In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Train emerged as an unlikely radio favorite, recording music with pop sensibilities, hints of rock and folk, and a heavy dose of piano. Songs like “Meet Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter” earned them a deep-rooted place in the pop culture lexicon and the fair share of fans.
Then Train disappeared.
It’s not uncommon for a band to find success for an album or two, then fade to obscurity. What is remarkable about this band, though, is that the better part of a decade later, the group returned to the airwaves, and did so with an updated sound.
“Hey Soul Sister” retained a certain earnest vibe that Train had executed so well in its first run, but added to that catchier riffs, a faster beat, and a borderline-rap breakdown on the bridge. In short the group modernized, retaining much of what the group’s dedicated fans loved most about them, while also moving to a more concretely pop sound helped ensure extensive airtime in a changed music market.
Collegiate a cappella groups, like so many student organizations, have a tendency to fall in line with tradition, repeating the content, style, and practices of those who came before. In a sense, this is important, because a group’s identity generally shouldn’t shift in a fundamental way—or at least not over night. In another sense, though, too much emphasis on past practice threatens to keep a group from improving, broadening its appeal, or keeping up with the latest innovations and trends in the field.
A cappella groups should consider what their peers and their competition are up to. Few groups will really thrive on base imitation, but the art of cultivating that which works, and that which complements what a group already has in place will go a long way toward catapulting a group toward its best-developed future.