Third time’s the charm, I guess. I’m very proud to say that this, The Year of My Second Attempt, I completed the RPM Challenge. Jump down to the bottom for the songs without the introduction.
When I tried this last year I made two major mistakes. The first was that I really underestimated how much time it would take (or overestimated how good I am) and didn’t get a jump on it. Like, days started passing and I’d be like, “Hmmm, I should probably get started.” The second—and probably costliest—mistake was trying to get things actually sounding professional with zero skill in engineering. I was literally reading mixing tutorials while attempting to do this, and man there is just not enough time for that nonsense.
This year, I gave myself a good talking to. “Listen, you have to really focus on this being about quantity, not quality. Sure, it’d be awesome if you could churn out professional-grade recordings like some of the other folks doing this, but it’s not happening so deal with it. Also, have a little discipline. Put down the Xbox controller and make music, even if you don’t feel like it. Okay? Okay.”
I started off pretty well I thought. I actually had some song ideas that had been rattling around in my head but hadn’t been put to machine yet. I focused on those first but instead of spending a ton of time trying to get the mix just right (or learning to mix in general) I was spending a ton of time layering and adding and creating parts to get exactly the sound I’d imagined. At the end of 2 weeks I had like 3 songs to show for it. So much for quantity not quality.
Week 3 found me pulling at my hair trying to find inspiration for the remaining songs, and this is truly what the challenge is all about: making music without feeling inspired. Sitting down and forcing inspiration when nothing seems to be there. I looked to all kinds of sources to help get something going. I scrolled through drum loops for an inspirational rhythm; I used chord-generation websites to try and break out of my standard progressions; I started off with a bass line to try and shake things up. That’s how I got the remainder of the songs, and it was at that point that I was starting to work on songs that frankly, I didn’t even like.
The final weekend came. Music was all done, but I only had lyrics and melody for one song and my creativity was loooowwww. My favorite studio to record vocals was booked solid for weeks so I wound up slouched over in a closet with a mic for vox. Saturday and Sunday was essentially me on the floor in the doorway of that closet, pen and pad in hand, listening to a song, trying to come up with lyrics and a melody, jumping up to record those vocals as soon as I had something, and then moving on to the next tune. Monday I “mixed”—it’s really generous to call it that— with a little EQ, a little compression, a lot of level adjustments, and that’s it.
My thoughts on the overall project: I’m glad I did it. I feel accomplished, and I’m proud of myself for seeing it through. I regret that it became a chore though. I was working on songs that I just didn’t like, the kind of tunes that I would have simply discarded if I weren’t on a deadline, and that felt crappy. I found myself exclaiming, many times (to the amusement of my wife): “God, I fucking hate this song!” I’m also not psyched about the production value. The vocals are pitchy in places, guitar is sloppy (and sometimes poorly tuned) in others. In the end I came away with 5-6 songs that I think I can do something with, and the rest are throwaways, hence the title of the collection: “Love Like Hate”.
56 Bars: one of the last-minute desperation songs. I started with a drum loop that I liked, then the intro guitar riff came out, and finally the chord progression. The lyrics were pieced together from an old song I’d written in high school. That song had a decidedly different tone to it in that it was poppy and upbeat and fast. It’s an okay tune I guess. High vocals were out of my range.
Alone: the chords for this came courtesy of one of those chord-generation sites. This was another last-minute song, written in its entirety over the last few days of the challenge. Lyrically I was trying to tell a story in a way I typically don’t, so I hacked these together Sunday. I;m not a fan.
Black Girl Magic: this one was done early on, and was one that I’d already had an idea for how I wanted it to go. It was conceived out of a conversation that I’d had with my wife about something our daughter had said. I plan to write a separate post about that because it’s a larger issue that I want to speak on in more depth than I care to go into here. It’s one of the songs I love, especially because of its message.
Another Song About Being Dumped: this might be one of the last ones I did, and you can tell from the title that I had kinda given up by then, lol. This is one of the ones I absolutely hate! I hate the lyrics (some of which were culled from college-era songs I’d written), I hate the way the vocals came out, and I hate the faux 70s soul rock vibe of the chorus, like I’m channeling Ace or something.
I Can’t Be Sober For This: what a departure! My daughter was inspiration for this as well, as the “duh duh” portion was something she’d made up and walked around the house singing. It was catchy and my wife and I found ourselves randomly singing it, so I decided to make it into a full song. I wanted it to be fun, what I jokingly called a “club banger”. I’d love to get someone who actually knows about mixing/producing this kind of music to fix it up.
Eirene: I love this song. It’s my favorite of them all. I love the message, I love the chorus vocals, I love the vibe. It’s a keeper that I plan to clean up and make part of my stable. I sing it all the time.
It Waits: another end-of-the-line tune that I wound up hating. You should’ve heard the first incarnation of my foray into “metal”. Anyway, the verses are fine instrumentally but the vocals are so dramatic I roll my eyes every time I hear it. I also really struggled with the lyrics (for the half an hour I tried to write them). I was inspired to write a song about war based on this quote I heard on the Stuff To Blow Your Mind podcast:
“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
Just For Tonight: I hate this one too. It’s bluesy in a way that’s simply not me, and I vocally don’t carry it off well.
The Longest Night: I was lukewarm on this one until I finished it. It’s an old song. The lyrics were written during winter break my freshman year at Wesleyan University. I was away from my girlfriend (who was also my first girlfriend ever!) for the first time, and I was a Grade A Clinger. I wanted to talk to her on the phone every day, and simply could not imagine how I would survive winter break without her. She wasn’t quite as distraught about the separation, being a mature, experienced individual. It was a sign of things to come I guess. Anyway, the guitar parts I added beyond the basic chord progression, the drums, and the bass line were all created during this challenge and it really changed the feel of the song and made it more layered and sophisticated I think. I love it.
This Land: I was given inspiration for this song by a Facebook comment someone made about how I should write some sort of take on the “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.” So I did. Although it’s definitely a little heavy on the 90s-grunge Shirley Manson vibe, I dig it and think I can work with it, so it’s a keeper.
Long post over. Let me know what you think in the comments.