Penny Loafers Review

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Penny Loafers Review

Postby billhare » Mon Jun 05, 2006 7:43 am

In his RARB Review, Sean Dargie wrote:Thankfully, the soloists are pretty decent throughout the album, which makes me wonder why there is such a disconnect between the quality of lead singers and background singers. Aren't they the same people?

I didn't work on this album - nor have I heard it - but I can answer this one as a veteran of thousands of studio sessions!

The obvious answer is that these are different skillsets - performing out in front or blending into the group. Since I tend to get to know the singers as background vocalists first, as they build the track, it's always interesting to hear their transition into the "front seat" as we start putting lead vocals on their tracks.

The guy who I've been burying in the mix that sounded awful in the background (having me scratching my head as to how he passed an audition) all of a sudden gets on lead vocals and gives the whole album its defining character, wins a best soloist CARA, and secures a BOCA slot for his group.

Consequently, the girl who has been the anchor of the backgrounds, great tuning, blend, texturing, etc, might turn in such lackluster lead vocals no matter how much I try to drag her out of the shell her ex-High School choir director put her into!

Not to blast HS choir directors in general (before I get a lot of indignant responses!) I'm just talking about the "There's-only-one-way-to-sing-and-that's-classical" sort of directors. And that's fine too, just don't try to sing Green Day in a semi-operatic style and no one will get hurt!


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

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Postby brianhaverkate » Sun Jun 25, 2006 8:03 am

Great post! I've come across lots of these cases. Most of the really good soloists come from musical theater backgrounds or no singing background at all. It really is a different skill set. I think everyone can carry a great solo though (no matter how well they blend in the backing vocals and nail that 7th or 9th perfectly in tune). It may take just the right style of song (and range, etc.) to spotlight a background singer. But, you're right...those that demand attention as a soloist will do so usually in any genre and style and usually stick out like a sore thumb in the backgrounds. I guess this is why the drummer and bass players in bands don't usually solo...
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Newer Release

Postby Penny Loafers » Wed Nov 08, 2006 11:59 pm

After we got our 2005 CD reviewed, we went back to the studio and recorded another this year. It'll be sent in for review as soon as we get it back from printing, but in the meantime, check out clips on our website ( and make up your mind to see if we've made some progress on our newest release, Quicksand :)

-Sam Cohn
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The Penny Loafers
Penny Loafers
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Postby Jimmy » Mon Apr 30, 2007 12:48 pm

Just noticed the new review posted today of "Quicksand." A couple of things struck me as interesting... first of all, the Penny Loafers chose to do 2 songs each by Kelly Clarkson and Snow Patrol. My group makes it a rule never to have more than one song by a single artist in our repertoire at once; in fact, we usually try to wait a couple of years before we repeat an artist. I guess there are a couple of reasons behind this, including us not wanting to keep a diverse set of songs and not get too identified with a single artist or genre, and also to avoid too much comparison between the arrangements, soloists, etc. Although there have certainly been times where we wanted to do more than one song by an artist because it would translate well for us, etc. What do people think about doing more than one song by a certain artist, especially on the same album?

The other thing that jumped out at me was the fact that the Penny Loafers included "Breathe Me" by Sia and "Because of You" by Kelly Clarkson. Both of these songs were done by Off The Beat on their most recent album. I was surprised a) that two groups at the same school have overlapping repertoires, and multiple songs at that, and b) that the Penny Loafers would choose to record these songs after OTB had already done so. It's as if they're begging you to compare the versions, if not the groups as a whole as well. If I were in charge of a coed group at UPenn, I'd probably be doing my best to establish the group's own style and identity, rather than trying to be like OTB, only better (because frankly it's just really hard to measure up to.) I'd be curious to know which group started doing these songs first, and how that affected the other's decision to do them.
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Postby Penny Loafers » Mon Apr 30, 2007 2:42 pm

Hey Jimmy,

I can definitely comment on the choice to do two songs by both Kelly Clarkson and Snow Patrol. We put on two main shows a year, much like any other group, with 14 songs per set. Only two or three songs will get carried over from Fall to Spring semester. Of the two snow patrol songs, we premiered Run in the fall and then decided to do Chocolate in the spring, and similar things with Kelly Clarkson. I do think that when it comes to making an album, personally, diversity is better, but at the end of the day, you want to record your best songs, even if that means repeating an artist.

As for the OTB comparison, as far as I know, we both did Breathe Me for the Fall semester, and Because of You in the Spring semester, completely unaware that the other was doing the same songs. With so many groups at Penn (12 officially recognized acappella groups), it's inevitable that repertoire will be overlapped at some point. We are not trying to be anyone other than the Loafers. It may not be completely apparent judging by an individual album, but we do have our own genre and style of arranging. Where OTB excels at a System of a Down song, we excel at the softer side, at the alternative-pop (and increasingly, indie) music of groups like Sufjan Stevens and Regina Spektor.

If you get a chance, check out our youtube for some clips of our performances. (I really like the Sufjan song and How to Save a Life :-) )


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The Penny Loafers
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Postby pl86 » Mon Apr 30, 2007 3:17 pm

Hey Jimmy—the reasons you gave for your group to not do multiple songs by the same artist at the same time are perfectly valid. And I echo Sam’s sentiment. To elaborate, for Quicksand, we pretty much voted on a song-by-song basis, meaning we judged the merits of each independently. The question of whether or not we wanted two songs each of Snow Patrol and Kelly Clarkson was brought up—and in the end, the group decided that the pros of choosing those particular songs outweighed the cons of repeating artists. This was a decision made for and based on that particular situation, so we’re not necessarily ruling out the repetition of artists in the future. However, we did stay away from both/repeating artists on this years’ CD setlist ;)

In terms of concerns associated with doing too many songs in the same genre—there are more a cappella groups at Penn than I have fingers to count, and a key distinguishing factor among the groups is the genre/gender. We are in the realm of coed pop/rock, which could be interpreted pretty broadly, which is nice. Our setlists are a reflection of the musical tastes of the group at the time we sing them, and we enjoy singing songs we like to listen to. (In the case of Quicksand, what we happened to like last year were Snow Patrol and Kelly Clarkson—in addition to the other artists on our CD. So for us, it wasn’t too big of a deal that we repeated songs by those 2 artists.) As such, we don’t feel the need to consult other groups’ setlists when determining ours.

We believe in what we do and how we do it, and of course, are constantly working to improve musically, which is the main reason why we submit to RARB—so that we can get more feedback on how to improve. I appreciate the fact that you and others have brought about this discussion. I hope you’ll be just as eager to check out our upcoming album this fall :)

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Postby Jimmy » Mon Apr 30, 2007 4:31 pm

That's cool. It's interesting to see the different ways groups make decisions about stuff and how that varies from campus to campus. Thanks for your responses... obviously at the end of the day you want to record your best songs, and I think the scores reflect that the SP and KC songs were probably some of your best.

I can't even imagine what it's like to be at a school where there are so many a cappella groups. Here at UMD, we've got 4 major pop/rock groups (2 coed, 1 all-girls, and 1 all-guys), as well as several others that are more specialized (3 Jewish groups, an Indian-American group, a comedic group). All the groups make an effort not to do a song that another group does or has done in the past, but in some cases it happens just because people didn't know. I guess when there's only one other pop/rock coed group at a school, there's more of a temptation to compare versions (and, apparently, a lot more interaction between members of the groups).
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Postby sahjahpah » Mon Apr 30, 2007 4:45 pm

Jimmy wrote:All the groups make an effort not to do a song that another group does or has done in the past, but in some cases it happens just because people didn't know.

Harvard was having the same problem with its 7 or 8 most prominent groups but then someone (I think it might have been LowKeys alum / Apple employee Adam Roben, though I might just be making that up) designed a database with a login/password that all the group have. You can enter in the song title/artist for a song your group is considering and also put in whether you're considering doing it, arranging it, performing it, etc. You can organize and view the DB based on song title, artist, group, status, date added, date modified.

It would be relatively easy to set up for the UMD groups (all it takes is a little php/MySQL knowledge to get at least a rudimentary setup going). I'd guess that you'd be able to find some UMD CS major to hook it up for you for not very much money. If you can't find anyone to do it and you're interested, let me know and we can talk about it--I'm always looking to bring together CS and a cappella, my two loves (see: the "Bass Case" pun a while back)
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