Saturday, March 31, 2007

RPM Challenge Listening Party

Last night, Tom and Randy went to the RPM Challenge Listening party for Chicago, and met with the other bands who participated who are in Chicagoland.

We had a blast, and really enjoyed meeting with the other bands. The music quality was very high across the board for all of the bands, and it was really a trip to hear our own music played over the bar PA system. We also enjoyed meeting with the other musicians, like us, who love to write and record music.

We wish that there were nametags, but we could tell the tables of people that were in the RPM Challenge because they invariably had a stack of CDs in front of them. We traded discs with quite a few bands, and are looking forward to listening to them.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mason Rocket (Spy Extraordinaire)

Track 4 on the new "All In A Day's Work" CD has a special story to tell. While we put it on the RPM album, it was commissioned by Mur Lafferty. Mur has more achievements and accolades than we can cover here, but she is a podcast guru, author of the book Tricks of the Podcasting Masters, a science fiction writer, and of course a podcaster, running Geek Fu Action Grip, among many others. We first ran into Mur when she requested if she could play a song off of ours on her podcast in 2005. (Were All These Beer Cans Here Last Night, from the Cheapass album.)

She kept up with us, and when we released our Song of the Day daily podcast, she announced it on her own site, and wrote us a note. A month later, she asked us if we'd do a commission for a friend of hers. We said we'd be happy to!

She said that her friend Joe Murphy had been diagnosed with cancer. She wanted a song for him based on a nickname that she wanted to give him: "Mason Rocket." And then she said that it could be something about a spy.

And something just clicked.

I had been on Skype with Mur, and I muted it and recorded an idea that had instantly popped into my head. I got together with Jason a day or so later, and worked out the lyrics with him, and the band picked it up from there. The result can be heard on the Beatnik Turtle website in the player marked "Latest Album" on track 4. We're extremely happy with how it turned out. This song was meant to happen.

Joe is really struggling now, by the way, and has a fund in case you're interested in helping. You can find it here. We're glad that we could be a part of the effort to help him out, and we wish him the best.

Oh, and Mur is working on a written piece about a spy called Mason Rocket. We've heard an early draft, and it's just great! When it comes out, we'll announce it on our websites.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The RPM Challenge

The saying, "In for a penny, in for a pound" refers to the fact that a criminal in the UK would get the same sentence no matter what amount he stole. So why go small? Beatnik Turtle took the same attitude in tackling the RPM Challenge. Only in it's second year, the challenge is for bands that sign up to write, record, and produce an album of at least 10 songs or 35 minutes in 28 days, during the month of February. It's an idea that comes from National Novel Writing Month, which challenges writers to write a 50,000 word novel in November.

We at Beatnik Turtle figured since we were doing the Song of the Day, why not try to meet the RPM Challenge too, which seemed almost reasonable in comparison. It turned out to be a lot harder than we thought, but a very satisfying project. The result is our latest album, "All In A Day's Work." We're very happy with how the album came out, and we really enjoy listening to it. You can hear the album by going to the main page and clicking on the "latest album" link. It will be for sale on all of the digital music stores as soon as we finish the artwork and upload it to CDBaby.

Although we started the project in earnest with only 19 days to go, we completed the album in time, mailing it by noon on March 1st, 2007 to the RPM Headquarters. We managed to write 13 songs, and the finished album was just over 35 minutes. We decided, since we always write about "whatever we feel like" for Song of the Day, that we'd add a theme: all of the songs had to be about working. The released album has three additional songs that weren't written in that month, for a total of 16 songs.

The reason this turned out to be difficult for us is that we had high standards for the songs for the album, and we even left one on the cutting room floor. (Don't worry, you'll get a chance to hear it at We also added a lot more parts than the average Song of the Day song, using four different lead singers, and added all of the horns that we could. I even was able to get out one of my favorite horns, my bass clarinet, and add it on two songs. But there's also trumpet, trombone, saxophones, clarinet, and flute parts. We also have a huge host of backup singers, including Cheyenne and Carrie, who have been helping us on Song of the Day.

The workhorses again are Jason and Tom, who did all kinds of mixdown, incidental parts, guitar parts, background vocals, and the "finishing process" for the album. They didn't get a lot of sleep in late February. Not that Jason expected much sleep, as he has a newborn on top of everything else.

We'd do this again in a heartbeat, and I wouldn't be surprised if we decided to do it next year. We are going to be attending the listening party for it, and meet the other bands who participated in the RPM Challenge that are located in Chicago.

We hope you enjoy the new album! Go ahead and give a listen at the Beatnik Turtle homepage, at the Latest Album link. Coming up in another entry very soon is a story about one of the songs on the album: Mason Rocket (Spy Extraordinare), track 4.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Song of the Day

The Song of the Day project is the most ambitious thing that we've done. We concepted the project in 2005, and really only began work on it in 2006, when we pulled in all of the musicians that we knew, and declared that we wanted to try to release a song for every day of 2007.

There's some confusion about how we've done Song of the Day because there's two ways to do projects like these. One is to wake up every morning knowing that you will write and record a song. The other way is to write and record a song for every day of the year. We did the latter. We might not write music every day, but some of the songs take months to complete, to get just the right vocals, or to add a violin part, or record the drums. Often, there are only a few people in the studio at a time, but each of us record on multiple songs when we are there. For a recent set of songs, for example, I think that two days in a row, I was in the studio recording saxophones, flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet, all in succession on four or five songs. Not all of the songs are so developed, of course. Some are just a guy with a guitar in one session, and then done.

We've worked with over 30 musicians on this project, and collaborate whenever we run into people that can contribute. This keeps the songs sounding different from each other. We make an effort to use different singers, different instrumentation, and different styles as often as we can. We'd get bored otherwise. As you can tell by the liner notes on each song, however, there's certainly a core of people that work on most of the songs. Just to clarify what we're doing with this: we aren't bringing other bands in to the project, we're really just pulling in collaborations in from time to time. Actually, many times, someone will come to the studio and lay down a guitar and vocal track, and we'll fill in the bass, drums, and whatever else the song calls for. And many times, they are amazed at what happens to the song afterwards.

The website for The Song of the Day was a major project itself. It uses MySQL, PERL, Apache, Flash, and ID3 tags, and it was started from a blank text file. The concept for the site's design came from a cross between webcomics (with elements from,, and, a tear-off quote calendar, and a podcast site. Matt Scholtka came up with the excellent visual design from that mishmash of ideas, and Dana Huyler who created the award-winning website, did the backend work. I had the concept for the site, generally, and coordinated their efforts. The site is automatic. No one has to be awake at midnight central time to change the song over. And the RSS files for the daily podcasts are automatically created at midnight as well.

Mixing and engineering are mostly done by Jason and Tom, both of which have shouldered the vast unsung gruntwork of pulling the music for this this project together. Some of us are done when we finished our parts, but they are the ones who will then pull together the parts into the right places, mix the levels, add those little tweaks that make a song so much better, and then master it down to a MP3 file. Let's not forget tagging and naming the files right, too. All of that stuff takes a lot of time, believe us. And so they are definitely the workhorses of the project.

So that is the "what." We haven't discussed the "why?" And that's actually rather simple. We love songwriting, and it's a great creativity technique to do things based on quantity, rather than quality. You have to shut up that little critic in your head that insists that the new song you're working on is stupid. The only question becomes: "Is this a song?" And if the answer is yes, then you just press ahead. When you collaborate with talented people, even what seems to be a stupid idea can become something amazing. So, it's been an incredible process so far. We've been very pleased with how some of the songs have come out, and it's been a great experience for all of us.

One thing is for sure: We're never bored. Some people like going out drinking. Some like to watch movies. Some go fishing. We like writing and recording songs. And with so many songs yet to write, every time we get together we look at each other and say the same thing: "Let's write a song."

Monday, March 26, 2007

It's been a while...

This is Randy, and it really has been my fault that the blog went on hiatus for such a long time. We've been in the studio recording the Song of the Day project rather than writing about it. Part of the problem was that I was completely unhappy with our blog solution, which was overrun by spammers, and didn't have time to update our server. We eventually went to WordPress, which I'm quite happy with! I hope you enjoy the new blog, and especially the ability to keep track using RSS. I have it as a frame in the website, and if you want to go here directly, you can go to for the non-frame blog.

I'm going to try to catch people up on what's happened in the last months in bits and bytes:

1. We launched which is a website where we are releasing a new, original song, every single day of 2007. That's 365 songs. We'll be releasing that in 12 albums. Most of our time has been spent doing this project, including not just the music, but the custom-designed website as well.

2. We released "Thanks For Coming Out: Beatnik Turtle Live" in February, our first live album, and BT's fourth album. Many thanks to John Liesieki, who did a fantastic job recording and mixing the album.

3. We are releasing "All In A Day's Work", an album created for the RPM Challenge which challenges bands to write, record, and produce an album of at least 10 songs, or 35 minutes in just 28 days. The finished version will have the 13 songs that Beatnik Turtle submitted to the the challenge, and another 3 songs that we did prior that fit the theme of the album, which is all about working. We're very happy with how that came out.

4. We have continued to work on the Indie Band Surivival Guide, and are working on releasing a new "zine" for it that we will use to release interviews and articles.

5. We're playing the IPO again here in Chicago, and we're looking forward to getting on stage again after so many months of being in the studio.

6. We're playing on Live radio coming up soon, at the Razor and Die show on WLUW. This is a station that we've been looking forward to playing on for quite some time, so we've very excited.

So welcome back! I hope to have more background for you later.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Blog is Back

After a long hiatus, the blog is back. We’ve spent so much time making music and writing that we haven’t been able to write any entries.

But we’re back, and we’ll be adding posts for you to keep up with us shortly, as soon as we integrate this blog fully into our website.