Guest Columns

The Influence of A Cappella

Guest Columns

Guest author Deborah Tayloe is a professional writer and blogger for Musical Instruments Expert. While she’s an avid a cappella fan, she can’t sing a note and will stick with playing her violin for now.

From on screen media franchises Glee and Pitch Perfect, to sensations like Pentatonix and Home Free, the influence of a cappella on American pop culture is evident everywhere you look. In the era of social media, stardom is only a few clicks away. This gives the truly talented a chance to share their vocal gifts with the world at large.

A cappella fans just can’t seem to get enough! Rightly so. We are thrilled by the angelic harmonies, the fun beat box and amazing vocal percussion. Our iPods are full of covers of hits arranged by our favorite a cappella stars.

A cappella was once pigeonholed to a college campus activity. However, over time, a cappella music's appeal and accessibility have grown. That passion for vocal perfection has created an influence that has sent shock waves into popular culture.  

Consider the following influences. First, a cappella music brings great, old songs back to life for a new generation of listeners to enjoy. Second, a cappella artists can skillfully arrange songs to cross genres and give a fresh, new viewpoint that for new listeners to appreciate.

INFLUENCE 1: OLD SONGS BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE FOR A NEW GENERATION:

More current a cappella groups have begun resurrecting good, old, enjoyable songs from the past. In fact, they have brought old songs back to life for a new generation to enjoy.

Not quite sure what that means?

“Can’t Help Falling In Love” was an Elvis Presley ballad that topped the charts in 1961 and 1962. Our grandparents and parents fell in love to this song. It had a meaningful sentiment and any older person can tell you where they were the first time that they heard this some.

Pentatonix covered this song and published it on YouTube in April 2017...it now has over 9.8 million views in just about 4 months. A whole new generation of music lovers is falling in love to this song due to the newly released version.

INFLUENCE 2: CROSSING GENRES

A cappella music has a way of crossing genres that no other music, in my opinion, does. A country song is arranged to an upbeat, or a rock anthem is slowed down to a ballad. It makes a genre that’s not widely appreciated be understood better by new fans.

In many cases, a person who doesn’t care for a particular genre, such as classic rock, will appreciate a piece of music arranged in an updated  format.

A great example of the most popular song of country superstar Garth Brooks, “Friends In Low Places,” covered in 2016 by Home Free.

Home Free took a classic country drinking song, changed the tempo and pace, and arranged into a reggae-inspired pop sound. With 1.9 million views on YouTube, younger people are hearing the 1990 country hit, many for the first time.

So whether you are an avid a cappella fan or an aspiring artist you can rest assured that a cappella is relevant. It is influencing popular culture with fresh new voice and different points of view. It’s also accessible to all through the power of the internet and social media, giving you space to express your passion through your musical talents.

Top 10 A Cappella Records From The 20th Century

Guest Columns

Guest contributor Jessica Kane is a writer for SoundStage Direct, the number one online source for the best vinyl records and turntables.

It can often be difficult to pin down the greatest a cappella records, but there will always be a few groups and albums that stood taller and pushed this style of music forward. Here are the top 10 a cappella records from the 20th century. 

10. “The Whiffenpoof Song,” by The Whiffenpoofs Technically this Yale favorite may not be considered an album, but the popular song from the very first decade of the 20th century is often regarded as the very beginning of collegiate a cappella, which set the stage for the coming a cappella explosion. 

9. The Manhattan Transfer, by the Manhattan Transfer Their debut and self-titled album in 1975 included evergreen hits like "Java Jive," "Tuxedo Junction," and the biggest hit from the album, "Operator." 

8. Cooleyhighharmony, by Boyz II Men This 1991 album comes from the tail end of the century, but it included some of the greatest a cappella contributions to the world of pop music, most notably with "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." A later remake of the album also included one of the greatest hits, "End of the Road," which was originally recorded for the movie Boomerang

7. We Came to Play, by The Persuasions The Persuasions first made a name for themselves with their original album put together by Frank Zappa, but they first hit big with this album, which included, among others, the hit song "Chain Gang." 

6. Mecca for Moderns, by The Manhattan Transfer The Manhattan Transfer seemed to have a few hits on every album they put out. In Mecca for Moderns, they became the first group to win Grammy awards in both pop and jazz, with hits like "The Boy from New York City" and "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square." 

5. Simple Pleasures, by Bobby McFerrin Bobby McFerrin distinguished himself as the first, or at least most prominent, one-man a cappella group. On this album, he gained worldwide fame for the hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy," which was also featured in the film Cocktail

4. Good Vibrations, by The King's Singers Named for the title track, a cover of the popular Beach Boys song, this album also featured the somber "M.L.K.," a song originally written for the late Martin Luther King, Jr., but often sung to commemorate the passing of a loved one. 

3. Seamless, by The Nylons This album featured what may be the most recognizable a cappella song of all time, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The album also features a cover of Lennon and McCartney's composition, "This Boy." 

2. Street Corner Symphony, by The Persuasions The Persuasions had many great albums and hits, but Street Corner Symphony set them apart, with the popular "Buffalo Soldier" and "People Get Ready" remakes, as well as several other a cappella covers brilliantly arranged by the group. 

1. Vocalese, by The Manhattan Transfer This 1985 record produced one of the most incredible a cappella arrangements ever, called "Another Night in Tunisia." The song was an all a cappella version of "Night in Tunisia" by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie "Bird" Parker, and it featured singing legends Bobby McFerrin and Jon Hendricks. Also on the album was a cover of the famous "I Remember Clifford," changed slightly to "Oh Yes, I Remember Clifford." The original song was written about the brilliant jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown, who died in a tragic car crash at the age of 25. The album received 12 Grammy nominations, second only to Michael Jackson's Thriller album for nominations of an individual album.

10 Tips for Nailing Your A Cappella Audition

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Valerie J. Wilson is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about marketing, health and wellness, education, and the arts. She teaches writing classes at Syracuse University and also owns and operations her own freelance writing business.

The audition is coming up, and you're dusting off the pre-performance jitters. Take the following tips into consideration.

1. Choose the right song. Easier said than done, isn’t it? But this choice is of paramount importance. Consider the venue and its acoustics, and be sure to choose a song that showcases your entire vocal range, as well as your style, personality, and stage presence.

2. Get coached. It’s not always about hitting every note with perfection. It’s about making a connection with your listeners. If you can afford it, a professional voice coach can and will help you with everything from consistency to allowing your emotions to come out while you sing to stretching your range. If you can’t work with a professional, seek out people singing a cappella at your school or in your community and ask for their honest opinion of what you’re bringing to your audition.

3. Consciously decide how you are going to stand out above the rest. Competition is tough, but you already know this. You need to be true to yourself and let your best self make a mark. Is it going to be that one note that completely blows them away? Is it going to be the one dramatic moment that isn't under or overdone?

If you’re singing in a group, the chemistry between all of you is extremely important. The people evaluating your audition are looking for that, almost as much as they are looking for voice and talent.

4. Be prepared to answer some questions before you start to sing. This is actually done as a favor to you, in hopes that you'll get your breathing regulated and become comfortable in the environment.

By all means, be sure to check out your own online reputation before sharing your social media links. You never know whether the group you hope to be a part of may be scouting you online.

5. Pitch pipes are fine. If you're not comfortable with that idea, do a little homework before the audition to see if a piano will be available for you to just strike the one note. If both of these options fall short for you, the back-up plan is to quietly, or even in your head, hit the highest note of the song. It's entirely rare to have a perfect pitch; your judges will know this and won’t be bothered at all by the need to check your pitch.

6. Morning, noon, and night: practice. There’s no fall-back. You have to be ready for the unexpected, and if you’re seasoned and confident with your choice of songs, you’ll be in a better position to handle the stress of something going a bit wrong during the performance.

7. Quiet your head. A few minutes before you walk into your audition, find a quiet space, and focus on your breathing. Shut the entire world out. Become quiet. Just be. Get centered. And get ready to nail it.

8. Picking an audition piece. Know the group’s repertoire and pick something that complements the group’s identity, or pushes boundaries in a way that won’t offend the existing members’ sensibilities.

You should also pick a song you know very well because, let's face it: you're going to be nervous. Let it show off one or two big notes in your voice, but beyond those big moments, take care to show them you're nimble around phrasing and volume. That kind of self-editing shows that you put musicality before your own spotlight.

9. Stay loose! You’ll be much more engaging to watch if you're relaxed and loose. Be yourself. Do what you love to do. And show that you're truly enjoying yourself. That alone will make you appear confident and comfortable, and that’s what they are looking for.

10. Do your homework. Who is evaluating your audition? What are their backgrounds? Is it a completely blind audition? If not, it’s your job to find out what they’ve done, what their style is, what they are looking for -- and ultimately what it’s going to take to impress them.

Cliché or not, focus on enjoying yourself. When you do, they will, too. Get out there, own it, and break a leg!

A Cappella Albums You Must Have In Your Collection

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Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer, business owner and music enthusiast. Living in Southern California provides her with several opportunities to discover, see and hear new music from all kinds of genres. Follow her on Facebook> and Twitter today!

When it comes to music, no genre can really compare with the excitement and joy that a great a cappella group can bring us. A cappella is so much fun to listen to, as you can really hear the tone and ability of each of the singers' voices in the group, therefore, it is only natural that the more albums you can listen to, the better.

However, no matter how many albums our collections are comprised of, we’ll always find room for one or two more. Many albums out there are absolutely essential to complete an a cappella fan’s collection. Here, we share a list of those albums that any true fan should own.

1) No Frills by The Persuasions
This soulful album is amazingly well done, and some have said that it was the group's best ever. First released in 1984, this album includes a medley of “Under the Boardwalk” and “Sand in My Shoes.”

It has been called nostalgic, as it seems to take a look at the past and what The Persuasions have done before. This album is a great addition to any collection.

2) Say You Love Me by Vox One
Surprisingly enough, this album was actually first released in Japan! Seven of the songs on here were never released in the United States, which makes it even more appealing for American fans to own.

Vox one has won many awards for their unique style of music, setting them apart from all other a cappella groups.

3) The Sing Series

Even for those who are not as in tune, shall we say, with a cappella and its many facets, you can still have a deep enjoyment for this particular album. Within this series, the goal was to give artists the chance to grow their talent and be heard by a much bigger audience than ever before.

Up-and-coming a cappella artists get to share an album with more well-known artists, which is always exciting and allows for greater publicity. The Sing albums are quite fun and exciting to listen to!

4) The Women Gather by Sweet Honey in the Rock

Sweet Honey in the Rock is different from any other a cappella group out there. Each song is a story, drawing its listeners in and making them want to stay to hear the end. Many of their songs have been written and themed after the Civil Rights Movement, and the women truly showcase their talent in each and every song.

This particular album is their 30th anniversary album, making it extra special. The material is new and refreshing for listeners.

5) Watch Me Fly by Talisman A Cappella

Talisman A Cappella has been called “one of the most significant a cappella groups to come” (Sherry Winston), and this is evident on their album Watch Me Fly. They say that they wanted this album to be one that everyone could relate to, and they certainly surpass this goal, as evidenced by the amount of people who purchased this album.

Watch Me Fly takes its listeners on a journey through the struggles of life, some that we may overcome and others in which the outcome is unknown. It is a classic in any collection.

These albums span a wide variety of talents, subjects and emotions. They were hits when first released, and they continue to be hits today. It’s time to make your collection complete.

The Best Apps for Tracking Your Pitch

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Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer from the Los Angeles area. As the founder of Gryffin Media, her writing covers everything from marketing and the music industry to the latest in mobile technology and social media.

Want to be pitch-perfect? Nowadays, technology has made it possible to make sure your voice pitch is on point. Apps, for instance, are a great way to track your voice and pitch, and below is a list of some of those that you can choose from:

VoiceCoach

Celebrity vocal coach, Bret Manning, makes sure you stay on pitch with the VoiceCoach app. Exercises can be adjusted based on your voice type and range. This app also helps your improve your tone, technique and control to increase your range and endurance--all at your own pace.

VoiceTutor

Your own personal voice instructor at a reasonable price, VoiceTutor is a must-have for those who want to better their voice. Like a real-life voice instructor, the app first provides you with a diagnostic to determine what areas in your singing style need to be improved.

With the data gathered from the diagnostic in mind, the app goes on to provide specialized lessons for your voice. From the fundamentals of singing theory to vocal chord strengthening exercises, VoiceTutor is a valuable tool for beginning and expert singers alike.

Pitch Pipe+

Pitch Pipe+ is an application for both singers and those who want to tune instruments. Some useful features include chromatic pitch pipes, of which you can choose between C-C and F-F pipes. It also enables you to playback six octaves worth of pitches. The guitar tuner view is helpful if you want to tune to Standard, Dropped D, DADGAD, Open D, Open G or Open A.

Do Re Mi Ear Training

Having the ability to hear notes correctly is essential to singing in pitch. Do Re Mi Ear Training, the portable Solfège app, is an advantageous resource for pitch recognition, interval training and an overall understanding of music theory. The app also provides a plethora of exercises and customizable settings.

Singer’s Friend

Another app for helping to properly warm up and develop your voice is Singer’s Friend. You can tweak settings based on your range, allowing you to choose from 15 distinct scale patterns. Proper voice exercises are important for improving technique and staying on pitch.

Sing Harmonies

Want to work on your harmonies? This unique app is for you! It consists of three songs (“Lean on Me”, “Proud Mary” and “Teach Your Children”), each with four-part harmony presented by experienced singers.

The beauty of this app is that it allows you to adjust settings, such as muting certain voices, to practice harmonies by yourself or with other singers. Additional four-part harmony songs are in the works.

Vocalize

If you want to get even more serious with developing and tracking your voice and pitch, Vocalize is the most comprehensive app (and most expensive of these featured apps) for vocal training. Along with numerous other features, this app provides advice on topics such as songwriting and interviews from professionals, such as ENT (ears, nose, and throat) doctors.

Along with using these apps, it would be beneficial to use aromatherapy as a means of preserving and soothing your voice. For instance, a vaporizer with aromatherapy leaves would be great to use during vocal exercises. Caring for your voice in this way as well as with any of these apps will ensure you keep your pipes in tip-top shape.

How Important Is Wardrobe for Competition

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Sarah Boisvert is a writer who covers a variety of topics including business, offices, and how to liquidate office furniture. She is a pianist and singer and has particular interest in musical theatre and jazz.

A music performance should be an auditory contest. But we do not listen to music with our eyes closed at competitions. Since we see the performers as part of the show, it makes sense for the participants to consider visual impact as part of the competition.

Music is an expressive art form that conveys emotion or tells a story, and wardrobe is an essential part of that story. Bess singing Gershwin’s “I Loves You, Porky” from Porky and Bess in a religious habit would not fit with the lyrics, “if you can keep me, I wants to stay here.”

Whether a soloist or a group, wardrobe can help sell a song to the audience. Of course, a cappella groups should follow a few guidelines.

Reflect the Music’s Message
As mentioned before, choose costumes that convey the message of your repertoire. Try not to clash with the overall theme.

If you’re singing a set of all-American tunes by George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers, then red, white, and blue is a nice color scheme.

While each song may be unique, group the overall concepts into two groups, as there is usually time for a costume change. Perhaps try a fun, upbeat section in bright colors, followed by a sophisticated finale in black and white formal attire.

Don’t Go Too Far
Yes, it’s important to tie wardrobe into the theme, but don’t get carried away. Tasteful red, white, and blue colors suggest American music – hint, hint. While red sequined tops with matching blue and white hats scream tacky. Enhance the music; don’t take away from it!

Sex Sells – or NOT!
The advertising adage “sex sells” may be true in some circumstances, but not in an a cappella competition. Music judges watch American Idol and all the other TV reality shows, and have by now seen it all. Literally. But you don’t know their personal feelings about dress or their religious beliefs. So it’s better to play it safe. A girl can never go wrong with tasteful clothing. Again, something that merely suggests sexy is more provocative than being naked.

In this day and age of musical spectaculars, it’s easy to get pulled into thinking sets and costumes are all important. And yes, they do help convey the message of a song. But first and foremost, let the music come through and speak, for it is the universal language.

The Influence of A Cappella
Top 10 A Cappella Records From The 20th Century
10 Tips for Nailing Your A Cappella Audition
A Cappella Albums You Must Have In Your Collection
The Best Apps for Tracking Your Pitch
How Important Is Wardrobe for Competition
10 Pointers for Choosing the Best Songs for Your Group
Why do British groups travel to America?
10 Tips for Staying Safe and Secure When Traveling for Competitions
Could Your Group's Reputation Hurt Your Chances of Winning?
7 Tips for Booking Out-of-Town Competitions
Combining A Cappella and Flash Mobs
8 Unique Ways to Raise Money for Your A Cappella Group
5 College A Cappella Performances that Rock
A cappella and the Importance of Finding an Artistic Community in College
College A Cappella Groups Are Increasingly in Popularity
Food and Nutrition for A Cappella
5 Tips on How to Succeed at a College A Cappella Audition
Making the Case for A cappella and Bobby McFerrin
Sweet Serenade: A Rehearsal with The Buffalo Chips
ACB Review: Awaken A Cappella's Cee Lo Green Cover
Ten Things I’m Sick Of Seeing In Collegiate A Cappella
The ICCA Finals Through the Eyes of a Competitor
A Case for the ICCA