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RARB/CASA Forums • View topic - PLEA - To all creators of a cappella music.

PLEA - To all creators of a cappella music.

From gear to techniques to finished song, it’s all here.

PLEA - To all creators of a cappella music.

Postby D.L.P.A » Thu Jan 07, 2010 7:16 pm

Hi everyone!

I've been a huge fan of a cappella music, specifically collegiate a cappella, for about 4 years now. I'm a sophomore in college, but I'm sadly not talented enough to be in a group myself. However, it is refreshing to know that people my age can truly inspire my ears and creativity with their unbelievable talent and hard work.

I've just registered for the forums here, and have eagerly been searching for at least one opinion that mirrors mine on the forums. However, there is one opinion that I am not seeing, and it is closely tied in to my opinion of the newest Bubs album "Play the Game" which everybody seems to love.

The Bubs are amazing. I enjoyed "Shedding" a lot (specifically the song Hurt), but for some reason I skipped on Pandaemonium. I recently downloaded "Play the Game," and while I can notice the huge difference between the sound of their album, and the sound of almost any other album that tries to imitate theirs, I also notice one element of the album that is very disappointing to me, so much so that I can't go on without getting this opinion out.

There is a difference between the quality of the songs, and the quality of the album. I think that this applies to all groups intent on recording, and I will not simply use this message to bash the Bubs. They don't deserve it.

What I mean when I say "there is a difference between the quality of the songs, and the quality of the album," is that just because the songs are of a high quality and musicality doesn't mean that I will necessarily like the album. I say this with several points in mind:

1: What is the story that the album is trying to tell? As a good example of this, I mention the Harmonic's "Escape Velocity." With this album, I can recognize an OVERALL arch to the album that most others seem to lack. There is a reason that they started with "Battle without Honor and Humanity," and then moved on to the next track and the next track and so on. Whereas it seems with the Bubs that they could have chosen any 12 tracks to fit the album. What do Ben Folds, Nine Inch Nails, and Pink Floyd have in common? The answer is, "not much." This makes the album less appealing to me. Their songs have polish, but I just don't think that the songs mesh.

2: How do the songs you choose represent the group as a whole? I am always amazed to find so many groups of college kids (people MY AGE) singing songs that I, frankly, hate. Why are they doing this? These people are all my peers, and yet sometimes I cannot recognize a bit of college spirit in any of the albums that are coming out. If I could arrange any song and put it out for all to hear, it certainly wouldn't be a Billy Idol song. I know that this is a matter of song preference, and I know that my tastes do not match everyone's, but I am amazed to find so many people my age that are firmly stuck in music of the 70's and 80's. If that's what you are passionate about, fine. But if you choose songs that are all over the spectrum, then they better have a common thread of some kind, or a specific goal or purpose among the other songs, or else the album will sound jarring as a whole, even if the songs are well produced and well performed throughout.

3: Collegiate a cappella, for me, is 2 things. It is fresh, and it is humorous. Both of these do not have to be apparent in an album, but I would appreciate it if at least one of them were. Collegiate a cappella is humorous by its very nature. The groups are taking hit songs and mutilating them, singing "wop doo-chu bow wow" and trying to pass it off as original music. I say this not to mock, but to implore you to see the inherent humor of it. I'm asking groups to stretch their creative muscles in a way that recognizes this inherent ridiculousness. The reason I prefer a cappella to regular music is because it often tells two stories. The first is the story that the song itself was originally telling. This is what the original artist intended. The second story is the one that the group is telling to get you to listen to their song INSTEAD of the original. The Bubs seemed to ignore this concept with their latest album because, when I listen to it, I can only hear one story. It is not fresh, or humorous. It is a cover of a song. I'm looking for more than just a cover of a song. I'm looking for an original expression within this ridiculous world of covers.

My plea is for future recorders of a cappella music to keep these points in mind as they decide on songs, arrange the songs, sing them, record them, and mix them into albums for me to listen to. I apologize for the lengthy-ness of my comment (and for any rambling that I may have done), and to the Beelzebubs if I have shared opinions that they do not appreciate. However, I think that they will be just fine regardless. I mean, is anyone even going to read this?
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Postby dekesharon » Thu Jan 07, 2010 7:55 pm

DJ,

I, for one, read your review and thoughts. Many people will.

Your perspective is appreciated and your thoughts were respectfully presented. A cappella needs listeners with a critical ear and mind to help push creativity forward and bring the best out of musicians.

I understand what you're saying, and agree with the idea that college a cappella groups should be thinking of all of these concepts, but don't personally agree with your specific example.

I deeply respect Charlie Forkish and the envelope-pushing work he did on Escape Velocity, but I have to admit I don't listen to it for pleasure repeatedly. To me, it's kinda like a collection of essays that were fascinating to read, but I'll likely not reread. Play The Game, however, to my ear is like a movie you want to watch over and over again.

Agreed: the Bubs album doesn't have a clear overarching theme, but frankly most college albums don't. But it does take each song for what it is, and as such makes for a superlative collection.

Humor? Dog Problems is perhaps my favorite track from last year on any album, and I find it laced with humor, yet still complicated and emotionally dense and extremely satisfying. And I see great dark humor in ending the album with Goodbye Cruel World the way they do. And Party All The Time makes me laugh, as does the intro to the Beck tune. Tongue in cheek delivery without making fun of it or losing the musicality.

And fun: Who are you is genius, and Vehicle is a pure joy ride.

I think the album represents the group as a whole beautifully, as it's diverse, thoughtful, complex and brilliantly executed. It's likely much like one of their iPod playlists, or frankly any college student's playlist. Which is why other college students (in large) have enjoyed it.

As for freshness, I always love hearing a new Bubs album because I never know what will happen. Granted, I'm deeply biased, and yet as an alum I'm also deeply critical (the current guys always say that alums are their harshest critics as well as most ardent supporters, and it is true).

The guys know I will tell it as I see it at all times, and whereas I will say I would like a heaping helping of pioneering in the next Bubs disc, the albums since Ed Boyer has taken over production have been truly amazing. Professional quality. Frankly, I can't think of another college's albums I think are more consistently superlative laced with moments that are breathtakingly beautiful or shockingly amazing.

So, it's kinda hard for me to harsh their buzz too badly when they're raising the bar album after album.

That has not always been the case. Before I worked with them on Next, I was honest in saying they were not making the best albums in the country. Off The Beat and a couple other groups were outpacing them. They have turned that around.

All that said, that's just my opinion. I don't think that everyone should share my perspective, as it's music, and completely totally subjective. We agree that it's technically accomplished, but disagree on the emotional takeaway. Completely reasonable.

I agree more than you know on the topic of groups thinking and planning before they make music. I can guarantee you that the Bubs do. Sit up all night figuring out how to make amazing music and performances. It's not easy. And they're most certainly not the only group, by a longshot. In fact, that's the thing that gives me the most faith in the future of collegiate a cappella: music directors and arrangers are losing sleep trying to figure out how to blow people's minds with a bunch of amateur singers on an album they'll record in their spare time between chem lab and econ 202.

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

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Re: PLEA - To all creators of a cappella music.

Postby billhare » Thu Jan 07, 2010 8:01 pm

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments.

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Postby D.L.P.A » Thu Jan 07, 2010 8:10 pm

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Postby billhare » Thu Jan 07, 2010 8:48 pm

Last edited by billhare on Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Bill Hare Some dude who records and mixes people who can't play instruments.

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Re: PLEA - To all creators of a cappella music.

Postby jmille22 » Thu Jan 07, 2010 8:57 pm

Jay Miller
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Dept. of Mechanical Engineering
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After Hours Co-Ed A Cappella
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Postby Ed Boyer » Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:12 pm

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Postby D.L.P.A » Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:47 pm

Interesting! Thanks, guys.

Bill - Thanks for putting me in my place. If "Escape Velocity" was thrown together without a clue of what was happening in terms of aesthetic goals, then I simply made some up. But my point still stands, even if the example was completely unfounded.

jmille22 - You're right about the overarching theme concept. It's a repertoire thing, and not a concept thing. However, I think that a group should go the extra mile to make sure that a track is not out of place before taking the time to record it. I know that it's difficult, and that there are a lot of members, and a turnover every year, but I feel that, if the groups all sit down and plan the album much ahead of time then they can ask themselves, "what do we want our album to sound like?" It's hard, but I feel like an album shouldn't just be a collection of a repertoire on tape. If the repertoire doesn't make an album, then maybe they should expand their repertoire and find songs that reach their musical objective. I know it's incredibly difficult, but the best groups out there seem to be able to do it.

Also, I think you misunderstood me when I talked about humor. I don't mean that the group should tell jokes with their songs. In fact, you don't need a sense of humor at all to make the music. Even a hardcore metal song can be done with an element of humor. I think it's all about recognizing that your recording is different, and then playing to that as a strength, rather than trying to cover it up. I'm not a purist. I promise. I know that that's how I'm coming off, but it's simply not true. My favorite group, Off the Beat, plays to their strengths when recording songs with no humor whatsoever. They find what is unique about their arrangement and they highlight it. They constantly strive to make their recordings texturally more interesting than the originals. I always find their arrangement funny, even if the surface of the song is rough and emotional.

And again, I think that you misinterpreted what I meant when I said "fresh". When people cover a song like "For the Longest Time," (as they do often) often they try to make it sound as though it's the first time anyone is hearing it. That's simply all I meant. A straight up cover band with instruments play every song and I imagine that they know that every song pales in comparison with the real group. A cappella groups, I think, should not take this attitude. And most of the time they don't. I didn't stress that part of the argument because, like you said, it's hard to quantify and most of the time I have been pleased with it.

Deke - I'm sorry, I missed your comment at first. Whoops!
Thanks for reading it! You said it perfectly when you mentioned that it was more a matter of "emotional takeaway." I simply don't take as much away from "Play the Game" as you do. There's nothing wrong with that. Maybe it's just because I'm looking for more angst than "Party all the Time." There's not much to take from that song other than a 4/4 beat. It's a great arrangement, but the song choice is weak for me.[/quote]
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Postby D.L.P.A » Thu Jan 07, 2010 10:09 pm

Ed,

Thanks for commenting! You're right. I understand the difficulties. I know I'm asking for a lot. It's hard to make a clear point when you're talking about music because music is so generally hard to explain. For some reason, I like "Shedding" more than "Play the Game" I can't explain why, but I do.

And their arrangements are amazing. The amount of individual elements that go into making the arrangement sound full is impressive. You can hear new musical ideas with every listen. But although Goodbye Cruel World was different from the original, it wasn't a strong ending to me because it didn't seem to logically follow All the Love in the World. It seemed like they had the song ready to go, and they put it at the end because it has "Goodbye" in the title. Honestly, now that I think about it, I would have probably been more impressed if they had thrown it in at the beginning, and then had it lead into Typical. That just might have blown my mind.

The problem I have is with this concept of "repertoire." I've seen too many groups very lazily recycle songs every year simply because they don't have the time or talent to find something new to sing. It bugs me, but, as you said, it has to be done sometimes. And there's also the fact that there are many groups with members that do not even plan to pursue musical interests after college. When you put them in a group where they might have creative control over a musical group, it becomes easy to see why there are lots of groups that can't rise above mediocrity.
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Postby Ed Boyer » Fri Jan 08, 2010 5:16 am

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Postby dave sperandio » Fri Jan 08, 2010 5:42 am

About Me Diovoce Studios CASA Board of Directors

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Postby jmille22 » Fri Jan 08, 2010 6:02 am

Jay Miller
University of Rochester Alum
Dept. of Mechanical Engineering
B.S. '08/M.S. '09
www.shminaminoo.com
After Hours Co-Ed A Cappella
Business Manager '05-'08
Member '05-'09
www.URAfterHours.net
www.youtube.com/URAfterHours

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Postby Ed Boyer » Fri Jan 08, 2010 8:30 am

DJ,

I'll add that we're not trying to change your opinion. Specific song/album likes/dislikes aside, I think virtually everyone here agrees with your observation that there is a lot of unexplored headroom for originality in the medium.

What were ARE contesting are the assumptions you make based on your observations. It's not because nobody's thought about it (we have, are, will). It's not because anyone's lazy. And while it has something to do with the fact that participants are mostly amateurs, I don't think even that correlation is as strong as you think (We've all seen bands with amazing chops and no direction...or mediocre musicians [Madonna] with incredible vision).

I also think it's a mistake to assume that all albums should have an arc-like flow. Any ride at The Magic Kingdom will take you on a nice journey, which is great if you're in that mood. But sometimes it's just more fun to go to the local fair, eat fried pickles, and ride the Zipper 'til you barf. I think you have to be in that state of mind to enjoy an Eddie Murphy cover leading in to a Dylan cover.

BUT, the fact that we're even talking about stuff like album flow and groups' stylistic identities is a good sign. It proves that the medium has the potential to be taken seriously. And that we are, in fact, moving out of the "let's try as hard as we can to not suck" era and into the "let's make music that expresses something" era.
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Postby whataboutrob » Fri Jan 08, 2010 9:10 am

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Postby D.L.P.A » Fri Jan 08, 2010 9:48 am

Yeah, you guys are right. I can verbalize the difficulties because I've read them before, thought about it, and have experienced my own difficulties in other performance groups. However, I have never actually experienced them for myself. Thanks for being so adamant and understanding when making your points, and feel free to continue discussing it. I hate that I continue to talk about the Bubs because, really, I tried to make my point whilst mentioning them as little as possible. The only reason I talked about them at all is because I knew that most everyone who read this would probably have heard their music. That's it. This isn't a campaign against them and I find myself enjoying their stuff more and more, if only because I have gained a more in-depth understanding of the group as a result of this discussion.

A cappella groups can do whatever they want. I tend to go to it more for inspiration than for easy listening (and, as you continue to tell me, I realize that 'Play the Game' is more than just that. I wasn't referring to them). I'm so inspired by the genre, and I wanted to share one concern I had in regards to how I (perhaps falsely) perceive the groups to be approaching the genre. I'm referring specifically to the groups at my own college. They seem to have no knowledge of the legacy they are a part of. Some of the members barely even know what a BOCA CD is. With these things in mind, I made a plea that rashly attempted to outline what I think the genre should be for other people. I'm ecstatic to find so many people agreeing with me on some points. I'm more ecstatic to know that people are thinking critically about it.

Thanks for reading. I have taken all of your comments to heart, and I would be glad to continue discussing it.
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