In the Pink - By Any Other Name

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In the Pink - By Any Other Name

Postby Nick Lyons » Thu Feb 26, 2009 12:59 pm

DISCLAIMER: I haven't heard any of this album, nor do I have any kind of personal relationship with anyone in the group.

I was somewhat intrigued by Brian's review, and wanted to poll the "masses" (all 17 of you) for your thoughts on the subject...

Task 1: Compile a list of great female artists you would die to cover.


Why just female artists? With artists like Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Beyonce, Carrie Underwood, etc., the task of delivering a compelling performance becomes A LOT more difficult. It seems as though, in today's "billboard society," a lot of the women are successful because they simply have *amazing* voices. Whereas, aside from the vocal talent of Michael Buble, we have male artists like John Mayer, Chris Martin... even older singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Bob Dylan, where you are a) choosing artists that have become popular *in spite* of their sub-par voices (usually meaning they came up with something either catchy or actually good), and b) your soloist doesn't face the impossible task of trying to better one of the *sick* female vocalists on the charts today.

*** OMG this doesn't mean you should record Waiting on the World to Change, or Fix You. ***

Next up, let's tackle arranging. I'll admit, arranging for female groups is a tough task to do successfully. The reality is that In the Pink often has a span of two and a half octaves separating the Alto II's and Soprano I's. This is a recipe for disaster with even the best of singers and seasoned groups. When you have your altos in the basement and your sopranos in the stratosphere, you might as well be throwing paint at the wall, hoping you'll end up with art. Tuning is just plain tough when you put your singers in this predicament. In the Pink should pick a key their singers can be successful in and then tighten up those chords (keeping all voices within a 3rd or 5th of each other at all times) and only move out of this comfort zone for effect when you know your singers are capable of it. The only voices where it may be acceptable to have an interval larger than a 5th between them is with your Alto II's and Alto I's where the bass line may require an average of an octave between them. Female groups shouldn't feel pressured to have to replicate the voicing of male and co-ed groups. In an age when female groups can utilize the octavized alto line through production, there's no reason to keep your lowest singers in a range that's detrimental to the tuning of the group. I'm convinced that 80-90% of the tuning problems on By Any Other Name (and this album is severely out of tune) are a direct result of inexperienced arranging.


I would agree... a consistent span of 2.5 octaves between outer voices is probably a recipe for "not good." However, I think that's less a matter of the distance between the voices, and more a product of arranging at tessitur-ial extremes. Voices not only sound weaker and more strained, but intonation and general accuracy are weak when people are stuck singing outside their comfort-zone (which Brian so thankfully commented on).

The one thing I tend to disagree with: I can't stand listening to an A2 line that sounds like it's not at all "low" in the alto's voices. I need to hear some female resonance, and get a feeling that it's an actual "bass" line. Obviously, we don't want the part to go outside the singer's range, but that's consistent across the sexes. I want it to sound a little fat, full, *insert yours here*.

Task 2: Get great arrangements that your singers can sing successfully. It's okay to purchase arrangements from more experienced arrangers and you'll learn a lot in the process, too.


Wow, I couldn't agree more. I've been arranging for 10 years now, and the best experience I've gotten has been through looking at arrangements by Nate Altimari, Joseph Bates, Deke Sharon, etc. Purchasing an arrangement from a professional is worth it's weight in (government) gold.

I understand a lot of Brian's review was directed toward In the Pink specifically, but his perceptions kind of sparked my curiosity as to how others think on the subject of female a cappella.

I'd love to get some insights from other females on how they approach arranging, since they know how the female voice works better than I ever will. :-)

Nick
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Postby dekesharon » Thu Feb 26, 2009 2:23 pm

My #1 tip in arranging pop music for women's voices:

Overlap.

Your A2's will be an octave higher than their male counterparts, but you should not relegate them to a position lower than your A1's. Sometimes the bass line will take them above the A1's, or force them to overlap. That's ok.

And for heaven's sake don't think you need to push your S1's into the stratosphere. Again, overlap. Very little pop music has women singing above a C (and I don't mean high C). You can have the occasional "floaty notes" if the style calls for it, but otherwise, chest voice all the way.

Billie Holiday did it all with a range of about a minor ninth. It's not the size that matters ;)

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

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Postby davecharliebrown » Thu Feb 26, 2009 2:49 pm

DekeSharon wrote:And for heaven's sake don't think you need to push your S1's into the stratosphere.

AMEN. It's draining on the ears to hear the highest notes, especially if they're frequent or long. Tighten it up, people.
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Postby billhare » Thu Feb 26, 2009 8:55 pm

DekeSharon wrote:Sometimes the bass line will take them above the A1's, or force them to overlap. That's ok.


"Bass Line" being the key set of words here. One thing I find a lot in female A Cappella is the absence of a real bass line; i.e. whatever the lowest notes the A2s can sing become the bottom notes, regardless if they are what would be considered the bass line or not. Often it turns out to be a combination of the bass line and some combination of inversions depending on what chord the group is singing. This is just a reality of maintaining some bottom end throughout the arrangement, at least live...

Much of the time, I find that this sort of arrangement will work fine on the recording if I don't consider the A2s as the "bass", but more as a "female baritone" line. Then I can write out a true bass line (which will usually cross through the other parts), have someone from the group sing it, add it to the session, throw an octave or two on that and call it done. This also lets the A2 part fill in some of that wasteland in the low mids, giving more power to the bass, especially when in 5ths.

In the case of this album, I don't remember what I did since it was all so fast, as we only had a $1500 budget for mixing 12 songs AND mastering (usually a mix budget is two to four times that). Not to make any excuses, I can't take issue with any of the reviews, though they did result in the lowest score of any project I've been involved with since RARB was started in 1994, as well as giving me the first "1" for sound/production I've ever gotten (thanks, Joseph! :-) Back in the day, anything less than a 5 was a slap in the face for me - how things have changed... and I'm ok with that!

The reviews were spot-on, I think, and a good lesson to be learned in that us producers really can't spin straw into gold! These ladies worked very hard ( I would have text conversations with Suzie at 5AM her time as she busily edited), but without arming themselves with some basic information up front, groups tend to try and re-invent the wheel time and time again!

Suzie later came out here to California for the "Soup To Nuts" course that Deke and I teach twice a year, and kept saying "if I only knew that when we were tracking..." over and over. Just little tidbits of information can make a big difference - a lot of this stuff is in my blog on CASA, for free!!

Any group that is about to start an album should be careful to not re-invent the wheel. Listen to as many of your peers' albums as you can, make sure you know what you are competing against, what's possible, what's been overdone. Learn from others' mistakes. Looking at some of the answers before you are faced with the questions will save you a lot of grief.

-B

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments. http://www.dyz.com

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Postby clyxz » Fri Feb 27, 2009 3:31 pm

billhare wrote:In the case of this album, I don't remember what I did since it was all so fast, as we only had a $1500 budget for mixing 12 songs AND mastering (usually a mix budget is two to four times that).


At this point I have to jump in and say that I absolutely cannot express in words how grateful I am to Bill for agreeing to work with us on this project--it wouldn't have been even slightly unreasonable for him to have said 'I'm sorry, but I just can't work with this'!

Skating lightly over the final tracks for a second (poor source material, no budget, silk purse, sow's ear, etc...!) I quickly realised from working with Bill on this stuff that I really needed to get educated on recording, and in fact, I believe it was during one of those stupid-o'clock-in-the-morning conversations when Bill did the last of the mixes that I signed up for S2N. Bill had in fact been educating me during the mixing process and I was gradually realising the error of my ways :) I don't think it was until I went to S2N though that I actually realised the extent to which I didn't know what I was doing!

My advice to anyone who is planning on a DIY recording would be 'oh dear lord go and get someone who knows what they're doing to educate you about it first!!!' At the very least read the blogs Bill mentioned earlier (I mean really read them, and meditate deeply upon the wisdom therein contained... I thought I read them, but then found myself realising after I did something wrong that it was exactly what Bill had warned against, and I'd think 'Hm, I remember reading about that... that was one of the mistakes I was supposed to be not making...') and if it is in ANY way possible, go to Soup to Nuts! (Seriously, I flew from England to attend, I learned an insane amount, and it was awesome fun--if I had the money to do it all over again, I'd sign up for the next one in a heartbeat.)

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank our reviewers for their feedback--it probably isn't the most fun thing in the world to have to tell someone that their stuff is seriously below par, but I am very much of the school of thought that it's better to know that something needs fixing, and even better if there's someone willing to tell you exactly what to do to sort it out! So I'd particularly like to thank you all for giving really useful practical advice in that respect.

One thing I wondered if I could ask you to explain a bit more (actually this is from Robert's review, but it's possible that other people might be able to help me out with it too)... I didn't understand the bit about syllables (the sharp ending consonants bit), and in particular the bit about the lyrics from Got To Get You Into My Life--I have to confess to not having the faintest idea what you mean!

Thanks again for your advice!
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Postby mwhitehouse » Fri Feb 27, 2009 6:08 pm

CLyxZ wrote:I didn't understand the bit about syllables (the sharp ending consonants bit), and in particular the bit about the lyrics from Got To Get You Into My Life--I have to confess to not having the faintest idea what you mean!


IPA Chart for English

The link is for a crucial footnote to the pronunciation of "t": it's "pronounced [ɾ] in some positions in American English."

We wouldn't aspirate the final "t" of, well ... any word on your website's demos! We relax all our ending plosive consonants—British pop artists, and all the lower English dialects do the same (as far as I can recall, I haven't heard British pop sound particularly "British" since the Beatles). To do otherwise set's off "choral music" alarms in our heads.

And good heavens if we admit we're choirs—we're the cool version. Like Fizzix is the cool version of Go-gurt. (Yeah, as if you're cool enough, over in the UK, to even know about Go-gurt.)

P.S. And actually, having listened to your extra-British choral breakdown in "Beat It" on your MySpace it's obvious that you get this—just, to our ears, the rest is still too choral.

P.P.S. ... and IT'S SERIOUSLY ADORABLE! I'm listening to "All Star" right now—shame on you, Bill Hare, for your distortion and sampled kick and tom fills. The too-high soprano solo, the excellent diction, the "trying hard to make this song musical" arrangement ... it's overwhelmingly cute. (Sorry if "cute" comes off as an epithet, describing a girls group!) It might tread dangerously near the "Vienna Boy Choir Sings the Hits" vein of cheesiness, but I'd worry a lot more about the energy, expression, and editing issues.
Gettysburg College Four Scores, MD ('06-'09)
Phillips Exeter Academy Exeteras ('02-'05)

I transcribe/arrange for Deke (and others) but am NOT PUNCTUAL: I'm a bio/neuro major.
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Postby Ed Boyer » Sat Feb 28, 2009 5:46 am

Thought I'd posted this already, but maybe didn't press "submit."

Anyway, re: Robert's review, it's not a "glide." That's when there's a short vowel sound between two adjacently written consonants. (like between the "b" and "l" in "able")

Rather, it's a "yod," a short "y" sound before another vowel. While technically correct, they're usually dropped in American English and, as a result, most pop music.

Go here and scroll down to "yod-dropping":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonologic ... t_clusters

Or, for a more to-the-point definition:

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=yod-drop
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Postby adune55 » Sat Feb 28, 2009 12:54 pm

Ed - Hey, thanks for the clarification. You're right that what I was hearing is actually called a "yod," which is a term I was previously unfamilar with.

However, in my defence, according to Diction for Singers (the text I was taught out of freshman year) a glide is "characterized by a movement of the articulators from from one position to another. The glides in English are [r], the y sound [j], and [w]." Therefore, when I heard the 'y' sound added to the word "knew," I assumed that it was just an innapropriate insertion of the [j] glide. I wasn't aware that there was a term more specific to the dialect and context. Thanks for setting me straight on that.

PS: Suzie, I think MC and Ed pretty much covered it. Please let me know if you'd like me to try and clarify anything else. I hope the review was otherwise helpful for you. Best of luck with your future endeavors.

Robert
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Postby clyxz » Sun Mar 01, 2009 4:11 am

I have to be honest, if you'd said 'yod' rather than '[j] glide', I'd have been just as clueless!

I suppose it doesn't help that us Oxford folks spend most of our lives surrounded by so-called 'rahs' (people who think that 'sex' is something you put coal in and that 'yes' is pronounced 'ears') cos, y'know, that kind of spoken English is catching. I used to have a fine West Country accent...

I think I understood everything else in the reviews, thanks! Just a question of figuring out how to fix these things! Sadly outside direction isn't a option for the group (unless we found someone willing to work for freeeeeee!) but but but ootb's MD (who is awesome) is going to come and work with the group on an arrangement he's written (yes written especially for ITP! (it might possibly be pink-related...))

As for my own recording skills... well, S2N gave me a pretty good idea of what I need to do there! Hopefully the next stuff you guys get from me will be muuuuch better... hopefully...
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Postby Ed Boyer » Sun Mar 01, 2009 5:04 am

Sorry, Rob. That wasn't meant to be a call-out. It's just that I spent so much time in those damn Diction classes and I so rarely get to use anything I learned there....unlike that Introduction to Astronomy class I took that proves to be more and more useful every day of my life.
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Postby rebecca » Mon Mar 02, 2009 5:39 am

CLyxZ wrote:I suppose it doesn't help that us Oxford folks spend most of our lives surrounded by so-called 'rahs' (people who think that 'sex' is something you put coal in and that 'yes' is pronounced 'ears') cos, y'know, that kind of spoken English is catching. I used to have a fine West Country accent...


Threadcrash - I haven't heard the album under discussion, but all this talk of dialect has me craving a Wallace and Gromit a cappella masterpiece. Thanks very much. Get to it.
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Postby clyxz » Mon Mar 02, 2009 7:14 am

This very, very nearly happened in our group:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btEpF334Rtc
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Postby Mnemosyne » Mon Mar 02, 2009 10:32 am

CLyxZ wrote:This very, very nearly happened in our group:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btEpF334Rtc

Sweet man-Jesus, that's more terrifying than Baconnaise on a blueberry-pancake-wrapped hot dog.
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Ricky RARB is crabby.
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Postby jthelegend » Mon Mar 02, 2009 11:16 am

Mnemosyne wrote: Baconnaise on a blueberry-pancake-wrapped hot dog.


mmm.
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Postby clyxz » Mon Mar 02, 2009 12:35 pm

Mnemosyne wrote:Sweet man-Jesus, that's more terrifying than Baconnaise on a blueberry-pancake-wrapped hot dog.


Hello Alex. Everytime I come to this thread I think about the accents and get the urge to post that video of your rendition of the dead parrot sketch.
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