The RPM Challenge

February isn’t just for slightly-forced expressions of love—now it’s also for slightly-forced expressions of music. This year The Scope puts the challenge forth to you: Record an album in the month of February, just for fun.

Article by Anshuman Iddamsetty

This February, RPM Challenge 2008 is throwing a Molotov cocktail to the procrastination and feelings of self-doubt within you.

Screw inspiration, here’s a deadline.

The RPM Challenge tasks anyone with musical aspirations—from the ivory virtuoso to the fedora-wearing ska kid in high school—to write and record an entire album in 29 days. For the Challenge, the album is defined as at least ten songs or 35 minutes of music.

At the end of the month, The Scope will be organizing a local listening party, where each album submitted will have at least one track previewed.

The RPM is a daring idea. It’s asking participants to take inspiration right from limitations that make you weak in the knees. The Challenge takes its cues from similar events, like the 24 Hour Comic Day and NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—both of which have become ridiculously popular since their start a number of years ago, with thousands of bleary-eyed, caffeine-swilling, artistically-obsessed people from across the planet taking part.

Similar to 24-Hour Comic Day or NaNoWriMo, there is no way to win the RPM. There is no financial high-five, no potential record deal waiting in the wings. The reward for completing the challenge is a sense of self-gratification from accomplishing in one month what many professional musicians can’t in years. At the end you will hold a burnt disc or tape in your hand that represents the triumph of your creative self over insurmountable odds.

Bored with the allegro you’ve been practicing for months? Have a shady bootleg of GarageBand kicking around your hard drive? A stuttering 4-track and a collection of tin whistles? Know someone you’ve been dying to make music with but haven’t gotten around to it? Really, you’re halfway there.

And you won’t be alone.

“When I heard about [RPM], I got so excited,” says St. John’s indie rock pillar Ritche Perez.

Over the past ten years he’s been a part of local bands Potatobug, JKW, Giver, Draize Eye Test, Supagloo, Hero Gets Girl, Throw em to the Wolves, The Parasite Drag, and Jigger, but ever since he had a daughter last year, Ritche says it’s gotten harder for him to find the time to make music.

He recently signed up for the challenge with long-time music noodling buddy and JKW bandmate Peter King.

“Peter and I used to record and play around with toys we bought at music stores, and now they’re collecting dust and it’s time to get back at it again.”

In a way, what RPM truly does is separate, musically, the art from the artifice. It takes back the essence of music from the big record labels and their Top 40, meat-grinder mentality. RPM is an affirmation that anyone, from any age group, any genre, can make a record in the spirit of the lo-fi no-wave rockers of the early 90s and the DIY punks of the 70s and 80s. The Challenge distills the creative process to its purest components: make music for the sake of making music.

The event also forces its participants to have a cavalier approach to record production. The 29-day limit requires every participant to bring forth their inner MacGuyver and solve certain logistical issues of creating an album on their own. Like figuring out how to convert your basement den into a functioning studio, or trying to cockroach-splice DIY pedals into your existing kit (Hint: carefully).

Liz Coady, a grad Kinesiology student at MUN, was one of the first people from St. John’s to sign on for the challenge this year.

”When I read about the challenge… it occurred to me that I should seize this opportunity to actually dedicate time and energy to see if I have it in me to do a folk-blues fusion album,” she says. “With my recently acquired, small scale recording studio—basically my MacBook, a USB audio capture system, and a mic—I’m going to go for it.”

The RPM Challenge took its first steps in 2006 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, under the guidance of alt-newsweekly The Wire. What started as a fun project burgeoned into a huge success, with more than 100 local musicians around the greater New Hampshire area taking part. At the end of the event’s first run, 165 albums were stacked precariously into towers at the RPM headquarters.

2007 saw RPM open up to the rest of the world, and again, the response was enormous. More than 2,000 participants from around the globe—places like Israel, France, South Africa, and Alaska—signed up to spend the next 29 days working on their music.

Now our little alt-fortnightly The Scope is bringing the challenge to our region, arguably the most musically talented region per capita in Canada.

Yep, we’ve got a huge population of great musicians and a long, cold, shitty February. It’s perfect.

So, St. John’s, get ready to say “I just finished an album in a month, what the hell have you done lately?”

The St. John’s RPM kick off party will take place this Thursday, January 31 at The Victory from 7-9pm. Meet other participants, find out more, or sign up.

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