whataboutrob wrote:What's up with knocking groups for using outside arrangers? It happened here, and in a few other reviews of new groups as lacking creativity, or somehow cheating (not actually cheating, mind you, but that a group that doesn't use a stable of arrangers that comes from it's own ranks is somehow less-than than groups that do).
Let's say I have a group, The Z Tones. Great singers, really solid musicians, but simply don't have the time or experience to do great, creative arrangements. So that leaves us with two options as a group:
1) Write our own, not-quite-up-to-par arrangements. This sucks for a few reasons, but mostly because it will detract from the experience that you, the listener, will have. It honestly won't sound as good.
2) We enlist Deke, Randi, Samarat, and Bates to write all of the arrangements on our cd. This seems to me to be a solid artistic choice, yet in our community, something that's not widely accepted. I mean, can we acknowledge that singing and arranging are very different skills? You could have a great group of singers, but if they also can't arrange then you're a step behind.
3) You bring in an "arranger in residence". Think Invisible Men. All of these guys are really solid musicians, but they decided they really liked the sound that on arranger (Samarat) gave them, so they had him do all of their arrangements.
What whataboutrob doesn't happen to mention is that using Samrat (Chakarbarti)'s arrangements (for four out of the five songs, two of which are admittedly older Jyde arrangements) cost us an "Innovation/Creativity" score and got us criticized in our RARB review (http://www.rarb.org/reviews/715.html).
Later on in the thread...
Jimmy wrote:I think there's something to be said for a group that does all (or most of) its own arrangements. Think about popular music. Don't we tend to disrespect pop groups that don't write their own songs? Think about the boy band craze in the late '90s. There were so many groups that were exactly the same, following roughly the same formula-- basically, all you had to do was get a group of 4 or 5 attractive guys with relatively decent voices, and the producers could work their magic. It didn't take any particularly special talent or musicianship on the groups' part.
Aroz wrote:I also believe that no group should lose points in a review for not writing their own arrangements. I think the final product should be evaluated and believe that a great arrangement should not be discounted because it was not written by a group member. While I realize that this fact may alter how a reviewer feels about a CD, I feel it should make no difference in the evaluation of the final product.
...and then a RARB reviewer responded...
rjoyce wrote:It's no perfect analogy, but I think of two divers executing dives with different degrees of difficulty. While the judges are scoring the dives only on the execution of the dive itself, the difficulty of the dive in the end affects the final score. In the (drier) RARB world, we have the overall score and the scores for individual categories. In my mind, how a group executes a song shows in the tuning/blend, soloist, and energy/intensity scores. They have nothing do with who wrote the arrangement (but rather with how good the arrangement is). The innovation/creativity score, however, is an entirely different story. I find it difficult to reconcile awarding a group that did not do any of its own arranging (regardless of whether or not that's a good choice, and I think the reviews and this discussion have shown that in many cases, this one included, it is a good choice) a high score. Sure, the arrangements can be lauded in the reviews as top-notch, but as far as the numerical score goes, outside arrangements don't reflect the group's creativity in my book.
...and then one of our reviewers further responded...
tekay wrote:For me, using ALL outside arrangers is a crutch--plain and simple. If you don't try putting out your own product, then you'll always be a slave to the master. Outside arrangers do not know the "dynamics" of the group. So, regardless of the outcome of the performance, the heart of ownership is diminished, and you are performing someone else's work. Look what we accomplished with "our/my" song versus the song that X allowed us to sing. The outside arranger has nothing invested in the group overall except to hope that you do his or her arrangement justice once you begin to perform it.
I don't consider alumni as outside arrangers. ...They know what it means to be in the group and how it functioned in "their day." If it's a new arrangement, then they probably are even close to the current singers. If it's an archive--then the current group saw the connection. There is a vested interest either way.
Which brings us to January 2009, when, on our next album, Invisible Men will be trotting out eleven new songs, eight of which were custom-arranged by Samrat specifically for us. (Some are entirely his, and some are seven-part adaptations by me of his five-part arrangements [we added two new guys this year].)
Do we suck for doing this? Alas, some RARB folks think so. The weird part about it, though, is that the RARB Outside Arranger Criticism-Meter seems to presume that outside arrangers aren't "connected" to the group in question, unless they're former members.
Samrat happens to be a close college friend and former bandmate of mine (Brandeis Univ. and The Hyannis Sound respectively); he sang (along with an all-star a cappella lineup) at my wedding ceremony last year. He also happens to live in Manhattan, where we rehearse, so it's convenient for him to come in and work his magic. We "resort" to Samrat so much not because we can't arrange our song, but because he's both personally connected to the band and HE'S THE GREATEST F-CKING VOCAL ARRANGER ALIVE. I consider him the eighth member of the band. But of course none of this is evident in our liner notes, because it would never occur to us that we'd have to explain this in order to avoid the dreaded "3" we got from two of the reviewers (including TeKay, quoted above, who I also happen to know through the a-cap scene and who gave an otherwise positive review).
In making the origins of arrangements a criteria in scoring, doesn't the Recorded A Cappella Review Board essentially turn itself into the Performed A Cappella Review Board? As Aroz suggests, shouldn't the audio itself-- i.e. the "recorded" part, with the unimportant stuff like, oh, tuning, blend, tone color, dynamics, etc.-- be the criteria by which an album is judged?
And should RARB reviewers be making assumptions about the personal relationships between arrangers and the current lineup of an ensemble-- the kind of connections that it would never occur to an ensemble to need to explain in its liner notes-- and let that be valid criteria for writing and scoring a review?