The RPM Challenge: Can You Create An Album In Twenty-Eight Days?

Jan 30, 2015

Credit Erwin Bernal via Flickr CC

Create an album in twenty-eight days - that's the idea behind the RPM Challenge. Those taking part have to create ten songs, or thirty-five minutes of original material, all of which has to be written and recorded during the month of February. 

Based out of Portsmouth, the RPM Challenge is entering its tenth year, and in that time has sparked the creation of over thirty thousand songs. David Karlotski is helping organize this challenge, and he joins Morning Edition to talk about it.

What do you see in terms of growth in participants - how has the challenge changed through the years?

The first year we did it, it was a Seacoast-only event. It was something we did within our own music community. We ended up with 220 bands that signed up that first year, and 165 of them finished albums as part of the challenge. But the next year, we opened it up beyond the Seacoast community so that anyone could participate through the website, and we ended up with bands participating from all over the world. We literally had participants from all seven continents - we had almost 2500 groups sign up. And then that became the model for the challenge from then on. Every February, there are groups around the world that sign up and just spend the month working on their music, just trying to push it forward and seeing what they can come up with. 

There's a big trend here, say, with writing a novel within thirty days, the 48-hour Film Project has become very popular. Do you think that self-imposed deadline in art sparks a creative juice?

I think a deadline is helpful in any endeavor! But yes, it really does help to have that deadline, you know, even if you think of it as an artificial deadline, it's still great to have that excuse...the RPM Challenge gives people an excuse to work on their music just for fun. It says, 'don't worry about this being your next big album, don't worry about about this being the best work of your life, don't worry about this next song defining you as an artist,' just work on it, just spend the month, get ten new songs under your belt and see where that leads you.

I can imagine this challenge spans a lot of genres, what are some of the more unique entries that you've heard?

Not only is every genre represented - not only are their electronic albums and metal albums and rock albums and folk albums and family albums - there's everything that you can imagine. But there's also an extra element of whimsicality to what people produce because a lot of folks use RPM as a chance to try something they normally wouldn't try.

So, what happens once those projects are finished?

As you'd expect we have a party. During the month of February everyone spends the month working on their music, and then during March we pick a time to get together and listen to that music together - play one song from every finished album, get everyone together in one room and hear what everyone has made.

So going in to your tenth year, what's the evolution? What have you seen change over the last decade? 

When the challenge started, it was a creative challenge, it was a lot of fun and it was really amazing to see what people produced. But now that ten years have gone by, it's also really interesting to see how the process has  affected the musicians not just over the course of the month, but over the course of the decade. Some people have done it every year.

There's a band that participated in 2006, it was two brothers age eight and seven, I think. And they're doing it again this year, now they're eighteen and seventeen. You know, this process of making music and learning how to become a band has been a part of their growing up. RPM is on the one hand all about creativity, but it's also about unintended consequences.