One of the coolest parts about being an a cappella fan is getting to hear all sorts of new music through the filter of today’s a cappella groups. If groups or only singing the same old stuff, though, or sticking to the most mainstream of top 40 music, it’s easy for things to get stale and repetitive. Listening to new music helps spice things up for any group, and by extension its audiences.
Listening to music, like watching a film or reading book is, by many measures, a solitary experience. Two people will hear something different from the same song; they’ll have different gut reactions, notice different favorite pieces. And so, consider listening to music an individual homework assignment to help you, in the long run, work with your group.
Get new song ideas
The most obvious benefit of listening to lots of new music is that you’ll be exposed to new songs you could potentially cover. While most of us love hearing a good a cappella group sing our favorite songs, I’d argue that just as many fans love it when they can hear a sound that is brand new to them. By being a true student of music, you can identify innovative new pieces to help push your entire group into its next era.
Get new sounds
People who are truly immersed in a cappella can spend an inordinate amount of time speculating on how they could transform instrumentation into vocals. Consider the case of Northwestern Purple Haze singing Imogen Heap and I Fight Dragons’s “The Process”—the video game-like trill sound is 100 percent electronified. The arranger(s) behind Purple Haze’s version dared to take it on nonetheless and make the sound their own. On a similar note, take BYU Vocal Point’s version of “Meglio Stasera” that they brought to the 2011 ICCA Finals. The rhythms are challenging enough for a capable vocal percussionist—but the masterminds at BYU decided to take the song on fully, tackling vocal maracas, a vocal woodblock, and more.
More and more today, when you listen to new music, you’re opening yourself to fundamentally different instrumentation. These new sounds will allow you to truly create something new for your group.
As time marches on, more and more hit songs are covers of, include samples of, or are heavily influenced by existing classics. On one hand, this might make it seem that music is getting less original and less interesting. On the other hand, for most a cappella groups, covering and reinventing songs is the very essence of what they do. So why not drink in fully instrument-ed versions reimaginings of songs, and take the reinvention that step further with your next a cappella arrangement?