RPM Challenge: Done

Frenetic Stereoear

It’s done… Once again I’ve completed the RPM Challenge, to record an entire album in just 28 days.

There were a lot of ups and down this year, as usual, but by February 27th, I’d recorded 13 songs, mixed and mastered them and burned a CD.

Once again I feel that the songs may not be that good, but being forced to play, record, use Logic, and actually make something really helped me to learn new things, and have some fun in the process. For me the frustration isn’t in getting it done, but doing it well. Out of the 13 songs, there’s bit and pieces I like, and maybe one or two songs I think are strong, but overall, I’m really starting to feel that trying to make 10 good songs (or 35 minutes of good music) is tough… really tough… and I’m walking away this year not convinced I’ll do it again. Of course I probably think that every March.

New this year is a Fender Stratocaster I picked up used from the one of the guys in ZyFy. Having a good guitar really helped out. My bass is still the old Ibanez I’ve had for about 20 years. I’d love to have a Fender bass someday, but for now, the Ibanez is fine. I’m also running the guitars into a Behringer Xenyx 802, and from there into the Firewire FCA202. This seems to work well, and I now use the 802 for output from my Mac as well, running into an old pair of Bose speakers I’ve not found any other use for. So if nothing else, I’ve now got a kick-ass audio system in my office.

So anyway, the album is called “Frenetic Stereoear” and rather than just post all the songs here, I’m thinking of publishing them one at a time, with some commentary of each one. That should be fun…

Oh, I should also explain how I make these songs. It’s all improvised, and I don’t learn the songs at all, I build them as I go. I will typically find some drum tracks I like (or build them out of individual instruments) and then hit record in Logic and play along to the drums with either the bass or guitar until I find a riff (or bassline) I like. Once I’ve got something in place, I may do a few additional tracks, and maybe drop in some background sounds, then do a basic level mix and move on. I honestly kick these things out in about an hour, give or take a little. Most of these songs have just one or two parts, no distinct changes in percussion, and no vocals. This is part of the problem… I’d like to get beyond these simple songs. I felt I did a bit with Navasio in 2009 since I only did 5 songs, but I’d like to be able to spend more time on less songs and make them better. Maybe I’ll just record 4 or 5 songs next year and not actually do the “RPM” part of the challenge.


FireWire Audio Headache

February is the month of the RPM Challenge. You know, record an album in a month… I’ve done it before, and was going to do it again, and to do it, I use a Behringer FCA202 FireWire audio interface.

Of course I also decided to upgrade to Snow Leopard this month, and for some odd reason, that rendered the FCA202 useless. It just wouldn’t show up anymore in the System Preferences as an audio input/output device. It did show up as a FireWire device though, so that was odd.

I ended up trying to replace the AppleFWAudio.kext kernel extension, zapped the PRAM, deleted cache files, removed audio units, different cables, using the power supply, tried logging in as another user, and on and on… I rebooted from my 10.5.8 backup and it showed up, so it must have been something specific to 10.6. I tried it on my MacBook Pro (10.6) and… it didn’t show up! Ugh, over to the Mac mini (10.6) and it showed up fine. I gave up for the night, convinced it was a 10.6 issue. The next day I tried it on a Mac Pro and MacBook Pro (both 10.6) and it worked, and then tried again on my MacBook Pro and it worked… so now it seemed that it was just the iMac I normally use to record to that wasn’t working. (I blame the “not working” on my MacBook Pro the night before to being tried/frustrated/bad cabling.)

I was pretty fed up by now, and sick of searching for possible solutions… I did find a post somewhere about the CoreAudio SDK and how it may install/updated the needed audio extensions to fix FireWire audio issues. One problem though, the CoreAudio SDK was last updated in 2005! But, the answer to that one was to install Xcode. I did that and like a little bit of magic, it worked.

System Preferences - Sound

So now I should be back in business, with the Behringer FCA202 showing up and selectable as an audio input/output device.

I wanted to blame Behringer for this weirdness, but honestly, it was something weird with my own Mac. I’m still not sure what it was, but I really should consider doing a clean install next time. My system has probably built up way too much cruft over the years.

Oh, and just a note… I’m not convinced this is the end of the issue. I left the Mac up and running last night, and this morning the Behringer disappeared again. But I’ve read that is can happen, and a quick unplug/replug of the unit fixes it. So… as long as that doesn’t happen while I’m recording, I may be ok. (This problem I’m more tempted to blame on Behringer…)


RPM is done!

Yes, the RPM Challenge comes to an end again… and I’ve got another album.

This one is titled “Navasio” and features 5 songs which provide 36 minutes of music. And you know what, I’m pleased with it. I actually like listening to it, which I find amusing. Even if everyone else hates it, I think I’ll still listen to it, and enjoy it… so that’s cool.

I took a very different direction this year. In 2008 I was really just continuing the way I created music in 2007, which was… grab guitar and bass, plug them into my Mac, fire up GarageBand, find a beat, and start recording. Last year’s effort was pretty disjointed, but there were a few songs I really liked. It was a good learning experience, and that’s enough.

Since 2008 I’ve moved up to using Logic instead of GarageBand, and also upgraded to using a Firewire audio interface (the Behringer FCA202.) I know that some people think Behringer is crap, or it’s inexpensive for a reason, but it served my purposes quite well. I had no complaints, it just “worked” which was good.

Navasio I also realized my old Washburn sounds like… total crap. No matter what I did, it still sounded like crap. Keep in mind, it’s a cheap guitar, and I’ve had it for like 20 years, and it only has 5 strings, and… it’s crap. Old pal Milton loaned me an Ibanez he had on hand, and that was better (and I used it on the first song I recorded) but after the first few days of February my kids were kind enough to loan me their Fender (yes, they have a better guitar than I do) and the Fender sounded great! My old Ibanez bass still sounds fine, and while I’d love a Fender bass, I can’t justify that quite yet…

Ah yes, the process… So in 2008 I would write/record a song, and immediately upload it to and then post it on this blog. It was quite a process. The whole “making a song” was typically compressed into a few hours. At the end though, it was more like, I just did the last song… it didn’t feel like I completed an album, so this time, I worked on all the songs until the last day of February. That’s not to say I didn’t still record most of them in one sitting (some I did, some I didn’t) but I did a lot more listening, and spent more time mixing and engineering the tracks (but not enough!) I would have loved to have had another few days to do mixes, listen, and tweak things… but at some point, you gotta be done, and with RPM, that point is February 28th.

So by now you’re like… “Shut up already, let’s hear it!” and yes, yes… soon… I’ve got it out to a few people to get their opinions. People who also make music, or who I think might like it based on the genre it may inhabit. But rest assured, it will be available soon… online, for free, under a Creative Commons license… cuz that’s how we do it around here….