Another February, another FAWM

Since I’ve been so quiet for such a long time, I thought I’d write about my experiences this year with FAWM (February Album Writing Month) and its wonderful international community. If you are a songwriter or want to get involved with songwriting in any way, I highly recommend it as well as 50/90, which runs from July through September. The forums, a gold mine for inspiration and collaboration, are usually open for a while before and after each writing period. Supporting the site financially is completely optional.

In the months leading up to it this year, I had been writing more than usual, so instead of just writing as many songs as possible during FAWM, I decided to focus more on collabs. This is not all 18 songs I did, but here were my favorites, in no particular order:

Tell You No (topline collab with Juha Keränen)

This was at least my second collab with Juha, an amazing musician and producer out of Finland. Toplining my own lyrics and melody over an existing instrumental track is one of my favorite ways to stretch myself musically. Juha is one of a few people I know I can just give any musical description to, and he can create something solid for it. He also handles the production side after I send him my vocals (because it would not sound nearly as good if I did it). I don’t know if it’s my own mental associations or the musical choices he makes, but I always end up writing about dysfunctional or abusive relationships.

      Tell You No - IA & amandaroseriley

A New Excitement (topline collab with John Lampson)

John is a mainly alternative rock musician from Minnesota, and this was our first collab, but probably not our last! Some collaborators prefer to have as much freedom as possible, whereas John was more interested in supporting whatever existing vision I had. Luckily it was enough for me just to name my favorite genres and artists because I’m not good at providing much more than that. He sent me the underlying instrumental for this track, which reminded me of the Bouncing Souls’ positive and upbeat songs, especially from The Gold Record and Ghosts on the Boardwalk. I tried to take it in the same direction with my lyrics and melody.

      A New Excitement - Amanda Rose Riley

The Dancing AI Girl (topline collab with Nadia Cripps)

This is my second topline collab with Nadia, who is based in the UK. Our collabs are so different from what I’d usually do, which is good for expanding my skills and creativity. Pretty much the only piano songwriters I listen to are Regina Spektor and Kate Nash, so you might hear their quirky pop influence in my melodies. But mostly, I just listen to the musical direction and mood of what Nadia plays, and try to write based off that. She gave me the “Dancing AI” as an optional idea for a title and I decided to run with it. I liked how the verses sounded dark while the choruses were happy and upbeat, which required me to be more creative with the story I came up with. The image in the video was appropriately AI-generated.

Just a Pond (collab with lyricist Simon Wright)

Simon (based in the UK) and I did two collabs this year, but as someone with a lot of British friends who has spent a lot of time talking about language differences, I really enjoyed this one on the subject. I like Simon’s lyrics because they’re lighthearted and funny, or at least our collabs have been. I tried to match that mood with the music.

Einsamkeit (collab with ChatGPT as lyricist)

Don’t judge me, but I really wanted a German song of my “own” (I mean, this isn’t really that, but kind of). I couldn’t immediately find a German speaker who wanted to write a song with me from scratch, so I “commissioned” one from ChatGPT. I chose the theme (loneliness), it wrote the lyrics. I did notice that in addition to getting facts wrong when people try to use it to write articles, when you try to get it to write poems, lyrics, or stories, it does not have the best literary merit. It writes a lot like a 13-year-old. I don’t feel particularly qualified to judge literary merit in German, but I’m guessing it applies here too. Anyway, I don’t want AI to write my songs, I’m not that lazy and I like expressing myself directly. It was just a fun little experimental stepping stone to writing my own songs in German.

Not Gonna Be Your Supergirl & I Was In Too Deep (collabs with Nancy Cunningham as verse lyricist)

Nancy and I started chatting based on a forum discussion about verses and choruses. She feels more confident writing verses and telling stories; I feel more confident coming up with a pithy, catchy chorus and my verses often feel like a slog. (Not that I think I’m some pop genius, I’m just better at choruses than verses!) It was Nancy’s idea that we should collaborate based on our strengths. For the first one, I wrote the chorus and Nancy came back with the verses. For the second one, Nancy sent me the verses and I wrote the chorus and bridge.

Red Eyed Devil (collab with lyricist Coolparadiso)

John and I have done a few collabs; he cranks out lyrics on any topic like nobody’s business, and they are always pretty well-written. I mean, I could crank out lyrics every few minutes, but they wouldn’t be very good and I always end up writing about the same themes over and over. That’s why I occasionally collaborate with lyricists, to get out of my lyrical ruts. For some reason, the title and some of the lyrics reminded me of “Out of Breath” by Frank Turner, so the music was heavily inspired by that.

Definitely check out John’s songwriting podcast if you like independent songwriters.

#7 What I Need (“Broken Heart” track by track)

I’m currently showcasing each track from my newest album, Broken Heart, in a “behind the song” blog series. I hope some listeners find it interesting or helpful. “What I Need” is the seventh and final track, bringing this series to a close! But don’t worry, I will have more music out again soon, probably in the autumn.

For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.


This is one of the earlier songs I wrote. It was finished before my last couple of releases, but I didn’t include it in them because it didn’t seem to fit. I don’t always impose a theme on myself, but when I release an album, I generally want all the songs to fit in together in some way.

This actually began as a songwriting exercise, based on a songwriting lecture I watched online that was about writing sad relationship songs like Adele. It was a great lecture that went into highly specific details about both musical and lyrical techniques, and all the different aspects that go into evoking that particular emotional response. Of course, at the end, we were encouraged to try our hand at it, so I did.

This is one of my rare songs that started with the music. Since I’m generally better at lyrics, in songwriting exercises like this, I like to focus more on the music so that I can really try to get it right. I was playing around with different finger picking ideas, and I really liked the way that this one felt for a sad pop love song style. Then I took my time to improvise a melody over it, coming up with many different ideas until I found one that I really felt was catchy and emotionally effective.

One principle from the lecture that I tried to incorporate was lifting the melody and energy as you get up to the chorus, and I really liked how I did that. The second half of the verse rises from the first, and then the chorus lifts even higher. Finally, line by line, I carefully crafted some lyrics that fit in perfectly with the melody I had written, discovering the meaning as I went.

At this point I’ve written lots of songs that I crafted bit by bit like this, and lots of songs that were the result of sheer inspiration and only edited slightly after the fact, if at all. I can’t say that either one is a better method than the other. It’s honestly luck and a crapshoot. Sometimes inspiration leads to amazing songs; sometimes it seems to hold me back because I want so badly to do the inspiration justice. The same is true of craft: sometimes it leads to something great, and sometimes putting in so much effort to write a “good song” ruins the emotional expression of it.

If anything, how much pressure I put on myself is a big factor – the best songs come from having fun and playfully attempting to express what’s inside of me. Desperately wanting to be great can be a huge hindrance. But for the most part, there are no guarantees of good or bad; I just have to keep trying.

In this case though, I’ve been really happy with this song ever since I finished it, and I’m glad I finally found an album that I wanted to put it on. When I write the music first, the lyrics usually do not come from any conscious inspiration, I just kind of write them by instinct and feel. As a result, a lot of times they end up being uninspired, unoriginal, unrelated to my direct emotions and experiences, and I’m not satisfied in the end. I suppose the people who are obsessed with what our subconscious can tell us would be very surprised and skeptical about this, but that’s my honest experience!

This time though, it actually ended up being a fairly truthful account of a dysfunctional relationship I had with an alcoholic, although I might have exaggerated the intensity of my feelings and our attachment for emotional effect – it wasn’t that long of a relationship and I don’t think I ever even cried over the break-up. I hope that doesn’t ruin the song for anyone, but it doesn’t for me!

I also like how even though most of the songs are all about different people, and this one is about a relationship while most of the others are about crushes that never went anywhere, the album can still be interpreted as a coherent story about one person. That’s the beauty of art!


Once upon a time
You gave me more than the moon
You gave your all and it got me through
So I fell in love
And you promised you would never hurt me
Two peas in a pod, that’s what we were

But then things, they changed
And I felt so lost without the man I fell in love with
And it got too much
To just make it all up with another kiss

Can you give me what I need?
Can’t you see that all I asked for was you?

Your demons wrestled with you
For control of your mind
There were times you were lucky just to be alive
Somehow you kept your feet
Down on the shaky ground
But one wrong move and you knew you would drown

And I tried to help you
But you were always too proud
To make the change you needed
Comes a time we all have to make a choice
About who we’re gonna be

#6 Sins (“Broken Heart” track by track)

I’m currently showcasing each track from my newest album, Broken Heart, in a “behind the song” blog series. I hope some listeners find it interesting or helpful. “Sins” is the sixth track. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams are at the bottom of this post.


It’s unfortunate that between the title “Sins” and the explicit marking, this song is probably going to get more clicks than most of the others out of curiosity and people’s fondness for explicit words. I think this is a really good song and very personally meaningful to me, but I’m not sure it’s the best on the album!

This is one I had in the pipeline for years. Every time I’d go on a songwriting marathon, I’d go back to that song, but I’d always be like, “nah, still not ready to be written.” I’d write a few lines here and there, write a new and improved outline for exactly what I wanted it to say (both overall and in each part of the song), I’d write and rewrite a chorus or hook, and then I’d scrap it all and give up for the time being. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t write it in a way I was happy with. It was one of those things that felt really deep, meaningful, and personal, and like I could feel exactly what I wanted it to say, but I didn’t know how to put it exactly into words.

But just a little while ago, even as I was beginning to record the other songs for the album, I wanted this one to be a part of it too, so I finally forced myself to sit down and channel all my inspiration to write it, one piece at a time. And I’m honestly happier with it than I even expected I’d be! It was another song that conveyed exactly what I wanted it to.

The original spark of inspiration, hook, and title was close to what it is now, but with the word “nail,” ha: “Some people want to nail you for your sins, but I think that’s how I would live if I thought that I could get away with it.” The “nail you for your sins” thing just came to me, it wasn’t something I sat and thought about. But when I did, I was like, what does that even mean? Was I trying to reference crucifixion? Or arrest and imprisonment? In the end, I realized that there wasn’t anything in the word “nail” that actually said what I wanted to, what I really meant was “judge” or “vilify,” but honestly, “hate” sounded better and also fit pretty well with the meaning, so I went with that instead.

So, the theme of this song is something I’ve thought about as someone who rarely does anything “wrong” and has a reputation for being perfectly sweet and innocent – which I’m not completely, and I don’t like it. Am I always attracted to “bad” people? No. Am I attracted to sociopaths and the worst people? Definitely not. But I do sometimes respect and admire people who are a little bit more openly hedonistic than I am, something I’ve never felt comfortable to be.

Now, let’s be real, much of my lack of hedonistic behavior has to do with fears and anxieties about health consequences to be honest, but some of it is also social fear and anxiety, and that’s more what this song is about. What my lifestyle choices have nothing to do with, though, is religious moral sensibilities: I’m an atheist and I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s such a thing as a “sin” if it’s not hurting anyone else, and I think that’s one reason I resent people (many of whom subscribe to these ideals) thinking I never do anything wrong.

So that’s kind of the main idea that sparked the song, and I think centering it around an intense desire for a specific “bad boy” character (or bad girl or otherwise, depending on the listener — I didn’t gender it) made it more interesting and compelling.

The only line that I have to say doesn’t totally fit into the story is the one in the bridge that says, “You say you hate the game, but you only ever fall for the ones who live to play.” First off, I’ll address the possible elephant in the room: it does sound like I might have had “Blank Space” (a song that I cover) in my head a little bit when I wrote that line, ha! At least it takes a different perspective than Taylor, though, and doesn’t just imitate her.

Second, although at first glance it seems to come out of nowhere, it fits into the bad boy crush story that I was writing. As it is an unrequited love album, this is the part that addresses that. In the movies, the bad boys always looove the good girls. But in real life, sometimes they don’t. In this case, not so much “good” in the obvious sense, but artless perhaps. A lot of people say they appreciate straightforwardness and genuineness, but then they’re charmed by coy and clever quips as much as the next guy. I write to express what’s inside of me, not to write a perfectly coherent story – and this line felt good and true for me, so in it went and stayed.


People think that I’m a delicate flower
Who’s never had a dirty thought
But I’m not
Some of them would hate me
If they could see inside my mind
And sometimes I kinda wish they would
Because it feels like I’m lying
If I can’t get these things I want, if we can’t thrive
Then I know I’m gonna dream about you
For the rest of my life

Some people want to hate you for your sins
But deep down that’s how I would live
If I thought that I could get away with it
If I thought that I could get away with you

You’re a tough nut to crack
And many times I prove it by showing off my broken teeth
That I know you’ve seen
Last night I had a dream about you and that shit got explosive
The kind of explosive where I think it’s probably better if we didn’t
We’d take this whole city down with us
And that can’t happen
So now there’s really nothing left to do
Except just to go on pretending

To say that I might be in too deep
Is the understatement of the century
And you, you say you hate the game
But you only ever fall for the ones who live to play

And I’m afraid of what you know
And I’m afraid of what I don’t
I’m scared of ending up all alone
And I’ve been fucking terrified to be real with you

Some people want to hate you for your sins
But deep down that’s how I would live
If I thought that I could get away with it
If I thought that I could get away