Mullins added "real world" touches to his work with field recordings captured on his Zoom H2 recorder. Nguyen's "band" was himself on guitars, a cheap EB-0 Epiphone bass, and the computer. Despite the stark individuality to his work, songs like "First Friday" are trenchant slabs of jackleg garage-punk. Nguyen sounds splendid on his own; bandmates would only scream over the din to slow down or turn it down.

"The best thing about doing everything yourself is, you can do anything you want, with no pressure to do anything you don't want to," Nguyen says. "Glenn Gould, a Canadian pianist and hermit, once said, 'Isolation is the indispensable component to human happiness.'"

However, there is a potent, underlying sense of community to the RPM Challenge. On its Web site, the blog section is brimming with Journal of a Novel-type entries, while on the discussion board, participants swap ideas, contacts, and addresses. Artists subscribe to a "we're all in this together" mentality, realizing that when difficulties arise, they can lean on others going through the same experience. When they leave February behind, they clutch a finished album, as well as a few new friends.

Terminally chill: MIke Castaneda
Terminally chill: MIke Castaneda

"People laughed when I told them," Mullins says. "I initially laughed when I heard about this. But it's a healthy challenge. You get away from that perfectionist way of thinking and you dedicate more time to what you love doing. Friends think I'm a bit weird, but that's okay. Nothing bad can really come out of this."

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