Carl Taylor is the co-founder and co-owner of Liquid 5th. He was kind enough to speak with The A Cappella Blog in September 2012. Other members of Liquid 5th team shared additional input.
In 2005, a group of young men decide to start their own company dedicated to working with a cappella groups in the studio and on the stage. “We had all sung in a cappella groups in college, and had gone through CD production processes and live concerts alike with lackluster results,” recalled Liquid 5th co-founder Carl Taylor. He specifically recalled his group, Appalachian State Higher Ground working with a recording studio in Washington DC in a terribly expensive endeavor, which resulted in a CD of disappointing quality. “[Liquid 5th] started with a vision of providing better services for the a cappella community.” Taylor said.
The Live Sound
And so, Taylor et.al. started their new company. On the live end, the fledgling company capitalized on existing connections. The group worked with college groups to experiment and establish a new sound for a cappella, often working for free. “We relied on groups that we were friends with to let us come into their concerts and fumble around and try to get things to work,” Taylor said. “Sometimes things were… okay, and sometimes they were a complete train wreck. It was a lot of troubleshooting problems as they arose, but in the end we found a combination that has proven to be very effective for all of the groups we have worked with.” The result of this experimentation was a distinct, new sound for a cappella.
“I feel very comfortable now going in working with any sound system to get it to a point where the audience will enjoy the show … the audience really only notices you when you’re doing a bad job. We’re there to enable a group to give a better performance. If they feel more confident, more excited by how they sound, then they’ll sound better and audiences will enjoy it more.”
The company was fortunate when Taylor was charged with the position of technical director for SoJam. “It was such an eye opener and an opportunity to be exposed to so many different groups all in the same place,” Taylor said, “working with college and professional groups in that venue, seeing what different groups were doing and what the sound could be like when the tech was done right, what vocal percussion could and should sound like and what really good live a cappella is supposed to be, was inspiring.”
Before long, Liquid 5th formed a partnership with the University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers. “[The Ramblers] were a pivotal group on the live front for us because they were eager to experiment and develop a sound that was unique for them,” Taylor said. After observing professional groups like The House Jacks, Taylor had observed the powerful sound that emerged when each singer in a group had his or her own microphone. “We wanted to translate that same sound and impact into the world of collegiate a cappella and so did the Ramblers. It’s tougher with the collegiate groups. There are more voices, more going on, more too hear, so finding the right bend was more challenging, but once we got there the result was a much more kicking, rock-a-cappella concert sound.” The experience of working with The Ramblers helped Liquid 5th develop inroads in New York, and Liquid 5th still provides live sound service for groups all over the East Coast.
Of course, live sound was only half of the formula for Liquid 5th as they also placed an emphasis on their recording services. “Early on we were recording groups all in one space together and overdubbing percussion and solos, but we quickly found that while we were able to do this cheaper than the studios our own groups worked in the quality was not much better. We started recording everyone individually, and we certainly weren’t the only ones,” Taylor said. “That change alone allowed us to do so much more. Being able to tune and align tracks, totally separate sounds from one another in the mix, made all the difference in achieving the results that we wanted.” From there, Liquid 5th went on a recording tour, going to areas with high concentrations of a cappella groups and offering great deals in order to establish further contacts and show groups what they were able to do, without the financial commitment to travel to the company’s home base in North Carolina. “We just wanted to get out there and do as much work as we could and grow as a company, as musicians, and as engineers.”
Liquid 5th has retained many of the principles of its early recording work. While Taylor and current co-owner Chris Juengel, as well as engineer Eric Scholz work for the company full-time, most of the staff works remotely from a range of locations. “We all love to do the work and help Liquid 5th meet the needs of a cappella groups no matter where they are,” Taylor said, and went on to note that having individuals in different locales ultimately made Liquid 5th’s recording services more affordable for clients, as neither engineers nor groups need to travel far to collaborate.
Though Taylor now has nearly a decade of experience in the field, he maintains the importance of making sure the group being recorded has its voice heard. “And not just their physical voices,” Taylor clarified, “but that their creative desires are captured. We won’t say to a group that, because we are the professionals, they should surrender creative control to us—it’s just not our personality and we think the process is more rewarding when they get to collaborate with us. Ideas flow back and forth and this process makes the final product is even better.” Taylor went on to note, “For some a cappella musician’s this is the only time they’ll be on an album or in a studio, or have a chance to show what they accomplished when they were singing in college; it’s important for them to enjoy the process of getting there.”
Engineer Josh Heilbronner, who has worked on projects like Jim Diego’s The Whitney Project, echoed many of Taylor’s sentiments about recording groups. “From the very beginning, I think that Liquid 5th has always been about fostering a sense of family, healthy singing, and the importance of working with and listening to clients,” Heilbronner said.
Liquid 5th co-owner Chris Juengel further echoed these sentiments. “We want people to know that Liquid 5th wants to give our clients exactly what they are looking for,” Juengel said. “Whatever that may be … we help to lift them up in any way we can.”
A New Perspective
As the Liquid 5th team has expanded, so have roles within it. While Taylor and Juengel handled most of the social media work for the group for an extended period of time, they have since brought in Josh Chopak to work primarily in a public relations role. Chopak recalled meeting Taylor when he was a part of The Town Criers, a group that competed at the International Championship of High School A Cappella Finals. Since joining the team, Chopak explained, “I've turned into a sort of handyman for the company, doing fun but sometimes miscellaneous jobs that need to be done. But what was a nice result of a long series of conversations was that I would not just run the social media, but essentially oversee all of our PR and marketing, which would include traveling to festivals around the country and networking with the community.”
As Liquid 5th has grown they’ve had to add to their engineering staff as well. The most recent addition to the team is Eric Scholz who recently joined Liquid 5th full time. “My role varies depending on the season because I'm able to do just about anything,” Scholz said. “The majority of my time is spent editing and mastering, but I love to arrange, record, and mix as well. Lately, I've also enjoyed being a part of putting the new studio together and planning for the grand opening party.” Scholz went on to praise the company for being “all about growth.” He went on to explain, “Seeing groups transform and mature during a recording and/or coaching process is one of the most satisfying things I've ever experienced.”
“[Liquid 5th]keeps awards and compilations in mind as effective motivators and significant benchmarks of achievement,” Chopak said” While Liquid 5th has helped a number of groups garner awards, with regular appearances in the CARAs and on BOCA, SING, and Voices Only, Chopak went on to explain, “That said, it would be more of an exaggeration to say that garnering these recognitions is our top priority. We want what is best for our clients; we offer our expertise throughout the process, but in the end it is far more important that they are happy than whether or not we have something “shiny” to hang on the studio wall. Of course, a happy client with a handful of awards is the best of all worlds!”
Looking back on his work with Liquid 5th, lessons learned, and how the company has developed into such a consistent success in live and recorded a cappella, Taylor cited the lengthy process of the team learning its art. “Any engineer would probably tell you, it’s not just taking what one good engineer does and trying to duplicate it. I’ve sat and looked over Bill Hare’s shoulder and learned plenty of tips and tricks, but they don’t work for me the way they work for him. Everyone needs to develop their own sound,” Taylor said.
Indeed, the cornerstone of Liquid 5th is and always has been a distinct sound. The company has developed its own best practices and techniques but, perhaps more importantly, has gone a long way toward helping a generation of vocal talents discover and refine their own identities and their own voices.