Today is February first. In addition to things like Black History Month, President’s Day, and whatever else is celebrated in February,* it also marks the beginning of the annual RPM Challenge.
Think of the RPM Challenge as the musical equivalent of November’s National Novel Writing Month. The Challenge, which started in my home state of New Hampshire back in 2006 by local music magazine The Wire, is a call to record either 35 minutes or 10 tracks worth of new music in the month of February.
It’s a lot of fun. Or would be, if I ever finished the challenge.
Unlike National Novel Writing Month, which I accomplished this year, the several times I’ve began an RPM Challenge project, I never finished it.
The one time I sort of did was in 2009 when I played bass on my brother’s album. He’s finished the challenge four or five times, now, maybe more. And he has more kids than I do.
Me, I always petered out somewhere along the line, sometimes due to time restrictions, sometimes due to technical or equipment difficulties, but usually due to being my own worst enemy.
You see, back when I had the music equipment and the space to record, I fell into the thrall of that dreaded monster perfection.
Perfection is one mean bastard. He gets into your head and makes you think you’re some kind of rock star when you’re really just a dude with a 9-to-5 and a hankering to pretend, just for a few hours here and there, that you’re something bigger than you really are.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
This is the difference between me and my brother: I let perfection play on my immaturity and narcissism. My brother, while only a year and some change older than me, got married, started a family, and finished school far younger than I did.
In short, he grew up faster.
He knew the value of time and realism. He didn’t dicker around with trying to get everything just right. No, he said to himself, and I’m making this up based on observations but bear with me, “There is something I want to do. If I do X, Y, and Z for this amount of time every day, I will accomplish what I set out to do.”
He had a goal, and a system to achieve that goal.
Process and not perfection.
In short, he went for it.
Me, not so much.
He wrote his songs, recorded them, and went on to the next one. In the process, he cut stuff that wasn’t working and added stuff that did. And his end product, while I’m sure not “perfect” to his ears, always sounded pretty damn good despite the nature of the RPM Challenge.
And I think that’s the point.
Consciously or not, my brother is entrepreneurial about a lot of things. He A/B tested things on himself. He used design thinking principles, again, consciously or not, and tested his prototypes on himself, his wife, and me.
And he didn’t mess around. He got to business.
Rock star me, having failed in my attempts to make a career as a musician, thought it would be embarrassing to release anything it radio ready.
In a month!
The shortest month of the year!
Perfection, I’m telling you. It feeds the ego like nothing else.
Embarrassed…it’s embarrassing that I have such trouble finishing what I start.
There is a bit of axiometey here, one old saw I can tell you is true: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
You need to be perfect in rocketry, surgery, and close to perfect in waging a war. Stuff like that. Otherwise, go for it.
Ego and narcissism may be helpful if held in check, but they can also be fuel for the perfection monster.
Which brings me to another axiom I’d like to think I made up just now: IT IS FAR, FAR BETTER TO DO STUFF THAN TO WATCH OTHER PEOPLE DO STUFF.
*Something about greeting cards and unmet expectations.
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