What it means to us: The RPM Challenge

By:Philip Barton

February for many Newfoundland and Labradorians remains just another dull haze of snow squalls and time to file taxes. For local music fans, it has a different meaning. For them, it means strange sounds, spurs of creativity and a collection of projects to devour with freinds.

The rpm challenge represents a profoundly significant event for Newfoundland and Labrador musicians. Every February it forces local artists to get off their butts and make some music. Artists get out there pen and paper, plug in their audio interface with one goal in mind to create. Many bands have formed and careers have been started by The Rpm challenge. It gives artists an excuse to start that band they have always talked about starting or release that music they always wanted to put out for so many years. The rules are as follows: produce an album 10 songs or 35 minutes long, in the month of February and submit on March 1st. Last year over 129 albums was submitted in Newfoundland and Labrador, with the CBC and other news outlets featuring some of the submissons. For such a cultural icon, I always wondered wear it came from and i was about to find out.

It often starts with the idea of having a deadline. But once you sign up, and you’re doing the work, new ideas emerge. It opens up the creative process for musicians around the world.

Karen Marzloff  (Founder of The RPM Challenge)


The brainchild of a Dave Karlotski and Karen Marzloff co-founders of the now out of print Wire Magazine based in the small town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Since their first challenge in 2005 people from all corners of the earth has participated in the musical event.  A project that started for local musicians in their neighbourhood spread around the world. The small local magazine was only two years in when they started the challenge. Though they where a young magazine they already had 20,000 cd’s submitted to their publication. They had so much talent in their local area but knew they could do more. Their music editor, Jon Nolan had an idea to pose a creative challenge to there local community. The core idea was to just create, no need for polish. He believed that taking that pressure off making it perfect would push people to be creative and he was right.

A listening party in 2010 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the home of the original RPM Challenge. (Photo: Scott Yates)


For Newfoundland, the Rpm Challenge is one of the most important musical events of the year. Bands like Property, It could be Franky and many others have got their start through the rpm challenge.  Unpossible is an organization who sought to organize the challenge in St. John’s by putting together events and promoting submissions. Elling Lien is a big reason why the RPM Challenge is so massive in this province. Founder of the arts and culture magazine The Scope Elling Lien and business partner Bryhanna Greennough brought the Rpm challenge to the province back in 2008 when they decided to encourage readers to take part in the challenge as well as publishing their favourites in the magazine.

We were always looking for inspiration,
and heard about a small paper in Portsmouth, New Hampshire that was coming up with all these interesting ideas, and one of them included creating the RPM Challenge.

Elling Lien ( Founder of The scope and Unpossible)

When the Scope ended in 2014, Elling knew he wanted to continue taking care of the RPM Challenge, so that’s where Unpossible NL started. Just home for the RPM in the province. He and the board of directors tried to break the RPM Challenge down as simply as they could and try to figure out why it worked so well, and one of the phrases they settled on was “creative courage.” It helps beginners see themselves as musicians and experienced musicians push themselves creatively. The RPM helps remove a lot of the fear that people have when they’re creating something. He wanted to take that idea and try to apply it to other creative fields. So he developed the Stand-Up Challenge where people spend a month working on 5 minutes of stand-up comedy. He started something called Math Circles where kids can learn about math in a fun, less anxiety-inducing environment. They’re always looking for new things like that.

A great way to challenge yourself by doing something fun and creative at a time of year when it’s generally just a challenge not to succumb to seasonal affective disorder – at least in Newfoundland! Deadlines are quality distractions.

Jack E. Tar
Maria,Mark and Jacob Cherwick Submitting their RPM Challenge(courtesy of facebook)

Best Submissions of 2019

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