This week, we present University of Utah Infrared performing Peter Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door.”
This week, we present University of Utah Infrared performing Peter Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door.”
The a cappella world has its share of groups that have enjoyed long-term success—thriving in the recording studio and in competition, crossing over to garner mainstream attention beyond the confines of the a cappella world.
When we think of groups like that—groups with a wide range of successes, groups that sound great, and groups that have been hitting landmark after landmark over a period of years, there are few that hold a candle to On the Rocks.
The group was founded at the University of Oregon in 1999 by Leonardo de Silva and Peter Hollens (yes, that Peter Hollens who has gone on to mad success as a solo YouTube sensation). In 2002 and 2003, the group would place at ICCA Finals, and 2004, 2006, and 2009 would see them land tracks on the Best of Collegiate A Cappella compilation.
In 2010, the game would change. First, On The Rocks uploaded a video of them “Rick-rolling” a New York City Subway that grew wildly popular. From there, they released a music video to their new recording of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Well arranged, well sung, well produced, and wildly entertaining from a visual perspective, the video was a smash success, instrumental in the a cappella boom that continues to this day, not to mention wildly influential in so many other all-male groups covering Lady Gaga and other female pop artists in the years to follow. The video also paved the way for On The Rocks to find their way onto The Sing-Off, reaching a truly national audience via multiple appearances on NBC.
But what has the group been up to since?
Though On The Rocks hasn’t been operating at quite as high a profile, they’ve exploded back onto the scene today with the release of a brand new single, a mashup of Justin Timberlake’s “That Girl” and “Pusher Love Girl.”
The tracks opens with a pristine take on “That Girl”—largely stripped down, driven by a powerful rhythm section led by vocal percussionist Donovan Cassell, featuring a super clean lead and backing vocals soaring over it. Two minutes in, the group seamlessly crosses over to “Pusher Love Girl,” pushing the tempo ever-so-slightly, employing a fuller sound and letting a falsetto lead really shine over the course of the song, leading up to a beautiful fallout moment for the leads to operate unaccompanied on the final lyrics. The solo work by Nick Grant and Ethan Alvarez across the track really shines.
It would be easy for a track like this too run too long, or to feel like it represented two disparate pieces wedged together, but between a slick arrangement, execution by the group, and production (recorded by Russell Kamp and Peter Hollens, mixed by Ed Boyer, and mastered by Bill Hare), this mashup is a huge success in terms of feeling cohesive, and consistently communicating the overarching sense of easy, sexy swagger, intrinsic to Timberlake’s original songs.
The single is available now on iTunes, Loudr, and directly from the On The Rocks website.
College campuses offer a full slate of resources that might further an a cappella group’s artistic accomplishments and exposure. Who should your group reach out to? How? What do you have to gain? Campus Connections is here to answer those questions.
This column is targeted specifically toward collegiate a cappella groups, though some of the principles and ideas we discuss may transcend that sphere and be useful to high school and non-scholastic groups as well.
In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: minority affinity groups.
During my junior year of college, I roomed with buddy Will. In a strange twist of fortune, despite being an ostensibly white man with western European roots, he was enamored with Asian culture—an active member of the Chinese student union and a practitioner of martial arts who decorated his side of the room with a Bruce Lee poster and assorted East Asian paraphernalia. Meanwhile, despite my half-Chinese heritage and blatantly Chinese last name, the most overtly Asian thing that I did was to eat my Chinese takeout with chopsticks rather than a plastic fork. Without fail, when I had a visitor to the room who didn’t know Will, he or she would assume that his side of the room was mine and vice-versa.
My roommate was one in a small percentage of students who saw across cultural and racial lines to embrace cultures that he just happened to be interested in, regardless of his own background. I say all of this to get at the point that, regardless of your a cappella group’s racial or ethnic composition, there can be a lot to be gained from reaching out to minority affinity groups on campus.
Minority affinity groups are typically in place to provide support and opportunities to socialize and network for students who might otherwise feel underrepresented or marginalized on campus. Students who do not belong to the minorities represented may be predisposed to steer clear of groups like this because they don’t feel that they will fit into them, or are concerned about the potential to offend someone else.
Just the same, students who engage with these groups—provided they do so with respect, humility, and a willingness to listen—are often surprised at how much perspective they can gain from the experience and the understanding that they walk away with, not just regarding the experience of fellow students who belong to that minority, but also themselves.
I say all of this not so much as a public service for people to see what they can learn from minor affinity groups and their events, but also to set up the value for a cappella groups networking with minority affinity groups. It’s easy to say that your a cappella group is open-minded and inclusive; it’s much more challenging and enriching to actively seek out opportunities to perform at events that minority affinity groups might put on, as well as to actively raise awareness of your group and recruit for future members from these organizations. Not every organization will end up being a perfect match for your group, but you may be pleasantly surprised with how wide an untapped audience and potential new member base exists out of people who may not have felt comfortable coming to you, because they don’t already see their brand of diversity represented within your ranks.
Think broadly about whom you might connect with on campus, and don’t be afraid to build a relationship with minority affinity groups.
This week, we present Missouri State University Hibernotes performing Twin Atlantic's “Dreamember.”
Years back, I had ongoing, tongue-in-cheek debate with a friend about whether a cappella could be considered a sport. Certainly, the form has plenty of common ground with the sports world, what with breath control, the increasingly physical world of choreography, teamwork, and the emphasis many groups place on competition.
And then there’s sweat.
Sweating may not seem like an integral part of a cappella and, indeed, when groups sings just one or two non-choreographed songs, in a cool environment, perspiration may never come into play. But when the stakes are high, the movement is frenzied, and the sheer effort is there, I wholeheartedly believe that a cappella performers should sweat. It’s a reflection of hard work. It’s a demonstration of how much a group cares. And while it may not appeal to conventional visual or olfactory aesthetics, it’s a natural byproduct of so many great performances.
Groups that let loose and give their all to a performance sweat.
I love it !
A cappella recording has become a big business within a budding industry. Indeed, given the improvements in recording and distribution technology, and the increase in professional services available to groups interested in recording, it seems like groups at all levels, from small high schools to major universities to post-collegiate social groups to full-fledged pros are releasing new recordings each year.
In Recording Recommendations, we offer our two cents on best practices in recorded a cappella.
In this edition, our focus is on the release
Recordings take time—for most groups a matter of months, if not years. Groups should be proud of their final products and do everything they reasonably can to publicize their work, whether it’s playing to the local community or trying to build an audience on a more national (or even international) stage. Thus, when a group thinks about putting out an album, it should put some real thought into what it will do upon release to steer as many ears as possible to their recording.
Like so many facets of marketing nowadays, effective advertising starts with social media. Groups should be prepared to unleash a flurry of activity via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and not be afraid to tag everyone from the original artists who first performed the songs the group has recorded; people who helped make the album—donors, producers, friends, family; and media outlets. Taking a step back, groups may also consider harnessing the social media power of crowd sourcing funding for their recording. Sites like Kickstarter are great for developing funds for a recording project, but also have the benefit of giving people a stake in your album well before it’s released, and a platform to keep an audience updated on your progress.
On top of bolstering awareness, groups should think about communicating why people should care. For this pursuit, offering up a sample of your work can do the trick, and recording a music video of one or more of your songs to release on YouTube leading up to the release is a great way of both getting attention and showcasing what your group is capable of.
To take your marketing from the Internet to the street, your group may also consider the merits of a release concert—drawing people together to celebrate what your group has accomplished, show off your skills live, and, of course, sell albums. While digital distribution may have arrived as the dominant means of buying and selling music, never underestimate the immediacy of getting an audience to hand over cash for the instant gratification of a hard copy CD—and particularly the fact that hard copy media may still appeal to an older demographic of family and faculty who may attend a show.
Once your CD is out, it’s important to follow up. You can both earn recognition and get the word out to even more potential listeners by soliciting reviews from RARB or The A Cappella Blog; you can nominate your work to all manner of awards and compilations. On top of all of that, don’t forget to continue selling your work into the future. Did you land a track on Voices Only? Don’t just Tweet about that news—remind your followers how they can buy the full album. Is Black Friday coming up? If you have direct control over your sales, consider offering a sale at a time when people are already in a consumer mindset.
When it comes to recording, groups should focus on putting out the best product possible. In the aftermath, groups are best-served to get their work into the earbuds of as many listeners as possible. It all starts with the release.