Procrastination, Inspiration and the RPM Challenge The RPM Challenge encourages bands from around the world to produce their own CD in 28 days. We hear about the contest from one of the organizers and from Bob Boilen, All Things Considered director and an entrant in this year's challenge.
NPR logo

Procrastination, Inspiration and the RPM Challenge

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Procrastination, Inspiration and the RPM Challenge

Procrastination, Inspiration and the RPM Challenge

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Any writer, painter, musician will tell you that when it comes to creating the hardest part is getting started. Our director Bob Boilen has been making music with electronics for the past 25 years. And since the breakup of his old band, he's been trying to make music with his guitarist friend Michael Barron without much luck. Now, life circumstances and mortality have inspired Bob and he thinks he's finally ready to collaborate.

BOB BOILEN: A few weeks ago, an old friend and band mate died. Lorenzo "Pee Wee" Jones was an incredible drummer and a great soul. We played together in a psychedelic artrock band in the late 1970s and in the early '80s called Tiny Desk Unit. We were pretty good.

(Soundbite of music)

BOILEN: At the funeral I spent time with our singer and bass player and later e-mailing our guitarist who lives on the West Coast. Michael and I have always threatened to make music together again, but for the most part we get too busy with our lives.

The other day I was walking down the hall at NPR and someone came up to me and he said hey, did you hear about this competition online. Make an album in a month, 10 songs or 35 minutes, and it starts in February. It's kind of like one of those make a movie in a weekend projects.

I'm a deadline kind of guy. When I direct ALL THINGS CONSIDERED I pick the music you hear just minutes, sometimes seconds, before we need it. Ask our engineers. So I sent an instant message to Michael, the guitarist, and said hey, want to make an album? There's this thing on the Web. And he said sure.

But we're 3,000 miles away and we're both pretty busy guys. I've gotfamily, an online music show and this directing thing. He's got a job - well, anyway an hour later he sends me a bass line.

(Soundbite of music)

BOILEN: I download, listen, I compose a drum track.

(Soundbite of music)

BOILEN: At midnight, I'm adding a guitar track and sending it across country.

(Soundbite of music)

BOILEN: It worked. We figured as long he plays to a steady beat and I know the tempo, we can do this. Michael says I wish we could play at the same time. So I click a button on my computer, it starts an audio chat, and Michael starts playing bass down the line and it comes through my speakers. I pick up my 12-string and we're playing together.

Our project is Teeny Tiny Desk Unit. Maybe our singer will join us, maybe not. But now that February's here and we got our tech worked out, now it's time to make art. I love a good deadline.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: That's our director Bob Boilen. He's also the host of NPR's online music show, ALL SONGS CONSIDERED.

Now, to one of the organizers of this challenge to musicians to make an album in a month, starting today, Dave Karlotski.

Mr. DAVE KARLOTSKI (RPM Challenge): There are so many barriers that bands create to stop them from working on their music, from making their next CD. A CD is supposed to be the thing that makes you famous. It's supposed to be the best representation of your work. It's supposed to be something you spend thousands of dollars on and you print up thousands of copies.

But at the end of the day, it's just about making music. And the RPM Challenge breaks down a lot of those preconceptions and says look, why aren't you working on your music. Why don't you just set aside February and spend those 28 days and turn out a new album?

BLOCK: Last year, when the challenge was just for musicians around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 165 people completed CDs. This year, it's gone global.

Mr. KARLOTSKI: We now have over 1,300 groups that have signed up, but every time someone signs up, every time a new group or a new project signs up, they say the same kinds of things. They say, you know, I've been meaning to make this album for years and I've just been putting it off, or I've been waiting until I could afford studio time but I'm not going to wait anymore. I'm just going to get to work and we're going to see what happens. And that is what it's all about. We can't wait to hear what people come up with.

BLOCK: Let's take a listen. We have a sample of some of the songs that were submitted last year in your challenge. Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of song, "Bye-Bye")

Mr. JON NOLAN (Musician): (Singing) I wish I was of the opinion that we weren't through, but it don't look good.

(Soundbite of song, "Rewire Slave Routing")

Unidentified Man (Museum of Science): Check, check it out. I don't really do that, man.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Evergreen")

Mr. JUSTIN CARLONI (Musician): (Singing) And the car went by and it had a dent that made a sound.

BLOCK: So Dave, that's just a few of the tunes from last year's challenge.

Mr. KARLOTSKI: Yes. And that's a fun selection, because it shows some of the startling variety and quality of music that we got last year. When people hear about the challenge, they sometimes say oh, well gosh, you know, rushing through art isn't a good way to make art.

But we've found the opposite to be true, because forcing people to work within the constraints of their equipment and of time forces them to try things they wouldn't normally try and take risks they wouldn't normally take.

This year, we can't wait to hear how things sound. I mean, are the bands from Finland going to sound different than the bands from New Zealand. We can't wait to find out.

BLOCK: Is it too late to sign up for the challenge?

Mr. KARLOTSKI: It's not. People can still sign up. They've lost a few hours, depending on what time zone they're in. but we're certainly not going to stop them.

BLOCK: Well, Dave Karlotski thanks very much.

Mr. KARLOTSKI: Thank you.

BLOCK: Dave Karlotski's one of the organizers of this year's RPM Challenge. That stands for Record Production Month. He's also publisher of the weekly arts and culture paper The Wire in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You can hear songs from last year's RPM Challenge and find out more about this year's at

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.