the 88th day of the year, and a piano has 88 keys) so it was quite fitting that the show featured a new instrument from Spitfire Audio: the Mrs Mills Piano, an upright piano from Abbey Road Studio Two that has a long and storied history that involved many of the Beatles' hits as well as Russ Conway and Gladys Mills, the queen of the piano for whom it is named. It's bright and quirky and full of character and I suspect I will be using it a lot in my recordings.


I need to spend less time asleep. Or less time lying in bed, putting off the moment when I have to get up because I know it's going to hurt; I'm not sure which is the bigger problem at the moment. Today I was up and about three hours earlier than I managed yesterday. I wish I could say that I feel better for it, but my head is full of a cold. At least I think it's a cold—but as spring has started to arrive it could quite well be that I'm allergic to something that's floating around outside, and as this suggests that I will not shake it off after a few days which will suck much more than just having a cold would, this is the more likely scenario.

I'm still not doing so great, physically or mentally, but I figure that hiding under the duvet isn't exactly helping matters, so that's got to stop. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done at present. Given the state of the world right now, there are days when lapsing into another bout of depression seems like the only sane response. I know that in some respects things look less bleak than they did last year (for a start, The United States is back to being run by people who can string a coherent sentence together) but the propensity of some people to be complete dicks about things is, apparently, as strong as ever. Down the road in Bristol, the police have been caught lying about the events of the past couple of days. The current mess in the Suez Canal appears to have been created by a crew who were quite literally dicking about (and the inevitable enquiry into what happened is evidently going to be one of the year's entertainment highlights, I'm sure).

I don't think I'll be doing any gardening to cheer myself up today, however. At the moment hail is rattling against the back door and the weather for the weekend doesn't look like it will be much of an improvement.

Instead, I will be staying indoors and reading; I am gradually grinding my way towards the end of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, a book that has already taken me over a year to read. It's not been easy. That missing apostrophe is really beginning to get on my nerves. I had to resort to buying Joseph Campbell's concordance to the book A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake to make sense of some of the denser passages. More than once over the last couple of days I have found myself asking exactly what Joyce's motives were in writing the book. The task took a third of his life to complete and a lot of his friends thought he'd gone mad, and I can see why.

I can't say I've enjoyed the read, but I am not going to let it beat me. Once I've got Finnegans Wake out of the way I have a more than a few other books that I've been "currently reading" for several months now, and I have resolved to finish all of them before I start reading any new ones. But after realising this month that I have only crossed a single book off my Goodreads "want to read" list since I signed up there in 2015 (the only success was Brian Eno's A year with swollen appendices), I decided that I ought to trawl some second-hand bookshops online and track down a few others on the list. I was more successful this time than I was the last time I tried to find copies. The postman has just delivered Tony Wilson's 24-Hour Party People and Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind (which is set in the smallest type I think I have ever seen in a book; I may need a magnifying glass to tackle it).


It's odd how making just a little change to my stream—in this case letting an instrument from Ableton's "Inspired by Nature" pack run and do its thing as background to me talking—completely changed the feel of the show.

YouTube spent noticeably longer checking the video once I'd uploaded it this morning, presumably because algorithms were checking that I hadn't been playing a commercial release as background music. Eventually YT deigned to let me publish the show; lucky me.

I will be glad to get back into the routine of making music every week once 50/90: The Prequel gets under way on April 4th; I've been feeling a bit adrift since FAWM drew to a close. As I said on the show, I feel like the wobble I've had over the past week or so has been this year's post-FAWM crash, and it's not been pleasant. Until then, I will be off buried in a book somewhere.


I did slightly better today than I managed yesterday. I was out of bed before 11 am (hey, it's a start, right?)

Even though the temperature overnight dropped to -2°C here, it was a lovely day today and pleasantly warm outside, so this afternoon I forced myself to spend a few hours doing some gardening. I finished trimming the magnolia in the front garden back to a more manageable size. Bits of it were well over eleven feet high because last summer I wasn't feeling up to pruning it and it really took advantage of being left to its own devices.

This evening I'm feeling better for that burst of activity and it was nice to feel the sun on my face, too. My mood feels much improved over what it was, and I hope that will continue through the week.

I still managed to stream last night, although I was fairly subdued compared to last month (you'll really notice me getting quieter and quieter as the show runs on). Chatting to my friends who showed up to watch and say hi gave me a much-needed lift, though.

While I was doing my stream, Bristol was rioting. A protest about the right to protest peacefully ended up being anything but peaceful. These days I am old and cynical, and therefore inclined to suspect that this was deliberately orchestrated by people who want the police to have more power, rather than less. But how things have changed; I found my sympathies firmly on the side of the protestors, not the police. I will not be forgetting the Met's handling of recent vigils for Sarah Everard, nor their subsequent lack of accountability in any shape or form for their actions. The road which this country has started down leads nowhere good.


...just about.

I've been feeling rather down for the past couple of days. I don't think that it's anything to do with the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot I had last Tuesday; I'm just fed up with being stuck indoors on my own and with every day for most of the last twelve months being very much like the day before.

Today I didn't get out of bed until noon, which is the latest I've slept in all year. I slept badly, and I have no energy at all. I could quite happily go back to bed and take a nap for a few more hours. Worse, I'm finding it very difficult to muster up enthusiasm for doing much of anything this weekend. This all feels as if the early stages of yet another bout of depression might be sneaking up on me, and I'd really rather that it didn't. If it gets any worse I think I might be calling the doctor again.


My routine was broken slightly today by having to fill out the 2021 Census (which is now all done online, and took about ten minutes.) By such things my days are measured, now.


After an enforced week or so off, I can now resume getting my weekly fix of new MCU content. This morning I stayed off the Internet entirely to avoid spoilers as I knew I would be sitting down to watch the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier which went live today on Disney+. I was not disappointed, although I will say that there's an awful lot of foreshadowing. So much foreshadowing. Most of the episode was devoted to setting up the plot for the rest of the series run and establishing the motivations of the titular characters. This was done in a none-too-subtle way that strayed perilously close to overplaying things, but after a distinctly low-key opening, the first action sequence involving The Falcon rescuing a kidnap victim would not have seemed out of place as a set piece in any of the Marvel movies.

The show focuses heavily on the aftereffects of the last two Avengers movies (Infinity War and Endgame) but I won't go into details because that could take us into spoiler territory and I'm not going to do that to you.

So instead I'll just say that it's global in scale (far more so than WandaVision's intentionally claustrophobic, small-town setting) and cinematic in scope. Watching it is like watching a blockbuster movie only that it ends too soon (with a truly "WTF?" moment) leaving you wanting to know what is going to happen next. Roll on next Friday for episode 2, when hopefully the plot will start to gain momentum...


I am still really pleased with the LED lights that I installed in the studio prior to last Sunday's live stream, and last night they were in full effect once again.

I have been doing other things than music this week so I didn't have any new songs to premiere, but I did give some live demonstrations of a number of VST virtual instruments that you can download for free from the VST Buzz website and despite the fact that they won't cost you anything, they are very good indeed.

And as always, it was nice to interact with everyone who showed up in the chat. The chat pretty much drove the show's content, and I think it was a better show as a result.


I had the first of my two shots of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine yesterday, just a week short of the first anniversary of the country going in to lockdown. Some friends have had a couple of days feeling very rough afterwards, but so far today I've been feeling pretty chipper. I treated myself to a breakfast of croissants with brie and cranberry sauce and a big mug of coffee and I'd finished that before 9:30.

But I've changed my breakfast habits and I've switched from starting every day with a large latté to a mug of tea. Coffee will be an occasional treat, rather than a daily routine. This is mainly because I want to cut down on the amount of dairy produce I consume, which has crept up over the winter. Sadly, the brie in my croissants will be a last hurrah as far as buying cheese goes. I started cutting back on dairy products last week, and I've already noticed a reduction in my weight. I also seem to be sleeping better; I got a score of 93 on Monday night, which is the highest I've ever got from the app I use. Last night, despite a little bit of discomfort, I still managed a score of 90.

But I bought a few post-vaccination treats on my way home yesterday, so the downward trend in my weight may stall for a day or two. I've got to keep my spirits up, after all...


It's the Ides of March. "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!" Kenneth Williams wails during the climactic scene of Carry On Cleo. Trouble is, it feels like the country would be in a better state if it was being run by the Carry On cast these days. They could hardly do worse.

Another Monday, another set of dismal headlines. There are times when I just feel like hiding under the duvet, whimpering, I really do. And if you're wondering just why I think that things are looking desperately bleak in this country right now, this is as good a place as any to start reading.

Meanwhile—for the second time in six months—the government has been charged with breaking international law, this time because of the way they have implemented Brexit in Northern Ireland. For all the way that Boris presented his solution as a simple, "oven ready" deal, it's looking decidedly past its sell-by date.

Not only has the government given up pretending that they're even slightly accountable, they're diligently working to turn anything that criticises them into a criminal offence. And up until the events of the weekend, the opposition were blithely going to sit there and let them. I found myself wondering about how long it will be before Boris decides to go full-on North Korea and make media coverage of his staggering incompetence illegal. Boris clearly has big issues with anyone pointing out just how terrible a PM he's been, and the BBC have studiously avoided criticism and opted instead for outright sycophancy. After the news channels, what of blogs? When you have to think twice about posting a blog article that even mentions issues like this, as I found myself doing just now, then something, somewhere, is very wrong. Worryingly wrong.

Even though Boris would rather ignore the matter, the economic fallout of Brexit is accelerating. You'd think that a speciality chocolate maker would be raking it in during the past year's lockdown, but Thornton's have just announced that they're closing all 61 of their shops, with six hundred jobs described as "at risk"—and if you've ever been in that situation, you'll know that it's industry-speak for "start looking for another job, sunshine, because this one's toast."

But don't mind me. I'm just a lone voice, screaming out in the wilderness. Or at least that's what it feels like at the moment.


To counter the urge to just spend the day screaming incoherently I have been immersing myself in making music. And after editing down my live streams for some forty-four weeks now so that I can put them on YouTube for my followers to watch (and they do actually watch them, for which I am very grateful) I have become increasingly critical of the quality of the video that I end up with. I know that a forty-quid webcam is never going to compete with a professional camera, but this week I found myself so dissatisfied with the results that I ended up revisiting my old video production notebooks and reminding myself just how far decent lighting can go in compensating for less-than-professional gear. So when I saw an advert for a twin-pack of 20 Watt LED panels a few days ago that allowed separate RGB control (so I could make them any colour I wanted) and which were on limited offer at a very silly price (thirty quid), I couldn't resist and ordered them on the spot.

I used them for the first time on last night's stream, and oh boy: what a difference. By ditching the room's overhead light I got rid of the glare off the top of my head; blinding your viewers is never a good look when you're doing a piece to camera. I also dialled back the ring light that I've been using almost since my first stream, switching it to only use its "warm" setting, and I was very surprised by how this made me look noticeably less washed-out.

And as I said during the show, I plumped for the orange-and-teal look that is beloved of Hollywood trailers and posters because even if it has become a cliché, that's because it looks cool.

After talking about how the Godin deserved a bit of extra love I spent this afternoon restringing it, oiling the fretboard, fitting the active electronics with a fresh battery, and generally bringing it back into tip-top condition. It is sounding better than ever. Restringing it was an easy job thanks to the tuners that Godin fit to their guitars, which double as string locks but unlike a Floyd Rose system, no Allen keys are required to release the strings afterwards; it's a cool design.

Yesterday Nick set me a challenge during the show to record a piece of music at a sampling rate of just 44 Hz. I've already done my homework and done exactly that. You can hear the results on my next show and decide for yourself if the practice is going to catch on or not.

As always, I'll be live on Twitch on Thursday at 19:30 GMT.


...was a different time. My friend Dana played a gig in Bristol with her band Insect Ark, and afterwards we caught up and chatted about the plans we had for the rest of the year. She was expecting to embark on a tour of Russia, and I was hoping to be told when I was going to get surgery for the kidney stone that had been making my life miserable for the previous seven months.

Neither of those things happened. Instead, the Covid-19 situation rapidly escalated and everyone's lives were thrown into disarray. Since then we've all found ourselves living in very different circumstances and a lot of things that we were accustomed to doing like going to gigs or hanging out with friends have quite simply gone away. I haven't worked for nearly two years, now. It's been tough, particularly as I live on my own. My "bubble" is just me, and that sucks. I know I'm more fortunate than a lot of people and although to the best of my knowledge I haven't caught Covid-19, maintaining a positive frame of mind has been a challenge. I get my first vaccine shot next week, and I really hope that it's the start of things taking a turn for the better because to be honest, I could really do with them doing so.


I really don't know how I would have coped through these last twelve months without being able to shut myself in my studio and focus on making music. It's a great way of distracting yourself from just how dismal the outside world is. Live streaming has become my primary way of staying in touch with friends, as quite a few of them stream on Facebook or YouTube or Zoom. I continue to make my own streams every week on Twitch, and I really enjoy doing so. One of the more unexpected problems associated with streaming when you live on your own turns out to be having to go and see who's at the door while you're on air and trying to present things in a professional manner; I edited that part out for the YouTube version embedded here.

I keep on tweaking things so that I can provide a better experience for anyone who tunes in, and it will probably come as no surprise to anyone if I said that I get rather obsessed about getting the audio right; last night I'd been tweaking settings again and everything was a bit quiet, but I was able to fix that in post, as the saying goes. I did at least maintain consistent audio levels from start to finish, as I'm now muting my mic with the mute button on the mixer rather than rolling the volume off on the faders. I'd noticed the previous week that just cutting the sound from the Mic Mechanic return didn't actually prevent studio noise from making it on air. You'd think that after doing 43 of these Thursday night shows I'd have sussed out things like that, but apparently not.

So—as I said during the show—I have been poring over many instruction manuals this week in an effort to find better ways of doing what I do. I've already made one or two discoveries that came as a complete surprise, which was great.

And at this point I realise that I've turned in to Star Trek's Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, who (in the episode "The Trouble With Tribbles") reacts after Kirk restricts him to his quarters after fighting some Klingons with evident delight, because it will give him the opportunity to catch up with reading his technical journals...


Although the house did emit some alarming creaks and groans, the storm on Wednesday night passed without incident. Down the road in Almondsbury, the maximum wind speed they recorded was 62 mph. It was rather windy.


I have found myself feeling a bit down today, as if I'd forgotten a part of my weekly routine and missed out on something nice as a result. Partly that's because of the points I made above, but it's also because I didn't have a new episode of WandaVision waiting on the TV today. I don't often get really involved in a TV series to the point of having to avoid social media until I'd caught up with events, but I got like that with Marvel's series. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany (and, it needs to be said, Kat Jennings, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kathryn Hahn and the rest of a very strong supporting cast) have been a delight throughout.

But next week sees the launch of another Marvel series on Disney + and this one looks like it's an even bigger-budget affair than WandaVision. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier looks like it's going to be just as much fun, even if it appears to have a shorter run of just six episodes. There are far more explosions than there were in WandaVision, though, so it's all checks and balances, really, isn't it?

I notice that Buckaroo Banzai alumnus Carl Lumbly (John Parker himself!) will be appearing in the show, which pleases my inner film nerd a lot.


This afternoon I spent a couple of hours outside, washing the car and making a start on cutting back the magnolia (which had made the most of being left to grow unchecked last year because I was ill). It was a beautiful day with no clouds in the sky and I stopped several times to watch a trio of buzzards that were soaring over the village, calling to each other. I haven't completely trimmed the magnolia back to a manageable size yet, because I ran out of space in my green bin—but it looks a lot better than it did. I was tempted to give the lawn a cut while I was outside, but gardening in March still feels like a bit of a novelty. After all, I remember how just three years ago, the village was buried under a thick blanket of snow at this time of the year.

March weather remains variable at best, so I was glad I was able to enjoy the sunshine earlier. It's gone now, replaced by a lowering grey overcast that is likely to be with us for the next few days. I plan on spending them at home indoors (as if I do anything else these days) because the weather forecast for tomorrow and Thursday isn't great. There's a yellow warning for wind in place for the next 48 hours and 50 mph gusts are expected here in the small hours of Thursday morning.

But I'm pleased with myself for being slightly more active today. Given that dragging myself out of bed feels like a major achievement at present and my energy levels have been at rock bottom for months, I wasn't altogether sure that I'd manage to get as much done as I did. Being more active has meant that I haven't been feeling the post-FAWM crash too badly, either. I suspect that I'm going to be sore tomorrow, though. I can already feel my shoulders complaining, and that's after soaking in the bath for an hour after I called it quits. Thank heavens for ibuprofen.


Any bout of sustained creative activity conditions your mind and body to expect a certain routine. In the case of making music, that involves sitting in the chair in my studio and sustaining intense (and I really do mean intense) concentration for hours at a time. That's been my daily routine since the studio refit that I completed last November, and aside for a week or two during October where all my gear was piled up out of the way in other rooms around the house, I'd been making music pretty much continuously since the Fifty/Ninety challenge started way back when on July 4th.

I'd like to think that I could sustain that level of musical activity indefinitely, but last week I realised that it might be a good idea to take my foot off the gas, so to speak. For a while, at least. And over the last couple of days it feels like my body's reaction to this has been "Well, thank goodness for that!" Last night I mentioned in the show that I could feel the post-FAWM crash lurking somewhere close by, and today it finally showed up.

Maybe it was because I was crashing last night but the Curse of the DAW showed up with a vengeance. Several software synths refused to play a note and then unaccountably started working again and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was going on. By the time I'd edited out the worst instances of the chaos that ensued, the show was a whole twenty-five minutes shorter than it was when I started.

So far today I've been feeling cold, and then hot; I'm tired; I can't really focus much on anything; and I am even more achy than usual. I have been remembering to apply ibuprofen gel to my shoulders at night so I'm sleeping better than I was, but I can't say I'm feeling much benefit. I've little appetite (which is most unusual for me) and I am extremely lethargic today. So I think I am going to take note of those symptoms and take things easy for a few days. I may try to get some gardening done tomorrow, and the car needs a wash, but other than that I think I'm just going to focus on reading books for a while. That should let me build up a decent buffer in my progress for this year's Goodreads challenge. Once again I set myself a target of reading sixty books by the end of the year and I'm currently four books ahead of my target.


I forgot to apply ibuprofen gel to my shoulders last night and this morning I could barely drag myself out of bed. Just rolling over on my side hurt. My energy levels are at rock bottom. Living in a state of permanent exhaustion is no fun and I really don't feel so great today.


Even last night, as I edited the night's stream I'd just done before uploading it to YouTube, I thought I looked very subdued on camera. And my voice sounded very tired, too.

But I had a decent time, and people said they'd enjoyed it afterwards. I focused on five things you can do with your computer's Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software to give your own music the super-bright and utterly unmistakable production sound from the 1980s. It's the sound which I gravitate to most strongly, even if it's forty years out of date. Hey, I'm an old guy these days and I figured out last year that I should just make music that makes me happy. Modern trends are for the cool kids. I'm completely satisfied sticking with sounding like I did in this show:

If you have a Mac, you already have a basic DAW installed. It's called Garageband. If you haven't got a DAW for your PC, you can pick up a great free one called Cakewalk that is compatible with the Waves plugins that I mentioned on the show.

In either case, I recommend firing it up and learning the basics of making your own music. It is ridiculously good fun.


Well, I'm pretty sure I've tracked down what is causing me the most trouble in getting a good night's sleep at the moment. Much to my surprise, I felt a lot more comfortable after applying ibuprofen gel to my shoulders last night. I fell asleep quickly (I was really tired, after all) and I slept very well, with my tracker recording the amount of time I spent in proper, deep restorative sleep at 41%. Compare that with the night before, when I couldn't even reach 30%. So I will be doing the same thing tonight. I need to get a few night's restful sleep under my belt and regain some sort of equilibrium after spending last month going down the songwriting rabbit hole and pulling far too many late nights (and for me, that means I've been getting into bed well after midnight.)

I need more than a few, quite frankly. Popular culture treats the idea of building up a sleep deficit and then catching up at weekends as normal, and not only is this not a normal thing to do biologically, it's also really bad for us. Getting a good night's sleep should be commonplace, not a special treat. And I know I'm unusually fortunate in that I can choose how long I stay in bed these days. If I was still working I know that I would be a jittery, shambling, sleep-deprived, permanently exhausted wreck at the moment.

I certainly wouldn't have broken my songwriting record for last month...


Today I've made a start on the mountain of laundry that's built up over the last month thanks to me having more creative things to do than the housework. I'll be dusting off the vacuum cleaner later, too. Yesterday I sat in my studio while I listened to other people's songs on the FAWM website and noticed just how dusty everything had become in there. It's not good for my gear, even though I have dust covers for a fair amount of it. I wonder if this sudden urge to tidy up is just the result of letting things slide over the winter, or whether there is something inherently biological in the idea of spring cleaning? Now that it's March, the days are getting longer, and they're doing so at an increasing rate. My amaryllis plants already have foot-long leaves on them and the behaviour of the birds in the back garden has changed, with the blue tits regularly scoping out nest boxes and the local female blackbird patiently sitting on the bird table a couple of feet from me as I put out some more mealworms and suet pellets just now.

I'm not done with FAWM just yet, though. Yesterday I listened to over thirty songs (focusing particularly on works that hadn't received any comments at all) and the quality level was staggeringly good. So once I've vacuumed the studio for the first time in about six weeks, I'll fire it all up again and do some more listening and commenting. It's a lovely way to spend a few hours.


It's March 1st and for the first time in quite a while I actually remembered to adjust my watch's calendar on the day that the date rolled over instead of discovering it was wrong a week or so later. But even though March 1st means that spring is just around the corner, it also brings a note of sadness...

Because it means that the February Album Writing Month website has stopped accepting new submissions. The challenge—to write fourteen songs over the twenty-eight days of February—is over for another year. And I had a rather splendid time of things this time around, beating my personal best that I set back in 2016 with a grand total of 32 songs finished by the close of proceedings. You can listen to every single one of them on my FAWM profile page, where they will sit until next January, when the site resets and we can all go crazy once again.

FAWM has been ridiculously good fun this year. I think the quality of the songs I've written has been much higher than I've managed in years gone by, and more importantly for me I feel like my output has been consistently better; there were far more songs that I was still very happy with a week after I'd finished them than I've had previously. Over the last year I've levelled up, musically speaking, far beyond anything I've ever managed before. That is undoubtedly because I've had both the time to devote to growing my skills as a musician and a workspace where I can really focus on what I'm doing and accurately hear the results of my creative decisions. Last year I turned my back bedroom from a hobbyist man-cave into something that actually looks like it was put together for the express purpose of making music, and it has done wonders for my creative confidence. That in turn has led me to stretch out as a musician, and the positive results that I've got have further boosted my confidence. It's been lovely to find myself in a gloriously positive feedback loop. I have been exploring my influences quite extensively throughout the last four weeks and my production chops have come on by leaps and bounds (I am now a dab hand at creating those quintessential 80s gated drums, super-bright guitars, and lush synth pads productions. It's only taken me forty years to get there...) I had great fun trying to make myself sound like productions that 80s-era Pink Floyd, Go West, and the Sisters of Mercy used to do and I reckon I did a passable job of creating entertaining pastiches of all of them. I liked them, anyway.

I had plenty to talk about on last night's Twitch live stream and I shared eight recent tracks that I've worked on during the show as well. Even the edited highlights on YouTube last for around two hours, but if you're in to pop music or home recording setups and techniques, I think you'll find something to interest you:

While the video rendered out and uploaded I've been back on the FAWM website listening to other people's songs and leaving comments. I've found lots of really great music that had zero comments made (this category of song is known on the site as a "zong") so I have studiously worked to bring the site's zong count down towards zero; at the moment there are over 900 of them, although some of them are just placeholders with no lyrics to read or music to listen to. I'll be doing more listening and commenting when I've finished this blog update, but I also think that this week I need to look after myself better. Sitting in the studio chair for six hours without a break is not something that I should do for more than a few days at a time, and I will be making sure that this week I take considerably more exercise and get much more fresh air. I will also be trying to get more sleep; that's going to be more problematic, as this morning when I turned over in bed I realised that pain from my shoulders (which I suspect is caused by arthritis) is the likely reason I can't settle at night. I'll try applying some ibuprofen gel tonight to see if that helps at all. I really hope it does.