If you’re an a cappella fan who uses the Internet, the odds are good that you’ve encountered “I’ll Never Be In Pentatonix.” The lyric video surfaced on YouTube on New Year’s Day, complete with free download link, and has gone on to over fifteen-thousand views and plenty of discussion over social media.
But who is this Marc Silverberg who released video?
In a cappella circles, Silverberg is probably best known as an educator. He writes a very smart blog, with a wealth of practical advice called The Quest For The A cappella Major. He serves as the Director of Education for the Contemporary A Cappella society. All of this is in addition to working on his dissertation, geared toward, as Silverberg describes it, “creating the first four-year bachelors degree in contemporary a cappella.”
“I Will Never Be In Pentatonix” is not only musically sound and very funny—it’s also complex—more or less equal parts tribute, parody, and stellar original music. Silverberg explained, “I had wanted to create some of my own music for a while but I knew that if I didn't have a song that would appeal to the masses, the other songs would be overlooked. I got the idea shortly after Pentatonix hit number one on the Billboard chart. I knew that they were probably now the biggest rising stars of the music world, and a comedy song about them would probably go over really well. Plus I wanted to make sure I was the one leeching off their fame and popularity, as I have neither of those things.”
And so Silverberg went to work. “I listened to almost nothing but Pentatonix for a while,” he said, “trying to pick out the musical nuances that defined their ‘style.’ I also knew I wanted to quote as many of their songs as possible. Conceptualizing the song took about a month, recording and mixing took most of December. Most people are unaware of how many Pentatonix references there are in the song. Everything, from the way the background vocals were written, to the harmony, to the vocal percussion rhythms are all references to specific Pentatonix songs. Overall, I'd say there are about eight or nine references in total.”
Of course, Pentatonix was not the only influence on this particular song. Like others, on my first listen, I caught more than a whiff of Weird Al Yankovic in the recording, and was delighted when his name actually showed up late in the song. “Weird Al is my hero,” Silverberg said. “I'm not just saying that because I'm a huge fan. He is my actual hero. I grew up on Weird Al. His albums taught me how to be myself, be silly, be weird, and not care what anyone else thought about me. I often make the joke that my iPhone only has two types of music on it: a cappella records and Weird Al. (This is about 90% an actual fact.)”
Parodies aren’t all funny business, though. “Many people think writing a parody is simply about changing the lyrics of a song, but a good parody is about so much more: capturing the essence of the song, re-using some of the actual lyrics in a new way, and honoring the artist's style as much as possible.” Silverberg went on to cite Peter Hollens and Mister Tim as two additional influences, particularly when it comes to creating solo a cappella tracks.
Once “I’ll Never Be In Pentatonix” was out, the next task was getting people to listen to it. “I had no idea it was going to get this much attention,” Silverberg explained.” When I originally posted it, I thought getting one thousand viewers was an unrealistic, but highly optimistic goal. And then Kevin [Olausola] and Scott [Hoying] re-tweeted it.” Indeed, attention from actual Pentatonix members offered the song a huge boost. Silverberg went on to say, “What a cappella groups have to realize now is that the fad of a cappella, or the fad of performing music with nothing but your voices, has burnt itself out. Now, if you want to stand out, you have to evolve a cappella in a way that no one has tried yet. I found a niche in comedy, because there are very few artists trying to be silly. Everyone wants to be ‘cool’ and ‘epic.’ There's nothing wrong with that, but it won't get you the attention that you truly want. You have to think outside the box.”
Silverberg put it bluntly. “In terms of marketing, Facebook is useless. You have to find work-arounds on Facebook if you even want to be noticed, let alone get lots of attention. I found success by posting in specific groups, and I'm not even sure that would have worked if I didn't already have a following from my blog. And what you really need is a celebrity endorsement. We wouldn't even be having this conversation if Kevin hadn't re-tweeted the video.”
Silverberg also had something to say about the benefits of offering music for free. “Give some of your stuff away for free. It sends a subtle but effective message that you care more about the enjoyment of music than you do about money. If you post it on iTunes, Loudr, etc. it will not be easily accessible or easy to find; and the more work your audience has to do to find your song, the less likely they will do it.”
The story of the lyric video to this song, in particular, is surprisingly straightforward. “I just Googled ‘How to make a lyric video.’ Took me less than an hour to learn the whole thing. And because it was a lyric video, I knew I had to throw in some extra jokes or there would be no reason to watch it.”
For those who enjoyed the song and the video, you can rest assured that there’s more on the way. On January 12, Silverberg released his follow up original, “A cappella Girl,” in addition to planning for the release of a full-length album come March. While all of these projects roll out, though, Silverberg says that his priority will always be education. “As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. As fun as recording my own stuff is and as exciting as it is to get this kind of attention, it will never stop me from being a teacher.” He also articulated the ways in which the many facets of his a cappella career intersect. “The research from the dissertation helps improve the performance and recording, and the performance and recording inspires ideas for the research. I'm a firm believer in constant learning—if you think you know everything, you're wrong. There's always something new to learn, and I want to learn everything.”
In addition to reading his blog, you can follow Silverberg on Twitter @docacappella.