This week we present The Ohio State of Mind performing Bishop Briggs’s “River.”
This week we present The Ohio State of Mind performing Bishop Briggs’s “River.”
In this edition of Campus Connections, our focus is on: the campus bookstore.
Students have a love-hate relationship with their campus bookstores. The love comes from easy access to not only books, but school t-shirts and sweatshirts and baseball caps and coffee mugs. The hate comes from over-priced textbooks and school memorabilia that, more often than not, you know you could find cheaper elsewhere, and yet it’s so convenient to not have go off campus or wait for shipping that you give in anyway.
While you’re welcome to maintain whatever feelings you may already have about your campus bookstore, it’s foolish to overlook opportunities to collaborate with them. The campus may well be eager to sell your group’s new CD by its cash register, or possibly even group swag like t-shirts of your own or promotional stickers. Sure, the store will probably take a cut of your profits, but you’ll be exposing yourself to potential buyers that don’t only include fans who come to your show, but also students, faculty, staff, and administration who may stop by the bookstore for anything from a windbreaker to show their school pride, to Christmas gifts, to a candy bar from the front counter. In any of these cases, you’re accessing people who were planning to spend money anyway, and, in most of those scenarios, have at least some level of school pride and thus may relish in supporting the school’s arts program.
Depending on your bookstore, fostering a relationship with the management may even afford you the opportunity to use the store for a performance space during a busy time like the start of the term or during a buyback period; the bookstore may also be uniquely equipped to facilitate sales for you during a new album release event in their space.
Not every campus bookstore will have the infrastructure of willingness to cooperate that I’m alluding to, but you may be surprised by how many would. Reach out, and this can become one of your most valuable connections on campus.
Last month, The Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones released college a cappella's first virtual reality video. Skip Rosamilia was kind of enough to discuss the project with The A Cappella Blog.
The A Cappella Blog: What can you tell us about how the concept for this music video in virtual reality came about? Where did the idea come from? Why was Banks’ “Gemini Feed” the song choice?
The Veritones: We really value pushing the boundaries of not only our music and sound, but also how we can express our music through different media. CS50 approached us this spring about using their 360 VR cameras to create something together in virtual reality. When we excitedly agreed to take on the project, we knew we ran the risk of it amounting to a bunch of us just singing in a circle around a camera in 360. So our group sat down together and discussed “why VR?” Ultimately, we decided we wanted to take this opportunity to create something completely new and groundbreaking that would really push both traditional a cappella music videos as well as make a unique, new contribution to the relatively new VR space.
The concept of the video emerged from these brainstorming discussions around what it was that we wanted to say and do with this medium, and how we would achieve that. We decided on addressing the idea of agency in media, about who ultimately has power in the realm of performance – both literal performance, and metaphorically in the performance of everyday life that we and those we interact with might put on. What expectations, censors, privileged institutions or individuals, and unequal landscapes force us into particular ways of acting? Multiple sides of each individual are showcased throughout the piece and are given varying amounts of power. The viewer is no exception, being placed in different roles throughout (i.e. viewer, participant, performer). In creating the storyboard of the video, we consolidated our ultimate goals and concrete objectives, and worked backwards to figure out exactly what we would need to achieve them both technically and creatively.
We chose Banks’ “Gemini Feed” both because of its musical properties that lent well to the narrative we wanted to create and also due to the strong emotional connection the group has to Banks’ music. This song in particular perfectly helped shape the three central themes to our storyboard: Defiance, Duality, and Distortion. We believe these three themes best encapsulate the we effect we set out to achieve with this medium - to have the viewer begin under the assumption that they are watching a typical pop music video, but, by altering this reality and transforming the virtual space, have the viewer ultimately question what their role might have been in this story.
The A Cappella Blog: What can you tell us about the creative process behind bringing this project to fruition? In particular, how did you come to collaborations with the CS50 program, and with The Vocal Company on different components of this project, and how did those collaborations go? How was this project different from other Veritones endeavors?
The Veritones: The best part of this project is that it pushed everyone involved to the limits of their experience and abilities. Additionally, it proved to be a beast to manage, as it had a ton of moving parts that we had to make sure we kept constantly aligned and to task. The project was driven forward primarily by Skip Rosamilia from the Veritones and Lauren Scully from CS50. The various groups involved were the Veritones, both recording the track as well as blocking the narrative; CS50, who spearheaded production and filming; a Veritones alumnus William Horton, who arranged Gemini Feed; an incredible undergraduate choreographer Josh Lee, who created and coached us on our dance routine; and The Vocal Company, who edited, mixed, and mastered our track. Skip and Lauren met a ton in order to make sure all the various parties kept to the timeline and that all the separate parts informed one another cohesively. Outside of the logistics, it was just really amazing to see so many different people organically coming together to create art. Everything from costuming to technical production aspects to envisioning the storyboard to spitballing publicity materials – all the people involved were just so excited about giving Gemini Feed wings and it yielded a unique, wonderful experience.
We first established our relationship with CS50 two years ago when we worked with their production team to make two other music videos. Through that, we fostered a very collaborative partnership and were excited to take on this new endeavor together. The members of the CS50 production team (made up of both students and professionals) have extensive production experience, as well as specific technical knowledge of VR equipment and capabilities. David Malan (head of CS50) and the CS50 production team are extremely committed to applying CS and their own production expertise to creative endeavors in unique ways, which is what motivated them to approach us with this opportunity. Since VR best practices and technology are still being developed and perfected, we worked very closely together throughout the creative envisioning process to constantly ensure that our vision was both possible and pushing what we could achieve through the VR medium.
On the musical side of things, we chose the Vocal Company for editing and mixing because we knew they’d give life to the track in a unique way. Their extremely talented sound experts are at the front line of pushing the boundaries of recorded a cappella. We knew this project would not necessarily be an easy endeavor, especially when envisioning how to mix for a 360 soundscape. This project demanded extensive collaboration, as the video and sound were both being edited and formed simultaneously. Partnering with them was incredibly rewarding and allowed for the visual and sound to inform one another throughout the process. We’re extremely excited about the cohesive product that resulted.
This project was certainly unique for the Veritones. We’ve been trying to focus more on creative endeavors outside of just live performance, and hope that we’ll be able to take on more opportunities like this in the future.
The A Cappella Blog: Where can interested parties find this video? What should listeners/viewers expect when they encounter it/ What might surprise them?
The Veritones: The video can be viewed on YouTube at the above link both with or without a VR headset on either a mobile phone or desktop computer. However, the experience is definitely optimized for a VR headset, as that way you can feel completely immersed in the space. Instead of simply watching a performance, viewers can expect to feel like they are playing an active role in the story that we tell in our performance, particularly through interactions with the soloist. There is a lot of viewer engagement, changes of scenery and perspective, and playing with hard cuts that all contribute to various elements of surprise. Viewers shouldn’t expect to catch everything there is to see in just one go, so we definitely encourage rewatching it. For example, there are several moments where two scenes or images are presented simultaneously in front of and behind the viewer, making it impossible to catch both of these at once. To us, this is what makes this project so special: it’s a very different experience each time you watch it since every view is unique. That being said, it still has a very clear directionality to the story that won’t leave viewers completely in the dark if they only watch it once.
One important note is that we filmed the music video with the intention of engaging with VR as it could be, not necessarily as it is utilized by the public now. That means that creatively we leaned toward using the medium in a way that would encourage people to put on a headset, rather than filming a video we assumed most people would still use desktops or headset-less mobile devices to watch.
The A Cappella Blog: How does this marriage of a cappella with other art forms and technology fit The Veritones' group identity, or what the group seeks to accomplish? Do you think the group will pursue similar projects in the future? How has this project influenced the group?
The Veritones: As a group, we are devoted to pushing the boundaries of what our music can do. We try to push ourselves in our arrangements and in the production of our recorded material by employing innovative ways to use our voices to produce art. Virtual Reality pushes the boundaries of visual technology and a multi-sensory experience, so this marriage seemed very natural for our group to adopt and work with. That’s not to say this project was not without its fair share of obstacles. Given that this project was the first of its kind, it posed many unforeseen challenges, and there were many moments where it wasn’t always clear what the product would look like or if it would be a success at all, and it demanded a lot from every individual involved. However, when each member took of the headset after watching the final product, it was so gratifying to see pure amazement in everyone’s eyes and the shock at the incredible product we made together. This project really reinforced our values of taking on creative challenges and having each other’s backs to achieve our goals. The Veritones aren’t just a group of students who sing together, but a group that of people who love each other and work hard together to create art, challenge ourselves to push our limits every step of the way.
This week we present Miami Valley School Ars Nova performing Beyonce’s “Freedom.”
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 yearbooking.
For those unfamiliar with the yearbook concept, it’s an informal term for recording an album on which every group member gets a solo or otherwise featured song, thus the overarching recording feels like a catalog of everyone who was in the group that year. There was a time at which this concept dominated the sphere of scholastic recordings, and thus the yearbook moniker was a natural fit.
Is there a place for yearbooking in the current a cappella recording market? The short answer is that, yes, there is, under two circumstances. The first is that your group is generating an album for which the primary function will be a souvenir for the group members themselves, fans, friends, and families. These are the kinds of albums typically recorded and mixed on campus, within the group or its social network, for which there are no (or at least limited) designs on submitting the album for national awards or selling it beyond the local community. The other circumstance is that your group actually does feature a roster of all outstanding soloists, each of whom genuinely bring something interesting, different, and irresistible to the table, and thus are worth featuring in their own songs.
For increasing number of groups that are recording with an eye toward building a global reputation, I can’t advocate for the yearbook concept. To use a far-from-perfect metaphor, let’s compare a cappella recording to picking a team during high school phys ed class. At least at my school, the prevailing logic was that everyone picked the best athletes first, the un-athletic kids last, with some potential adjustments for non-athletics-related popularity woven in there. Typically, the result was that each team included strongest objective roster that it could (which more or less balanced the teams because the captains had divided the talents equally via alternating picks). The less popular strategy was for a captain to simply pick his friends, regardless of ability levels, in the interest of having fun, with less regard to winning.
In the gym class example, one choice is about winning, the other is about enjoyment. In the low stakes of a gym class, in which wins and losses are typically realized and forgotten within an hour period, I actually wonder why more kids didn’t simply pick their friends. But recorded a cappella is different. Each recording is a representation of your group. Most a cappella groups favor talent over playing favorites when it comes to the audition process because they’re more interested in assembling a talented performing group than a social club (albeit the fact that the two are far from mutually exclusive). I would argue that the same should be the case for recordings.
It might hurt the feelings of a graduating senior not to have a solo on her last album with the group. It may frustrate a rising star not to have his signature song make the cut for the album. Just the same, the average listener (let alone critic or competition judge) only have so long of an attention span, and generally favor shorter albums over hour-plus works. Furthermore, when a group submits an album for the world to hear and critique, they have to accept that the whole album will be judged, not just the best tracks. It’s a lot harder for a few standout tracks to really shine, much less garner your group a national reputation, when they’re surrounded by middling material.
Yearbook albums are fine if they’re for the group and its supporters. Heck, if your group has the resources, I see no reason not to record additional, unreleased tracks that are just for the group’s inner circle to enjoy and remember the year. But for albums meant to be sold beyond the confines and campus, and meant to send a message to the world, groups need to be more selective.
In a genre defined by the human voice and body, one of the most fascinating elements of a cappella to watch evolve over time is the way in which performers simulate sounds. Whether it’s Deke Sharon’s vocal trumpet, Jamal Reed’s electric guitar, or more dramatic, less literal interpretations of the sound of wind blowing, or a motorcycle revving up, the innovators of the a cappella form have dared to try new things and broaden the world’s conception of what sounds people are capable of making without any external instruments at hand.
I love it!