Page 2 of 2

Re: Not Too Sharp - Shifting Gears

PostPosted: Sat Jun 04, 2011 12:42 am
by rdietz55
johnhe wrote:Well Rob can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think what he's trying to say (and I agree) is that if you're going to submit your album to RARB, then you need to consider whether or not the standards by which RARB is going to measure your album are your standards, or standards that you would accept. You mention that RARB is one of the only ways groups can learn "right from wrong." That assumes, though, that the group has accepted the "right and wrong" that RARB prescribes to.

Groups can certainly make music and record it for many reasons, as outlined by Rob's post. Speaking from my own limited personal experience though, groups often think that simply because they've recorded an album, the "thing to do" is to submit the album to RARB, and then the cross their fingers and hope for the best, and then when the critical reviews come in, they're upset. Their approach to recording is not in line with RARB's philosophy, and as such they can't understand why they received a poor review and as such can't learn from the experience.

Basically, to summarize, a group can record an album however it wants. If they're going to submit said album to RARB, though, they should be ready to have their album evaluated under the standards that RARB sets forth.

Exactly, right on!

I personally view RARB equally as an educational resource and a source for review for the rest of the community. I have never, nor will I ever discourage a group that genuinely wants feedback from submitting to RARB (nor have I ever, or will I ever tell a group to just give up and stop recording). Just make sure that if you submit you know that you're being graded, you understand where that grade comes from, and you feel as though that grade will be helpful and useful to you and/or your group. No need to submit an album that you don't feel confident in just because submitting to RARB is the "thing to do." It's only so if the process of review is in line with your goals!


Re: Not Too Sharp - Shifting Gears

PostPosted: Wed Jul 06, 2011 8:00 pm
by smatthews22
So is what I am getting out of all of this a sense of the following:

- Groups will be judged based upon what they bring to the table as in comparison with the rest of the a cappella world at large of which the reviewer is (supposed to be) a knowledgable source.
- Reviews are useful for groups even if they don't care to be top-of-the-class recordings or contemporary a cappella groups
- This isn't a science.

Here's where I get slightly confused or I suppose more intrigued. For those who are upset by the notion that "if it's not bringing anything new to the table, don't do it", what are you looking for in a review? My point is this: submit an album to RARB, and you WILL be compared to all other groups out there that the reviewer has listened to. Now, if that is unfair to you, why submit to RARB?

Another way to put this is in the form of a question to anyone who is reading this post: Is there any way that a group can submit an album to reviewers or RARB or a group of knowledgeable people, with specific questions to be answered? Someone commented that the RARB reviews are indespensable to the young or unheard of groups out there who don't get to work with experienced producers. I actually think that's laughable or sort've "BS". Yes, RARB reviews are helpful, but mostly if you're looking to buy an album and you want to know what's on it and what someone thinks of it. As someone who has been part of and understood the production of 3 different albums that are RARB reviewed, I know that the most helpful bits were people confirming what we thought we did well, and pointing out what we knew we did poorly.

What helped us out much more was having an alumni in Hyannis Sound run the CD by a few different knowledgeable a cappella folks, and having Tim Bongiovanni be our producer. He was a) the one responsible for mixing, which is something that reviewers talk about all the time but that groups almost never have the opportunity to influence, b) very helpful with listening to arrangements and suggesting different tweaks or improvements, c) knowledgeable about the a cappella world at large, and perhaps biggest of all d) able to tweak and give live feedback to every stage of the process.

Now, I know I came out of the process with a number of questions. If you look at Not Too Sharp's album "Shifting Gears", I can point you to each track and ask you your opinion on different aspects of it. Then I can point to the CD as a whole and ask something like "Should we have put 'Gone' first or last?" etc.

Directed questions for the reviewers by the groups submitting the CD would be the most helpful tool for a reviewer to provide ACTUAL invaluable feedback. That way, they aren't just doing what I described above: Affirming what you knew to be good, denouncing what you knew to be flaws.

SO those are my thoughts after reading through all of these threads. Anyone else?

Re: Not Too Sharp - Shifting Gears

PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 4:36 am
by rdietz55
is there any way that a group can submit an album to reviewers or RARB or a group of knowledgeable people, with specific questions to be answered?

Yes - post them here on the board! You may not get a RARB reviewer to respond, but you will almost certainly get feedback from someone who is knowledgable about a cappella. Almost everyone here is by default - it takes a certain level of a cappella awareness to know that RARB exists, and a further level of interest to join and post on the board. If you have questions, put samples up here, and I'm sure you'll get useful feedback.

My point is this: submit an album to RARB, and you WILL be compared to all other groups out there that the reviewer has listened to. Now, if that is unfair to you, why submit to RARB?

An illuminating story that just happened to me. I recently met up with an old acquaintance from the a cappella world whose group's album I had reviewed. The review was pretty bad, so I wasn't too keen to talk about it, until he said "yeah we knew that album was pretty bad when we sent it in for review." I asked him, "then why did you send it in?" His response, "because it seemed like the thing to do."

You don't *have* to submit to RARB. That's all I'm saying. If you want to do it for the publicity or the feedback, by all means go for it - but I don't think any group should ever feel obligated to submit because "that's just what you do."


Re: Not Too Sharp - Shifting Gears

PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 7:12 am
by billhare
jmille22 wrote:I so disagree with this. RARB is pretty much the only reliable learning tool most groups have at their disposal when it comes to learning right from wrong.

And I soooooo disagree with that! :-)

Why wait for the RARB review when it's already too late to do anything about it for your album?

RARB is simply the opinion of 3 randomly picked people, and that opinion is not always right - there is no such thing as "right" anyway. If you ever read my articles/blogs at, I know I sound like a broken record about the "outside ear" stuff, but this is what I'm talking about. Basically opinion from people who listen to a lot of A Cappella and can tell you what they hear. The people who write for RARB are no more experts than anyone else, they just make their remarks public. And having 3 reviews per album is telling when one reviewer says "this song didn't do anything for me" and the next says the same song is the "high point of the album". This is not to pick on RARB, it's just a factor of art and human tastes/differences. A Rolling Stone vs. a Billboard review will result in the same inconsistencies.

Your best bet is to get a few dozen "RARB reviews" before you finish mixing your album. Send out all your first drafts to people in the community (and this can include people who also write for RARB) and ask if they can send you critiques, ideas, etc for you to incorporate into your final mixes. Of course, you'll see many conflicting opinions there as well, and at that point you'll have to filter down all the stuff you're reading - I usually tell groups to ignore any single comments that no one else has independently corroborated, which instantly gets rid of about 95% of the chaff. One person saying "there's too much reverb" doesn't mean there's too much reverb, but if 3 or 4 people say it, maybe it's worth looking at.

Re: Not Too Sharp - Shifting Gears

PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 9:57 am
by jmille22
Bill, I'm on the same page as you and agree with everything you're saying, but oftentimes people just don't know better. It would be great if CASA were able to obsessively seek out every new group just to say, "Hey, we're here. We want to help. Come pick our brains," but that's impossible. I wish I'd known people like you were out there when I planned my group's last album, but I had no idea that the acammunity—yes, I've said that word out loud—was so extensive and generous. RARB was the only resource anyone told me about, so I used it; I can't be the only one who's gone through this. (In a sense, I'm lucky: At least I eventually found out about things like CASA and S2N in time to tell Ethan about them and damn if the new album isn't making very, very good use of that knowledge.)

Thinking about it more, things have changed in the last few years and my perspective feels a bit anachronistic. A cappella has exploded of late and I think it's getting increasingly difficult to be isolated from the acammunity. Perhaps our newfound popularity obviates my opinion. Actually, I hope it does.

Re: Not Too Sharp - Shifting Gears

PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 12:55 pm
by singabelle
I'm gonna have to go with Bill on this one. RARB is a great resource... for your next album. But for what you're currently working on? It holds little help unless you live and breathe and study what reviewers are saying. And from someone dating a RARB, who cares what they're saying?

Ok, I don't actually mean that. (obviously) These reviews are so helpful and we all can't wait to see what score our albums get and what people we don't know think about them. But for any group, album, fledgling producer it's not the definitive resource and I refuse to believe it is all people know about.

It would be great if CASA were able to obsessively seek out every new group just to say, "Hey, we're here. We want to help. Come pick our brains," but that's impossible.

You're right, it would be great and it is impossible. So why don't you do it? Why don't you reach out a hand to new groups you hear of? Not even in regards to producing albums or anything in particular, just exposing them to the tons of resources that typing a few keys and pressing enter will get you to. Granted, I'm saying that because well... I do. I'm lucky enough to be a CASA Ambassador and the title sure helps breaking the ice but with a database of over 200 groups, everyday I find and reach out to a new one and try to introduce them to all of the things CASA has to offer. And do that all on my own time. Heck I didn't even know the wonderful gentlemen of Not Too Sharp (Hi Sean!) until a month or two ago when Alex and I drove the hour and a half to their concert and spent a good bit of time talking to them afterwards. So just... do it. (I'm sure you do) But we can't complain about groups not knowing what their resources are if we sit back and don't tell them.

And for those of you in groups looking for help, just ask for it. I've come to learn that everyone in this community is generally nice. They will answer your emails. They will listen to your tracks and give you feedback. They will take a look at your arrangements and give you suggestions. They will lead you in the right direction for anything you want to get done. Just ask. And from one of THE most honest people... I promise you'll get honest answers. Like Bill says, get the opinion of an "outside ear". They WILL tell you what they think.

Re: Not Too Sharp - Shifting Gears

PostPosted: Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:01 am
by smatthews22
Not to pick up and beat a dead horse, but I was curious about a few things that this thread has had me thinking about.

First, to preface all of this, I am currently co-hosting an all-acappella radio show on WUNH Durham. It broadcasts between Boston, MA and Portland, ME, based out of UNH-Durham. Brendan McCann (He prowls the a cappella webs often, big on promotion and e-mailing and networking, that one) started it out, and it's been going swimmingly. Two hours a week, Friday nights 8-10, and all of it gets recorded and reposted. Now that we have a solid DJ for the next year or two (both Brendan and I graduated last Spring and didn't want to push things bigger until we had security), we've been trying to gain steam in the A Cappella world.

That's the preface. And if you're interested, it's as our main page, and for past shows.

We've been trying to think of structure, of what to talk about on the show, of how to balance discussion/talking/banter with actual songs being played. And thus we've been thinking long-term.

Here's the point of this post: I think this discussion would be very cool to have with a panel of guests on the show at some point, so that it reaches a broader audience. We recently did an interview on Skype with Tat Tong, and that worked out swimmingly... I am imagining a discussion on Skype with Bill, Lo, a reviewer or two, anyone who wants input and thinks this would be fun. We could even pre-record it if that time slot doesn't work for everyone.

Even greater still, we could do a few different discussions, to release either as podcasts in addition to the weekly show, or to just do maybe once a month on the show. I don't know yet but I'd LOVE to get this discussion out of the confines of the internet and into the airwaves, because as one commenter mentioned, some people just don't know about all of the discussion going on, all of the resources in a cappella, and all of the great and helpful minds out there that love the opportunity to lift up a group o singers!

Anyone else excited?

I am.

Yours in Service,