Journaling the RPM Challenge

Dispatches from four brave musicians who dared to cut a record in 28 days.

On the first day of February, more than 2,000 suckers for punishment from around the world accepted the RPM Challenge. Their task: Write and record an album of original music — ten songs or 35 minutes — in a mere 28 days. Thirty-four of them lived in the East Bay. And four of them agreed to fill us in via e-mail on all the sordid details, stewing and squatting included. Here are their dispatches:

2/2 Mr. Nutz aka Leslie Shimmin, 37, Oakland I’m starting completely from scratch, no idea, no equipment, nothing. Funny thing is, my friend Matt just hooked me up with this Casio out of nowhere. It’s the SK5 series which I used for years and years. It’s like my light sabre.

2/3 Alex Jacobs, 36, Berkeley I’ve recorded my first track for the RPM Challenge. I’ve listened back a few times, and it’s amazing to watch the vision of the track, and the album as a whole, change with each listen.

Salem Kimble, 27, Oakland On good days, the songs seem nearly perfect and complete. On bad days, all I can see is how much tweaking and writing they still need.

2/4 Hotel Oakland aka Aaron Strebs, Oakland Wow, it’s been an adventure for sure. We almost got evicted from our apartment. We had to move out and now we’re at a Motel 6 … however, I managed to record two songs and film one music video. That’s the good thing about being as mobile as my recording devices are.

AJ Good idea: Compose a song in a key where I only have to press the white keys, and I can sound really good on piano. Bad idea: Waste time by clicking ‘follow’ on every single person who is following @rpmchallenge. 

HO SHIT. Bad timing. Really bad timing. The RPM Challenge started and I was hoping to whoop its ass in fourteen days … in time for Valentine’s Day. So far, I’m in over my head. And for the Hotel Oakland, that’s pretty hard to do.

2/5 MN I’m treating my album like a samurai sharpens his blade before battle. Calmly …. Meaning, I haven’t done anything yet! But today I will write a theme down and give the ideas some structure. We will see what happens.

2/6 MN Funny, without him even knowing about my RPM project, an old friend left an acoustic/electric guitar for me at my brother’s. My bro said he could lend some recording items too. It’s fun to start from nothing and see how it develops!

2/7 AJ Latest hang-up: Is playing a Smashing Pumpkins style guitar solo cool again yet?

SK The beauty of a deadline is a magic elixir, makes me so much more effective. Late into the evening, I pinned down the squirmy songs that I’ve had in rotation that have all their song bits, but never come out having the same order or structure from one run through to the next.

2/10 MN I met a guy wearing a Zelda jacket with a Transformers carry-all. The timing was perfect. He was telling me what it was like to be married and still be into old-school gaming and anime. It totally re-inspired me. I had song ideas down, but no theme. Now I do.

2/14 SK I did it! I did it! Ten songs on piano. Seven vocals. All in one day on Sunday. This is not the final, but is the pre-production for the musicians coming in this next week. Feels sooo good to have some of these old songs finally recorded.

MN It’s getting a little scary now! It comes down to the recording process (and device). I’m still stuck on what I can and should buy with my limited cash flow.

2/15 AJ RPM is steadily coming along, and I love the container it provides. If something ‘musical’ or ‘lyrical’ comes out of me, no matter how epic or seemingly inconsequential, it’s catalogued as material to try to work into a song.

2/16 HO Forced into our storage facility here in Jingle Town. I set up shop in the temporary “Hotel Oakland” and pulled a 48 hour rock and roll binge session that included two four hour farmer’s market gigs during Friday and Saturday morning and then recording in the evening.

2/17 MN My ideas are becoming more solid. I walk around at work humming spontaneous tunes that will probably turn out to be songs later. Still, how am I going to record this ….

2/18 SK Drums! WOohoooOO! They make such a big difference. I feel like I’ve created some original sounds with some of these songs. Bass tomorrow … cello on Sunday …

2/20 HO Now because I’m alone and pretty much destroyed and desperate I’ve beenforced to find peace where I can. And that has come in the form of music. The reason I got into music is because I couldn’t get a girlfriend. Then music was the reason I had too many girlfriends. Then music was the reason I couldn’t keep a girl around. Now, having lost them, it’s the reason I’m not suicidal.

SK Faith restored across the board. This is such amazing work. I’m absolutely exhausted. Haven’t eaten properly the last two days, or caught much daylight. But boy have we done a ton of work.

2/21 AJ After a week of stewing — finally gave birth to my homage to CaptainBeefheart and the Magic Band.

MN I spent most of the day figuring out garage band, and I’m proud to say, I recorded my first song! Ok, let’s see if I can pull this RPM thing off …

2/22 HO Trying my best to make the best of the worst shit ever. My dad would probably say that the music coming out isn’t “blues enough” but I say blues is not a sound, it’s a feeling. Sound is secondary. [Editor’s note: This would be Hotel Oakland’s final correspondence.]

2/23 MN Now I ask the universe, How am I supposed to write music if I’m at work all the time? Aaaagh!

2/24 SK The songs are coming together so well. I’m really happy with them. This process has opened up the doorway though, to what comes next. How far do I want to go with this music? Am I ready to play live?

AJ Simmering. Letting the flavors and textures infuse the broth. Then one last push for finalizing and mixing, which is a heartbreaking process. Saying goodbye to loved parts. Seeing the songs as they are disappear, and move through their transformations into what they will become before they are called “final.”

2/25 MN Eight songs almost done. I’m shooting for fourteen. So much going on. I’m going crazy but I love it.

2/26 AJ Just finished my RPM Challenge album and I feel like I exorcised something. It’s been quite a ride.

2/27 AJ FINISHED AND POSTED. Going outside to see the sun again …

MN I want to give all the credit to the Muse (that is, if she wants credit for this). I really never know what’s gonna happen when creating music. Anyhoo, another hour and it should be done.

2/28 SK This competition is one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done. 

3/1 SK And it’s sent!! 

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