Portsmouth, NH: The RPM Challenge
The proposition seems impossible at worst, masochistic at best, but the RPM Challenge continues to draw in the curious, the brave, and the otherwise unoccupied. Conceived of by Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s alternative arts and culture weekly, The Wire, the premise is simple: Write, record, and produce an album of music entirely in the month of February.
“Why?” you may be asking. “Why not?” counters Dave Karlotski, The Wire‘s co-founder and publisher. “We’re not going to give you a prize, we’re not going to give you a studio deal, we’re not going to get you on the radio. But we are going to give you a deadline.”
The RPM is a challenge, not a competition. It’s like a marathon: No one ever wins a marathon (well, someone does, but not you)–you enter it to prove you can finish. At its debut in 2006, RPM attracted 220 groups from around New Hampshire, mostly casual musicians, some of whom had never been in a band or hadn’t in years. To everyone’s surprise, 165 of the groups actually finished. The second year, The Wire made the challenge international, and by March 1st its office was flooded with 850 CDs from all seven continents (including a blues album from McMurdo Station, Antarctica).
The albums are usually rough and often experimental. Submissions have ranged from a Speed Racer concept album to a musical walking tour of Portsmouth set 50 years in the future. Few go on to have any commercial success (although Gay Bride of Frankenstein, a 2008 submission, did pretty well Off-Off-Broadway), but that’s not the point. The point is to do something that you’d convinced yourself was just a dream. “We have so many excuses to put off our art,” Karlotski explains. “We give people an excuse to do what they want to do.”
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