First I must give credit for the title to my friend and fellow composer, Matthew “Melle” Johnson for coming up with that title. About a year ago, we conspired to start the Denver chapter of the Immersion Composition Society, and he coined the term that perfectly captures what ICS is about.
Put simply, you coop yourself up in your studio for 12 hours, and emerge with 20 songs. Quality is of no concern for the purposes of this exercise, only quantity. No pre-existing material. We get together and listen to the songs that night.
|Wrote a song about it. Wanna hear it? Here it go…
This idea generally elicits horror in the eyes of songwriters when I tell them. Make no mistake, the ICS 20 Song Game is meant to be an ass-kicker. You will find no better way to obliterate creative block, though, because despite what your inner voice tells you before or during a session, you have committed to churning out a huge volume of material in a (relatively) short amount of time.
I can attest that some of my best songs so far have come from these sessions. Usually, I have a pile of disjointed ideas, and have to go back later to fix up the keepers. Sometimes, I get nice little gems that turn out in ten minutes or so, and those have done better than songs that took weeks or months to polish. The main thing is to keep creating, because that’s the best method for getting better at it. I’ve done four sessions so far with several of my favorite writers, and can’t wait to do more.
Sure, you get bathroom breaks and meals. You have to clear your agenda with the powers that be. You’ve never done anything like it before. You’ll run out of ideas. A spate of little things pop up to prevent you from even starting. That is the whole point.
Doing a 20-song session will have you confront your darkest fears. You will learn immediately what shortcomings exist in your project studio and your work flow, and you will fix them or perish. You will start gleaning lyrics from candy wrappers. You might bark for three minutes and call it a song (we call this “taking a mulligan” – if it’s got a track number, it’s a song). You might cheat and use an existing melody or lyric. You will get loopy and seriously consider why you agreed to this in the first place. It’s all good, and I promise, if you want to write songs, it’s worth it.
The idea came from The Frustrated Songwriter’s Handbook by Karl Coryat and Nicholas Dobson, by way of Jody Mulgrew, a fantastic songwriter who recommended it. I do recommend the book, even though the authors themselves will tell you it’s more important to get started immediately.
Just find one or more people who will hold each other accountable, and who want to be songwriters. Stop saying you want to be songwriters and be songwriters. Call yourself a chapter of the ICS. We named ours the Superfly Bungalow Lodge. And you’re ready to go. Schedule a session, and get started. If you’re in the Denver area, look us up on Facebook.
More information is on the ICS Forum (you won’t find us listed there, we’re pretty slack).
Full disclosure: I’ve only ever gotten to about 7 or 9 songs in a session so far. Even so, failure is a pretty meaningless idea in that context.