The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The Recording Rant

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, this is not a repost from December. My Christmas is the end of the college semester, when so many groups decide to display their hard work and money spent by releasing their albums. Months and months have been spent finding new, creative ways to reinvent songs that have usually been recorded before, but these groups have unique takes on these songs that make them worth listening to; or so we hope. Isn’t that why you buy an album? We hope that what we find inside that professionally designed cover is a new experience of songs that we might have heard before, or a song that is so well-done that we get on iTunes to grab the real thing. We wait patiently for the CD release concerts, willing to pay what we do knowing that our interest will be spiked and once again we will find new inspiration in this genre that we have invested so much in. Much like Christmas, though, there are gifts every once in awhile, like the two-sizes-too-big sweaters from a crazy aunt, that you were hoping would for once be something that you actually wanted. Every year you open that box and find the same thing. In a cappella, that is too often the case.

“Fix you”. Those two words have appeared on more a cappella albums than I care to count for the past few years. Anybody could make the same case for “Hide and Seek”. These are songs that have ruled the track lists for numerous CDs, but this year was a year of a swing in the trend. While there were repeats, which are going to happen eventually no matter how unique you might think your choice in songs is, they were done with their own style. I credit music directors and producers who are aware of the possibility of “Viva La Vida” appearing on ten to twelve albums this year, in realizing that making their version different could make all of the difference when they are being reviewed or listened to by any general a cappella enthusiast. Now, while I would love to reveal what I have personally discovered in a majority of the albums released this season, I would rather leave it to you to judge on your own. In these albums though, you might wonder what it is that is making you so excited about the music. Well…

It’s the arrangements. A part of it is the talent. Another part is the producer. In some cases, a large part of it is the producer. What sets albums apart from each other, is the fresh ideas that come about with each passing semester. A prime example of this is the Stanford Harmonics’ version of “The Sound of Silence”. If you live under a rock or are new to a cappella, find a way to get your hands on this song. It is a classic, yes, but done in a way that you have never heard before. It will inspire you and drive you to arrange if you are a music director. Charlie Forkish has truly set himself apart from the competition. I credit the producer as well (you know who you are), but in my mind, the thing that makes an album worth your time and money, is its ability to set itself apart from the competition. In the now, very crowded genre of a cappella, a fresh take on a song or maybe an original or not so popular title, is a great way to keep your group from becoming just another needle in the proverbial haystack. Any of you who are starting a new project, or considering doing so, should keep this in mind. It will give you a real shot at standing out amongst the giants. Helpful tip: check out the Brown Jabberwocks’ new album when it releases. You won’t be disappointed.