Song Choice

Recording Recommendations

A cappella recording has become a big business within a budding industry. Indeed, given the improvements in recording and distribution technology, and the increase in professional services available to groups interested in recording, it seems like groups at all levels, from  small high schools to major universities to post-collegiate social groups to full-fledged pros are releasing new  recordings each year.

In Recording Recommendations, we offer our two cents on best practices in recorded a cappella.

In this edition, our focus is on song choice.

In previous editions of Recording Recommendations, I’ve written about the merits of cultivating a specific and unique identity to set your group apart from others and hone in a specific, signature style. Song choice can both contribute to and follow from identity.

What do your song choices say about your group? They can portray your group as intense. As happy go lucky. As abstract. Song choices can communicate any number of facets of your group—the key is to be intentional about what you’re putting forth. Consistency in terms of genre, era, or style of music can go a long way toward building a cohesive personality; diversifying your song selections has its own merits, too, though, in reflecting the many personalities in your group and the range of what you can sing.

With all of that said, my only concrete area to steer groups away from is contemporary top forty songs. Yes, popular music tends to get over-exposed in contemporary a cappella. Even more importantly, though, picking a song everyone is listening to on the radio communicates <i>nothing</i> about your group—about the type of music you seek out, the artists that are meaningful to you, the critical thought you put into planning your repertoire.

I don’t mean to suggest that every group should plumb the depths of indie rock and local coffeehouse scenes for materials. I do mean that it’s worth exploring interesting, unique music that members of your group are into or, if you’re set on covering a particular major recording artist, exploring that artist’s B-sides and deep cuts to find material that only serious fans would know about. This material comes across as more fresh, and will be more demonstrative of your group’s creative direction because it is unique.

When it comes to picking songs for an album, my other main recommendation is for a group to pick its best material and only its best material for major recording projects. I’ve written before about the virtues of the EP over LP in focusing and retaining audience attention. When groups think about which songs to record, the matter is often as simple as looking at which songs will, in a recorded format, make the group sound its very best.

To summarize, when groups select songs to record, they should do so with an ear toward representing their identity, singing under-exposed material, and only putting their best music on an album.

Clean Sound

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #126: Clean Sound

Here at The A Cappella Blog, we spend a great deal of time talking about a cappella accoutrements like staging, song selection, and overall presentation. In it’s purest form, though, a cappella is all about the vocals—some of the most talented singers at a school, in a community, or even in the world using their most natural instrument to make music with their ensembles. As such, one of the truest joys of listening a cappella can be hearing a perfectly clean sound.

It’s Ohio State High Street A Cappella aweing the live crowd at the University of Rochester at an ICCA show in 2006 with their take on old-fashioned favorites like “Georgia” and “Late in the Evening.” It’s University Rocktavo, merging classical sensibilities and crystal clear vocals with a great sense of humor to keep the audience surprised and smiling.

I love it!


Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present Cheyenne Mountain High School Crimson performing Ella Henderson’s “Ghost.”

Hearing the Story Behind a Song

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #125: Hearing the Story Behind a Song

Starting in the late nineties, VH1 struck a chord with American music fans through the show Storytellers, a concert show on which major music acts told the stories behind their songs, giving viewers a unique perspective on the creative process behind any number of acts.

On a more basic level, it’s not uncommon for an act to share bits of history behind a song during a live show. It’s not a routine practice in the a cappella world, but when it does happen, it can make for some truly poignant, funny, or, at minimum, memorable moments.

Since most contemporary groups focus on covers rather than original music, telling the story behind a song often has to do with explaining a group member’s personal connection to an established piece of music. It’s an insight into an individual soul among a performance ensemble, and point on which that performer can connect with audience members who have appreciated the same song in their own ways, for their own reasons. In doing so, these stories draw audiences into performances, and make each exhibition more special for the experience.

I love it!

The Lion, the Beast, the Beat

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present University of Chicago Voices in Your Head performing Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “The Lion, the Beast, the Beat.”

Intro Videos

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #124: Intro Videos

As cameras, video editing software, and the A/V capabilities of a wide range of performance venues have improved, so has the use of intro videos to lead off a cappella shows.

An intro video can communicate a great deal about a group’s personality, whether it’s quirky, macho, sensitive, or intense. A video sets the tone, establishes a level of professionalism, and makes the most of modern technology to give audience members the sense of a performance experience.

I love it!

Next Page
Song Choice
Clean Sound
Hearing the Story Behind a Song
The Lion, the Beast, the Beat
Intro Videos
All I Ask
Campus Booking Agents
Wild Transitions Between Songs
Use Somebody
Let’s Archive, People
Buying a Group's CD After the Show
Hold Up
The Pentagrom App
California University of Pennyslvania Isolated Incident
It Is Well With My Soul
SUNY Potsdam Stay Tuned
Central Connecticut State University Divisi
University of Kansas Genuine Imitation
Salisbury University Squawkappella
University of Florida Tone Def
UC Berkeley Dil Se
University of Delaware Vocal Point
The Johns Hopkins University Notes of Ranvier
The SUNY Binghamton Harpur Harpeggios
The Ohio State of Mind
University of Central Missouri Rainbow Tones
The University of British Columbia Fantastic Beats
The MIT Chorallaries