Yet Another Album! RPM Challenge 2018

As RPM Challenge 2019 starts tomorrow, I thought it was about time I finally jotted down some words about my 2018 album. (Annual reminder that the RPM Challenge is to record an album of original material entirely within the month of February)

The 2018 challenge was a difficult one for me. Late in 2017 the flat I’d lived in for around 7 years had been sold, the new owners were going to live in it rather than let it out so I got my statutory 2 months notice, which meant spending all of December and the start of January trying to find a new place to live, and then spending the last couple of weeks of January moving. The last few bits were in my (very nice) new flat on January 31st.

On February 1st, after I got home from work my first task was to put my desk back together using the screws that I had put in A Very Safe Place Because They Are Very Very Important! I had no idea where this Very Safe Place was… Eventually I found them, put the desk together, put the PC back together, set everything up, switched everything on and it was all ready, working and ready to start! So then I went to the pub.

I really struggled to get started on this one. I was knackered after spending a couple of weeks moving house – both physically from carrying boxes up and down stairs, and mentally from organising it all. I’d had a big idea for that year’s challenge, but I just didn’t have the energy to do it justice so after a while I abandoned that. For the first time I genuinely wondered if I might be able to get started on the challenge, never mind finish it.

But… I’d had an idea, which had been seeded by a jokey commentย  I’d sent in a Twitter conversation with a friend… The flat I’d moved into was the first place I’d lived in which didn’t have a washing machine, so I had to buy one for the first time in my life. This washing machine had a 30 minute cycle. I joked that I could record that, play some stuff over it, record another 5 minute track and meet the 35 minute rule! I was encouraged to do it and that is indeed (almost) what I did do.

I bought a handheld recorder, set it up on my camera tripod in front of the washing machine and set it going. I also opened the kitchen window – there are plenty of birds in the trees outside the flat, and I thought it would be nice to have them on the recording during the washing machine’s quieter moments. I then loaded the recording onto the computer, dropped it onto a track on Reaper and started adding some music to it. I ditched the idea of having a second 5 minute track, and instead played for a fewย  minutes before and after the washing machine cycle to make it one 35 minute piece.

I used fewer VST instruments on this project, mainly piano with a few other instruments. Previously I’d experienced some pretty unnerving glitches and even crashes of Reaper using piles of instruments at the same time on what was by then an old creaking PC held together with duct tape, with a barely adequate amount of RAM and a dodgy and unpatched version of Windows 7, so with this being a long piece I decided to hold off and keep it simpler to maintain a happier, calmer computer.

Getting towards the end it occurred to me that Bandcamp has a filesize limit for each track of an album, and I didn’t know if I would be able to fit one 35 minute wav file into that limit. I tried a test render of the track (which nearly went terribly wrong – as I had stuff I was trying out tagged on beyond the end of the piece on Reaper, I set the end time of the render manually to 0 hours, 35 minutes. Or so I thought. I’d actually set it to 35 hours. i thought it was taking a long time to render! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). This test came in at just under the filesize limit, and with more stuff still to add I was a little nervous. Then a friend suggested rendering to flac which I’d never used before. This brought it comfortably within the filesize limit.

In the end, this piece took me just over 2 weeks to produce from start to finish, which is certainly the quickest one I’ve ever done! The end wasn’t as frantic as usual either, as by the 27th it was more or less complete, with just a few tweaks here and there to make on the last day.

Considering that in the first week or so of February I was worried that I might not even be able to start an album that year, I am very pleased with the finished result. I hope you will like it too. As always, it is available on Bandcamp. You can pay as much or as little as you like, or even have it for free if you prefer (although I’d be much happier if you paid for it ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

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