RPM Album Sampler and interviews

Courtney, Jessica, and Josh successfully competed RPM albums this year and they turned out quite well!

Here is a sampler of some of the best tracks from their releases:

Interview with Josh, Courtney, and Jessica 


You were the first Secret Doggy to make an RPM album. Why do you think so many of your pals have made one since you started and what do you think people can learn from the process? 

Courtney: "The RPM challenge spreads like something in the water or cross pollination, and it moves through musical communities like a tree growing roots. I was inspired by Jaggery's album Paprikah to attempt my first RPM. At the time I was feeling stifled at a 9-5 desk job, and wanted to prove to myself that I am an artist and I can create art. The experience has been unique and liberating, and I have not stopped running my mouth about it to everyone and anyone who listens. Through an RPM challenge, you learn a lot about your writing habits and how to overcome/capitalize off them, and also how you can optimize your workflow or creative environment. 

Once you create an RPM album, it never goes away; neither does the effort you put in it, the pride of creating something, or the feedback from people finding your music. After I put out my RPM, I didn't do anything with it for a while. A year later, I was able to perform some of the songs in Japan during the Bent Knee Trio tour, and another six months after that it lead to my first solo performance. It's difficult to quantify or explain what exactly an RPM Challenge does for you, but it's a tangible milestone that changes your perspective on thinks. I think it probably feels a lot like sky-diving."


What did you learn from doing RPM this year? 

"I learned that I can do a lot more with each day and that working hard is extremely satisfying. I don't even remember how it felt to be that tired (extremely tired) back in February. What I have left of the project is the final album and that makes me very proud."


Please tell us the story of what lead you to decide to do the RPM challenge this year. 

Josh: "I wanted to do RPM because I was writing a song a week starting in November and thought it would be a good writing challenge to up the ante on my output. I'd never done it before and knowing that other SDB members would be doing it felt like having other people in the trenches with me, which was nice."


What advice do you have to someone who has a hard time finishing projects like the RPM challenge? 

Courtney: "Jessica, Josh and I were challenging each other to write one song a week for the month of January before we started doing RPM. This was a really great segue into RPM, so I recommend it to other RPM challengers, too. Just getting into the habit of writing music. For other projects in general, there are probably a million tips that could be given either from off the top of my head or from the endless resources available in self-improvement literature. But, I think one important thing is not to focus on chastising oneself or figuring out what went wrong, but instead to continue trying. They say that the 'end justifies the means.' Last year, I couldn't complete the RPM challenge. I was ashamed and sad. This year, I completed the RPM challenge for the second time, and last year's failure doesn't seem as bad. In fact, I learned a lot from the failing experience. I don't know if that's the greatest example... But, I have come to believe that it's far more productive to starting something/anything as soon as you can, instead of beating yourself up for something you didn't do."


Millennial seems critical towards the way technology affects people's relationships and outlook these days. Can you describe the way this theme relates to the lyrics in the song "Arrive"?

Josh:  I'm a big fan of technology, I use my phone, computer, and tablet for my entire business and it's integral to my personal life. Technology in my life brings a lot of positives, but Millennial is definitely an examination of all the negatives. Arrive captures one of those negatives. We to learn/do/experience anything we want in a world where the internet exists, but that can also become incredibly stifling. How can I be anywhere when I could be everywhere? That idea really resonates with me, it's an experience that feels new and unique to the millennial generation. Writing songs for RPM made me point to my immediate experiences and craft songs around them, technology's ups and downs are a big thing in my life right now.


In your song "Praise Me," you use a very silly tone and mock your own desire to be a celebrity. How does a desire to be famous play into your music and art?

Jessica:  It doesn't play a huge part in making the music, but I do have these thoughts a lot. It's pretty embarrassing, I'd rather not want to be famous and just be proud and happy with where I'm at. But these thoughts are always nagging at me when I think of my future or watch inside the actors studio or listen to Sufjan Stevens or the Dirty Projectors. I'd really love to have a lifestyle that enabled me to collaborate with the people I respect most and it's disappointing to have that feel so far away.


In the song Monstre, you mention that you "assimilate late" as if you're solving a social riddle at the last second, right before it's too late. How does your life as an artist play into your ability to understand the world and survive?

Courtney:  "When I made the decision to be an artist, I unknowingly freed myself from certain social norms and social obligations. But, at the same time I chose a profession that requires honesty, courage, and open communication. Whether it be my nature, nurture, or culture, I was not equipped with the right set of those tools when I started, and I've doubted, hated, re-evaluated, and restructured myself in order to continue doing what I believe to be my calling. How does that play into my ability to understand and survive the world? Sticking to being an artist helps me feel good about being in my own skin. I'm proud of what I do and what I stand for, and I think I'm a better person because of it. Because of my experiences, I think I'm less prejudiced and more compassionate than I would have been, had I chose to be an non-artist. All that gives me a positive and optimistic filter to see the world through, and it makes living more enjoyable. I think more people enjoying living will make for a happier and healthier community, so I naively like to think that cultivating my own happiness is one small thing that I can contribute to society."


If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time you've written a concept album as opposed to collections of songs that are less literally related. What inspired you to make a concept album and how did it feel to make one?

Josh:  "This was my first concept album. I think I was inspired by the challenge, actually. It just felt like it'd be really hard to write 10 individual things rather than one story that unfolds song by song. It was really great to do it, I was surprised how much I had to say on one topic. I totally see the appeal of using a concept to drive a whole album from the start, and also to find a concept that really speaks to me. That's a big take away from RPM for me, that the subject matter in "Millennial" really means a lot to me a lot, and RPM was a great tool for discovering that. I think it felt like I had tapped into a part of my experience that I was genuinely excited to explore and share with other people, I think the concept album approach definitely helped that."


I believe you had attempted to do RPM in the past but failed to do so. What contributed to your success this time?

Jessica:  "I had big motivation boosts from Ben Levin. I also think I was more into the flow of writing and the goal was still lofty but much closer than last year's RPM in the middle of a long period of very few new songs."

The final stretch - Ben and Jessica RPM update - Bless Them!

RPM Challenge is challenging.  In these last 24 hours, Jessica and I have been sucking lemons and salting gashes.  It's no party over here and the desert smell good either.

Saturday is the last day of February and therefore the last day of the " RPM make an album in a month even if it ruins your month and friendships and chances of employment extravaganza."

Ben:  My project will be done on time, so if you want to be part of the beta testing for my virtual music map, please call me at BenLevinMusic@gmail.computer


Jessica: F rumping


Jessica is doing the RPM challenge and boy is she sweating

The RPM challenge, for those of you who don't know is a call to musicians to write and record an album (10 songs or 35 minutes of music) in the shortest month of them all.

Jessica attempted to complete the RPM Challenge in 2014 and didn't finish. BUT 2015 IS A NEW YEAR and she is ripping through her 10 songs. Jessica said in an interview "I don't even know if it's 35 minutes, because the songs aren't all the way written yet".  So, how far is Jessica into this crazy challenge? She said, " I've written all the lyrics and finished that about February 15th. But the music keeps changing and evolving. I am finding it really hard to focus and finish one song, I keep working a little on each song. So the work is very slow." How sure are you that you'll finish this time? Jessica said " I'm pretty effing sure, I grew up to be a professional procrastinator and so I can see the finish line, it's far but I'll make it. Whether or not what I come out with will be good quality music, is another story"

Ben Levin's RPM Update #3

We're making huge progress over here in "Sound Map" land.  I've been working on a video-gameish experience called "Apple Park" which is a virtual forest full of music.  The music changes depending on what path you choose and is always different.  

I have been doing private Alpha testing and my goal for the month is to release a public Beta by February 28th.  At this point, I am happy with the design overall and just need to add a lot more musical combinations so that the sounds are distinctly different each time you play the simulation.

I sent the Alpha to a professional game designer and am awaiting feedback from him.  I'm very grateful for constructive criticism so please email me at BenLevinMusic@gmail.com if you'd like to try the Beta and give me a hand with making "Apple Park" a wonderful meditative experience!

Ben Levin's RPM Update #2

I had a huge breakthrough while working on my sound map this weekend. 

For anyone who missed my first post, I'm making a non-objective oriented visual music experience (a music video game I guess,) in which you explore a forest and generate a piece of music while doing so.  

 I sent out an Alpha version to some of my pals and noticed that people were generally just not having a ton of fun playing it.  They didn't hate it, but they weren't that enthused.  

I think the more interactive I can make the experience, the more people will feel engaged when they participate, so I started learning how to procedurally generate meshes with mouse clicks.  In other words, I learned how to make it so that when you click your mouse, magic music balls appear!  Now players can create music with mouse clicks in the experience.  Here is a screenshot of the balls:

Ben Levin's RPM Update #1

Last year I made a concept album called 'Sea Stories' for the RPM challenge.  I loved the process and wanted to do it again this year, but since I've released Freak Machine just this month, I don't want to release another album so soon.  Instead, I'm making a virtual world that generates music as you explore the landscape.  It's like a video game, but there are no objectives and the main attraction is the audio.

My goal is to send out a beta version by the end of the month and release the completed experience in March.  To me the RPM challenge is about decimating procrastination and living up to a higher standard of productivity as an artist.  So even though this project is not an album, it still forces me to learn a lot and make this virtual reality a reality!

Email me at BenLevinMusic@Gmail.com if you'd like me to send you the Beta version when it's ready.

Here are some screenshots of the music map so far:

Courtney's RPM Update #1

When I completed the RPM Challenge in 2013, it was one of the greatest feelings in my life. Last year, I thought I could do it again with no problem, but I couldn't carve out the time or effort to finish more than 1.5 songs. 

This year, i'm off to a bit of a late start, but I think I'm in the right gears and right mindset to get this done! 

So far I have one full song called Monster, and two half songs called On A Good Day and Token. Whenever I THINK about writing, I keep coming up with these really weak lyrics that sound like I'm high off the epiphany of "life is awesome!" I guess that's not a bad thing, but I'm trying to dig through old journal entries to find some ideas with more grit. 

I don't have any media or songs to attach to this post today, but I wanted to make an update just for the sake of it. I find that kind of mentality helps with getting RPM done; just sit down and don't give up until the song is done!

Also, another interesting thing I found is that my voice sounds very different than two years ago. Maybe I got used to hearing it in a different way, but the same mic I used two years ago sounds awfully nasal and bizarre. Weird? 

Hoping for another productive afternoon tomorrow. Maybe another full song! 



Mr. Gavin's RPM Journey Part 1: Enter The Lazy Man

"A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct."
-Frank Herbert from "Dune"

I should probably start this out by saying that I am not the most disciplined person you will ever meet, in fact I'm pretty far from it. I was once disciplined enough to start a band named Mr. Gavin's Meat Farm though, and it's about damn time that I become disciplined enough to do more with it. See, I can come up with plenty of ideas for albums, songs, creative ways to release albums, and Andy Kaufman inspired ways to promote the band, but rarely (read: never) do these things actually get done. The last thing that I released for Mr. Gavin's Meat Farm was in 2011, and while I'm very proud of what I wrote for that EP, I know the ideas that I have now are better... in my head at least.

The RPM album in a month challenge is something that I have been curious about doing for a while. In the past I have done 1 Day Albums, where (much as the title suggests) you write and record an album in a day. The results of those were sometimes great, othertimes cringe worthy, but always very interesting. In a way, I think the 1 Day Album will prove to be easier than the RPM challenge. The time constraint of a 24 hour period doesn't allow for really any editing or doubting of whatever you are writing, you are just striving to get the whole thing written, recorded and mixed within the alloted time. By comparison, a month is an eternity to doubt yourself, grow to hate your ideas, endlessly tinker with grooves and sounds, and generally lose yourself in the details.
That I suppose is why I haven't really completed any of these larger ideas that I have had within the past 4 years, I'll sit down to flesh them out and an hour later I'm lost messing with reverb levels on my highest tom before I've even written the chorus.

I'm going about writing these tunes in a way that I haven't really done before. I'm writing the lyrics out before I even start seriously thinking about the music that will be under them. I'm doing this for two reasons: 
    1. This is going to be a concept album loosely based on Shia LeBeuf's appearance at a film fest where he wore a bag on his head. I want the lyrics to have some sense of cohesion from song to song, and I feel like writing them out first and building the song around them is the way to go.
    2. I'm having an easier time coming up with lyrical ideas, and a harder time with musical ones at the moment.

I must admit, even as I sit here writing this (it's 10:45PM on February, 5th 2015) I am worried that I won't finish this album, however I do feel confident that I am going to do everything that I can to finish it. It should be noted that I have a history of coming around to not liking what I'm writing, becoming convinced that I just don't have the inspiration at the moment to write anything, then poping over to Netflix to see what's new. I'm sure this is a common problem amongst songwriters (at least I hope it is...). With this RPM challenge I'm hoping to find ways to motivate myself to stick to my guns and power through those moments, I'll report back next week if I find anything that works.

Well, it's been lovely speaking to you. I'm going to do a bit more work on a few lyrics before I head to bed. For those of you also doing the RPM, I wish you the best of luck!

About RPM Blog!

RPM stands for "Record Production Month"

This is in reference to the RPM Challenge for musicians and artists.

Originally created by The Wire magazine, the RPM challenge is in its 10th year. The gist of the challenge is to record 10 songs or 35 minutes of music during the month of February. Though participants are encouraged to also write the musical material during February, they are allowed to include previously written songs as long as the songs are unreleased. The RPM Challenge is an amazing opportunity to exercise and fine-tune one's artistic process. There is no prize or fame involved in the RPM; just a fulfilling sense of growth and satisfaction! You can read more in the FAQ section of the RPM Challenge website

 In the last few years, Ben has released Sea Stories, and Courtney has released Claws of the Beasts Inside; both of which were recorded as part of the  RPM Challenge. This year, to celebrate the launch of Secret Dog Brigade, we've rallied a gang of SDB artists to take on the RPM Challenge! You can find their updates here.