Photo (CC-BY-ND) tianhua.

Record an album in the month of February, and have it in the mail by March 1: that’s the RPM Challenge, and so far, some 6,000 acts have already delivered. Nathan Groth writes us with details (and apologies for late posting here, since that means you have… less time).

Long time reader of CDM. I’m also a coordinator of this little thing called the RPM Challenge, which is now into year #6. I think you may find it interesting and we would love to get some coverage in the hopes it may entice more people to get involved. I also think it’s something the CDM community would find appealing.

While it’s not geared specifically towards electronic or experimental musicians or usage of specific tools, it does represent a little local event that has gone global, while still running entirely (100%) by volunteers and donated server space. The website is also powered by open source code. With no corporate sponsorship, it’s managed to curate one of the largest free music collections on the internet, plus it’s a really neat idea!

It began as a idea based on National Novel Writing Month, and it was a strictly local affair in Portsmouth, NH at first. Over the years it’s gone global, attracting people from as far off as Tokyo and McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Despite the reach, though, the great thing is that it’s managed to be strongly local as well, and in that really lies it’s power- it’s managed to walk a fine line between an amorphous- internet based event and a strongly local one at the same time.
Enough babbling from me, I’m just an excited volunteer.

The competition is global, and there’s a global listening party on March 26 – I hope we’ll check in there. Do let us know if you get your music posted; Synthtopia posts the same call so perhaps we’ll have a number of music tech blog-reading producers out there.

I’m not sure February will be right for everyone, but you’ll know if it’s right for you. As for the question of whether a month is enough time to produce an album, in some cases, it’s actually harder to take longer. When I talked to Gold Panda back in October, he described the three weeks he had to make “Lucky Shiner” as the very element that made the production possible and satisfying:

I looked after their dog over Christmas and had my whole studio set up there. I have a really short attention span, so most tracks are done in a day, and then I’m bored with them. And if they turned out good, then they’re good, and if I think that they’re not really finished or whatever, then they get rendered to the hard drive and put into iTunes and sit in there forever.
I was never really a big fan of dogs before, so I kind of had this bonding with this dog called Daisy. She’d wake up really early and wake me up, and I’d take her for a walk, come back, start making tracks. And then after an hour or so, she’d want to go for a walk again or play. Every time I was getting into it, she’d kind of stop me and we’d go for a walk. It stopped me from overworking things, and I think that’s what made it — [the album’s] more simple and more direct. It was good to have a distraction while I was doing it.

It’s a familiar scenario – both the three weeks, and the smaller periods of time are a kind of “timeboxing.” (See my story on the Pomodoro Method.) I hope to talk more about productivity this week and next, so feel free to bring up ideas – and let us know if you’re taking up the RPM gauntlet.

  • cymatics

    proper excited about this. I heart deadlines.
    without them, I tinker forever. a kick up the arse is just the job…

  • Thanks so much for the coverage Peter, thanks to you and NPR's All Songs Considered also posting something this morning in regards to following Anticon artist Son Lux as he does the challenge 
    read it here we're on track to have more participants than ever- cheers!

  • Also on February there is another similar initiative called FAWM, February Album Writing Month,at
    I've done it for a few years now and the difference with RPM is that there is instant feedback on music as it gets posted, it has been a lot of fun and some great communities get formed.
    If anyone is in there, here is my profile:

    Let's see your digital music!

  • Can't believe I've never heard about this; also nice to see/hear and old friend is involved (hello Nate!!!). This ties in nicely with my New year's resolution…now let's see if I can follow through…

  • Billy

    As a past participant, I can say that this is really a great way to get things done. They may not be very good, but you'll have something done. And personally, I find that I spend much more time reading about other people doing than actually doing myself, so I need things like this to get me to actually start and finish something.

    So if my February wasn't already filled with many shorter term deadlines, I'd definitely be participating again.

  • Superhyped to do this again!

    I've done this three times, once with playing around / sampling old Yamaha SHS-10 and last year I experimented with my then new Launchpad and made another record with my band using just Piggytracker.. This year I'll probably give a shot to my new toys (some iPhone apps, Numerology, hopefully mlrv2.0). I think it's really fun and useful challenge to do, makes you focus and experiment with sometimes really simple ideas.

    If somebody wants to listen what 28 days did for me, both albums are available here:

  • john kennedy

    maybe i'm not reading that right, but "so far, some 6,000 acts have already delivered."    6,000+  have recorded and submitted an album in 2 days??

  • akrylik

    Nah, I think that means 6000 have submitted complete albums since it started in 2006.

  • I've participated in FAWM.ORG (profile: joscarbittinger) for the past couple of years and enjoy it more each time. Part of the reason is – though the deadline is essential – it's an excuse to create out of playfulness and "first mind". I worry less about "making it right" than just making it up. The next day I ask "my editor" (morning mind) to take a look and there's plenty of ways to improve it. And some times only a tweek is need. Then on to the next thing.

    Doing this kind of challenge is a great way to get your production geared up too. Write, demo, share and write again.

    And, as it's proper Winter in Michigan USA, it's a good time to hunker down and give one's imagination run of the house. Especially while shoveling…

    And if you prefer a sprint instead of a Marathon – check out the Annual Lamb's Retreat for Songwriters (two session the first 2 weekends in November)

  • lightpeak

    I'm taking part in FAWM this year, it strikes me as a fun antidote to my overthinking tendencies.

  • Maybe I've read wrong … but please wrote me …….

  • Theta_Frost

    I am almost done. Expect some beats with 8bit stuff too soon!

  • I'm taking the challenge for the first time this year. So far not going to bad. Making some experimental electronica for kids!