Tuesday, April 3, 2007

RPM Challenge Recap Parts II-IV

“Excuse me, could you tell me where the Portsmouth Music Hall is?” Eric leaned out the car window toward a woman who exuded “I’m a local” from her pores.

“Right there.” She pointed to the large brick building directly in front of us.

We’d made it.

Musicians mingled in the mezzanine, sporting name tags like “Hello My Name Is: Lithia Spring and the Beatniks of Destruction.” People stood in line, plastic cup of wine in hand, waiting to hop on stage and get a glimpse of the cover art for just a handful of the 850 CDs that had been turned in for this years RPM Challenge (see yesterday’s blog: RPM Challenge Recap Part I). The stage was covered with new music. There were office supply store branded CDs scrawled on with Sharpie, there were hand painted cardboard cases and there were inkjet printed cases. I even saw a hand quilted CD case. Already I was giddy. But the fun had only just begun.

Soon the packed Music Hall was greeted by RPM organizers Dave Karlotski, Chris Greiner, Jon Nolan, and Karen Marzloff, who took the time to bestow as much credit as humanly possible to the musicians in the audience and around the world for making the RPM Challenge possible. The humble nature of these hardworking folks became a theme throughout the night. The behind the scenes work of organizing such a massive musical endeavor as the RPM Challenge, not to mention the Global Listening Party alone, is no small feat (especially when they were doing it for free, and still writing for, editing and publishing The Wire magazine…all just because they love music). But the organizers never once focused on their own sleepless nights uploading 8,500 new songs into what Dave Karlotski called “one of the biggest free independent music sites that I know of.”

This Listening Party it seemed was not a place for the godly organizers to unload about how in the past two months they’ve drank more coffee, had less sleep, torn open more manila envelopes, or stared at more computer screens than ever before. No, this was a time for celebration. And what better way to celebrate than with surprises?

The 550 person audience cheered ecstatically when Bob Boilen, director of NPR’s All Things Considered, and creator of All Songs Considered, as well as RPM Challenge Participant himself, joined us Back to the Future II style when his face glid across the massive projector screen on a live Skype Internet call.

Independent musicians everywhere were crying in their beers after his inspirational and heartfelt words. Okay, maybe it was just me that was crying. I was glued to every word that came out of his mouth. I absorbed the image of the shelves and shelves of vinyl and CDs that were stacked in the study that was the background of his massive face. I marveled at how his eyes looked even more tired than the organizer’s. And I grew weepy when he said exactly what independent musicians around the world know so deeply: There is something more personal about music that is recorded by the musicians themselves. The recording process itself becomes an extension of your art. Whether you’re recording in your bedroom, or your kitchen, or your basement, it’s you that’s doing the recording. It’s you that has the final say. There’s no more of this getting in your car to drive for your 10am appointment at the studio. Every artist knows you can’t make an appointment with creativity.

The time of unfeeling, expensive, professional recording is over, Boilen said, “and it should be.”

Boilen’s unseen audience cheered so loud that he stopped talking and laughed, raised his hands and shook his head in disbelief. Comprehending aurally just how many independent musicians were in the audience he was speaking to.

The intimate call from Boilen was followed by a video, yet another massive undertaking by the RPM organizers. It included still shots played in fast time of every single CD that was handing in to them, interviews with musicians about the highlights and lowlights of their month (one memorable quote was: “it’s takes a lot of work to put all of your energy towards procrastinating on such a gigantic project”), and home videos sent in documenting recording processes (one guy recorded his entire album on a reel to reel tape player). The Music Hall occupants then dispersed to six different venues around Portsmouth to listen to varying set lists.

Some musicians handed out their CDs for free, others exchanged email or recording techniques. I jotted down notes of artists I wanted to look into further after hearing their preferred track streamed through a warm, crowded, smoky (it’s New Hampshire remember –live free or die) bar.

The party’s over, but the work for the RPM organizers isn’t finished yet. Right now you can visit http://www.rpmchallenge.com/ and hear the 2007 Jukebox of 850 songs, amounting to one track per artist. But in the next few days all 8,500 songs will be available. As Dave Karlotski said when asked what the organizers would do once they’re finished: “we have a lot of new music to listen to.”

RPM Challenge: http://www.rpmchallenge.com/
The Wire Magazine: http://www.wirenh.com/
Bob Boilen’s All Songs Considered: http://www.npr.org/programs/asc/


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