RARB vs. outside arranging

All things Recorded A Cappella Review Board.

Should RARB reviewers use the origins of arrangements as criteria for reviews of recordings?

Yes, always
12
32%
Yes, if the arrangements are overdone
5
14%
Yes, if they know that the arranger in question is not connected to the ensemble
8
22%
No, never
12
32%
 
Total votes : 37

RARB vs. outside arranging

Postby warren b. » Fri Oct 17, 2008 1:10 pm

Sorry to awaken (and split off from) a sleeping thread, but once again my band is confronting this issue brought up in the thread re: UMass Dynamics' Crescendo last year (last posted to in November), which I just became aware of and mentions my band in context to boot:

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.

or

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.

or

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.


...and...

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?
warren b.
 
Posts: 41
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 5:24 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY, USA

Postby dherriges » Fri Oct 17, 2008 1:52 pm

My opinion isn't one of the choices in the poll:

A group shouldn't be marked down for using outside arrangements.

A group should be marked up for using really impressive in-house arrangements.

Admittedly, one could quibble over the distinction between those two things, or whether there even is one, but I think it's a good mentality for a reviewer to approach the issue.

I do have to say, however:

Warren B. wrote: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?


Whoa. Gotta disagree there, at least with that statement taken on its face. If you're singing boring arrangements of boring songs, or even boring arrangements of good songs, I don't care how beautifully you're singing them, I'm not gonna enjoy your album. Arranging should one of the most important review criteria, IMO.

As far as an outside arranger having a close relationship with a group: I don't see why that should prejudice a reviewer, versus an "in-house" arranger. It bothers me more when collegiate (or otherwise, I suppose) groups turn to a handful of pro arrangers to give them 1 or 2 songs each... because the resulting album tends to lack any sense of personality or unified artistic vision.
dherriges
 
Posts: 552
Joined: Tue Jul 26, 2005 5:37 pm
Location: San Francisco, CA

Postby warren b. » Fri Oct 17, 2008 2:13 pm

dherriges wrote:My opinion isn't one of the choices in the poll:

A group shouldn't be marked down for using outside arrangements.

A group should be marked up for using really impressive in-house arrangements.


Sorry, I did in fact create an "Other" choice, but it disappeared from the list somehow.

I do have to say, however:

Warren B. wrote: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?


Whoa. Gotta disagree there, at least with that statement taken on its face. If you're singing boring arrangements of boring songs, or even boring arrangements of good songs, I don't care how beautifully you're singing them, I'm not gonna enjoy your album. Arranging should one of the most important review criteria, IMO.


Actually, we do agree on that point; in my desire to be pithy, I should have been more specific in that quote. A mediocre arrangement certainly leads to a mediocre performance which leads to a mediocre recording, no matter the quality of the singing (reviewers can hear sub-standard arranging through the veil of slick recording practices), and poor arrangements should be called out for being poor. The arrangement, once recorded, does indeed become part and parcel of the recording, absolutely. The specific issue I'm referring to is when the origin of an arrangement become an issue because of the relationship of the arranger to the ensemble (real or imagined on the part of the reviewer, and it's when it's imagined that it really bugs me), and not because of how it actually sounds in the recording (i.e. the first R in RARB).
warren b.
 
Posts: 41
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 5:24 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY, USA

Postby whataboutrob » Fri Oct 17, 2008 4:29 pm

Yeah, if I remember the thread correctly, I was looking to discuss just this sort of thing...


See, I LIKE that groups like Invisible Men use talented "outside" arrangers. Warren's outlined some of the reasons why his group does it, but to be honest, I don't much care WHY a group does it, as long as the product is good (meaning creative, fits the group, is well performed, etc.).

I think, as a community, we've come to this place where the using of only member arrangements is considered "legit" and that using outside arrangers is somehow "cheating" or "lazy", or deserves to get your review knocked down (either in points or esteem). It's a pride thing, I think: the if-we're-not-writing-this-music-we-need-to-show-our-talent-by-arranging thing, which I think is pretty myopic. Arranging is only one part of what makes a group great/good/bad/awful, and other vocal groups (classical choirs, gospel choirs, barbershop groups) have zero problem with using "outside" arrangements. Hey, you find what you like, and you use it.


If I remember the Dynamics review, and the following discussion, the Dynamics were given some heat for using a lot of outside arrangements (Randi's, if I remember correctly) -- it's considered a mark of a young group that they would "need" to go outside the group; that it would be something that they "grow out of" eventually. But I think it's a mark of a mature group, one that knows itself, when you realize that you don't have the skills/time/desire to do your own arrangements, so you go somewhere where you can get what you need.

And hey, if I needed an arrangement right now, Samrat would be one of the first people I'd beg, because dude is just good, and hey, if you can get him to arrange for you, you'd be crazy NOT to take it...
whataboutrob
 
Posts: 298
Joined: Fri Jun 02, 2006 2:24 pm
Location: Purchase, NY

Postby colton » Fri Oct 17, 2008 4:46 pm

It looks like different RARB reviewers may have different takes on this, but speaking for myself...

When I score albums, I do not take into account the arranger at all. Quality of arrangement, yes; name of arranger, no. Basically I just "grade" the group based on what I hear. In fact, I typically don't even look in the liner notes to see who did the arrangement unless there's a compelling reason to do so (like if some of the arrangements were horrible, or if some of the arrangements were terrific).

So, I wouldn't ever mark a group lower--even in the innovation/creativity category--for going with an outside arranger. *However*, if the particular arrangement is very close or identical to ones I've heard billions of times before, then I would mark that category lower. That might be where a group arranging their own stuff might help. But (speaking to the OP) you'd be helped in exactly the same way, if a guy is arranging just for you.
Last edited by colton on Fri Oct 17, 2008 4:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
colton
RARB
RARB
 
Posts: 543
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:45 pm
Location: Orem, UT

Postby colton » Fri Oct 17, 2008 4:49 pm

whataboutrob wrote:But I think it's a mark of a mature group, one that knows itself, when you realize that you don't have the skills/time/desire to do your own arrangements, so you go somewhere where you can get what you need.


Yes, I agree.
colton
RARB
RARB
 
Posts: 543
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:45 pm
Location: Orem, UT

Postby dekesharon » Fri Oct 17, 2008 5:08 pm

I used to really love Frank Sinatra albums until I found out that he didn't do his own arrangements!

Now I simply think he's OK.

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

dekesharon
 
Posts: 1585
Joined: Fri Jun 13, 2003 8:01 am
Location: San Francisco

Postby warren b. » Fri Oct 17, 2008 5:53 pm

DekeSharon wrote:I used to really love Frank Sinatra albums until I found out that he didn't do his own arrangements!

Now I simply think he's OK.


Kidding aside, that's exactly what I was thinking of after I'd already posted! Sinatra is no less of a legend for having Nelson Riddle behind him, or Count Basie for having Neal Hefti (RIP) behind him. If any of us decided to record a totally solo, overdubbed a cappella recording, and worked with another arranger for all of the songs, would there be as strong of a critique about outside arrangers... "outside" being anyone but the one single person on the album?
warren b.
 
Posts: 41
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 5:24 am
Location: Brooklyn, NY, USA

Postby Brojo » Fri Oct 17, 2008 6:27 pm

i agree with colton. i don't look at the arranger in the liners, unless it's awesome and i want to commend him/her.
Brojo
RARB
RARB
 
Posts: 254
Joined: Tue Dec 23, 2003 3:03 pm
Location: Dtown

Postby bstevens » Fri Oct 17, 2008 7:48 pm

For the second time tonight I'm in line behind Joseph! Huh.

Since most of our submissions are from college groups, and I have a general feeling of 'professorship' over college students, one of my biggest kicks -- since as a rule I don't comment on submissions -- is letting a student know he or she arranged, wrote, sang, or drummed something extraordinary. Sometimes this is flat-out (e.g., "Wow!"); other times I'm subtler (e.g., asking whether I could borrow a chart for educational use in a tutorial, or letting a soloist know that his or her recorded song is being used for same. Speaking of which, check out my post.).
bstevens
Site Admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 636
Joined: Wed Oct 30, 2002 3:19 pm
Location: Mid-Hudson Valley, NY

Re: RARB vs. outside arranging

Postby Chris » Sat Oct 18, 2008 4:18 am

I think the arranging score should be based on the arrangement, not who arranges it. While this isn't explicitly stated in the scoring guidelines, I think you could extrapolate it from the fact that albums are scored "in comparison to the general body of a cappella recordings available". Since pro groups are scored on the same scale as collegiate groups, I think arrangements done by professional arrangers should be judged on the same scale as arrangements done by students. That way a 4 is better than a 2, without having to figure out if the reviewer meant it's "good for a pro group" or "good for a high school group".

That said, I think it's fine for reviewers to comment on it if they want to in their review.
Chris
Site Admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 345
Joined: Wed Oct 30, 2002 3:44 am
Location: Boston, MA

Re: RARB vs. outside arranging

Postby colton » Sat Oct 18, 2008 3:16 pm

Chris wrote:I think the arranging score should be based on the arrangement, not who arranges it.


Not to get too picky, since I agreed with a lot of what you said, but there isn't an "arranging score". The closest thing is "innovation/creativity", but arranging would likely only be one factor in that score.
colton
RARB
RARB
 
Posts: 543
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:45 pm
Location: Orem, UT

Re: RARB vs. outside arranging

Postby Chris » Sat Oct 18, 2008 4:27 pm

colton wrote:
Chris wrote:I think the arranging score should be based on the arrangement, not who arranges it.


Not to get too picky, since I agreed with a lot of what you said, but there isn't an "arranging score". The closest thing is "innovation/creativity", but arranging would likely only be one factor in that score.


Oops! Wow, I look dumb now.

Um...

Hey- look over there!
<sneaks out the back door>
Chris
Site Admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 345
Joined: Wed Oct 30, 2002 3:44 am
Location: Boston, MA

Postby Nick Lyons » Sun Oct 19, 2008 10:20 pm

DekeSharon wrote:I used to really love Frank Sinatra albums until I found out that he didn't do his own arrangements!

Now I simply think he's OK.


FALSE!!
Nick Lyons
 
Posts: 299
Joined: Sat Sep 20, 2003 8:45 am
Location: Greensboro

Postby nycacappella » Mon Oct 20, 2008 6:55 am

Great thread (thanks Warren) and I just wanted to chime in, since I am the 'guilty party' behind the Umass Dynamics latest CD (I arranged 7 of the 11 tracks).

A lot of what Warren says makes sense to me and I want to address a bunch of points:

1) Outside vs. Inside arrangers - I think it makes no difference. I sang with Significant Others at Northwestern, and I knew the dynamic of the group when I SANG with the group. It's a completely different group now, so hiring me vs. any other outside arranger has no distinction in my mind.

2) Knowing the "dynamic" of a group - This ties into with what Warren said about wanting extra liner notes to explain relationships, etc. Groups don't just email me and say "Arrange this" and I say "ok". I ask them how many voices they have, what are their strengths and weaknesses, are there specific requests... these are the kinds of things anyone would like to explain in liner notes. For example, should it be stated that "I arranged song X using pretty easy syllables because group Y didn't want to have a lot of variation to memorize?" There are times I can be criticized for not changing up syllables enough, but some of those times there's a purpose for that and the intention isn't to 'sound boring'. Or what about when a group needs an arrangement yesterday and you don't have the time to spend that you'd normally spend working on something? You see where I'm going - there may be other explanations.

3) Moving on from outside arrangers - though it would somewhat defeat the purpose of my company, my ultimate goal with groups is to have them learn to arrange on their own. There. I said it. With The Dynamics (for example), not only did I arrange 7 songs for them, but they sent me 2 of their other arrangements and I just helped with ways to tighten them up, change syllables, etc. I would love it if all groups could arrange on their own because it's really rewarding to feel like you're educating these groups and not just making a few dollars. I don't think any arranger is doing this for the money. We don't get paid enough!

4) Mentioning it in RARB reviews - I have a HUGE bias here since a) I'm an outside arranger, b) I used to review for RARB... but I think it should be mentioned if reviewers want to, but no weight should be given to WHOM does the arrangement. If the arrangements themselves suck, then yes - the innovation/creativity points go down. To me, it doesn't matter who does them. I know it's a far stretch since the production side takes much more time/financial resources, but how come groups can use "outside" engineers for the production of their albums? I am sure there are students at many universities who do post-production. If we penalize outside arrangers, we should penalize outsiders for anything (artwork, production, who paid for the album). I review based on what I hear and based on the recording.
Randi
www.nycacappella.com
info@nycacappella.com
nycacappella@gmail.com (temporary)

Treble (www.treblenyc.com): 2002-2006, 2008-2009
Oodles of other groups: other years
nycacappella
RARB
RARB
 
Posts: 344
Joined: Sun Dec 15, 2002 5:09 pm
Location: somewhere warm in FL

Next

Return to RARB

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron