college vs. semipro

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Postby dekesharon » Fri May 11, 2007 9:29 am

So, where from here?

Well, first of all, the professional a cappella engineers are probably seeing a greater percentage of their time going to college groups as college a cappella grows and pro groups have less money to spend.

Luckily college a cappella is growing, and groups are finding ways to come up with the money to make a great album. Excellent.

Secondly, I'm reminded of earlier changes in pop music: Used to be, with rare exception, that one person wrote the lyrics, another the melody and chords, and then a third person would sing the song: the basis of the great American songbook and what are now considered jazz standards.

Pop music changed that: you had one musician/personality that would both write and perform the music. In some ways good, in some ways not so good (less "craft" in the songwriting, but a wider range of topics, and people could really express themselves through their music).

And then MTV: a pop musician had to now look good (Willie Nelson, Paul Simon and their ilk have literally been "grandfathered" in), and often dance. Good for pinup posters, but I'd argue this step hasn't served the music itself all that well.

Or, to be more specific, sometimes the music is quite compelling but it doesn't exist well as dots on a page. "Sexyback" is as much a bunch of production choices as it is a melody and lyrics, and as much a music video and element in Justin Timberlake's career (informed by all aspects of his tabloid life) as it is a chord progression. So, it's still certainly expression, as music should be, but it's not something that will translate well to others (unless of course a college a cappella group or party band does a very faithful rendition). No singing around the piano for this tune!

Anyhoo - the current situation?

Unless you're a signed act (which is increasingly rare, especially if you're not clearly fitting in a radio friendly niche), you're probably gonna have to be part recording engineer as well, as your albums need to be made for much less $ than before. Yet another skill set to plop on top of bands that are generally self-managed, etc.

I wonder how this will effect what we hear. Will we have more groups/artists with albums who sound great recorded but aren't so great live, or vice versa?

I do anticipate fewer albums in general. From a cappella groups, from all groups, frankly. In any genre, from classical orchestral recordings through major rock acts.

But they won't cease altogether. Not by a long shot.

And I expect the airwaves to continue their "tightening" trend - playing only the safest music to attract their demographic. Not looking good for an a cappella group to bust into the top 40 anytime soon (but not impossible).

We'll see!

:)

P.S. The House Jacks are now planning our next album. Dunno exactly how the money will work, but that's not ultimately why we make albums.

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Postby brianhaverkate » Fri May 11, 2007 9:47 am

DekeSharon wrote:Many things to respond to (forgive my ascii quoting):


It's actually rather amazing how quickly this perspective has changed in our society. Recorded music is free now. In fact, I'll bet people's perception around this will soon be (if it isn't already) that when they do pay for music, it's that they're paying for the convenience, not that there's a specific amount of money owed the recording artist et al.


***"CDs are nothing more than really expensive business cards."

They didn't use to be. And, frankly, they shouldn't be, any more than any artist "should" give away his art and receive no compensation.

Indeed - there are expenses that are purely promotional (like making a 3 minute promo video, or a snippits recording for corporate gigs), but a full-length album of original music has not historically been one, and I don't think it "should" be (or, if there's a sea change, then all art should be free, which then makes me wonder - should I have free medical advice? Car repair?)

***"It seems it would benefit these groups to really gain a regional following and try and make their living from live performances and merch sales"

This statement is a little like saying "oh - you're not getting paid as much for your work because people are stealing from you, well, go get a second job."

(and personally with 2 kids at home, I'm not interested in doing 250 shows a year as I did back in 1994, fun as it was. The House Jacks is only a limited percentage of my a cappella income, so it's not ruining my lifestyle - but that percentage of my income has taken a significant hit).

Also - selling CDs right after your show is the #1 best place and time: people are excited, still have the tunes in their head, then they get it signed by the band and feel they have something special. Who knows how many have that same connection to tracks they pull down from the internet.

Enough. I apologize if I'm perceived as whining. I don't mean to be. Bitching, perhaps.

But more over, I want to make sure the people here clearly see what is happening - the effect that their actions are having on an industry that matters to them. This stuff does not make the local news, and people's rationalizations here have already proven largely bullet proof.

Nonetheless, the truth needs to be told.


Deke- you have as much right to bitch about this as anyone, since you've seen the change first-hand. I can't begin to understand how frustrating it may be.

I buy albums. Not as often as I did when I was in my teens, but I buy them. I've never once used the itunes music store to purchase music, and I haven't stolen music from the many available free music dealers(!) on the internet since Napster back in the day before they were legit, and even that was only an initial curiosity (about 10 songs total).

But I can certainly see I don't represent the whole here. I work in schools where I'd bet 99% of the students think it's OK to steal music on the internet. You can explain to them until you're blue in the face about the morals of it, but it's kind of like saying "if you find a $20 bill on the ground that is not yours, it's not right to take it". They'd say, "forget that! that's $20! i'm taking it!" Until the problem is addressed properly, the problem is going to be there.

I see 3 scenerios it goes away,
1) CD companies are not allowed to print blank CDs and produce CD burners (for those who use them as part of their business, you could limit them by making them apply for a license and get special permission to use the products). I believe this was the first HUGE mistake that was allowed to happen in the 80s with cassettes and dubbing.
2) The government and the RIAA is so tough on cracking down on the free music servers that it would deter future developers from even thinking about it.
3) Encoding media so they can not be copied. Although with any technology, it's bound to be cracked.

This would prevent (mostly) the teeny-bopper crowd from having such broad access to free recordings.

I understand your desire to not tour 250 days a year, but in the current landscape....is there another feasible option for groups?

The reason I like Sister Hazel so much is that every couple months they are somewhere close to go and see them live. If not, probably wouldn't follow them as closely and buy their CDs. In fact I just bought their upcoming CD last week and saw them a few months ago live.

If live shows are the best place to sell CDs...why not tour a bit more to accomplish that?
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Postby sahjahpah » Fri May 11, 2007 10:02 am

I've always thought that the Phish model was best. They had a bunch of studio albums but they toured really aggressively and encouraged fans to record and exchange live shows. Although that requires you to have a distinctive sound and lots of skill/confidence in your fanbase to come out and see you. Of course, that all might just be a factor of jamband culture...
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Postby billhare » Fri May 11, 2007 10:21 am

MattOOTB wrote:The mean half said "what an idiot! He'll never get that back, and he knew it from the start".


Heh, I'll take that. Let me first go into my personal reasonings, though.

First off, I consider what I do as an art that goes hand in hand with the art of the people I work with. My personal art is always restricted by the budget of my clients, plus of course doing the job that my clients want rather than my own artistic expression (though I will go out on an egotistic limb and say that the albums in which I have had more artisic free reign have done much better in the critical world than others.)

The House Jacks, besides just being my friends, are a group that is local to me, well known, and of course wildly talented. They also hadn't put out a studio album in 5 years at that time, and it seemed that the A Cappella Community was asking for one. I was also feeling a bit creatively constrained, wanting to try out ideas that most of my other clients weren't ready for, let alone ask them to pay for my experiments. Do remember that this is my only source of income, my wife is a stay-at-home mom for our two kids, and that I do need to stay financially focused even while trying to be artistically creative - so I wasn't painting with too broad of a brush.

So The House Jacks were an obvious choice if I were going to flex that creative muscle, expand my art, make a GREAT "business card" (which HAS paid for itself many times over now) and just have an amazing artistic experience with friends. I also did think that if we made the A Cappella album of the year that it should sell enough units to pay itself back, based on their notoriety, supposed demand for a new studio album, and amount of touring they do. With my cut of the deal, we needed to sell 5,000 units to break even. That's really not a scary number at this level, so I was quite confident that it would pan out.

Even if it didn't pan out financially, that was a risk I was willing to take for artistic reasons, as well as for the feather in my cap (which, as I said, HAS worked out quite well!)

We never set a budget. Any talk of capping this would stymie the artistic side of this. If this album was going to be as good as we thought we could do, the public should respond and it will all work out.

And the public responded - they thought it was great, and they made copies for their friends! :-) Being out there in the trenches, I get to see a lot of peoples' CD collections, and have seen FAR more burned copies of this album than the actual album itself (I'm also talking about the era before legal paid downloads like iTunes, A-Cappella.com, AcaTunes, etc.) In my mind, if the copying ratio were even 2 to 1, we'd have turned a profit by now.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Would I do it the same way? Most likely. Am I an idiot? Depends on who you ask, but I think the whole experience has been great for my career. :-D

MattOOTB wrote:Why are people paying so much money to make the CDs in the first place?


That's like asking why someone goes to Stanford (Oxford, Yale, Harvard, yadda yadda) when they can get a decent education for next to nothing at their local community college. Or why Rolls-Royce (Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac) makes expensive cars when you can buy a Hyundai for 1/10 the price. If you feel your art is worth optimizing, you need to give it all the resources you can, within reason. If this weren't the case, then everyone would go for the cheapest option in every aspect of their lives - we wouldn't need real Kraft Macaroni and Cheese when we can get the awful tasting bargain brand for a dime less. You get what you pay for, pure and simple.
MattOOTB wrote:Will that 2nd $15,000 lead to twice as many CD sales? Really?


It should, yes. People want something because it is good. If people could download cars for free, do you think they'd be downloading old rusty Fords, or new shiny Ferraris? The problem is not that the stuff isn't getting out there and being appreciated, it's the ease of getting this particular type of product for free - and once we have the technology to make our own copies of cars, food, toys, or whatever - the rest of the industries of the world will start having to tighten its belts and put out lesser and lesser quality as well. I think that yes, the extra $15,000 will bring out twice the appreciative listeners. Will they pay for it? They would have, surely, before the choice of stealing it became so easy an option.

-B

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Postby dekesharon » Fri May 11, 2007 11:11 am

mcbc wrote:As far as semi-pro v. college, uhhh the only thing I'll add for now is that the list of pro groups that have "broken through" really hasn't changed in a decade or more ... The Bobs, The Nylons, Rockapella, Sweet Honey, Take 6 and few others. Whereas the college group "break throughs" are growing. (The one possible exception is Kid Beyond -- but that jury is out at the moment.)


College a cappella is growing, and there are many new groups formed in the past decade, but "breakthroughs?" Into the national or international eye? No. Not yet. Not until a big book or movie presents our collegiate community to the greater world. Until then, the growth is not of the "break through" type.

Only group that's been getting this level of publicity is the Whiffs, with TV appearances (West Wing) and the like.

As for some pro groups with big breakthrough publicity of late:

Toxic Audio - off broadway show (+Vegas, +Japan)
Magnets - London show by Stomp/Tap Dogs producers
Kinsey Sicks - movie (+big tours)

Granted - no radio play for a cappella since the early 1990's, but much of the radio play back then was for non-a cappella artists, so it's not an entirely accurate measure (Rockapella and the Bobs never had a radio hit).

And this list is very "US centric"; the number of high-quality, buzy pro a cappella groups has actually grown in the past decade in Germany, Japan and other parts of the world. And it's also pop-driven. Great things have been happening in classical, world and folk genres as well. Plus don't forget the Petra Haden "Who Sellout" moments, where non a cappella artists are making a cappella. Etc.

Pro a cappella isn't busting through radio as it did late 80's-early 90's, but it's still doing fine (album sales notwithstanding!)

As for collegiate? I think its day is coming. Something will help break it, and then it'll be a huge flurry of excitement. Maybe a movie, maybe a reality show...

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Postby dherriges » Fri May 11, 2007 1:34 pm

So I was involved in the last big piracy debate here and don't want to rehash it, but Brian's post really made me want to reply:

yahtzeealum wrote:I buy albums. Not as often as I did when I was in my teens, but I buy them. I've never once used the itunes music store to purchase music, and I haven't stolen music from the many available free music dealers(!) on the internet since Napster back in the day before they were legit, and even that was only an initial curiosity (about 10 songs total).


I buy albums. More often than I did when I was in my teens, actually. And definitely more often than I did before free downloading was an option. There's so much more music now that I know about and like when I have options beyond the radio (which is by and large an artistic wasteland) to hear what's out there. I've never used the iTunes music store, because I don't want copy-protected files, and I enjoy owning the CD and having the liner notes and all.

yahtzeealum wrote:But I can certainly see I don't represent the whole here.


Oh, absolutely. And I know I don't either. Though I do think there are a lot more people out there like me than the anti-piracy hardliners give us credit for.

yahtzeealum wrote:I work in schools where I'd bet 99% of the students think it's OK to steal music on the internet. You can explain to them until you're blue in the face about the morals of it, but it's kind of like saying "if you find a $20 bill on the ground that is not yours, it's not right to take it". They'd say, "forget that! that's $20! i'm taking it!" Until the problem is addressed properly, the problem is going to be there.


See, I tend to tune out people who "explain until they're blue in the face" about the morals of it, not because they're entirely wrong, but because they're usually self-righteous, and they're also usually being very simple minded about it. I.e. stealing is wrong, this is stealing, therefore this is wrong. A 5 year old could figure that much out. Adults I would hope have a more nuanced concept of morality than "These are the rules and that's that." The consequences of your actions in a specific situation are what matter.

I might take a $20 bill I found on the ground. It'd depend on context. If it's in such a location that there's pretty much no chance the person who dropped it will come back for it, or that I could locate them and return it, then why not? Leaving it there until it disintegrates doesn't do anyone any good. I don't see reason to be outraged on principle by people getting stuff for free, unless someone else is losing out in the bargain.

By the same principle as the last sentence above, I feel no guilt about downloading music that I was never going to buy anyway (i.e. that I would not have bought even if there was no such thing as file sharing, because I can't afford to spend thousands of dollars on CDs). Nobody's getting hurt and nobody's losing anything.

yahtzeealum wrote:I see 3 scenerios it goes away,
1) CD companies are not allowed to print blank CDs and produce CD burners (for those who use them as part of their business, you could limit them by making them apply for a license and get special permission to use the products). I believe this was the first HUGE mistake that was allowed to happen in the 80s with cassettes and dubbing.
2) The government and the RIAA is so tough on cracking down on the free music servers that it would deter future developers from even thinking about it.
3) Encoding media so they can not be copied. Although with any technology, it's bound to be cracked.


These scenarios scare me. Yes, piracy is a problem for musicians. Deke's insights make that abundantly clear to anyone to whom it wasn't already. But attempting to heavy-handedly restrict the technology is not the answer. First of all, it doesn't work - like you said, copy-protection schemes get cracked, and so on and so forth. Second of all, it's just scary. It's one more step on the path to a frightening level of corporate control over culture, intellectual property and ultimately our day-to-day lives. It's one more step in the commodification of our society, a process which has already gone too far.

I don't want to downplay the notion that piracy is a problem, or that artists need to make a living and can't be expected to do everything for the love of their art. But sharing music, like any art, for free has a long history and an important and well-established role in our culture, and some not insigificant benefits for artists and artistry itself. Even suggesting that we could or should do away with all instances of sharing music without compensating the right people is a terrifying notion. The kind of society that does that is not one I want to live in. I think most people would feel that way.

Finally, may I just point out that the music industry is a very new phenomenon. It's basically a creation of the 20th century. Music, on the other hand, is a very old phenomenon. I have every expectation that artistic exploration and innovation in music will persevere, no matter what changes technology brings to the way it's delivered. And I have every expectation that musicians will keep recording albums, and finding a way to pay for it. Maybe not with the same volume that they did in the last few decades when there was more money to be had that way. But there will always be artists, and society will always value what they do.

In the meantime, the best response to the piracy epidemic is for those of us serious music fans to keep buying the music we love, and to convince people that they should support the artists whose work they value, and pay for it. Any top-down remedies that attempt to deal with the problem by increasing corporate control over art and culture or banning technological innovation I find appalling and will argue vehemently against, and I think I have the moral high ground in doing so.
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Postby dekesharon » Fri May 11, 2007 4:42 pm

And yet one more thought on the effects of this situation:

Although to some it seems to make sense for a cappella groups to "hit the road" more often, it appears the opposite is happening.

The Duwendes, the Firedrills, the Transits and so many more - this new generation of a cappella groups is not leaving their day jobs with the same abandon as we did back in the 90's. Why?

My guess is that the upside is clearly diminished.

Radio play for a cappella went from not uncommon to non existant, so the allure of the "big signing" is no longer a reasonable carrot for most. And the further tightening of the music industry as a result of diminished sales has reduced the amount of money sloshing around.

Plus, frankly, live music has decreased. People have wide screen home theaters and 200+ channels. In SF the number of live houses has diminished, with many clubs having moved to a DJ format (much cheaper).

Yes, there are still the InPulses, the Mosaics, the Chapter Sixes and the many other groups who have taken the leap to full time. And yes there are still plenty of places to gig in this wide country (and world!).

Both a bad and a good thing.

A bad thing in that there are fewer a cappella gigs by pro groups happening around the country than there were a decade ago, if my calculations are right. Not a great deal fewer (as there are more groups), but the total number seems down a bit.

And as I've mentioned I think we should all expect fewer albums in the coming years, at least fewer per group (if the number of groups increases, perhaps that'll keep the numbers steady).

However, the upside is a good one: fewer groups going full time, hitting a wall, and imploding. A group that's structured as a part-time ensemble has a better chance of holding at that level for a long time, which is what we're seeing. And a consistent lineup is a great thing for group tightness and artistry.

Many great groups from the 90s are no longer around, as their members decided to throw in the towel when it was time to settle down and they didn't have their Grammy or a significant income stream with which to support a family.

And yet, many of those groups still refuse to completely die: Blenders. Five O Clock Shadow. Boyz Nite Out. People want to hear them, and they oblige with concerts each year.

So, if the end result is that there are fewer national touring groups but more groups that build a loyal local following and stay together for a long time, that's OK.

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Postby brianhaverkate » Sat May 12, 2007 5:37 am

sahjahpah wrote:I've always thought that the Phish model was best. They had a bunch of studio albums but they toured really aggressively and encouraged fans to record and exchange live shows. Although that requires you to have a distinctive sound and lots of skill/confidence in your fanbase to come out and see you. Of course, that all might just be a factor of jamband culture...


I Loooooovvvvvveee Phish! Sad they retired. :( So talented and quirky. They are the anti-radio group.


In response to Daniel-- I agree to a large degree with your thoughts. However, I think there's still ways indie artists could release their music for free (like a lot of bands do now) but still allow other bands the security of knowing their tracks are secure from theft as we're describing.

Yes, the recording industry is relatively young when you think of when home recordings actually came about. You didn't see Mozart crying about people downloading his music for free, but I think they had a bit of a problem with people transcribing works and selling the sheet music without the artist's knowledge (essentially theft). It's been going on for a long time, no doubt.

In the end, it's not teacher's or the RIAA or performing groups that are going to sway the public...it's parents and what they model for their children growing up (although these other avenues will help). That's when a majority of morals are hard-wired in children. If a teacher is saying, "don't download, blah, blah" and then they go home and their parents are surfing Limewire with them (and stealing music themselves), then..... you put it together. Current college kids are not the industry right now. Young teens have always been the driving force of the industry, but they don't show up to the record stores anymore. They DO show up to Limewire, and they are happy to let them in. Now I understand that young teens probably wouldn't be buying a cappella anyways, but they are a huge reason the industry as a whole is struggling.


I'm sure there's a variety of reasons semi-pro and pro groups don't hit the stage as often, but just to give you an idea, the following is what I've seen and/or had the opportunity to see the past 15 years.

1. Three Men and a Tenor (3 times)
2. King's Singers (1 time)
3. The Blenders (1 time)
4. Rockapella (haven't seen them but they've been close enough to see 3 times--kicking myself)


These are groups that have come to my area that I've been aware of (and I'm often in places where I can find this info). I've seen a few more, but I've chosen to travel a large distance to see them. I would be a bigger fan of far more groups if I had more chances to see them live. I understand there are a plethora of reasons groups don't tour, but dammit I want to see more groups that I don't have to travel more than an hour to see. :)
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Postby jonpilat » Sun May 13, 2007 7:58 pm

DekeSharon wrote:And yet, many of those groups still refuse to completely die: Blenders. Five O Clock Shadow. Boyz Nite Out. People want to hear them, and they oblige with concerts each year.


Actually, Boyz Nite Out is more active than they have been in years. I subbed in with them at a show about a week ago.
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Postby seth » Mon May 14, 2007 4:23 pm

The New York Times magazine ran an article on Sunday that's relevant to this discussion. There's even an a cappella connection: the article largely covers Jonathan Coulton, who Paul and Storm (of Davinci's Notebook) have been opening for.

By the middle of last year, [Coulton's] project had attracted a sizable audience. More than 3,000 people, on average, were visiting his site every day, and his most popular songs were being downloaded as many as 500,000 times; he was making what he described as “a reasonable middle-class living” — between $3,000 and $5,000 a month — by selling CDs and digital downloads of his work on iTunes and on his own site.
...
In total, 41 percent of Coulton’s income is from digital-music sales, three-quarters of which are sold directly off his own Web site. Another 29 percent of his income is from CD sales; 18 percent is from ticket sales for his live shows. The final 11 percent comes from T-shirts, often bought online.
...
Remarkably, Coulton offers most of his music free on his site; when fans buy his songs, it is because they want to give him money. The Canadian folk-pop singer Jane Siberry has an even more clever system: she has a “pay what you can” policy with her downloadable songs, so fans can download them free — but her site also shows the average price her customers have paid for each track. This subtly creates a community standard, a generalized awareness of how much people think each track is really worth. The result? The average price is as much as $1.30 a track, more than her fans would pay at iTunes.
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Postby jduchan » Tue May 15, 2007 6:17 am

DekeSharon wrote:College a cappella is growing, and there are many new groups formed in the past decade, but "breakthroughs?" Into the national or international eye? No. Not yet. Not until a big book or movie presents our collegiate community to the greater world.


You think the a cappella community needs a big book to help create some breakthoughs? I'm on it! (Assuming my 300+ page dissertation doesn't count...) ;)

Joshua S. Duchan, Ph.D.

Department of Music, Wayne State University

Univ. of Michigan Amazin' Blue, 2001-2007

Univ. of Pennsylvania Counterparts, 1999-2001

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Postby jamesq84 » Tue May 15, 2007 6:29 am

I think it's so cool that you wrote your dissertation on a cappella. Out of curiosity, could you possibly give us a relatively brief description of your findings?
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Postby jduchan » Tue May 15, 2007 8:24 am

JamesQ84 wrote:I think it's so cool that you wrote your dissertation on a cappella. Out of curiosity, could you possibly give us a relatively brief description of your findings?


Sure. A summary appears below. It's just a draft, however, so please don't cite or copy it! I tried to keep it as brief as possible, but you know how academic texts are...

Summary of Dissertation for RARB Forum — DRAFTDO NOT CITE OR COPY

My dissertation, “Powerful Voices: Performance and Interaction in Contemporary Collegiate A Cappella,” considers contemporary collegiate a cappella as a genre and musical practice. It contributes to the field of ethnomusicology and to music scholarship by examining a previously ignored form of music making in an unstudied musical context: the college or university campus. My research consisted primarily of ethnographic fieldwork (participant-observation, interviews) with groups in the Boston area, plus my own a cappella experience (two years with the University of Pennsylvania Counterparts and six with the University of Michigan Amazin’ Blue). I also worked with groups in Maine, elsewhere in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and elsewhere in Michigan, and corresponded with notable a cappella community members (such as Deke Sharon and Bill Hare) and others across the country. Finally, my research also included archival work and analyses of scores and recordings.

The central theme of this dissertation is the “transmission of ideas”: sharing and putting into practice aesthetic concepts, the venues within which that sharing takes place, and the shaping of those interactions and encounters by various dynamics of power. The “habitus of singing” offers a framework for understanding how notions of stylistically acceptable singing are learned, shared, and enacted. It operates within individuals and groups, between groups, and in the places and processes of rehearsals, live performances, and recordings. (The concept of “habitus,” along with particular usages of the terms "field" and "capital, comes from French sociologist and cultural theorist Pierre Bourdieu. References available upon request.) While exploring these concepts, I have mapped out some of the terrain inhabiting the world of contemporary collegiate a cappella music and highlighted several of the issues raised by the practice.

Here is a very brief overview: Chapter I is an introduction that offers my definition of “contemporary collegiate a cappella,” a review of the concept of “habitus,” and a brief introduction to the key groups and individuals in the dissertation; Chapter II covers the history of the genre, from college glee clubs to barbershop to 20th century vocal groups, and discusses the “first” a cappella group, the Yale Whiffenpoofs,” and the institutionalization of a cappella in the late 20th century; Chapter III discusses a cappella’s stylistic characteristics and their social motivations; Chapter IV analyses the rehearsal process from both a musical and a social perspective; Chapter V examines a cappella performance conventions, with particular attention to competitions and issues of gender; Chapter VI looks at recordings, the recording process, and the discourse surrounding both, with particular attention to the RARB Forum and various prizes in the a cappella economy of prestige; finally Chapter VII offers concluding thoughts, which are summarized below:

Contemporary collegiate a cappella developed from earlier musical forms, which contributed to the features of its musical practice. The college glee club offered an early model for student music-making on college campuses, while barbershop quartet singing provided additional stylistic and social features. Vocal music was part of the American popular music milieu throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and directly affected such aspect of a cappella as repertory and performance practice.

While drawing on these earlier forms, however, contemporary collegiate a cappella became its own genre. Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing into the twenty-first century, the a cappella movement exploded. Its growth was fueled by a twentieth-century intensification of the American tradition of music education, the increasing prevalence of co-educational colleges and universities, a string of commercial a cappella hits, and the emergence of hip hop and its characteristic rhythmic vocal techniques. Finally, stylistic and institutional developments within collegiate a cappella helped refine the genre musically and offer organization on a national (and international) scale.

The stylistic goals of contemporary collegiate a cappella—a balance of emulation and originality—are achieved through various arranging, performing, and recording techniques. These, in turn, are motivated by powerful social forces, such as the desire to share the "spotlight" between members of a group. And while musical excellence is often a group’s objective, it must be matched by social cohesion and camaraderie.

A singer’s habitus of singing is developed through the rehearsal process, where singers learn the particular aesthetic values of their group through observation, explicit instruction, and embodied practice. It is also situated within a field, where individuals in administrative or social roles exert their own authority, influencing the group’s aesthetics. Yet even members without such power can claim some control through strategies of resistance, as shown by an example of talking between a song’s pitch and count-off.

A cappella groups provide their members with social support at precisely the time when they are distancing themselves from the support systems offered by their families. One female group’s practice of “check-in” illustrates the importance of talk as an mode of sociability. Male groups, on the other hand, tend to prefer activity as a means of socialization. In all cases, including co-ed groups, music and socialization foster trust, which enables musical and social risk-taking, the demonstration of musical skill, the mastery of the habitus of singing, and the accumulation of social capital.

An a cappella group can be a basis for one’s identity on campus. Through the rehearsal process, musical presentation and political positioning are negotiated. Both have a direct impact upon notions of individual and group identity. Therefore, the rehearsal process cannot be seen merely as preparation for public performance. Instead, rehearsals are, in and of themselves, social performances wherein musical, political, and social issues are negotiated.

The musical, political, and social issues raised in rehearsal are then presented in public performance. Skits, for instance, give a cappella groups the chance to connect their practice with the world around them, from veiled political commentary to parody of high school sociability. When groups encounter each other in joint concerts or more competitive settings, music and choreography offer clues to aesthetic values and identity. Individuals and groups share and (re)consider, and enact or reject, new musical ideas through the interactions of such encounters. They learn more about the a cappella field and modify their habitus of singing based on the capital displayed in such encounters, especially in situations where performances are judged. Humor is an important expressive strategy that also enables cultural critique.

The study of this music reveals several ways that gender plays a role in college youth culture. For example, vocal percussion is generally a male practice. In some cases, female singers actively avoided the role of the percussionist. In others, groups held special workshops to train members in vocal percussion techniques and were especially supportive of women who attempted them—demonstrating that female vocal percussion was not the norm. Gendered codes also extend to limitations on the performance of humor and choreography.

The recording process reveals additional musical, social, and economic tensions in a cappella practice. Song choice and the management of space in the recording studio offer avenues for the performance of power, but also directly affect the resulting recorded work. For many groups, the recording studio offers the opportunity to create an idealized version of a live performance. For others, the studio enables an aesthetic shift whereby the emulative imperative is vigorously embraced and aided by digital technologies such as sampling, pitch-shifting and correction, and distortion.

Though debated by singers, producers, and other enthusiasts, this aesthetic shift is most clearly evident in the annual Best of College A Cappella (BOCA) compilation album. BOCA bestows social and political capital upon groups whose recordings are selected, which continually reinvigorates the economy of prestige at work in the a cappella field on local, regional, and national levels. Such declarations of value then affect future song choices, arrangements, and performances.

Participation in contemporary collegiate a cappella is a transformative experience occurring at a crucial, liminal period in the lives of many young people. What do amateur college singers learn from that experience? Several told me that, in order to balance the demands of their group with their academic obligations, they learned to better manage their time. Many also learn business skills by taking on their group’s administrative tasks. Most develop their vocal technique and many foster musical skills in arranging, vocal percussion, and performance and recording techniques. All singers, I suggest, adjust their habitus of singing, learning the particular aesthetic values of their group and how to vocalize them. More broadly, collegiate a cappella singers learn to navigate and negotiate the social, political, and cultural terrains of the world in which they live while enjoying a certain “safety net” of support provided by the bonds of friendship forged from their common musical pursuits. Like many choral practices, a cappella not only meets the needs of its particular community, it creates that community.

Joshua S. Duchan, Ph.D.

Department of Music, Wayne State University

Univ. of Michigan Amazin' Blue, 2001-2007

Univ. of Pennsylvania Counterparts, 1999-2001

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Postby jduchan » Fri May 18, 2007 1:12 pm

...well, that pretty much killed this thread...

(runs and hides)

;)

Joshua S. Duchan, Ph.D.

Department of Music, Wayne State University

Univ. of Michigan Amazin' Blue, 2001-2007

Univ. of Pennsylvania Counterparts, 1999-2001

jduchan
 
Posts: 134
Joined: Thu Jan 22, 2004 7:00 pm
Location: Kalamazoo, MI

Postby billhare » Fri May 18, 2007 2:34 pm

Well, at least we didn't cite or copy it....

-B

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

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