So recently I engaged for the first time in something called the 20 Song Game. It’s a songwriting exercise really. I had an absolute blast. I can’t begin to describe all the variations on the “rules” but basically this is how it works.
Two or more “players” individually try to write and record a demo of 20 songs in 12 hours. 20 songs, 12 hours. For us it was from 7am to 7pm. None of the material can be prewritten outside of the designated 12 hour period. No lyrics, no melodies, no chord progressions, no actual guts of the songs can be already written. You can’t just use ideas you’ve been “working on” and finish them. This gives you about 36 minutes for each song. 36 minutes. At the end of the day, everyone meets at someone’s house and you listen to the fruits of the day’s labor over beer n pizza, or salad and cheese dip, or maybe some hummus and marshmallows. Generally, laughter, awe and surprise ensue.
If you think for a moment about a challenge like this, it’s clear that the game serves many functions depending on the “player” and the day. It’s like you manufacture a crisis to bring out action. Hey, it works in politics so very well, maybe it works in creative pursuits too 😉 20SG was originally created for “frustrated” songwriters (which I don’t consider myself to be at all-what’s frustrating is my turtle pace methods of getting my music to you), to break writer’s block. I learned so much in just one round of the game. About perceived limitations, about keeping and allowing energy to flow steadily over many hours, and about just how much output is held back due to worrying about details that really don’t mean too much. This high output, short time concept can work for tons of stuff outside of songwriting. I met a painter who is organizing his own painting version after I told him about the game. That’s a lot of paint and canvas. You could do like a recipes version, or a business plan version, or invention (theory) version.
Here’s one of the tunes I wrote somewhere between 4 and 5pm I think.
Probably inspired by my love for the styles of João Gilberto.
This game was one of the coolest things I’ve done in years.
I can’t wait to do it again soon, this time with my friend Eric Miller who turned me onto the whole thing.
That Sunday, my alarm woke me at 6am, I rose, did my NSR, ate a little food, left my place at 7am, walked to a local coffee spot, voice recorder in tow. 2 blocks down the road I was already working on the first song, catching ideas. Some song about girls at the coffee shop… Funny enough there weren’t any there when I got there. Just a couple handsome dudes 😉 I sat outside with my espresso(s) for about an hour, generated two more song ideas and moseyed home to get to recording.
I’ve learned I love real deadlines when it comes to writing tunes. Half way through recording “Follow the Feeling” my first record for my band Son of Mars, Lesley (Bass n Vox in SoM), an awesome songwriter in her own right, started a monthly songwriters group meet up and we would play something we wrote in the last month. I used that as an opportunity to write tunes in styles I’ve heard in my head for years but never had a context/incentive to write in. Instrumentation written in my head, then using my voice to emulate the most of the instruments for the demo recording. Most of it has been built around a beat and a bassline, then vocals, then guitar only if it’s needed to complete the sound. For those who know the music I’ve shared with the public over the last few years, this is something outside my sonic box for sure.
Not every musical mind works the same but here is a little bit on how mine does and how that informed my experience with 20SG. I am blessed with tunes and melodies flowing through my head all day everyday basically, which I am thankful for. It’s an essential part of my life. This is not a rare quality in humans at all as far as I can tell, so I’m not tootin’ any horns. I always carry a voice recorder on me so that if one of those ideas persists in my mind, I can catch it like a fish in a net, and nurture it into completion, if it isn’t already complete when it “arrives”, like this one. All day long, tunes, beats, lyrics, sounds, whatever, arrive and are tossed aside, reabsorbing into the ether. Well coming from that sort of a place, the 20SG is an excuse to catch as many of those ideas as possible, throw a few more ideas on there and voila, songs.
Here’s another track from the game, When You’re Having Company. Not so serious…
This lil tune, if you can call it that, was more a conceptual song than a traditional song. I was thinking about how people were coming over to my place to listen to the songs of the day, and started it out as almost a skit, which then morphs into a few other aural spaces. I looped the voice trumpets and drums and then improvised the whole thing live in one fell swoop via a mic, a guitar, and my RC-50 looper.
I got to 17 songs. I lost track of how many I was at after 13 or so. I’m gonna dare to post a song list for the stats people. Watch out for some of these in the future… if that’s your thing.
- Smile with You
- Time Will Come
- Four Leaf Clover
- My Secret Plan
- Not Tonight
- High Life
- Metal Mess
- D Groove
- Olive Oil Lamps (Ya Mon)
- When You’re Having Company [mp3 audio above]
- Super Power
- Fill Up My Cup [see the Youtube video above]
- I Love You
- 15 Minutes
- This Was Fun
By the end of the game, 7pm, I felt beautifully spent. Brendan (Producer/Engineer, live drummer and more for SoM) was writing/playing over at his place and he called me up at about 7:10 to confirm we were meeting at my place at 8pm. We could barely put sentences together. After pushing ourselves to the limit (which is what this game pretty much does) and breaking through that limit repeatedly in the same day, we were in such a dream. I’m taking a chance here, but for me, the best thing I can use to describe how it felt is to say it was like I had taken mushrooms that morning. At the end of the rare, planned, mushroom trip, for me, there is this joyous exhaustion. Mind, body, and soul have all had a workout together, in concert, and there is this satisfaction of output and energy flow. Like after great sex. Beautiful, rejuvenated exhaustion. After my first 20SG, that is how I felt. For the record, I did not partake during the game. I couldn’t have produced so much if I had. I am neither pro/anti experimentation with psychotropics. It is a complicated thing to discuss and everyone is different. There is no one way to go for all. Besafe, take care of, and Respect yourself folks.
Alright, I better stop. If you’re still reading, I thank you 🙂 Fill Up My Cup and maybe one or two other songs from 20SG will be making their public debut this Sunday at the Hopvine where I’m playin a solo acoustic set.
Let your natural intelligence shine.