N.L. musicians have 'made the RPM Challenge their own', as 2021 edition wraps up

·3 min read
Elling Lien, seen in this file photo, says Newfoundland and Labrador is once again punching above its weight on the global music stage for the 2021 RPM Challenge. (Heather Barrett/CBC - image credit)
Elling Lien, seen in this file photo, says Newfoundland and Labrador is once again punching above its weight on the global music stage for the 2021 RPM Challenge. (Heather Barrett/CBC - image credit)
Elling Lien, seen in this file photo, says Newfoundland and Labrador is once again punching above its weight on the global music stage for the 2021 RPM Challenge.
Elling Lien, seen in this file photo, says Newfoundland and Labrador is once again punching above its weight on the global music stage for the 2021 RPM Challenge.(Heather Barrett/CBC)

The annual RPM Challenge has wrapped up for another year, with musicians in Newfoundland and Labrador again making their presence felt in the global enterprise.

The challenge, now in its 15th year, invites musicians to record new music in February. In previous years, the goal was to produce a full album, but this year the length of the recording was up to the entrant.

The 2021 edition saw nearly 700 entries from 34 countries across all seven continents — including Antarctica. RPM Challenge co-ordinator Elling Lien said 113 entries came from Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The music community here has really taken the RPM Challenge on and made it their own," said Lien from his home in St. John's. "It's a thing that people … look forward to every year. They convince each other to do it. The word of mouth is really how all of this happens."

Newfoundland and Labrador's enthusiasm — and Lien's own — has a lot to do with why, when the New Hampshire-based founders of the challenge decided to move on, they put the endeavour in Lien's hands, and the RPM Challenge is now headquartered in St. John's.

Lien said the challenge has shown off the range of musical styles in the province, with tracks and albums, including pop and rock, electronic and world music.

"The diversity of music here is something that would have surprised me early on with the RPM Challenge, because Newfoundland was known for … folk music," he said.

"We were expecting a lot of that early on, but the diversity is just all over the place in terms of sound. Name any genre and you'd probably find something."

Pandemic provided ups and downs

This year's edition was the first one affected by COVID-19. Newfoundland and Labrador was also in a much different place when this year's challenge ended than when it started, after the province moved back to Alert Level 5 in mid-February.

"I think it probably derailed some people in some ways," Lien said. "They had been expecting to be able to focus on making music and being creative, and the variant coming to town and the lockdown.… It was scary."

"It affected people's emotions, I'm sure. It certainly did mine. It put people in a unique head space."

The pandemic has also changed how the music of the RPM Challenge will be shared with the world. While in-person listening parties have been a staple of the challenge, the listening party will instead take place online on Saturday.

The RPM Challenge has been a highlight of Newfoundland and Labrador's music calendar since 2006.
The RPM Challenge has been a highlight of Newfoundland and Labrador's music calendar since 2006.()

"We're going to host a number of listening streams, cause we're doing it all in one day," he said. "I think even just playing a clip from each record adds up to about 39 hours or 40 hours, so we have to do a bit of fancy footwork and create a bunch of listening streams."

Despite the uniqueness of the 2021 challenge, Lien said in a way it remains the same, allowing a creative vessel for people to use to escape the everyday.

"This year, we also happened to be escaping from a pandemic and focusing on creativity because of that," he said.

"Typically in Newfoundland and Labrador it's like 'The weather's bad, it's hard to go outside, it's cold.' So why not just spend the time inside and focus on that?"

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