<![CDATA[The A Cappella Blog]]> http://acappellablog.com/ The A Cappella Blog en Copyright 2020 2020-04-06T05:48:58-04:00 <![CDATA[Farewell From The A Cappella Blog ]]>http://acappellablog.com/open-letters/farewell-from-the-a-cappella-blog http://acappellablog.com/open-letters/farewell-from-the-a-cappella-blog

Dear Readers,

In January 2007, we launched The A Cappella Blog. A lot has happened since for this blog and, all the more so the a cappella world. The Sing-Off television series, the Pitch Perfect film series, and a little group known as Pentatonix all became things and, in so doing, made the popularity of the genre explode. The SoCal VoCals, who had never previously appeared at ICCA Finals, became a dynasty—the first group to ever win five championships. DCappella is changing the game all over again right now with their remarkable touring show.

We’re barely scratching the surface.

But the wonderful thing about running The A Cappella Blog over the last the last twelve years was attending over fifty live competitions, receiving albums from around the world in the mail (and later in our inboxes), and chronicling and critiquing a genre and a community as it grew up.

And now it’s time to step aside.

We founded The A Cappella Blog on the premise that a cappella wasn’t covered enough. What web presence a cappella did have was scattered and inconsistent, particularly relative to where it is today. Yes, there was the Recorded A Cappella Review Board which did then, and continues now to provide top-notch reviews of a cappella albums, but there weren’t many consistent, independent resources beyond that. YouTube was a fledgling thing with little in the way of archival footage. Similarly, major social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were just catching on with uneven representation from the a cappella world, and limited capacity to share video or audio. The folks at CASA and Varsity Vocals were off to a wonderful start on their web presences, laying the foundation for what they would become, but it’s difficult to both be the institution and offer media coverage that doesn’t feel institutional. So it was that we covered the scene both independently and as outsiders. Neither of us had sung in a cappella groups, and it was our greatest ambition to help the genre crossover to other would-be fans by offering a cappella exposure, and providing commentary that would be accessible to interested parties who didn’t necessarily have any more technical background than we did.

Times have changed. FloVoice is streaming events and offering wonderful opinion pieces. AcaVille Radio has broadened live event coverage via not only their site and broadcasts, but an expansive social media presence. Folks like Marc Silverberg are offering nuanced, not to mention entertaining, insights on the a cappella world in the blog format, in addition to original creative content. The Counterpoint podcast from Deke Sharon and Rob Dietz may be new but is already making waves in how we listent to and think about a cappella. And you want archival footage of a major performance? The odds are that between YouTube or a group’s social media pages, you can now find what you’re looking for.

Does The A Cappella Blog still have a place in a cappella media? We’re sure we could, and we are so appreciative of those who have continued to visit our website, even as the volume, depth, and variety of our posts have diminished in recent years. However, we are all too willing to accept that we aren’t needed anymore, and just as things have changed for a cappella, so too have they for the site’s leadership.

We founded the site as a pair of bachelors, just starting our own lives after college. Now we’re both husbands and fathers. We’ve balanced the blog with full-time work and graduate studies, and it was never easy. More so than family life preventing us carrying forward with the blog, it has compelled us to re-prioritize.

While we’ll still maintain some social media presence for the time being, this will be our final blog post for the foreseeable future. With that, we’d like to use the space of this last open letter to offer a totally non-comprehensive thanks, acknowledgment, and fond reminiscence to some of the moments, groups and people whom we’ll remember fondly from our twelve-year-plus a cappella odyssey.

To the 2005 University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers and Rutgers University Casual Harmony--you're the groups that captured our imagination and in many ways sparked the idea of traveling to report on live a cappella competitions.

To Amanda Newman, David Rabizadeh, Andrea Poole, Holli Matze, Cooper Kitching, Saqib Yasin, Courtney Jensen, Lindsay Howerton-Hastings, Sara Yood, Emily Flanders, Matt Shirer, Andrew Poole, and all of the other Varsity Vocals team members we’ve worked with over the years, and who welcomed us, offered tickets to shows, facilitated our coverage, and even afforded us opportunities to host or emcee events over the years.

Varsity Vocals

To Deke Sharon (doesn’t everyone in a cappella owe Deke Sharon an acknowledgement?), Dave Brown, Bill Hare (who let me hold his Grammy!), Michael Eldredge, Blair Baldwin, and the variety of other a cappella experts and power players who volunteered time, welcomed us to events, or literally opened their doors to us to further our website at different stages of its development. To Christopher Diaz, Rob Dietz, Bri Holland, Chris Rishel, Ted Trembinski, Ben Bram, Carl Taylor, Josh Chopak, Aaron Director, Ben Lieberman, Peter Hollens, Shams Ahmed, Mike Jankowski, Jon Smith, Jo Vinson, Dan Purcell, Noah Berg, Ryan Aiello, Jillian Kimberlin, Dave Longo, Angela Longo Ben Stevens, Tom Anderson, TeKay, Elie Landau, D.W. Routte, Lindsey McGowen, Matt Caruso, Matt Zager, Jonathan Minkoff, Sean Patrick Riley, J.D. Frizzell, Diego Aardila, and dozens of other friends and colleagues who offered their camaraderie and valuable insights into a cappella in different ways across a period of years.


To Jerry Lawson and Julie Hurwitz for offering the thrill of a phone interview, and a taste of something pure and magical when your answers to questions gave way to impromptu song stylings.

To the 2008 SoCal VoCals, who may not have been better than other SoCal VoCal championship incarnations to follow, but nonetheless left us in absolute awe of just how incredible a cappella could be early in our careers reporting on the form.

To the 2012 FSU AcaBelles whom staged Mike Chin’s favorite twelve-minute set of a cappella he’s ever experienced live. Period.

To Ben Spalding and Tom Paster, two of the friendliest people we’ve met, and some of the finest examples of the role a teacher can play in students’ lives when it comes to fostering creative ambition and excellence in performance.

To Lisa Forkish and OSA Vocal Rush who saw the potential for not only exceptional art, but activism inherent in a cappella.

To the 2013 Nor’easters who brought tears to our eyes by singing their hearts out after fighting their way to ICCA Finals in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

To Melissa Rashford and the Syracuse University Mandarins of her era, who first introduced us to ICCA, and to a cappella in earnest.

To Cut-Off A Cappella for singing at Mike Scalise’s wedding.

To the 2010-2012 Washington University Stereotypes, whose infectious energy and good will reminded us of why, in addition to being critics and bloggers, we were first and foremost a cappella fans.

To Mike Peek, who accompanied us on a number of road trips to see a cappella shows and helped promote our site live and in person.

To Will Browar, whose design expertise reinvented The A Cappella Blog time and again over the course of our run, and who quietly shot some of the best a cappella photography the world has ever seen.

Peek And Will

To Irene Droney, Stephen Hutchings, Andrea Aquino, Eric Talley, Jill Clark, Nancy Cheng,  Michael Marcus, Lo Barreiro, Gen Chawluk, and the variety of other regional coordinators, columnists, and guest writers who came and went over time.

To Nazareth College for twice affording us the opportunity to host ICCA events.

To Heather, Amy, Riley, and Maggie who gave us the time to see through our ambitions for this site as far as we wanted to.


One of the dangers of singling out people and groups who have contributed to, supported, or otherwise meant something important to this blog is that we surely omitted a bunch of people we should have acknowledged (as we may have done in some lists past, too…). Rest assured that there were no snubs intended. We sign off with love, admiration, and our greatest hope that you all keep singing wherever you are. 


Mike Chin and Mike Scalise

<![CDATA[ICCA Finals 2019]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/icca-champions http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/icca-champions

Per tradition, this final Tuesday Tubin' of the season presents the ICCA Champions. In this case, it's the NYU N'Harmonics and we share this video of them performing their set that won ICCA Finals.

<![CDATA[Legalities and Referrals]]>http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/legalities-and-referrals http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/legalities-and-referrals

In this edition, our focus is on legalities and referrals.

Here at The A Cappella Blog, we’ve accumulated our share of experience via over a decade of attending a cappella shows, listening to a cappella recordings, reading books and articles, and interviewing experts from the field. With all of that said, there are certainly limitations to our knowledge, or at least areas in which we’ll happily admit there are parties better suited to address specific topics or to actually work with you on your a cappella recordings. Thus, this edition of Recording Recommendations is far less rooted in our opinions or direct advice, and more oriented toward sending you to the right people to answer your questions.

When it comes to legalities, such as what you need to do to record someone else’s music without entering murky territory when it comes to copyrights, or what information you need to include in your liner notes, I know of no better source for a cappella-specific information than licensed attorney and a cappella aficionado Jonathan Minkoff. You can find his blog here: A Cappella 101. The site may not be updated consistently, but the information archived there is invaluable for dealing with the legal, technical aspects of recording.

When it comes to recording, producing, and mixing services, there are quite a few successful businesses in the field. The following list by no means comprehensive and I don’t mean to snub anyone, so if you know someone great who’s missing, feel free to chime in in the comments.

Bill Hare Productions (Act fast—he’s heading toward retirement!)

Vocal Company

Liquid 5th

A Cappella Productions


Plaid Productions

In addition, when you have your recording all but ready to go, and are looking for the finishing touches, I know of no more reputable or successful name in a cappella mastering than Dave Sperandio, who you find at Vocal Mastering

<![CDATA["House of Memories" and "Safe and Sound"]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/house-of-memories-and-safe-and-sound http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/house-of-memories-and-safe-and-sound

This week we present Florida State University Reverb performing Capital Cities' "Safe and Sound" and Panic! at the Disco's "House of Memories."

<![CDATA[The Evolution of ICCA]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/the-evolution-of-icca http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/the-evolution-of-icca

Reason #200: The Evolution of ICCA

Since its founding in 1996, the ICCA tournament has undergone changes.

There have been changes in scope. Even when I hopped on the a cappella bandwagon in 2005, most quarterfinals featured five-to-seven groups. Now there are about ten more quarterfinals across the tournament, and it’s rare to catch one with fewer than ten competitors.

There have been changes in exposure. Executive Director Amanda Newman tells tale of having to give out tickets on the street for early ICCA Finals shows; after the success of the Pitch Perfect film franchise, Finals now routinely sells out well in advance and at much larger venues.

There have been changes to the number of judges and judging procedures. Special recognition awards have grown more routinized. Groups are now performing with individual mics for each group member. The very name of the competition has shifted from an NCAA-based pun (the National Collegiate Championship of A Cappella, or NCCA) to its own unique, legitimate, and recognizable acronym and brand.

The bottom line: ICCA has evolved.

I’ve attended ICCA shows regularly for a decade—not as long as some, longer than many. At the end of the day, it’s remarkable to see how much this competition has advanced, as groups grow more diverse, tighter in sound, and greater in number. As audiences get larger. As more and more media outlets grow cognizant of and offer coverage to the tournament.

I don’t know what the future will hold for this unique institution, but if my experience thus far is any indication, it will keep getting better, and better, and better. 

I love it!

<![CDATA[Seven Devils and Cellophane]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/seven-devils-and-cellophane http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/seven-devils-and-cellophane

This week we present the Carnegie Mellon University Originals performing Florence and the Machine's "Seven Devils" and Sia's "Cellophane."

<![CDATA[Contemporary Songs vs. Old Songs]]>http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/contemporary-songs-vs-old-songs http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/contemporary-songs-vs-old-songs

In this edition, our focus is on whether your group should focus contemporary songs.

There are those folks in a cappella circles who cringe when they hear a group cover a song from over a decade ago. They say the song choice isn’t relevant anymore or complain that they’ve heard this song covered a dozen times already. On an oddly similar tack, there are folks who buck against groups covering current Top 40 music because those songs, too, are so quickly over-exposed.

So what’s an a cappella group to do? Stay contemporary and risk recording the same song that ten other groups release that year? Or go to older material that may have been covered before but at least isn’t in the current audience’s immediate consciousness.

When it comes to picking which songs your group will arrange, perform, and record, the core set of questions you need to ask yourselves are: Why this song? Why this group? Why now?

First and foremost, I’ve set up a false dichotomy above between well-known songs of yesteryear and well-known songs of today—in reality, many groups find the most fertile ground for their repertoires in lesser known songs by mainstream artists, or lesser known bands from whatever era.

Beyond that point, there’s the matter of thinking about how a song fits a group’s identity, and what the song will accomplish for the group. If your group is recording a medley of iconic 1980s pop songs to offset the heavy nature of the rest of the album, it makes sense to pick songs that the audience will immediately recognize, regardless of their history of being covered a cappella. But if your group aiming to come across as more cutting edge or innovative, there’s probably very little reason for you to cover Simon and Garfunkel (unless your dramatically reinterpreting the song).

But then there’s the question of why now. While we all hope that an album will survive the test of time and that listeners will revisit it for years to come, the nature of the modern music landscape is that your average listener will listen to your recording most often in the immediate aftermath of its release—then maybe stumble back upon periodically in the years to come. In any event, for most groups the aim should be to record for a contemporary audience. That doesn’t necessarily mean recording only contemporary music, but it does mean thinking about what impact a song will have on today’s audience—if a song is an older song is pleasantly nostalgic or sounds like music your parents would listen to (in a negative way), or if a new song already feels over-exposed on the radio or in a cappella circles, and if so, what you’re doing to make it distinctively your own.

Ultimately, there are few pure right or wrong decisions when it comes to picking songs for your album, but you should purposeful in considering what a song choice—its vintage and all—says about your group and accomplishes for your recording project.

<![CDATA[Yellow]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/yellow-1 http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/yellow-1

This week we present the James Madison University BluesTones performing Coldplay's "Yellow."

<![CDATA[Professional Groups Performing at Colleges]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/professional-groups-performing-at-colleges http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/professional-groups-performing-at-colleges

Reason #199: Professional Groups Performing at Colleges

Now more than ever, professional a cappella groups are plying their trade on stages across the United States and abroad. One of my favorite places to see them work their magic is on a college campus.

A cappella music offers a near ideal form of entertainment for college students—interesting and mysterious for how singers accomplish all of their effects without instruments, often funny, sometimes raunchy, and generally workable in just about any performance venue available with minimal technical set up (not to take anything away from the sound engineers who do amazing work optimizing sound, but rather to say that an “unplugged” set can work just fine for an intimate performance).

Better yet, pro groups can offer something for collegiate singers to look up to and aspire to. Not all members of college a cappella groups can or should try to make a living at a cappella post-graduation, but it’s good for them to see what pros are up to, and perhaps even have the opportunity to network with them to get a sense of what it really means to go pro.

In any event, professional a cappella groups performing at colleges have the ability to entertain, to educate, and to provide a memorable experience for everyone involved.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Red is the Rose]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/red-is-the-rose http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/red-is-the-rose

This week we present the Fordham University Ramblers performing The High Kings' "Red is the Rose."

<![CDATA[Track Order]]>http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/track-order http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/track-order

In this edition, our focus is on track order.

There comes a point—after you’ve decided what sort of identity your group is trying to project and whether or not your album is going to adhere a theme, after you’ve picked your songs, and perhaps even after you’ve recorded them when you need to think about what order your tracks will fall in on the album. In the contemporary era when so many people download individual songs rather than full albums and veer toward playlists over the orders that artists and record companies produce for them, the idea of caring about track order may seem antiquated. Just the same, if you sincerely want your listeners to hear every single song you’ve recorded, you need to consider how you can compel them to do so via album layout.

This process starts with grabbing your audience’s attention. It’s no coincidence that so many albums start with one of a group’s loudest, fastest, or otherwise most energetic recordings, because groups tend to agree that the first track should use that sort of energy to excite and captivate the listener’s attention. There are alternatives to this paradigm. While it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes starting soft, or with a song that stands out for its emotional vulnerability can force your consumers to listen more closely and get invested quickly in the album without the standard up-tempo, major chords we traditionally think of on a first track.

As the album progresses, it’s worth considering how the mood of different tracks plays off the others. I don’t necessarily recommend to basic of a structure as alternating between fast and slow songs, but I will say that having significant contrast in terms of dynamics, tempo, and content between songs not only makes the listening experience more diverse, but also makes the qualities of each individual track  stand out for their sheer contrast to the music surrounding them.

It’s also worth considering flow—how one track moves to another. In my estimation, when you’re figuring out your order, there’s no substitute for doing the work—sitting down and actually listening to your tracks in succession and shuffling them like puzzle pieces until you’ve arrived at your optimal order.

Lastly, when it’s time to finish an album, it’s important to think about what you would want your last impression to be. For some listeners—particularly ones who aren’t already personally invested in your group or who don’t live in your immediate area, the last track on your album may be what most lingers in your listeners’ ears—their final sense of what your group is all about.  You want to leave them craving more, which may mean putting an especially strong song last, or a song that other finishes “big”—culminating in a dramatic moment, or showing off your best musical chops.

Track order draws a listener to consume your entire album and progression of tracks can go a long way toward making each individual track sound its best.

<![CDATA[The Return to Finals]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/the-return-to-finals http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/the-return-to-finals

Reason #198: The Return to Finals

Scholastic a cappella, not unlike scholastic sports, and other competitive mediums, face the interesting dynamic that at least once every four years or so, groups tend to face massive turnover. Graduation, shifting priorities, life changes—there are any number of contributing factors, but regardless, despite bearing the same name, the high school or college group you hear in 2012 is not the same group you’ll hear in 2016.

From 2007 to 2016, I attended every iteration of the ICCA Finals, and over half of the ICHSA Finals shows. One of the most surprising, remarkable, and impressive pieces of watching these shows across a decade was how many times the same groups arrived at the big stage.

Whether we’re talking about The SoCal VoCals winning a record five ICCA Championships, The University of Michigan G-Men making it to Finals in back-to-back-to-back years, or The Highlands Voices winning their ICHSA region six years straight, these groups demonstrated an astonishing continuity of excellence. Whether it’s maintaining institutional knowledge and practices, alumni support networks, the input of faculty advisor, or the sheer hard work and tenacity within the a cappella franchise to continually rebuild and re-attain excellence, it’s downright inspiring to see great groups remain great or return to greatness, often in new ways and with new faces over a period of years.

I love it!

<![CDATA[There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/theres-nothing-holdin-me-back-1 http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/theres-nothing-holdin-me-back-1

This week we present Clemson University Tigeroar performing Shawn Mendes's "There's Nothing Holdin' Me Back."

<![CDATA[When The Home Group Wins]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-the-home-group-wins http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-the-home-group-wins

Reason #197: When The Home Group Wins

In an age when more and more groups are competing, more and more groups also have cheering sections with them at their shows. Friends, significant others, parents, legit fans won over at a campus show—they’ll make time for a whole competition for the sake of cheering on their favorites, and they’ll even travel to do so.

Despite traveling fanships, though, it’s rare for any group to have more supporters than the “home team”—the group based out of the school where the competition is happening, or at least closer to the venue than any of the other competitors.

You can claim that this dynamic gives the home team the advantage, on account of more crowd support, besides not having to travel, navigate an unfamiliar city, or perform on an unfamiliar stage—these advantages are for another time and place. For this post, I’m focusing on the joy of a group winning a competition in front of its supporters.

It’s the explosion of cheers when it happens. The wave of hugs and high fives after the encore. The palpable excitement in the room, for the sensation that not just the group, but the local community is moving up in the world.

Over the past twelve years, I’ve traveled to a lot of a cappella competitions. I may not always agree that the home group should have won, and I may have even come in rooting for someone else, but there’s nonetheless something about getting swept up in the excitement of a hometown crowd, celebrating its success.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Making a Life in A Cappella]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/making-a-life-in-a-cappella http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/making-a-life-in-a-cappella

Reason #196: Making a Life in A Cappella

Conventional wisdom would suggest that you don’t sing a cappella to make a living. Traditionally speaking, I would argue that the overwhelming majority of a cappella singers have no aspirations beyond success in the ICCAs or CARAs with their college group before they move on, and maybe come back to sing at an alumni weekend reunion show here and there.

But over time, the situation has changed.

So many of us recognize Deke Sharon as the “godfather” of contemporary a cappella, who straight up started or at least contributed to the founding of such institutions as the Contemporary A Cappella Society, Varsity Vocals, and Camp A Cappella, in addition to being a player for the Pitch Perfect franchise, different iterations of The Sing-Off (in the United States and abroad), and dozens of other aca-projects. All that, and he has starred on stage with the wildly talented House Jacks.

Sharon is an exemplar for what it means to make a life in a cappella—building a dedicated career in which few people rival his expertise, you can tell he loves what he’s doing, and by all indications he’s actually making a living in the field. And there are others. Amanda Newman owning and operating Varsity Vocals. The good people at organizations like The Vocal Company and Liquid 5th, making their livelihood recording, mixing, mastering in the studio, not to mention doing live sound work and offering other services to a cappella groups. All of this and I’m not even getting into the increasing number of musicians who actually make a living as a cappella performers.

But whether an individual pays the bills off of a cappella-based money, or simply stays invested in the a cappella world without making a dime, today, we’re seeing more and more people build lives in which a cappella isn’t a memory, but rather an active part of what they do. A cappella isn’t just for kids, and it isn’t a dead end. For more and more people, it’s a way of life.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Are You Gonna Be My Girl?]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/are-you-gonna-be-my-girl http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/are-you-gonna-be-my-girl

This week we present University of Oregon Divisi performing Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl."

<![CDATA[Coming To A Cappella From Unexpected Places]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/coming-to-a-cappella-from-unexpected-places http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/coming-to-a-cappella-from-unexpected-places

Reason #195: Coming To A Cappella From Unexpected Places

Increasingly, there are stories of successful practitioners of the a cappella form who first heard a cappella as a child and got hooked, or who were part of their high school or even middle school a cappella groups and stuck with it straight through.

It’s not less exciting, though, to hear the stories of people who came to a cappella via less conventional or straightforward routes. It’s Bill Hare recording bands in his studio only to strike gold when the Stanford Mendicants commissioned his services, and he found his footing in what would become arguably the most legendary a cappella recording studio in the world. It’s Ben folds, who became aware of all of the collegiate a cappella groups covering his music and decided to do something about it—touring the country to record these groups for a special album, which led to him becoming the most popular judge on The Sing-Off. Heck, I count myself among these ranks, as someone who had heard a cappella groups sing a handful of times on my campus, but never thought about writing on the topic until I started dating a woman in a cappella group toward the end of my college career. That was a decade and a half ago.

One of the big selling points that I use to proselytize about a cappella to people in my own life is that it’s a form that has something for a wide audience—a diverse range of music being covered (and, increasingly, originals!), compelling stage performance, a buddying scene of reality TV shows centered on the form. And one of the great joys of meeting another a cappella enthusiast is learning about her journey into this world, because no two of them are ever quite the same.

I love it!

<![CDATA[I Miss You]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/i-miss-you-1 http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/i-miss-you-1

This week we present the University of Michigan G-Men performing Blink 182's "I Miss You."

<![CDATA[When Everyone’s Got Something Interesting To Do]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-everyones-got-something-interesting-to-do http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-everyones-got-something-interesting-to-do

Reason #194: When Everyone’s Got Something Interesting To Do

We’ve all heard and seen those a cappella performances in which not everyone on stage is particularly engaged. We can hear the basses repeat the same syllables, same notes over and over for four minutes straight, only to do it again with one small variation the next song. Worse yet, we can see the boredom on singers’ faces—disengaged with music that does not challenge or interest them.

Some of this dynamic is the responsibility of the group members in the “boring” roles. As I wrote about The Highlands Voices multiple times in early to mid 2010s, champions care, and groups that consistently win competitions often stake their claims by having every single group member sing with precision, and physically emote for every step of a competition set.

Some of this dynamic does fall back to groups offering something interesting or compelling for everyone to do. Look, I get it, singing in an a cappella group is like working a job, playing on a sports team, performing in a play—not everyone gets to be the star, or at least not every time out. But when people are motivated, they tend to perform better, not to mention that if there’s something so boring or off-putting about a song that a group member struggles to stay engaged, that will probably translate to the audience being less than thrilled as well.

Great performances offer something interesting for everyone, creating a performance the group is excited to share with the world, and that the world is thus all the more excited to indulge in.

I love it!

<![CDATA[When It All Comes Together]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-it-all-comes-together http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-it-all-comes-together

Reason #193: When It All Comes Together

Too often, performances don’t come across the way we would hope they would. Someone has a bad case of nerves. The group lets the tuning or the tempo get away from them. The sound engineer has a slip, or the acoustics of the venue just aren’t conducive to a cappella music. An audience member sneezes at an inopportune time.

There are hundreds of ways in which an a cappella performance can go wrong, which is what makes it so special when everything does come together. When there are no excuses and we hear a top-notch group performing at its very best. Sure enough, this does require a team effort form booking the right venue, to the group putting in the time in rehearsal, the crowd clapping along in time when called upon. It’s rare for everything to work out, but it’s sure to be a special performance when it does. 

I love it!

<![CDATA[Havana]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/havana http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/havana

This week we present the Vanderbilt University Melodores performing Camila Cabello's "Havana."

<![CDATA[Concept Albums]]>http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/concept-albums http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/concept-albums

In this edition, our focus is on concept albums.

Not so dissimilar from the theme albums I’ve discussed previously in this column, a concept album calls for a group to record an album that navigates a theme or, more often, tells a cohesive story from end to end. From The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to Green Day’s American Idiot</i> , to My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, concept albums offer a unique spin on the recording concept such that one track can’t be listened to in isolation without losing some of the narrative thread that binds them all together. Moreover, the concept album affords a group a new layer of creativity, conceiving of a narrative and picking songs with specific designs on filling in the spaces of that tale.

Concept albums can be magnificent artistic statements, but they can also present challenges to a cappella groups. Because most a cappella groups still lean toward covers over original songs, there’s the matter of taking someone else’s music and repurposing to fit your story. In addition, there are choices to be made about not recording a song that your group performs (or could perform) really well because it doesn’t fit the story or> the story itself becoming contrived on account shifting to fit the music.

Groups that embark on concept albums should take their time. If there’s a story, and a set of songs that really leap out as the foundation for the project—say twenty-five-to-fifty percent of the album’s content—it may be worth pursuing, but without either of those fundamental pieces in place, you run the risk of the music following the concept or the concept bending to the music in inorganic ways (again, unless you’re writing original music, in which case you have a lot more leeway).

Like so many aspects of recording, when you think about producing a concept album, it’s worth considering what you have to lose and what you might have to gain. Is this a story your group needs to tell, or is it better left for a later incarnation of your group that does have that story in its blood? Think it over.

<![CDATA[When Gender Flips Work]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-gender-flips-work http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-gender-flips-work

Reason #192: When Gender Flips Work

There are those times when a group covering a song across gender lines does not do the group or the song any favors. It’s those times when guys default to borderline sexist stereotypes in behaving effeminately as they sing a song originally performed by a female artist. It’s those occasion when a female group’s tinny sound or absence of a  proper low-end may get exposed on a song by a male artist.

But then there are those special occasions when swapping the gender reveals something new. It’s groups like The mid-2000s University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers singing “When She Loved Me,” popularized by Sarah McLachlan to reveal a hitherto unseen vulnerable side of their raucous act. It’s The Ramblers’s sibling Rochester group, Vocal Point, turning Guster’s “What You Wish For” into a sweet pop melody on their album from a similar era, The Swimsuit Issue. These performances change how we see a group and how we hear a song.

<![CDATA[Gaga Medley]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/gaga-medley http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/gaga-medley

This week we present Northwestern University Purple Haze performing their Gaga Medley.

<![CDATA[High School Groups Going Old School]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/high-school-groups-going-old-school http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/high-school-groups-going-old-school

Reason #191: High School Groups Going Old School

High school groups represent the future of a cappella—youngsters learning the fundamentals of the form, in some cases learning to arrange and choreograph for themselves. While there are plenty of people who weren’t involved in high school a cappella groups who have or will go on to sing with college or even professional groups, there are an increasing number of luminaries who do get their start in their teenage years and carry those lessons through to become leaders on larger stages.

And so, there can be something particularly satisfying about hearing a high school a cappella group take on not the music of their own generation, but of the past. And I’m not only talking about standards and classics—“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” or “My Girl”—but rather forgotten gems that, when covered, honor a tradition help keep the music alive. Consider 2008 Dekalb High School Fly Check singing U2’s “MLK.” The short, soft, pensive song from the mid-1980s is powerful despite never being a radio hit, and it’s a joy to hear it reprised.

I love it!

<![CDATA[“Dream On” as performed by Casual Harmony]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/dream-on-as-performed-by-casual-harmony http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/dream-on-as-performed-by-casual-harmony

Reason #190: “Dream On” as performed by Casual Harmony

Forgive me, because I’ve recounted this anecdote before on this blog and in the pages of The A Cappella Book, but it’s an important enough moment in my development as an a cappella fan that it warrants repeating.

In 2005, I was the boyfriend of a woman in an a cappella group—that was the extent to which I was involved in the community. I traveled to watch her group handily win its ICCA quarterfinal and I thought that, for sure, no one would top them at their regional finals (as semifinals were called that year), and they’d punch their ticket for the NYC Finals like they had previously.

The regional final show, however, was stacked. I heard great group after great group, out of which my partner’s group ended up toward the upper-middle of the pack, but did not place.

 This was the night when I saw so much of what a cappella could be, in a wide range of well-executed covers that physically spanned the auditorium, and song selections that spanned languages and cultures.

Out of all of these performances, I remember Casual Harmony the best.

After forming less than a year earlier, and then having to win its way through that afternoon’s semifinals (in a unique tournament structure for that year), the group left everything on the stage, capped with a cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”

“Dream On” turned out to be not only technically quite good and sold well from a visual perspective, but also aurally captured an unreal level of emotion, sincerity, and intensity from the whole group, and particularly the soloist. It’s the kind of performance that commanded the full audience’s attention and that inspired cheering midway through. Moreover, it was a moment of perfect synergy between performers and song selection, a group of passionate, hardworking guys putting their all into a song about dreams, meaning every syllable of the dream until your dreams true lyrics.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Gimme All Your Love]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/gimme-all-your-love http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/gimme-all-your-love

This week we present New York University APC Rhythm performing Alabama Shakes's "Gimme All Your Love."

<![CDATA[Music Videos]]>http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/music-videos http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/music-videos

In this edition, our focus is on music videos.

Over the past decade, something interesting has happened in the realm of music videos. Videos have arguably grown less and less prominent in mainstream music. Stations like MTV and VH1 don’t emphasize the form anymore, and iPods and smartphones have provided a ubiquity to music that has removed some of the pleasure of simply watching and listening to a music video.

Just the same, in the a cappella world, we’ve seen videos on the rise.

Whether it’s Peter Hollens staging elaborate fantasy scenes, Pentatonix using makeup, costuming, and jump cuts to blow our collective minds, or any of the dozens, if not hundreds of college a cappella groups that have hopped to creating their own videos, the medium has exploded in not just quantity but quality.

Why the change? Ease of access is one of the most obvious answers, with digital cameras that are more affordable, and now that such a large proportion of the population has smart phones with built in video cameras (not to mention the fact that my iPhone 6 came with iMovie preloaded). YouTube has also offered up a platform for the release of videos—while some would-be major artists may have had their music videos pushed the margins by the bevy of original content uploaded each day by everyday people, a cappella has thrived on YouTube, with recordings of live performances getting a ton of play, and now a cappella music videos offering something quirky and different from poorly lit film of cats falling off of kitchen counters.

But how can an a cappella group make the most  of the video craze, and contribute meaningful work of their own?

Some of it comes down to taking advantage of the medium. Music videos are inherently visual, and built to complement music. Groups are best served to take advantage of this medium by doing something different and ideally more> than they perform live on stage. This may include splicing in footage that tells a story, or using compelling camera angles to sell the very best of the group’s movements and facials. It might mean recording in unconventional locations. Think about dance, about lighting, and about what kind images can evoke and enhance the sensations of the music are all steps in the right direction. In whichever case, the music video is generally best suited to do something intentional; simply filming a live performance or splicing in random footage of your group hanging out will rarely capture the audience’s attention and draw new listeners to your work.

In addition to the more creative elements of a music video, there are also technical factors to consider. Camera and editing technology has grown more accessible over the years which is great—on the flip side, because the fundamental tools are in so many people’s hands, the level of scrutiny about people’s work in the realm of videos has gone way up. While the group and its leadership should determine the overarching creative direction of a video to ensure that it matches the group’s identity, image, and aesthetic, I heartily recommend that the more technical aspects of direction, filming, compiling, and editing go into the hands of your group (or group community)’s resident filmmaker—and you don’t have one, I recommend seeking one out within your local community or social networks. Nowadays, so many schools have some level of film school, and many of the students there would love the opportunity to team up with an a cappella group to create a video that thousands of people will see.

<![CDATA[When A Show Starts On Time]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-a-show-starts-on-time http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-a-show-starts-on-time

Reason #189: When A Show Starts On Time

We live in an era of convenience. Rather than waiting for the next episode of a favorite TV show, we binge watch. Rather than driving to the record store to buy a new album, we pre-order and wait for the album to be delivered to our devices.

In such an era, there’s something magical about consuming a live performance—about preserving that piece of our cultural history when we congregate with other audience members to watch and listen to real, live human beings play basketball, stage a play, engage in a debate, or, yes, even sing a cappella.

Patience and attention spans are casualties of our culture of convenience. As such, one of the great joys of consuming an a cappella show live is those occasions when the show starts on time. Starting on time keeps a crowd from growing restless. Better yet, it shows respect for the audience’s time and, in the event of recurring audiences, helps train the audience that they’ll be rewarded for showing up and finding a seat before the advertised start of a show time.

A show that starts on time demonstrates the first maker of a professional, organized set of performers and production staff. 

I love it!

<![CDATA[Young Volcanoes]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/young-volcanoes-1 http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/young-volcanoes-1

This week we present the University of Waterloo Water Boys performing Fall Out Boy's "Young Volcanoes."