Music Spotlight: RPM Challenge

The annual RPM Challenge has produced hundreds of albums, with musicians tasked with creating an original recording through the month of February


What does February mean for you? Crappy weather? Valentines cards for tiny tots and Walmart chocolates for your significant other? For many artists abroad, and here in Newfoundland and Labrador, February marks the kickoff of the annual RPM Challenge, a creative artistic endeavour for musicians to record an album of original music in the month of February.

The First RPM Challenge

The challenge first emerged in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2008, with 22 albums created. To date there have been over 1,000 albums turned in, with an average above 100 albums per year, making the province one of the leading contributers of the challenge globally.

“It’s pretty incredible, those kinds of numbers in a province that has half of a million people,” shared Elling Lien of Unpossible NL, who coordinates the challenge in the province.

“It says some really interesting things about the community. It’s interesting, because the quality of the music is pretty high. A lot of stuff you can pick up and expect it to be unlistenable, since it was just made in a month. A lot of it is surprisingly amazing, or at least there’s a moment in each album where it’s like that really came together, that’s really cool.” 

The challenge sees musicians compose a collection of 10 songs, or 35 minutes of previously unreleased, non pre-recorded material. The challenge is not a competition with prizes or accolades, but rather a test of personal satisfaction and creative expression.

“The exciting thing about this for a lot of people is that it’s not a contest, it’s mainly for fun and it’s just a creative challenge to yourself,” says Lien. “You’re just pushing yourself to wherever you want to go. A beginner can pick this up or a professional can do this fairly regularly, to try a new sound or work with other people. There are a lot of reasons for people to do it, but mainly I think because it’s fun.  It’s a blast. People do it and they come out being proud for what they produced in that month. That’s reward for everybody.”

Emerging Artists

Notable names in the province that have entered the RPM Challenge include Joel Thomas Hynes, members of The Swinging Belles, AE Bridger, Steve Maloney, Rozalind MacPhail, Waterfront Fire, Pilot to Bombardier, Kat McLevey, Land of Lakes, The Domestics and It Could Be Franky. It is a wonderful launching pad for emerging artists, and an inviting creative litmus test for those established.

The finished albums must be submitted by March 1st, either in person, by mail or online. A listening party will take place on March 3rd, where artists and organizers can enjoy the fruits of their labours.

“It is really rewarding. I just feel like I’m a proud parent with every album I hear,” Lien laughs. “Every album I hear sounds like the new best thing. Every album is the best and I can’t pick a favourite. The pride that people feel when they hand in their album or listen to with other people, it’s just really amazing to see.”

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