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Overwhelming response to RPM Challenge

There's going to be a lot of new music making the rounds, come March 1.

More than 127 new albums, in fact. All original material, and all cranked out under great pressure during the month of February, the shortest month of the year. It's part of the RPM Challenge, which is presented locally by alternative weekly newspaper The Scope.

The RPM Challenge seems to take its cue from National Novel Writing Month, in which writers attempt to compose a 50,000 word novel in one month. The difference is, artists must crank out a 10-song, 35-minute album (at minimum) instead of a book. And they must do so in one month.

The RPM Challenge is an international movement not a contest that was started about four years ago at The Wire, an alt-weekly in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was such a success drawing more than 100 full albums of music that the paper expanded the challenge internationally.

When Elling Lien, Editor of The Scope, was preparing to launch his paper, he researched several other alt-weeklies across North America, and liked what he saw in The Wire. He was also impressed by the RPM Challenge, and came on board in 2008 as a regional hub' for the event here.

"It just made sense that The Scope would get behind something like this," Lien said, in an email interview. "We've always tried to position the paper as a positive, motivating entity, and this seemed like a really good way to get the fire going. I mean, St. John's is a musical city in a musical province. How many how many houses have a guitar, violin... sousaphone... or kazoo tucked away in their basement? All of them. So really this is just an excuse for people to bring those instruments out and play with them."

In the first year, Lien said about 40 people signed on, and 22 albums were submitted. "This year, it seems like there's a crazy amount of energy behind it. When I last checked, there were 127 participants, with more signing up all the time. And what's really neat is those aren't just individuals, those are entities... bands, or groups. Those are friends calling each other up and saying, hey man, want to record some music this weekend?' It's the coolest thing ever."

Lien attributes this growth in participation to the fact the event was new last year, and not heavily promoted in advance.

"This year, though, it's not a new idea, and there's a good bunch of locals who came out the other side thinking it was the best thing that happened to them all year," Lien said. "A lot of people who take this challenge come out of it at the end saying, "thanks man! That was the best time I've had in a long while!" But really, we just put them through 28 days of musical torture."

Lien said that participants can drop off their completed CD's at Fred's Records any time before noon on March 2 (a Monday) or they can mail it to The Scope's office, postmarked no later than March 2.

"A few weeks later we have a listening party where we play at least one track from each of the albums submitted," Lien said. "We'll print a copy of the playlist in that week's Scope, so people will have programs already. This year, we're actually a little worried, since if there are more than 100 submitted CDs, which, if we play one song from each, that means, possibly, six hours of music. We might have to book a few venues, which is pretty exciting."

The music and even album art will also be put online, at the RPM Challenge jukebox, so participants and fans can browse at their leisure.

There will certainly be an explosion of new music come March. The question is, will some of it actually be good?

"Absolutely," Lien said. "Last year we were blown away by the quality from many of the submissions. In a lot of cases, there seemed to be a special kind of RPM energy behind everything... the music seemed more urgent, and even more honest, than what we heard from these artists before, and that sometimes worked really well."

Lien said whether or not the music is released commercially is up to the individual performers.

"Neil Conway and Mopey Mumble Mouse did sell copies of their RPM album at Fred's, but most of the others didn't. The Domestics are a good example of a band that didn't exist before the RPM Challenge, but now they play regularly around town. The lead singer, Sandy May, has a beautiful voice, but horrible stage fright, so the RPM was just the kick in the pants she needed to get her music out there, it seems."

There's some great background on the RPM challenge at The Wire's web site, including an interesting profile of St. John's, written from the Portsmouth perspective.

Interested? Click here to register. To find out more, visit The Scope's web site.

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