After a bumper crop of local RPM albums from 2008, this year is shaping up to be bigger and better. Elling Lien contacted some of last year’s successful RPM participants to ask for some their survival tips.
Back in February of 2008, 22 local bands each recorded an album in 29 days.
It was an explosion of new music from a collection of familiar and unfamiliar faces. Some of them you probably knew, some of them you definitely didn’t, some of them you got to know better.
Record Production Month Challenge isn’t a contest. Of the 22 local albums submitted last year there was no winner. There was no loser. That wasn’t the point. It was a challenge designed to encourage musicians to just get to work and spend some time on their music, without the pressure of having to get things perfect.
The idea originated in New Hampshire in 2006, when folks at a small alt-weekly newspaper put the challenge out to its readers. The year after, the paper extended the challenge to everyone, and in 2008, The Scope signed on to lead the charge in the St. John’s area.
Skip forward to 2009.
February is almost here again, and we’re filled with anticipation. To us, these last few days of February are becoming a little like peering over a cliff edge with a restless ocean boiling below: excited, a little nervous, maybe even a little worried for what kinds of aural adventures you have in store.
Already more participants from this area have registered on the RPM Challenge website than in 2008. By the time we went to press, 49 bands have signed on.
That in mind, you know, this could very well be the best February ever. There seems to be a little bit of magic in the air. (Or it could be the -20 windchill freezing my nose hairs, but what difference does it make?)
Turns out many of the suggestions for surviving the RPM are as basic as the challenge itself. After speaking with three successful participants from last year, it seems that much of it boils down to persistence, a healthy fear of deadlines, having fun, and preventing the people around you from strangling you.
I’m on the phone with Damian Lethbridge of the Mount Pearl band am/fm dreams to ask his advice. Even though last year was the band’s first time taking part in the challenge, their RPM album how the aviator sees the rainbow was their seventh home-studio-recorded album.
“I can’t wait to get started, actually. I’m trying not to write anything so we don’t cheat,” he laughs. “We’ve got to restrain ourselves a bit.”
They had such a good time working on their February album last year that he says it wasn’t at all difficult for them to complete.
“I would spend every day of my life doing that if I could,” Lethbridge says. “If I didn’t have to go to work and do all this other stuff, right? It’s really nice to have this excuse to do what you love. It’s an excuse to have a bit of fun and make music.”
The core trio set aside two whole weekends where they worked on writing and recording the album. Each day they worked from when they woke up in the morning to around 10 o’clock at night—when their neighbours could be disturbed.
For Curtis Kilfoy of the band Mopey Mumble-Mouse, coordinating the schedules of five different people meant they couldn’t spend entire weekends working on their album, Bedroom Magic, so for the most part they got together in the evenings, after work.
But still, he respected his neighbour’s right to a good night’s sleep.
“Try to be respectful, and try to find times when they’re out or don’t mind you doing your thing,” says Kilfoy. “Even if they’re cool about things, definitely try not to push your luck.“
He recommends letting them know what you’re up to making all that racket all the time.
“People can be cool about things on a surface level, but they can also have a bad day.”
Sensitive neighbours aren’t the only thing you need to be prepared for though. Kilfoy, who admits his own battle with procrastination has been an uphill one, says with a project like this there are plenty of ways to get distracted.
“If you’re a procrastinator, find some way to have more than one task to turn to if you get sick of one thing or get frustrated,” he says. “Work on a different song, or work on artwork for it, or read something that inspires you.”
“Make your procrastination part of it.”
Going with the flow was also the theme of the band’s creative process for the RPM.
“I usually rehearse with the other members of the band once a week, and we usually have a set plan about what kinds of things we’re going to do and what songs we’ll be working on, but to just get together and see what happens was kind of surprising and rewarding, and definitely brought me closer to the other guys as musicians,” he says. “Most of it was written collaboritively.”
Many RPMers choose to go it alone, however. With solo projects there are fewer scheduling conflicts to deal with.
Local troubadour Adam Baxter was a successful solo participant from last year. Fare Thee Well Tomorrow was a concept album about two lovers in a town invaded by mysterious beasts. Baxter, who can often be spotted performing everywhere from a punk show at Distortion to the St. John’s Farmer’s Market, says it was a friend of his that convinced him to sign up last year.
“A friend of mine said, ‘You really should do this. You play so much around town that it can’t hurt you, so just fucking do it,’” he laughs. “And out of the ten songs I wrote that month, five of them are in regular rotation when I play now, pretty much.”
Baxter likes the intimacy of solo recordings. It meant, however, that he only had himself to rely on. He set up his mic and recorder in his room, then started taping some ideas.
“Then, it hit me one day that I wanted to make as good an album as I could, because I had never really sat down and specifically wrote an album as such,” he says.
For the person reading this, sitting on the fence over whether to sign up or not, Baxter makes it an easy choice.
“There should actually be no fence,” says Baxter. “If you are a musician and a songwriter, and you want something that can further you much better than a lot of things can further you as a songwriter, you should just do it. Straight up, do it. You’re going to learn from it. It’s beneficial through and through. There’s no way it won’t be beneficial to you.”
For more information, or to sign up for this year’s RPM Challenge, visit www.rpmchallenge.com/stjohns
A local kick-off party will take place on Saturday, January 31 from 7:30pm to 9:30pm at the Victory Tavern on Water Street. No cover.