<![CDATA[The A Cappella Blog]]> http://acappellablog.com/ The A Cappella Blog en Copyright 2018 2018-10-18T06:14:48-04:00 <![CDATA[The Wall of Sound]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/the-wall-of-sound http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/the-wall-of-sound

Reason #161: The Wall of Sound

Particularly at the scholastic level, most a cappella groups feature ten or more singers. While a big group can lead to all sorts of complications when it comes to harmonizing, balance, and staging, it also opens up some unique opportunities when staging and sound converge for a spectacular moment.

Take the wall of sound. Group members storm the front of the stage, getting as close to the audience as they can, and sing their loudest, all on the same part, all in unison. The effect is an all but monolithic voice that compels every eye and every ear in attendance to the stage.

 Used gratuitously or to ill effect, the wall of sound can wear out its welcome. Used at the climax of a particularly powerful song, it’s the stuff standing ovations are made of.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Hold On, We're Going Home]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/hold-on-were-going-home http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/hold-on-were-going-home

This week we present University of Illinois No Comment performing Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home."

<![CDATA[Engaging the Audience]]>http://acappellablog.com/the-competitors-edge/engaging-the-audience http://acappellablog.com/the-competitors-edge/engaging-the-audience

In this edition, the focus is engaging the audience.

Bring the noise, bring the funk.

A too-oft-ignored reality of live a cappella performance—the audience wants to be engaged. Sure, most audience have their outspoken sources of snark, but in their heart of hearts the vast majority of people come out to shows because they want to be entertained.

Groups that thrive in competition capitalize on that desire. They take the stage with palpable energy, intensity, or verity. They take the audience for a ride. A competition is the absolute worst venue for any group to “phone in” a performance. Groups should leave everything they have on the stage to leave no doubt they made the best effort possible to engage the crowd.

Perform for them, not you.

Competitions have different target demographics. The ICCAs feature college kids, and while there’s a diverse body of judges, in my informal observation, the judges generally seem to reward performances that seem true to the group—youthful, edgy, innovative. Meanwhile, for Harmony Sweepstakes, the demographics tend to skew a bit more mature, and there’s a history of barbershop groups succeeding in the setting, meaning it’s not necessarily the optimal audience for a group to <i>attack</i> with wacky new vocal stylings.

Successful groups know their audience and perform to please their sensibilities. Moreover, they put the audience first. Groups naturally develop inside jokes, but great competitors recognize that those jokes are best left internal—in the rehearsal room, not on the performance stage when they run the risk of confusing or even alienating the crowd.

Interacting with the audience.

One of the purest approaches to engaging an audience is to get them actively participating in the performance. For example, when a group achieves something epic along the lines of a barn-burning closing number, it can be a huge advantage to lead the crowd in a clap-along to get them feeling the music and feeling like a part of the story. (On the flip side, going for a clap-along on the opening number or more than once in a set runs the risk of coming across as presumptuous, pandering, or just plain annoying).

Another way of interacting is to break the fourth wall. Mind you, not every performance space lends itself to it, but if a group can take advantage of the space available and work its way into the crowd (or start in the crowd and work their way onto the stage) it can surprise the audience, stand out, and bolster audience attachment to your act based on pure proximity.

How have you seen groups engage audiences in competition? Let us know in the comments.

<![CDATA[When Someone Nails a Stevie Wonder Solo]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-someone-nails-a-stevie-wonder-solo http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/when-someone-nails-a-stevie-wonder-solo

Reason #160: When Someone Nails a Stevie Wonder Solo

Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whether you’re even old enough to know who he is, there is one universal truth: it’s impossible to resist a Stevie Wonder vocal track.

Yes, Wonder is a one-of-a-kind talent, but beyond great vocals, there’s a certain joy to the man’s voice—an indelible connection to every word he sings that turns every listener to putty in his hands, fully tapping into every emotion he conveys.

Plenty of a cappella groups have tried to cover Wonder over the years. Oftentimes, they come up short for not being able to compare to Wonder’s sensational original sound. But in those rare instances when a particularly gifted soloist nails that vocal, it can quickly make for a transcendent performance—a callback to yesteryear and a joy to hear in the present moment. 

I love it!

<![CDATA[1-800-237-8255]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/1-800-237-8255 http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/1-800-237-8255

This week we present The Washington University Stereotypes performing Logic's "1-800-237-8255."

<![CDATA[Building a Personal Connection to a Song]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/building-a-personal-connection-to-a-song http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/building-a-personal-connection-to-a-song

Reason #159: Building a Personal Connection to a Song

Each a cappella group has it repertoire. Most of these song lists include a few contemporary favorites, maybe a throwback number or two. Some fast songs. Some ballads.

One of the most rewarding parts of a performance can be those moments when you see a song truly transcend staging and tuning and syncopation to also be about raw emotion and personal connection to the music. Sometimes this is a result of a soloist who pitched the song in the first place because it’s a favorite song or one that person really connects with the lyrics of. Sometimes it’s a song that evolves into a group anthem—a testament to everything the group has been through together to reach that stage of performance. Sometimes it’s a member of the group very intentionally talking as a unit about what this song means to them and what they are trying to communicate as a unit.

 Regardless of how it comes about, personal connections are difficult to fabricate or simulate—it’s about authenticity and often about leaving a bit of a raw edge to overlay the polish of performance. When all of these factors come together, it more often than not results in a performance that the audience gets sucked into, each listener forging her or his own connection to the music.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Dedications]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/dedications http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/dedications

Reason #158: Dedications

Despite being a performance art, music is also a profoundly personal thing. Our tastes, the songs that resonate with us, the way in which we perform—all of these pieces are a part of our identity and how we make music uniquely our own.

While most a cappella performances are, at least superficially, intended for a broad audience, it can be a distinct pleasure when a soloist or the group’s director gets on the mic to make us aware that a performance is dedicated to someone in particular—a relative, a friend, someone they’ve lost, or someone they love. While too many dedications in a single show could risk alienating the audience, when used sparingly and earnestly, there are few things more touching than seeing a performance so clearly in tribute to a specific someone. 

I love it!

<![CDATA[Finesse]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/finesse http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/finesse

This week we present the UNC Clef Hangers performing Bruno Mars’s “Finesse.”

<![CDATA[Vocal Percussion]]>http://acappellablog.com/the-competitors-edge/vocal-percussion http://acappellablog.com/the-competitors-edge/vocal-percussion

In this edition, the focus is vocal percussion

Don’t isolate your drummer.

Call it a pet peeve, but in all my years writing this blog I’ve never understood why groups still insist on isolating their drummers. I get that a percussionist may not be able to participate in the full group choreography, but more often than not, if the movement is simple or rooted more in staging transitions than active motion, there’s no reason why the VPer can’t be part of the masses or at least directly beside them on one end. Isolating the drummer casts a spotlight on that performer, and more often than not, the effect seems to be unintentional—thus, more distracting than valuable.

The double-edged sword of the drum solo.

If your group features a truly exceptional beatboxer, there is value in giving that person room to operate as a featured performer in a full-on drum solo. The effect can help differentiate a group and make them more memorable. Just the same, time management is important—a lengthy drum solo risks putting your group in a time crunch. Moreover, while an impressive beatboxing performance can entertain the crowd, if it runs more than ten seconds or so, it risks boring the audience, or feeling like you’re just killing time to the judges, rather than the doing something more musical.

The other consideration in deciding whether to include a drum solo is whether your drummer is, frankly, good enough to justify that level of attention. Vocal percussion isn’t easy, but by the time you’re reaching the competition stage there’s a good chance that most, if not all, groups are bringing along competent percussionists. Thus, the questions is whether your drummer has a unique enough skillset and polished enough talents to truly stand out—not to mention whether a drum solo fits your song selections and the identity you’re projecting via your set.

How have you seen vocal percussion contribute to or take away from a competition set? Let us know in the comments section.

<![CDATA[Subtle Movement]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/subtle-movement http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/subtle-movement

Reason #157: Subtle Movement

In the mid-2000s, as a cappella groups really proliferated and competitions grew stiffer, we also observed a steep increase in the amount and intensity of choreography that groups put into their performances, from synchronized dance moves to full-on acrobatics. Some of this choreography was on the money and really enhanced the music around of it. A lot of it, however, felt inorganic and gratuitous—made all the worse when a lot of it wasn’t particularly well executed.

Believe it or not, I’m not here to poke fun at groups whose choreography has flopped. Singing well as a group is hard enough, and adding complex staging raises the bar. I admire the ambition of it.

Truly great staging is about more than impressive athletic feats and coordination, though. It’s about furthering the story, the mood, or the message of a song. To oversimplify, the ideal visual presentation isn’t so much about staging an irresistible visual as it is honing the audience’s attention to make sure they’re listening to the performance.

Some of the very best examples of this dynamic are groups that focus not on hand jives and box steps, but rather on subtle looks, or repositioning the group across the stage for different legs of a song. While there is a place for more explosive movement at strategic moments, careful small gestures go a long way toward keeping the visual presentation interesting and diversifying it, without distracting the audience from the music, or the group itself from nailing its vocals.

I love it!

<![CDATA[You'll Be in My Heart]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/youll-be-in-my-heart http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/youll-be-in-my-heart

This week we present Brigham Young University Noteworthy performing Phil Collins’s “You’ll Be in My Heart.”

<![CDATA[Adapting to the Audience]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/adapting-to-the-audience http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/adapting-to-the-audience

Reason #156: Adapting to the Audience

Be it in the a cappella world or other walks of life, we’ve all had the experience of seeing a performer miss the mark when it comes to her or his audience. Whether it’s the stand-up comedian that tells dated jokes on a college campus, or the aging rock star who insists on focusing a concert on new material over the old hits the audience clearly came to hear, there are some performers who don’t seem to pay any mind to the actual the audience they’re playing for.

It can be a joy to see a great a cappella group subvert expectations and adapt material to be the optimal fit for the audience at hand. This might include singing the “radio edit” version at an ICCA competition or family weekend performance where the kids and parents in audience call for a family friendly show. On the flip side, it might mean getting raunchier and playing up the edgier material for a late-night campus show.

Groups that adapt to the audience—making an effort to ensure everyone is safe, comfortable, and having fun—have the opportunity provide a great performance without caveats or strings attached, for which no one leaves the auditorium shaking her head in disapproval, and with all of that, allow the music to be the focal point of the performance.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Adapting To The Environment]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/adapting-to-the-environment http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/adapting-to-the-environment

Reason #155: Adapting To The Environment

It’s a reality for any artist who travels to perform live: you will encounter different stages, different auditoriums, different audiences. While it’s an easy choice (and, in some cases, the only choice) to maintain your act as originally planned and make it work within the space permitted, it can be all the more impressive to see a group demonstrate the adaptability, improvisational talent, or sheer research to come prepared to do something different with a different performance space.

One of my favorite examples of this is groups breaking the fourth wall and entering the audience—it can be a risky proposition with consideration to the house lighting and how sound is set up, but if the stars align, breaking free from a small stage and literally engaging with the audience can be a spectacular way of drawing the audience into the energy of a performance and making them feel like a part of the act.

I love it!

<![CDATA[From Eden]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/from-eden http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/from-eden

This week we present Stanford University Mixed Company performing Hozier’s “From Eden.”

<![CDATA[Song Selection]]>http://acappellablog.com/the-competitors-edge/song-selection http://acappellablog.com/the-competitors-edge/song-selection

In this edition, the focus is on song selection.

Forge an identity.

The songs a group sings go a long way toward defining a group’s identity for the night of a competition. While there’s certainly an argument that some identities are a better fit for competition than others, I maintain that some identity is better than no identity. Groups benefit from selecting a style of performance and, inevitably some songs will fit more comfortably in their wheelhouse than others—or they’ll reinvent songs in clever ways to make them fit.

Consider the example of The NYU N’Harmonics in 2014. Their set, featured songs by Laura Mvula (an up and coming British soul singer), The Dirty Projectors (an NYC indie rock band, and a Yes song that was a forgotten single from the early 1970s. No group sounded like The N’Harmonics, weaving a sense of counter culture and chic for a totally distinctive identity via song selection.

Be distinctive.

No two groups sing the same songs at competition.

Let me rephrase that: no two groups should bring the same songs to competition, outside the rare and impossible to foresee coincidence.

There are top 40 songs out there that everyone who goes to an a cappella competition expects to hear covered. And then there are songs no one expects to hear.

A golden oldie reinvented. A deep cut from a major artist. A song off an indie label. For every group out there, there are thousands of songs they could potentially perform, and unless you’re a group of the caliber of Pitch Slapped or The SoCal VoCals, you’re taking a real gamble if you just assume that you’re going to sing a mainstream hit better than any other group that happens to bring it to the same competition. Making unique decisions when it comes to song selection makes your group more memorable and avoids the possibility of unfavorable comparisons

Show your range, but think about flow.

While a cohesive identity and style are worthy goals for any competing group, it’s also worth thinking about how the group will show its range—that the group isn’t just fun, just emo, or any other one-note dimension of music, but rather can excel in different genres and by different means. A group that goes high octane all the way may be a crowd favorite, but just as easily leave the judges wondering if they didn’t have the chops to pull off a ballad.

While a group considers range, it must also evaluate how it will switch between different gears in a way that eases the audience in, or uses abrupt shifts for a purposeful dramatic effect. See the previous edition of The Competitor’s Edge on transitions for more on that topic.

How have you seen song selection make or break a competition set? Let us know in the comments section.

<![CDATA[Embedded Solos ]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/embedded-solos http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/embedded-solos

Reason #154: Embedded Solos

Offering individual singers short solos within a larger piece is nothing new to the world of choral music, but in the contemporary a cappella world, in which the default set up is to have one soloist with the rest of the group providing the instrumentation, harmonies, and backup, it can be particularly refreshing to hear additional soloists rise from the mix for just a few short moments to offer the song a different texture—to make the narrative of the performance feel more like a dialogue or as though the story is traveling through time or space.

This is a dynamic that I felt Pentatonix nailed, particularly on their Sing-Off run, when Scott Hoying handled most of the solos, but Mitch Grassi would chime in periodically with his sterling tenor to offer the song just a hint of a different flavor. Pentatonix is far from the only group using this device, though, with countless others weaving in additional leads to spice up their sound at key moments. Just one such example appears below—the 2007 36 Madison Avenue group out of Drew University on Seal’s “Future Love Paradise,” in which the song culminates with plenty of guys getting their shot on the lead.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Waiting on the World to Change]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/waiting-on-the-world-to-change http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/waiting-on-the-world-to-change

This week we present Centerville High School Forte, featuring Matt Bloyd, performing John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.”

<![CDATA[Personal Style ]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/personal-style http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/personal-style

Reason #153: Personal Style

With thousands of a cappella groups plying their trade today, it can be tough to stand out. Being good, being innovative, and being entertaining are all well and good, but one of the most surefire ways for a group to really stand out, and one of the great joys for an a cappella spectator is to see a group with its own clear, distinctive style. 

Whether it’s bass heavy intensity of The Northeastern University Nor’easters; the horror a cappella stylings of University of Maryland Faux Paz; the raw intensity of The Florida State AcaBelles; the accessible pop sound of Baylor University VirtuOSO; or the breathy, off-beat, intrinsically bohemian sound of The NYU N’Harmonics, some of the very best and most memorable groups singing in the last decade have anchored their identity around a unique aesthetic.

 Yes, some groups do thrive via their range, but groups that can cultivate their own personal style hold a special place for honing in on their spots as can’t-miss acts that can’t be duplicated.

I love it!

<![CDATA[The Robot]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/the-robot http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/the-robot

Reason #152: The Robot

When it comes to over-the-top, cheesy dance moves, we’ve all seen The Sprinkler, The Shopping Cart, or The Running Man. All these moves pale in comparison, however, to the most immediately recognizable, oft-used, and sure to amuse Robot.

The Robot fits a cappella well.
Each are forms of entertainment that are superficially nerdy and that folks
might feel a little self-conscious about performing. When performed well, each
are infectiously fun.

More than comic relief, though,
as groups have made advances in aca-choreography, we’ve more often seen the
deathly serious robot—movements woven into otherwise more austere and
complicated motions, or infused into songs to enhance a moment of slowing the
tempo or switching to a more electronic style.

The Robot isn’t for everyone, or
every performance, but when applied adeptly it can offer up one of the most
amusing, impressive, or otherwise entertaining moments in an a cappella

I love it!

<![CDATA[Tears]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/tears http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/tears

This week we present Chelmsford High School’s Crescendos performing Clean Bandit’s “Tears.”

<![CDATA[Attention]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/attention http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/attention

Per tradition, in this final edition of Tuesday Tubin' for our 2017-2018 publication season, we present the reigning ICCA Champions. It's the University of Southern California SoCal VoCals performing Charie Puth's "Attention."

<![CDATA[On The Rocks, Sunset Blush]]>http://acappellablog.com/cd-reviews/on-the-rocks-sunset-blush http://acappellablog.com/cd-reviews/on-the-rocks-sunset-blush

There are all-male collegiate a cappella groups, and then there’s the all-male collegiate a cappella group. I don’t mean to put the University of Oregon’s On The Rocks on too high of a pedestal, nor do I mean to diminish the accomplishments of the many great all-male collegiate a cappella groups doing amazing things out there in the world. However, if you’re looking for an archetype of what this specific type of group is like, or perhaps should aspire to be like in 2018, I think we’ve got our platonic ideal right here.

On The Rocks Sunset Blush Front Extended

Some context. On the Rocks made one of the definitive viral videos of a cappella in 2008, with their cover of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” They owned their identity as a prime example of what men’s college group looks like in representing their community on The Sing-Off in 2010. If these steps weren’t enough, 2012 saw the release of Pitch Perfect. It would be easy enough to think the great aca-movie of our time utterly unrelated to On the Rocks, except for the Barden Bellas being loosely based upon Oregon’s Divisi, which would make The Treblemakers a lot like Divisi’s all-male campus counterparts, On the Rocks (to be fair, The Treblemakers are probably more fairly assessed as an amalgam of On The Rocks, The Beelzebubs, and The Hullabahoos who were featured in the source book, but these identities are intertwined in party-hard, competition-winning, aca-institution).

Thus have On The Rocks shaped the world’s understanding of all-male collegiate a cappella, and thus can we understand their new album, Sunset Blush as the group’s honors thesis, both encapsulating and pushing a quintessential sub-genre of the a cappella form through keen song selection, sound, and multiple original song tracks.

On The Rocks benefits from a ton of raw vocal talent, arrangements from no lesser luminaries than Tom Anderson and Ben Bram, and mixing by veritable legends in the field Ed Boyer and Bill Hare. In short, the group has a ton of tools at its disposal and capitalizes nicely.

But let’s talk what makes Sunset Blush such a definitive album. There are the opening tracks to start—Justin Timberlake’s “Senorita,” followed by his “That Girl” and “Pusher Love Girl.” Like Timberlake himself, the guys ooze sensuality and charm, doing a brilliant job of translating live a cappella charisma and showmanship into a purely audio, studio format.

From there, it’s off to the races with Bruno Mars’s “Gorilla.” This is exactly the kind of song choice you’d expect college guys to go for, if only for the refrain of “you and me baby, making love like gorillas.” The group does one better, though with lush flourishes of sound that keep the track from being dismissed as comedy, not to mention the swank production effects to refresh the sound constantly and hook listeners over and over again.

While I could do without yet another a cappella cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” the guys offer up a sterling rendition of it, and the song choice does fit my suggestion of this album encapsulating the what groups are singing these days. Moreover, “Feeling Good” offers a fine transition to a pair of tracks written and with solos by music director Jasper Freedom—“You Lift Me Up” and “ Crown Royal”—each with a purity of sound and old school vibe that nicely encapsulate a classy, mature style .

“You Lift Me Up” and “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” each capture a key quality of today’s scholastic a cappella, too, for On The Rocks not silo-ing itself off from its campus community, but rather indulging in collaboration, first with University of Oregon Gospel Singers, then with sibling a cappella group Divisi for a particularly rich sound and fine spotlight on soloists Jordyn Brown from Divisi, and Clay Attig.

Speaking of Attig, he shines for offering both solo work and vocal percussion on a number of tracks, most notably his own original, “Embers.”

On The Rocks doesn’t shy away from in vogue tracks like “Colder Weather” and “Love on Top,” as well as a classic like Earth, Wind &Fire’s “September,” and comes across the better for straightforward, polished takes, without huge frills or surprises. Beyonce’s “Love On Top,” in particular, underscores why the On The Rocks franchise made such a smash covering Lady Gaga in the first place in 08. Sure, there were the bells and whistles of the guys going all in on comedy and dramatic interpretation, but all the more so, the group took the music seriously and demonstrated polish on an unconventional song choice for dudes. The song choice itself is the easy part; doing it legitimate justice is what distinguishes a group like this one.

I appreciated the group’s nod to Eugene, OR in the lead-in to its first track, and cover of Matt Kearney’s “Coming Home (Oregon)” for the acknowledgment of who the group is via where they’re from. It’s easy for a group of national standing to eschew these more personalized choices, but embracing them to, instead, explore the unique creative opportunities they afford is a fine choice for a group of this stature, and a step back toward more traditional collegiate style I’d love to hear more groups return to.

So it is that Sunset Blush arrives as far more than a flavor of boxed wine, but a stunning rendering of something equal parts nostalgic and forward looking—something unmistakably beautiful as it captures the present in moment in a cappella.

<![CDATA[The Great Escape]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/the-great-escape http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/the-great-escape

This week, we present the Claremont Colleges' After School Specials, performing P!nk's "The Great Escape."

<![CDATA[Front Row Seats]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/front-row-seats http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/front-row-seats

Reason #151: Front Row Seats

In the preceding edition of 200 Reasons To Love A Cappella, I referenced the pleasure of sitting in balcony seats to take in a the full picture of a performance. Little less appealing are seats in the opposite extreme—up close to the stage, or even so far as the front row.

Sitting up close at an a cappella performance affords an audience member the chance to take in every part of the performance in detail. For un-mic’ed performances, it gives the listener a chance to hear everything directly without the sound being diluted by the chatter of onlookers. And even for performances on a more formal stage, it allows a spectator to get a keener look at how the group operates—who’s giving the cues, how is the group configuring itself. Without being in the group, a spectator can’t know exactly what it’s like to be performing with them, but sitting up close offers one of the closest vicarious experiences a fan get, seeing and hearing every aspect of the performance from close proximity, and sitting close enough to really feel the energy of the performance.

I love it!

<![CDATA[R&B Medley]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/r-b-medley http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/r-b-medley

This week, we present James Madison University Note-oriety performing their R&B Medley.

<![CDATA[Balcony Seats]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/balcony-seats http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/balcony-seats

Reason #150: Balcony Seats

Conventional wisdom suggests that front row seats to a show are the best seats in the house. Others may seek out the acoustic sweet spot, often closer to the middle of the auditorium. But, particularly for a collegiate a cappella show, I’ve often found that nothing beats a good balcony seat.

As a cappella sound engineers continue to refine their craft and more groups move toward individual mic-ing, taking a balcony seat doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing sound quality. Moreover, from a visual perspective, I’ve tended to observe that a bird’s eye view affords an audience member the greatest potential to see everything that’s going on with a groups staging and choreography, which is increasingly on par with groups’ aural accomplishments. As such, good balcony seat can be one of the surest tickets to appreciating the bigger picture of an a cappella performance.


I love it!

<![CDATA[Elastic Heart]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/elastic-heart-2 http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/elastic-heart-2

This week we present the Hun School Edgertones performing Sia's "Elastic Heart."

<![CDATA[Humor]]>http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/humor http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/humor

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 humor.

Humor has its place in a cappella. After all, a form of music rooted in using your mouth simulate the sounds of instruments can't afford to take itself too seriously, especially at the scholastic or amateur levels.

Just the same, I get that people--myself included--have their reservations about humor. If a group tries to be funny and falls flat, it can come across as a particularly uncomfortable kind of failure. Moreover, comedy doesn't land with every audience, or every audience member the same way. When a group depends on inside jokes or referring to current events everyone isn't up to speed on, or old jokes that are over-exposed among a particular demographic, they run the risk of alienating the crowd. On top of all that, there's the issue of being taken seriously by others--judges, critics, and discerning audience members. It's not at all fair, but there does exist a preconceived notion that the group that plays for laughs doesn't take anything seriously--that they aren't as musically proficient (even if they, objectively, are) or that they won't care whether they take home an award.

Groups can fall into the trap of going too far for a laugh, at the expense of musicality or otherwise thinking out its recording. If a group's sole intention is to entertain, and that's the group's wheelhouse, then there's no reason to back away from it. But, troubling as it may be, groups do need to be more careful about how they deploy humor when they are seeking acclaim. This might mean only including but so much humor to ensure your overall work is perceived as professional. It may also mean thinking critically about track order--not kicking off an album with a comedy track that will set a tone you weren't aiming at; not embedding comedy between more somber and intense tracks in such a way that undercuts their impact, but rather using it as the appropriate release valve at a critical point in the album to "reset" and switch gears, or using it for a fun closing number to send your listeners home happy.

There are exceptions to all of these rules. Established acts get a lot more leeway with comedy (Pentatonix can record all the comedy they want and still be taken seriously), there are acts that have successfully made comedy a cornerstone of their careers (e.g., Mr. Tim) and there are well-crafted albums that use humor in creative ways. That said, comedy is a gamble in serious a cappella recording, and groups need to consider why and how they intend to use it before diving in.

<![CDATA[Zero to Hero]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/zero-to-hero http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/zero-to-hero

This week we present the Harmelodics performing "Zero to Hero" from Hercules.

<![CDATA[Transitions on Your Playlist]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/transitions-on-your-playlist http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/transitions-on-your-playlist

Reason #149: Transitions on Your Playlist

My first true love in music is not so much any individual artist or genre, nor the act singing or playing an instrument, but more so the act of making a mix tape.

Mix tapes gave way to CDs, which gave way to playlists. I can no more imagine what might come next than I could have prognosticated I would one day carry several hundred times the amount of music on a 90-minute audio cassette via a phone of similar size (not to mention that that phone would also serve as my camera, email client, and, well, phone—but I digress).

One of my favorite games to play in the practice of mix tape development has long been subverting expectations via an abrupt departure from the preceding song, in a way that fundamentally works. Sometimes it’s a matter of hopping genres from Top 40 to Broadway, or acoustic ballad to rock and roll, but maintaining a thematic thread. Sometimes it’s hopping time periods but preserving a melodic or rhythmic through line. Oftentimes, it’s much more arbitrary than all of that, but the sudden shift still feels just right.

There are few greater tools in this trade than a cappella which allows facilitates sticking with sort of the same genre, artist, or theme, while fundamentally shifting from conventional instrumentation to purely vocal music. Contemporary a cappella is largely about reinventing popular music through a new lens, whether it’s simple transcription into human vocals or true reinvention. As such, it allows for some wonderful, and wonderfully unexpected transitions on a playlist.

I love it!