20 Songs in a Day

The discomfort and potential of difficult provocations


Another part of me grabbed the camera today. Hello!

My friend Zac Rae and I were considering our collaborative priorities- whether it was more important for me to produce fewer songs within this month with greater finesse, or to write more songs that are less polished. I’m uncomfortably opting for the latter. I love musical details. I can get bogged down in editing the little fades or obsessing over a word choice. What if this writing structure, giving myself the provocation of 20 songs in a day, will force me to focus less microscopically and instead to work gesturally? Stay big picture, Shara!

Making arbitrary games, rule sets, or setting new parameters ensures that I will not write the same song twice. It’s not a comfortable place for me, to zoom out, but I am going to try. It’s also vulnerable to think of sharing publicly songs that I will have just written the week before, but somehow, it feels very necessary. I am not a re-hasher or resting on laurels. I want to expand my potential as a writer. I am feeling something new and I want to have the process of sharing become more immediate, rather than waiting years til I get this set of songs “studio perfect.”

After three years in covid times, a time in which I was not able to write but one single song for myself (“Love Was There”), yet having written an opera, a choral song cycle, and a four-screen, surround sound installation film, I feel a flood gate of My Brightest Diamond songs waiting to come through. I don’t get paid to write songs for myself. The last several years I have been grateful to be funded through grants, commissions and residencies. So this mama gotta keep it movin’. Time is precious these days. This provocation is a jump start for my writing, and I’m cookin’ with grease now, baby!

(Thank you, Zac. Thank you for being the kind of friend who can tell me things I don’t really want to hear, but need. It’s good to have friends I trust, who love me, and still push me to do the hard things and face that of which I am most afraid.)

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(Full video transcript)
You know, I've been called post-genre before, but this is, this is another level. It's a little pressurized, the situation I'm in. So trying to write an hour (length show) in less than three weeks... It's pretty hardcore even for me. Sometimes I give provocations and sometimes I receive them.

I called up a friend and they gave me the provocation of writing 20 songs in a day.

Well, I think the most I've ever written in my life is three, and I cheated when I did that. I just threw on a delay pedal and was like, Oh, call it a round. Yeah, that's what I call my song number two and three in a day. That's a great choral piece. It's called a delay pedal. Admittedly, I feel a little guilty, because what I've done is gone into the hard drives, pulled the archive recordings, songs, keyboard parts that I loved but just never made the cut. I've bounced stereo files out, and I'm gonna throw them all into a single Pro Tools session, so that I can line out the hour by the overall shape and tempo that I'm looking for and see what happens today. Maybe I'll get 20, maybe I won't, but it's forcing me to work in a way that I think is going to give me some speed.

I need to move a little quicker than I have been. It's kind of like drawing class where you would do 20 second drawings and you have a general shape. You have an architecture even if you don't have the details of an eyelash, for example.  Working with a zoomed out lens may be a way for me to make a bigger shape, the overarching shape and narrative that I'm looking for without having to get into such specific details.

20 songs in a day. It's 20 minutes of tune. It's pretty tough, but I'm gonna try it.