<![CDATA[The A Cappella Blog]]> http://acappellablog.com/ The A Cappella Blog en Copyright 2019 2019-04-21T14:53:41-04:00 <![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."

<![CDATA[Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/soloists-who-dont-look-like-theyre-performing http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/soloists-who-dont-look-like-theyre-performing

Reason #188: Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing

Some of the very best soloists in a cappella are those with stage presence—the ones who work the performance stage, connect with audience members, and come across as charming or as though they’re at least equally as much thespians as singers.

By contrast there are those soloists who come across as completely casual, and there’s something every bit as appealing about that dynamic. These are the soloists who sound terrific despite not making gesticulating wildly or hamming it up for anyone with a camera in the front row. They’re the soloists who could just as easily be singing in the shower as for a packed auditorium, given how at ease and mellow they sound while singing their part.

This style of performance doesn’t work for every singer or every song, but when it does, it can be refreshingly honest, simple, and compelling.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Complementary Soloists]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/complementary-soloists http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/complementary-soloists

Reason #187: Complementary Soloists

Sometimes, an individual soloist captivates the crowd, draws them into a story, and walks away as the single most memorable performer in a night of a cappella.

Sometimes, it’s a pair.

One of the most simple and effective ways of breaking up the monotony of a soloist stepping out from the group to sing with the group backing her for each song is the effect of two leads working in tandem. From an aural perspective, a pair of soloists can mix up the sound, whether they harmonize, alternate lines, or switch between verses. From a visual perspective, there can be a certain quality of performance that’s more natural with two soloists in conversation with one another, offsetting the artifice of performance when a single lead focuses his attention on the crowd.

When the right pair of soloists gel on stage, it can create a special moment in music and in performance, all the sweeter because twice as many group members are getting the spotlight for that song.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Sober]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/sober http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/sober

This week we present the University of Toronto's Tunes. Beats. Awesome. performing Lorde's "Sober."

<![CDATA[The Editing Room Floor]]>http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/the-editing-room-floor http://acappellablog.com/recording-recommendations/the-editing-room-floor

In this edition, our focus is on the editing room floor

As many readers know, I come from a more formal creative writing background than I do musical training. There’s an expression in writing I’ve heard time and again over the years, and come to embrace as my own—that sometimes you need to kill your darlings.

In writing, killing your darlings means letting go of your favorite material—an especially ornate phrasing, a stand-out scene, even a whole character that you love—in service to the larger manuscript. These moments the writer feels most attached to may also be the ones that call attention to themselves—the ones in which its clear the author is trying too hard, or being too precious with her work; or it might be that they resonate so well, so personally for the author that he’s blinded to how poorly they fit with all of the surrounding prose.

The same can be true in a cappella recording. Whether it’s your personal favorite song, a rare opportunity for a graduating senior to have had a solo, or a piece that is legitimately great but stands apart from the rest of your new album’s sound or themes, it may simply not be a track that should go on that album.

It’s hard to leave behind this sort of material that you or your groupmates may feel an emotional connection to, have worked hard on, or spent expensive studio hours recording. But in the end, you need to look out for the good of the larger project—is this track, this solo, even this aspect of an arrangement working in service of or at odds with your larger vision for the project? Killing your darlings can be a matter of objective quality, as well as a matter of <i>fit</i> for the recording at hand.

The material left on the editing room floor does not have to be erased forever, though. On the contrary, one of the benefits of the contemporary recording and social media landscape is that you can and should look for opportunities to take advantage of material you can’t otherwise use. Maybe it’s releasing the track as a free video or download in advance of your album release to stir up attention, or maybe it’s a matter of saving the track for a down period when your group is between projects but still wants to stay in your community’s collective consciousness. Maybe it’s a track you submit to very specific compilations for which it will be a better fit. Or maybe you even save it for your next album, when it will have a more natural place in the aesthetic of that project.

When it comes to recording, groups need to be ruthless about considering what is in the best interests of the album at hand. They can always find other ways to use unreleased material, and shouldn’t feel compelled to put it out in an unflattering light just because they already recorded it.

<![CDATA[“If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/if-youre-out-there-as-performed-by-the-stereotypes http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/if-youre-out-there-as-performed-by-the-stereotypes

Reason #186: “If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes

The Washington University Stereotypes are a unique a cappella group with a unique identity. Granted, I haven’t had the opportunity to catch the group live for a number of years now, but there was a period in the early 2010s when I had the pleasure of encountering them multiple times at festivals, competitions, and ultimately at the ICCA Finals. I was consistently impressed with not only their musical precision and shrewd song selection, but a sense of unbridled energy and optimism. The Stereotypes weren’t the cool guys or the brooding guys—they were guys who came across as sincere, passionate, and loving what they were doing.

The group’s performance at the 2011 Finals stands out to me most of all. The guys capped this particular set with John Legend’s “If You’re Out There”—a powerful anthem of hope, a call to action. It was a perfect song for the perfect group, taking The Stereotypes one step more serious than the crowd had seen them up to that point and transforming them from entertainers to men on a mission, and a mission not just to win a competition, but to change the world. The group sold every line of this song with the utmost authenticity and letting their emotion pour over the stage on one final march forward to hit the audience with a wall of sound.

I love it!

<![CDATA[Feel You (Remix)]]>http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/feel-you-remix http://acappellablog.com/tuesday-tubin/feel-you-remix

This week we present the Johns Hopkins University Octopodes performing Brayton Bowman's "Feel You."

<![CDATA[Fluid Transitions]]>http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/fluid-transitions http://acappellablog.com/200-reasons-to-love-a-cappella/fluid-transitions

Reason #185: Fluid Transitions

Over the last five years or so, the seamless set has become a staple in high level scholastic competition. One song bleeds into another, or one note holds out to provide a bridge. Microphones get passed subtly from one soloist to another and there’s no resetting the physical configurations on stage. No blowing the next note to prepare.

These fluid transitions have their risks in not providing groups time to settle down or really recover if something went askew earlier on in a set. Moreover, if songs don’t have a melodic or thematic link, the bridge between them can seem a little forced. Just the same, when executed nicely, the seamless set is one of the most exciting ways for a group to engage an audience with its full set—not giving them time to glance at their phones or for their minds to wander, but rather demanding attention through continuous performance, and creating not only a seamless musical performance, but a sense of narrative flow through one whole story. When done right, these transitions can be just the ticket to elevate a strong set to professional grade.

I love it!

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

Reason #184: Throwbacks

One of the great treats of hearing a student-run a cappella group (or even a post-collegiate group run by creative minds) is the degree to which these groups might eschew conventional thinking and the guidance that the establishment—a faculty advisor, or an inveterate director—might suggest. Among other things, this can lead to a group making off-beat song selections. Sometimes, that’s brand-new indie music. Sometimes, that means throwing it back.

When it comes to the competition setting, there is a legitimate argument that groups should keep their song choices, if not current, at least relevant—to have a way of making older songs their own or to pick truly forgotten gems. But in the campus of a less formal traveling or on-campus show, when the primary consideration is entertaining the crowd, there’s often times no better fit than a throwback to a decade or two before. For a college group, this is the kind of music that denotes their formative years, when they first start buying music and first start identifying personal favorites. One example: the proliferation of late-1990s boy band covers that sprouted up in the last five-to-ten years. The music of that period isn’t objectively great, but it does have a profound connection to a particular generation of people, and thus hearing these songs reincarnated, a cappella, can create a magical moment for audiences and performers alike.

I love it!