These Are the Glory Days of A Cappella

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When we started The A Cappella Blog in 2007, the a cappella world was different.

No major studio motion pictures (though Pitch Perfect, the book felt like a milestone). There were no a cappella TV shows. You could go to an ICCA quarterfinal and see as few as five groups compete. And while a handful of a cappella videos had achieved some notoriety, very, very few had achieved viral status.

What a difference six years can make.

Pitch Perfect the movie was a legit box office success, not to mention a darn good little bit of cinema. On top of that, its soundtrack has sold nearly 700,000 copies, with three tracks making the Billboard Hot 100. Based on the success of the original, a Pitch Perfect sequel is in development for 2015.

And Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t the only film on the a cappella docket. Straight No Chaser, a college group out of Indiana University from the late 1990s came back together after the unexpected success of their videos on YouTube. Since then, SNC has evolved into one of the hottest a cappella acts in the world, and this past spring DreamWorks announced it had a green lit a major motion picture telling the group’s story. As if all of that weren’t enough, SNC released a new album this May with guest vocals from names like Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Elton John and many more.

But let’s talk TV for a moment. The Sing-Off debuted in 2009 with just four episodes. The show achieved better than expected ratings, and got boosted to five episodes for season two. After an even more successful second season, NBC doubled up to offer the program eleven episodes plus a Christmas special in 2011. The ratings tapered off when the show went head to head with normal (rather than holiday) programming. It seemed the show had over-extended too soon and there wouldn’t be any new episodes in 2012. But what happened in the spring of 2013? The announcement of season four, returning to NBC this winter!

As if the return of The Sing-Off weren’t big enough news, at the 2013 ICCA Finals, Varsity Vocals head Amanda Newman announced to the live audience in New York that her company had signed a deal with CORE Media, the makers of American Idol, to film parts of the 2014 ICCA season for an upcoming television series. Yes, folks, in the near future, we could have two a cappella programs on two mainstream television networks.

The cherry on top of the budding aca-TV-verse? A little YouTube program called Inside A Cappella, produced by Deke Sharon and Dave Longo, hosted each week by Rachel Chalhoub. In a matter of months, the weekly five-minute show has accumulated thousands of viewers, giving hardcore fans a new, regular dose of a cappella programming.

Also on YouTube, we’ve seen the rise of the one-performer band, with folks like Peter Hollens, Sam Tsui, and Mike Tompkins at the fore, demonstrating the ability of the wide-open Internet and social media to allow the truest talents in the country to rise to the public consciousness.
But while on the topic of viral videos and people who know how to use technology to their advantage, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge Pentatonix, one of the hardest working, highest profile a cappella groups of all time—maintaining an active touring schedule, and releasing absurdly polished YouTube performances with startling regularity. I mean, really, this? This?!

Yeah, that just happened.

So you take all of this accessible, unprecedentedly mainstream success. You acknowledge the heightened popularity of the a cappella form, but you question whether the music is itself is really clicking in its purest form. Try this on for size: 2013 is the year an a cappella composition won the Pulitzer Prize for music.

Tack onto all of that this summer sees the inaugural run for Deke Sharon’s Camp A Cappella; that most ICCA and ICHSA quarterfinals now see 10 or more competing groups; that the CASA festival schedule is burgeoning with major events in North Carolina, California, Illinois, Texas, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania (and I’m probably missing some); that a cappella recording, mixing, mastering, arranging and consulting companies like The Vocal Company/ Sled Dog Studios, ACappellaPsych, Liquid 5th, diovoce, Plaid Productions and many more are thriving; that over the last two years we’ve seen a cappella books hit the market by Deke Sharon and Dylan Bell, Brody McDonald, Joshua Duchan, and Mike Chin and Mike Scalise.

In short? A cappella has, in many ways, arrived. It’s in a very good place.

So what’s next?

We push it further.

It’s easy for a community to rest on its laurels. To think it has already acheived a peak and we should all just enjoy the moment.

It’s more important to keep pushing.

Seven years ago, a single TV show on NBC may have seemed like enough. And while The Sing-Off arguably remains the biggest success of the a cappella community in terms of crossing over to the mainstream, I’d suggest that there remains a world of potential to tap into.
So what comes next?

You tell me.