This Friday I’m going to participate in the Immersion Composition Society’s “20-Song Game”. The idea of the game is to write a lot of songs quickly with the hope that good stuff and inspiration for future works will come out of it.
The Game gives you a 24 hour window of time to write as many songs as you can, on your own. If you get to 20 songs (and most people don’t), then you can stop. All of the material must be new (though you are permitted samples and drum tracks). The highlight is a listening party where all the participants listen to each other’s compositions.
This is the sort of ridiculous challenge that I love to take on. And by “take on” I mean try to blow away the already insane ambitious goal. So if the ambitious goal is 20 songs, I’m going to attempt 40. And I don’t mean 40 rushed crap songs. I mean 40 songs that I actually like and sounds fairly well put together.
To make the most of my time and enjoy doing it, I need a plan that:
- Reduces technical obstacles.
- Reduces creative obstacles.
- Minimizes personal weaknesses.
- Increases the speed of output.
Here’s my thoughts on how to do thes
Reduce Technical Obstacles
There’s nothing worse than being mid-idea and having a technical issue pop up that makes you stop and put on your thinking hat. Not only are tech issues frustrating and time-consuming but if they take your focus away in the creative process you can lose that magical momentum and/or forget the idea you were working on completely. I want to minimize this from happening. Here’s some different problems I’ve had in the past and what I’ll do to reduce the likelihood of their occurrence.
- Instrument, mics, and cabling issues.
- Know where all my spare equipment is.
- Test out the equipment I might use.
- Feedback, humming, etc.
- Test out the equipment ahead of time.
- Physical difficulty of switching from one instrument to another.
- Create a wide space that allows me to easily access and put away instruments and equipment so I can keep the area clean and not bang up or break things in haste.
- Software and hardware issues.
- Learn and memorize everything I might need to use in garageband.
- Learn and memorize how songs get from GB to their final destination of Soundcloud.
- Outside distractions.
- Turn the phone off. Tell people I’ll be busy. Don’t answer the door.
- Decide what I will eat and have it ready. Don’t spend time cooking food when I should be writing songs.
- Getting take out? Don’t drive to take out. Have it delivered.
Reduce Creative Obstacles
- Paradox of choice with instrumentation.
- Have a selection of preferred drum loops ready to go.
- Have a selection of preferred instruments (GB and IRL) ready to go.
- Paradox of choice with instrument effects.
- This is a rabbit hole. Unless I really really really need it, just take what I get out of the box. The sounds that are in there were perfected by someone that is way more expert than you. They will be fine.
- Writers Block
- Meditate or short walk to get energy back.
- Read books, visit spotify list.
- Consider other genres.
- I’m not a very good singer
- Consider instrumental songs.
- Write easier vocal lines
- Use auto-tune.
- Just mumble the lyrical melody and be done with it.
- I’m not a good lyric writer.
- Keep the songs short.
- Have a simple theme.
- Have some resources handy that inspire topics: books, news sites, photos.
- I don’t play drums very well.
- Find a bunch of drum tracks I like and have them ready.
I like to ask impossible questions to get better solutions.
For this project I will ask: “How could I record a 2 minute song in one minute?”
Not only would that mean I’d have to record a song in less time it takes to listen to it, each song usually has 3-4 tracks. So a 2 minute song, in theory, should take at least 2 * 4 tracks = 8 minutes to record.
So let’s try to answer the impossible question. (Note: my actual process was free-form stream of consciousness writing. But to make it easier to read, I took the ideas from that and organized and edited them).
- Play with tempo
- You can adjust the tempo in garageband – even after you’ve recorded some tracks. I could, in theory, record at 200 BPM for a minute and then slow the tempo to 100BPM. I now have a track that is 2 minutes long that was recorded in just one minute.
- Copy and paste
- Use Arrangement tracks. Songs typically have repeated sections. In GB you can group parts into “chorus” or “verse” or anything you want to call a section. I could record the verse once and the chorus once and then copy and paste them 3 times in a split second, rather than to spend 3x the time recording them.
- Going further with this idea, if a section is repetitive within itself, then I just write part of it and copy and paste within that section. 4 bars of the same C eighth note on bass? Just record 1 or 2 notes then copy past them!
- Record Two Things At Once
- I’m able to sing and play guitar at the same time. Record them at the same time.
- Don’t record silent vocals.
- For vocals, just record when I’m singing. For much of the song there probably won’t be lyrics. Don’t just sit there listening to the music waiting for when you sing. Instead, queue up when you will sing, sing and then stop and jump to the next part. If the lyrics are repeated at all, cut and paste.
- Delegate. Let the computer play the drums.
- Use a drum track. (This is permitted).
- Get faster at using the computer.
- Learn important keyboard short-cuts and avoid using the mouse.
- Pre-cut the fat from the song.
- Keep the songs short. 2 minutes is a great length for a draft song.
- Record Fewer Instrument Tracks.
- Don’t have too many instrument tracks. Songs usually sound better if they are simpler, anyways.
- Have a vague idea of what genres I’ll experiment with.
- As permitted by the rules of The Game, have some genres ready to go: country, world, electronic, experimental. This is one less decision you’ll have to make in the moment.
I’m sure some people would think this is just gaming the system and that I’ve put too much emphasis on getting songs out. But I also want them to be good songs. If the strategy of getting them done quickly is only resulting in songs I don’t like, then I’ll change the strategy.
I’ve already been working on some of these, but I need to make sure to test them ahead of time. I’m particularly wondering about the “increase speed” items.
I often feel like I’m writing the same music over and over again – what feels new is just something I wrote last month but forgot about. I’m wondering if this goal of 40 won’t result in me getting those songs out of my system in the first 10 or 20 songs and then I’ll be on the border of my knowledge and creative limits and be forced to create something new and stretch.
I’m also excited to become more adept at GarageBand. I knew it well years ago during the Song-In-An-Hour #post project, but they’ve made a lot of changes since then.
But mostly I’m excited about having an ambitious challenge that’s just for fun.