NaSoAlMo is coming—haul out those guitars.
After witnessing a friend complete a “Tough Mudder” run—a sadistic and grueling 10-mile obstacle course that subjects runners to electrical shocks, flaming water slides, plunges into ice-cold water and other insanity—I wondered if there might be an artistic equivalent to such an endurance test. Maybe a performer could play the Erik Satie piece “Vexations”—commonly interpreted as intended to be played 840 times consecutively—while being pelted with snowballs.
Then I remembered NaSoAlMo (nasoalmo.org), which stands for National Solo Album Month. Inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where participants are challenged to complete a novel in the month of November, NaSoAlMo has a similar idea, where musicians each create and record a solo album (defined as being a minimum of 29 minutes long—the length of the first Ramones album) during November.
You might think, “One month? How could this album be good at all?” That’s not the point. The point is getting off your caboose and creating something.
Now, this assumes that you have some musical experience. Let’s first address the numerous people I have heard say, “I wish I played an instrument.”
Response 1: It’s never too late.
I know a woman in her nineties who plays the drums; while that alone is remarkable, what’s also notable is that she started playing when she was in her nineties. Another thing: She rides a wheelchair.
Response 2: Don’t make excuses.
Everybody is “busy.” But, unless you are extraordinarily burdened, you can make time. Give up one television show. Put down your smartphone. If you schedule music into your life, everything else will rearrange around it.
Bonus response: Don’t get hung up regarding gear.
Play what you have or can borrow or acquire inexpensively.
One great thing about Chattanooga is the many options that music students have, from formal classical training at UTC’s Cadek Conservatory of Music (utc.edu/cadek-conservatory-music), to learning traditional music at the Folk School of Chattanooga (chattanoogafolk.com).
You can also ask your talented friends; offer to cook meals, clean houses or mow lawns in exchange for lessons. Or, there are plenty of learning materials online, with many videos teaching music theory or how to strum a guitar.
In addition to music performance, music recording doesn’t need to be intimidating. John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats did just fine with a boombox recorder for years, and free, quality multi-track recording software like Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net) is a digital option.
Back to the topic of NaSoAlMo, what the challenge really does is unleash the power of a deadline; it is not about perfection—it is about taking those first, difficult steps toward a goal. It is also about seeing something through to completion. Having a definite goal with a strict deadline helps that.
Engaging in such a project can deeply change how you listen to music. It demystifies the process of music recording and places the activity in the realm of mortals who may have modest resources and abilities. It helps you realize how difficult (or easy) certain aspects can be, enhancing an appreciation of what the process takes. It can be an arduous process, and even if your own creation might be a half-baked mess—perhaps with at least a few flashes of inspiration—that you will never play for anyone else, it can be a rewarding endeavor, with this Dorothy Parker quote coming to mind: “I hate writing, I love having written.”