Ah, RPM 2016. A golden opportunity to explore the art of song-writing and recording, low-cost and risk-free.
This is not my first crack at this challenge: last year I got so far as recording basic chord progressions for a few songs, and had hummed out a few melodies, too. I had a journal filled with extensive notes on the recording process, had obsessively jotted down album and song title ideas.
Alas, I had overwhelmed myself from the start. First, by putting too much on my plate and then by being unorganized in general. Instead of adapting my original plan, I simply gave up and vowed to try again next year.
For those of you that don’t know, February is Record Per Month-Month.
It all began in Portsmith, New Hampshire one February. 2006, to be exact. Now it is an international event that boasts 11,750 demos to date.
In my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we take RPM very seriously (but not too seriously, of course!). According to Unpossible Newfoundland and Labrador we’ve had more than 800 original recordings made in our tiny little province, from 2008 onwards.
February in Newfoundland is quiet. It’s bitterly cold and night still comes early. Most everybody hunkers down in their homes, (im)patiently waiting for the occasional mild day as they catch up on Netflix and/or hide away under cable knit sweaters and patchwork quilts. It’s the perfect time to get a creative endeavor underway.
I’m currently not living in Newfoundland. Instead, I’m in Ireland where the days are short and the rain is plentiful. The damp sits in your bones: the conditions are perfect.*
Here’s one of my personal rules of adulthood: if you can’t stop thinking about it, go for it. (Unless you’re thinking about murder, please don’t do that.)
All jokes aside, I’m going into this knowing that this could wind up being awful. Statistically speaking, it will be mediocre at best. The bottom line is that doing the RPM challenge will definitely be a breeding ground for new ideas, a base for building up. There’ll be opportunity for refinement and embellishment if there is to be a next time. Perfection is not the goal. Do the work, enjoy the process, and see what comes of it.
*there are no perfect conditions, just go for it!
- 10 songs or 35 minutes of new and original recorded music to be completed by the end of February.
- Send it in/Share it: mail it in to the RPM headquarters, upload to a streaming site such as Soundcloud.
What You’ll Need:
- Instruments: The sky is the limit here. One of the first courses I took in university was Introduction to World Music, where in one of my most memorable classes we had discussed what was considered music. My instructor walked across the floor. Could that be music she asked? Could be, we all agreed. Music is sound with intention. Take your surroundings into consideration. For example, I live near a train station where a siren announces the approaching and departing trains. I’m considering recording that to use in one of my tracks. My current list of instruments are as follows: ukulele, piano, guitar, my hands, found sounds (sounds in my environment).
- Something to record on: I’m going to attempt to record this on my iPhone, using the voice memo function for recording ideas. This will be accompanied by the app Spire, a four track recorder to lay down the finished songs. Perhaps you have access to something better, an actual four-track recorder, a studio, the program Garage Band… there are plenty of options out there, depending on your budget and the amount of time you intend to spend on this project.
- Something to jot down ideas: A Notepad, a Word document, or an Evernote list for all the ideas that come to mind, including, but not limited to: (i)song titles (ii)album names (iii)band names (iv)lyrics (v)instrumentation ideas (vi)handy information you pick up from other people (vii)a running list of “thank-yous” to the increasing amount of people you’ll find yourself indebted to.
- Resources, influences, inspiration: If you are participating in this event, you clearly have an underlying love for music. So, listen to your favourite musicians, check out this podcast where musicians break down their compositional process, go to a museum, see a play, go to an art gallery, walk in the woods, watch a movie or tune in to what’s happening around you, and realize that there’s no end to the possibilities when it comes to your approach to making music.
- A camera to capture album art, or if you’re handy in that way, software that allows you to make create something your computer. (Technically optional, but I’m going whole hog here)
- A plan as to how you’ll reach the finish line and a calendar (digital or phyiscal) that you can map it all out on.
Everyone will have their own methods. Here is my current plan of attack, subject to change is I go:
- Sign up: I did this on January 28, 2016. You can do that here, and/or here, if you reside in Newfoundland.
- Generate some guidelines: Your plan doesn’t have to be perfect, but you definitely need to start with some mini-milestones that will get you to your big accomplishment at the end of the month. Making a schedule ahead of time will increase the likelihood that you’ll stay on track. There are many ways to go about this. I’ve chosen the calendar method, and I picked up a cheap one at the local bargain store for 1.49€:
Here are my current figurings:
-Decide how much time you are going to devote each day to your project. If you can keep it at the same time each day, that’ll be extremely beneficial. If not, keep it as close to the same time as possible. I’ve set aside 3 hours a day, 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off. Taking off today and the 29th (submission day), that leaves me with 27 days, to divide up my time, which you can see in the above picture.
-Check in on your progress every few days. Sit down every 3-4 days and see where you are in relation to the time you have remaining. I’ll be doing that here on Thru the Mauze at the end of each week, so keep an eye out for updates!
-If something isn’t working, whether it’s approach-wise or compositional-wise, try to adapt before you give up altogether. Nobody said it was easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
How do you plan on approaching your RPM challenge? What resources, articles or websites have you found beneficial? Answer in the comment section below, or on the Facebook page.
Happy song-writing and recording! And remember: there’s no right or wrong way to go about this, unless you count not doing it.
Give it a go. What have you got to loose?