Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #188: Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing

Some of the very best soloists in a cappella are those with stage presence—the ones who work the performance stage, connect with audience members, and come across as charming or as though they’re at least equally as much thespians as singers.

By contrast there are those soloists who come across as completely casual, and there’s something every bit as appealing about that dynamic. These are the soloists who sound terrific despite not making gesticulating wildly or hamming it up for anyone with a camera in the front row. They’re the soloists who could just as easily be singing in the shower as for a packed auditorium, given how at ease and mellow they sound while singing their part.

This style of performance doesn’t work for every singer or every song, but when it does, it can be refreshingly honest, simple, and compelling.

I love it!

Complementary Soloists

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #187: Complementary Soloists

Sometimes, an individual soloist captivates the crowd, draws them into a story, and walks away as the single most memorable performer in a night of a cappella.

Sometimes, it’s a pair.

One of the most simple and effective ways of breaking up the monotony of a soloist stepping out from the group to sing with the group backing her for each song is the effect of two leads working in tandem. From an aural perspective, a pair of soloists can mix up the sound, whether they harmonize, alternate lines, or switch between verses. From a visual perspective, there can be a certain quality of performance that’s more natural with two soloists in conversation with one another, offsetting the artifice of performance when a single lead focuses his attention on the crowd.

When the right pair of soloists gel on stage, it can create a special moment in music and in performance, all the sweeter because twice as many group members are getting the spotlight for that song.

I love it!


Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present the University of Toronto's Tunes. Beats. Awesome. performing Lorde's "Sober."

The Editing Room Floor

Recording Recommendations

In this edition, our focus is on the editing room floor

As many readers know, I come from a more formal creative writing background than I do musical training. There’s an expression in writing I’ve heard time and again over the years, and come to embrace as my own—that sometimes you need to kill your darlings.

In writing, killing your darlings means letting go of your favorite material—an especially ornate phrasing, a stand-out scene, even a whole character that you love—in service to the larger manuscript. These moments the writer feels most attached to may also be the ones that call attention to themselves—the ones in which its clear the author is trying too hard, or being too precious with her work; or it might be that they resonate so well, so personally for the author that he’s blinded to how poorly they fit with all of the surrounding prose.

The same can be true in a cappella recording. Whether it’s your personal favorite song, a rare opportunity for a graduating senior to have had a solo, or a piece that is legitimately great but stands apart from the rest of your new album’s sound or themes, it may simply not be a track that should go on that album.

It’s hard to leave behind this sort of material that you or your groupmates may feel an emotional connection to, have worked hard on, or spent expensive studio hours recording. But in the end, you need to look out for the good of the larger project—is this track, this solo, even this aspect of an arrangement working in service of or at odds with your larger vision for the project? Killing your darlings can be a matter of objective quality, as well as a matter of <i>fit</i> for the recording at hand.

The material left on the editing room floor does not have to be erased forever, though. On the contrary, one of the benefits of the contemporary recording and social media landscape is that you can and should look for opportunities to take advantage of material you can’t otherwise use. Maybe it’s releasing the track as a free video or download in advance of your album release to stir up attention, or maybe it’s a matter of saving the track for a down period when your group is between projects but still wants to stay in your community’s collective consciousness. Maybe it’s a track you submit to very specific compilations for which it will be a better fit. Or maybe you even save it for your next album, when it will have a more natural place in the aesthetic of that project.

When it comes to recording, groups need to be ruthless about considering what is in the best interests of the album at hand. They can always find other ways to use unreleased material, and shouldn’t feel compelled to put it out in an unflattering light just because they already recorded it.

“If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #186: “If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes

The Washington University Stereotypes are a unique a cappella group with a unique identity. Granted, I haven’t had the opportunity to catch the group live for a number of years now, but there was a period in the early 2010s when I had the pleasure of encountering them multiple times at festivals, competitions, and ultimately at the ICCA Finals. I was consistently impressed with not only their musical precision and shrewd song selection, but a sense of unbridled energy and optimism. The Stereotypes weren’t the cool guys or the brooding guys—they were guys who came across as sincere, passionate, and loving what they were doing.

The group’s performance at the 2011 Finals stands out to me most of all. The guys capped this particular set with John Legend’s “If You’re Out There”—a powerful anthem of hope, a call to action. It was a perfect song for the perfect group, taking The Stereotypes one step more serious than the crowd had seen them up to that point and transforming them from entertainers to men on a mission, and a mission not just to win a competition, but to change the world. The group sold every line of this song with the utmost authenticity and letting their emotion pour over the stage on one final march forward to hit the audience with a wall of sound.

I love it!

Feel You (Remix)

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present the Johns Hopkins University Octopodes performing Brayton Bowman's "Feel You."

Next Page
Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing
Complementary Soloists
The Editing Room Floor
“If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes
Feel You (Remix)
Fluid Transitions
Sorry Not Sorry
Requesting Reviews
A Balanced Competition
Might Not Like ME
Such Great Heights
Skinny Love
Cosmic Love
Soliciting Outside Feedback Before The Show
Men of Note
New Rules
Enormous High School Groups
All We Got
Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
Groups With Unique Identities
You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Lay Me Down