The Spartones CD

Discuss our reviews or just talk about any old album.

Postby bstevens » Mon Sep 27, 2004 7:46 pm

Part of any public _forum_ is space for venting. On the other hand, part of any _public_ forum must be time spent on civility and, in the interest of ethics, accuracy (I leave grammar and orthography to the mavens).

Brian's accurate (see below) and ethical (ditto) post gives me the chance to reiterate RARB's purpose. For whereas this is not accurate:

yahtzeealum wrote: I guess if you want a glowing review from RARB it comes down to the following questions you need to ask yourself:

...

If not........DON'T SUBMIT TO RARB!!!



it is also, I believe, finely pitched sarcasm.

On the other hand, Brian is right, and in a sense taking the post right out of my keyboard, when he concludes that:

yahtzeealum wrote:RARB has shown time and again that it is NOT for amatures who want a good quote to throw on the website.
just don't expect RARB to agree with you. They have their own opinions.


Entirely true. As explained to every group considering a submission, RARB produces reviews. Although reviewers are encouraged to strive for constructive criticism, RARB's refusal to guarantee positive reviews is in fact the hallmark of an organization unbiased in theory, and RARB goes to great lengths to ensure lack of bias in practice as well (e.g. not accepting payment for its services, avoiding conflict of interest in reviewer assignment, welcoming a cappela of any genre and style).

RARB reviewers have their own opinions; had they not, our reviews would be worse than useless - fantasies or sycophancies.

As always, I value the discussions that our reviews, and this forum, encourage. Keep singing, keep listening, keep reading, and keep the a cappella community a "community" in the truest sense: a vital place of uniquely satisfying exchange.

Benjamin Stevens

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Educational Officer for Festivals and Events

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Postby brianhaverkate » Tue Sep 28, 2004 3:45 am

*Daylight breaks from the storm* :)

Here's what's up guys (and gals).... this purist Vs. electronic effects battle has been going on for the last several years (if not longer). Since we're in a Presidential Election year, I'll compare it to our lovely political parties. The Republicans and Democrats will never whole-heartedly agree. Instead, they each provide a candidate that reflects their interests and values. In addition, there will always be candidates that reflect a little bit of both parties (Independents, Reform, etc.) with something of their own to bring to the table as well.

That being said, I believe the frustration (and spirited arguments) on this forum are a result of a lack of representation. In terms of having your a cappella CD reviewed there is only ONE place to professionally have it done...RARB (as far as I know). If you don't like their values, it's tough because there's no other alternative. I know the RARB reviewers will say that they love a "bare" album with heart as much as an "auto-tuned effects-laden" album with all the bells and whistles, but the scores on the site are just NOT representative of this thought. And I'm not saying that so the reviewers can run through the past 3 years of reviews looking for that ONE review they drooled over that was a "bare" album. It is highly the exception rather than the rule.

I've given up fighting about this a long time ago because it just didn't make sense to try and convince RARB (and those who enjoy their slant) to slant the other direction. It's not a bad thing. People like what they like. My ideals and values are just not whole-heartedly represented by RARB and I have no other alternative to turn to. That's why someone with the drive (and time) needs to start an alternative to RARB. It would be a good thing. I still enjoy parts of RARB (especially this forum), but don't necessarily share their ideals and values.

Here's my soapbox: Singers these days are far less talented than in previous years. The reason....technology. Singers don't bother to properly listen and sing in-tune because "hey, we've got autotune". They don't bother to properly listen for tempo because "hey, we've got a click-track". The affects of technology can go on and on in their relation to singers. With some groups and singers it's a more subtle influence of technology. With others, it smacks you right in the face. Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Evanesence (sp?) all absolutely SUCK in concert because they haven't a clue about how to use their voice properly. But I like their CDs (well, not Britney).
I don't hate technology. Rather, I think it's really cool. However, it has allowed untrained performers to rise to the top of the food chain with little to no merit. I don't respect that. I think it's horrible. Singers (and a cappella groups) seem to be more about whether or not they have a good PR person or engineer/producer rather than about their talent.
These are facts. I don't think anyone here can honestly debate them. What do we do about them? We have higher standards. We don't fall prey to people who "make" music solely for the purpose of selling it.
Show me a group that stands before me in concert and kicks ass and I'll show them my respect. You can't hide behind effects and auto-tune in a live performance (unless you have the most insane sound engineer ever!). I think drooling over albums and groups who are excessive in their studio spending is sending the wrong message to future singers. It's my value. You don't have to agree with it.

Okay, I'm done. Happy Tuesday!
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Postby Nick Lyons » Tue Sep 28, 2004 6:53 am

I'm in the process of performing an "experiment." I'm planning on remixing a few of the tracks from the Spartones latest CD, spending the amount of time equivalent to that of dio's time spent on The Clefhangers acclaimed "Breeze."

I guess what I have a problem with is that, in most cases, a poor recording or poor album signifies an unrehearsed, or sloppy group. All told, in MANY cases, the exact opposite is the case. The groups that come across as amazing are unrehearsed groups that record one part at a time, through auto-tune, with arrangements that mirror the original recordings, with soloists attempting to recreate John Mayer, Dave Matthews and Gwen Stefani's unique voices. However, to the "trained ear" (a term I almost shudder to use), you can hear lack of energy, out of tune singing and a lack of enjoyment in the overall process.

All told, I'm going to agree that the community, not RARB, has gone the way of technology. I would never call myself a "purist." I'm for technology just as much as the next guy. I wouldn't be going into the field of production otherwise... You want a good album, buy one by one of the big name groups... UNC Clefhangers, U Penn Off the Beat, SoCal Vocals, Tufts Beezlebubs, the list goes on, as we all are aware. However, if you want to see the truly talented groups, look no further than your neighborhood ICCA competition, your East and/or West Coast Summits, or SoJam. Not to say that any group is limited to one or the other... but don't go into an apple orchard looking for oranges. If you're looking for a well rehearsed group, don't expect to hear it on any CD. Today's a cappella producers are some of the best in the biz...

I can't concentrate anymore... just remember people, you may not agree with RARB but they have a job as difficult as that of the president... they must attempt to make everyone happy... an impossible task. RARB can't be blamed for the way the industry has turned... do keep that in mind before you submit your album... But remember the process will always make the end result well worth it.

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Postby aballard » Tue Sep 28, 2004 8:01 am

Frankly, I’m annoyed by this entire debate. The whole “purist” vs. “non-purist” thing just reeks. At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: any group that wants to put forth a “professional” album needs to spend a seriously good deal of time investing in its “production”.

If you want to go the way of recording individual voices on separate tracks and drenching everything with effect, good for you. But your album won’t sound good if you only know how to use the studio like a tool, instead of an instrument. On the other hand, if you want to go for the “bare” sound, your album is still going to need a LOT in terms of production if you don’t want it to sound lame/crappy/amateur. So you want a true-to-life sound? Then rehearse the sh*t out of your material, and make sure you actually DO sound good before recording it. Then, start doing your research. Find the absolute best place to record. Find the absolute best mics you can use to record. Figure out exactly how to place those mics to capture your sound – sometimes an inch makes a world of difference. Keep in mind that elements down to the weather outside will affect your recording. There are as many variables that go into this kind of recording as go into a more studio-oriented one, and if you want that bare album to sound good, then put in just as much production time. And you’re STILL going to have to manipulate that recorded sound if you want it to sound passable coming out of your speakers. There are entire theories of live recording…. Hell, if you want to have a great sounding “pure” album, call up Germany and ask them to send a Tonmeister over to record your stuff for you. You could probably hire one for about the same as it costs to set up a quality in-house studio.

Let’s not forget that “production” is NOT synonymous with “studio” or “effects”. And can we PLEASE drop the terms “purist” and “non-purist”? Those terms are just laden with elitism. What’s next – are we going to start calling recordings by the Duke’s Men “historically informed”???

One final point:

yahtzeealum wrote:*Singers (and a cappella groups) seem to be more about whether or not they have a good PR person or engineer/producer rather than about their talent. These are facts.


This is all news to me. I was under the impression that a cappella groups (in college, anyway) are all about having FUN. And the groups that are the most fun are the groups that put a lot of effort into the things they do -- even if those efforts don’t always sound so great. Work hard, play hard, and be happy with what you’re doing, the way you want to do it.
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Postby seth » Tue Sep 28, 2004 12:51 pm

yahtzeealum wrote:I still enjoy parts of RARB (especially this forum), but don't necessarily share their ideals and values.


RARB, the organization, has values related to publishing and commentary, but we don't have institutional opinions about what's good music and what isn't. The reviewers, of course, do have opinions, but they are not RARB, nor are their specific opinions what RARB is about.

Your beef is with the reviewers we happen to have on staff at the moment. This is an ever changing set. People leave, new people join. The collected values of our reviewers change, but there is no collective.
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Postby brianhaverkate » Tue Sep 28, 2004 3:49 pm

Yes, but even though reviewers change.....the generally feel of RARB remains the same. I haven't seen much change (overall) in quite some time. It seems as if everyone has the same thoughts about what generally is and is not a good album, which is good. I just don't share their collective views for the most part.
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Postby vkolko » Tue Sep 28, 2004 6:18 pm

Not that I claim to be representative of the entire Board, but I'm sorry, your boat doesn't quite float (for me).

yahtzeealum wrote:I know the RARB reviewers will say that they love a "bare" album with heart as much as an "auto-tuned effects-laden" album with all the bells and whistles, but the scores on the site are just NOT representative of this thought. And I'm not saying that so the reviewers can run through the past 3 years of reviews looking for that ONE review they drooled over that was a "bare" album. It is highly the exception rather than the rule.


Like I've mentioned before, I'm no studio whiz nor arranging master no perfect singer. But I do know what sounds good. My guess is that your claim that we like the effects-laden albums more stems from the fact that if you have tons of money to spend on production, even a crappy group can sound amazing. The slightest note off-pitch ruins a chord or a whole song, but if you can correct it using technology or even enhance it, hey, why not? The reason there are so few "bare" albums with high marks is because they're so rarely well-done! It takes tons more human talent to make a great album than it does technology effort to make the same one.

You give me a great album (see my previous post about the diversity of my 5s) and I'll rate it as such. Not only that, but I'll state on the record that when I first/last saw FOCS at the ECAS last October, I was completely appalled. What kind of a cappella was this? I couldn't tell if it was the performers who were amazing or the man/woman at the sliders (well, Stack was awesome)! This was "what it's all about?" (Pardon the pun.) Didn't appeal to me. And in the end, after seeing a huge range of a cappella performances, I bought Cadence's album, not FOCS's. I wanted an album (which I also knew was chosen as a RARB pick) that still felt lilke a cappella.

So, what's the deal with us RARB reviewers? As mentioned earlier, I don't give a group extra points just because their album is bare. It's got to be just as good audibly as an album that's totally engineered. (BTW, there are a few "superstar" college groups out there with not-perfect reviews, Nick.) An out-of-tune chord is an out-of-tune chord, and a bad arrangement is a bad arrangement. Sure, it could be covered up by wizardry on the keys, but if it sounds fine - we are the RECORDED A Cappella Review Board - it gets scored that way.

My suggestion to purists, elitists, etc., whatever you want to call yourselves is if you're interested in a certain kind of sound, compare scores across the board for that genre only.

Warehauser wrote:I can't concentrate anymore... just remember people, you may not agree with RARB but they have a job as difficult as that of the president... they must attempt to make everyone happy... an impossible task. RARB can't be blamed for the way the industry has turned...


I don't think I need to attempt to make anyone happy. My job is to report to readers what I thought about a particular album, nothing more. I might get some email from Ben questioning my decisions if I give an album a 2 that was so unquestionably was a 5 to the other 4 RARBers who listen to it, but that's it.

There are many reviewers. If you own some of the albums we've reviewed, you might get a taste for which reviewer you like and which you don't (that is, whose tastes are like yours). I know with whom I will agree even before our reviews are posted. It's like anywhere else; you learn over time if your tastes run more like Ebert and Roeper, Gene Shalit, or the NY Times movie reviewers.

Hoping this helps!
Val
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Postby brianhaverkate » Wed Sep 29, 2004 3:56 am

Like I said. You all know what you like, and you score accordingly. I'm not saying it's a biased scoring system at all. It is, in fact, much harder to make a perfect or near-perfect "bare" album than with the help of technology. I don't know if I'm nostalgic for the a cappella of the early 90's when this technology wasn't as prevalent, or dissappointed that a cappella has gone to the other extreme so much. Maybe a little bit of both. RARB can only score what it gets, so I'm not faulting them for that.

I do think that the BOCA CDs have had a HUGE impact on collegiate, semi-pro, and pro groups for better and worse. BOCA has fostered and expanded on what a cappella could be (especially in terms of arrangements), and we are the better for it. However, the fact that BOCA exists causes groups to try and record like the groups that get on BOCA so they, themselves, can get on BOCA. As a result, I think collegiate a cappella in particular is in a holding pattern in terms of creativity. It seems like everyone lives to record the ultimate track so it can be on BOCA instead of just making good music that they enjoy singing. I know many, MANY groups that have changed repertoire and recording techniques just so they can be on this CD. I think it's sad because collegiate a cappella used to be a broad mix of genres and styles. A men's a cappella group could to Sting one minute, vocal jazz the next, and then close the concert with a traditional barbershop piece. Do groups do this anymore? Maybe a few do it in concert, but rarely on CD.

I realize the effects of BOCA on the a cappella community is an entirely different conversation, but it relates in terms of why RARB is getting so many collegiate albums that could pose as a BOCA album if the listener didn't know any better. Is anyone else bothered by this?? Is it just me??? I want more variety! I want better-skilled singers!! grrrrrrrrrrr
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Postby elocomotive » Wed Sep 29, 2004 11:16 am

Nice analogy on the election, Yahtzee, but I disagree with many of your statements. It seems like you are more upset with BOCA, but taking it out on RARB.

I think RARB has a wide array of reviewers that favor different genres and styles. I can't find any consensus among the RARB reviews or orgnization values that create an atmosphere where certain types of albums are exalted and others are deluted. Within each review, you'll find significant scoring differences of the same album. I will note a theory I put out another thread and that is that some of the categories are more objective (like tuning/blend), and more production and technological aid will reep higher scores in these objective categories.

yahtzeealum wrote:*Singers these days are far less talented than in previous years.


There are actually more singers doing a cappella all the time, especially compared to 5 or 10 years ago. Technology may help everyone sound better, but my guess is the gene pool always has similar amounts of great singers. Perhaps b/c of technology, great singers sound amazing, and good singers sound great, but I think this statement is unfounded. Singers still have to perform live and mostly come to a cappella from previous training/background in other types of singing.

yahtzeealum wrote: Singers (and a cappella groups) seem to be more about whether or not they have a good PR person or engineer/producer rather than about their talent. These are facts. I don't think anyone here can honestly debate them.


Actually, those are impressions, not facts, and very debatable. I don't know the national collegiate scene too well (too many groups to keep track of), but I know that within my region that recent recordings by VA Tech's Juxtaposition and UVA's AVP have received excellent reviews and CARA nominations. But these groups have also exceled in live performance. Juxtaposition won the South region last year, and AVP won their quarterfinal within that region.

I understand your values, Yahtzee, and really respect that you strongly believe strongly in them. But lets not assume that those achieving success are talentless, can't bring it in a live setting, and are only doing it to sell CDs. Believe strongly in what you think, but don't disrespect those doing differently.
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Postby brianhaverkate » Thu Sep 30, 2004 3:37 am

Anyways....... :)

Seems like the same old same old here. I think I stated a few posts back that I'm tired debating this, so........Time to tune out for awhile.
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Postby amysingsla » Thu Sep 30, 2004 11:56 am

Bitter, party of one? Bitter?
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Postby milkpan » Thu Sep 30, 2004 4:15 pm

It's not so simple. Does money help? Absolutely. Is it everything? No.

I like to think of this as being similar to a Halloween Costume Contest. We're all trying to come up with the best possible costume. Maybe my friend is loaded, so he goes to a costume store and buys a really sharp, professional-looking...something. Maybe a it's a mad scientist. Something not terribly creative, but it comes with a lot of cool props, fits him well, and he looks every bit the part. So while it isn't the most original idea ever, he's still the best mad scientist you've ever seen.

Then suppose I don't have any money. So I've pretty much got to use stuff around the house, ask to borrow stuff, and maybe root through a trash bin or two. But I have the most creative idea ever. One that is hilarious, unique, and is all around awesome (don't ask me what this is, because I'm being hypothetical). But try as I might, I can't use a sewing machine to make straight lines, my paint is running all over my (slightly smelling) cardboard box, and ultimately I have to keep adjusting my costume, because it won't stay in one place.

Fact is, you're probably going to say that my rich friend has a better costume. No matter how great my idea was, I totally fell through in the execution. Maybe I didn't have enough time, I'm generally clumsy, or I don't have any artistic ability. "But look how hard I worked!" It doesn't matter. It's the end product. And you can't be upset when when it's not recognized as the best thing ever.

And there are definitely able people who can make homemade costumes that'll knock your socks off. Under budget.

The point of this analogy is that money is just one thing. But it can be compensated by other things, like investing time in rehearsal, having an excellent music director, natural singing talent, arrangements that highlight your strengths and hide your weaknesses, etc.

I think some of the resentment about money is because it seems like such an easy solution. Those other factors can pull you through, but they may be a lot more difficult to accomplish than finding additional financial sources. I don't know. I mean, I hate tenors a little. Just a little. Because it doesn't seem "fair" that they don't have to work as hard to support these upper notes that I have to practice and concentrate on. And there are certain notes that I just won't ever hit. It seems like reward should be proportional to work. But the bottom line is that you can't reward on effort alone. There'd be a lot more tone deaf groups if that were the case.

I guess the ultimate point of my post is that money is one thing, not the only thing. This point seems to continually resurface (like the heavy/light production argument), but I can't accept that money is the end all solution. Maybe because the group I'm in doesn't have very much. And I have to keep believing that if we're willing to put in the work, we will pull off a decent product. Will we sound as good as the 'bubs? Probably not. Sure, they have more money, but they're also excellent singers. It's always about a combination of factors.
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Postby Cutter » Thu Sep 30, 2004 5:23 pm

Both groups had money. Both groups spent it on well-known outside engineers who charge to produce a cappella in a way most people don't know how.

So Rico -- how do you know MIT spent more on Mr. Clark than UNCG spent on Mr. Sperandio?

and by the way, I'm curious, do you get into a lot of fights?
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Postby billhare » Thu Sep 30, 2004 10:21 pm

milkpan wrote:Will we sound as good as the 'bubs? Probably not. Sure, they have more money, but they're also excellent singers. It's always about a combination of factors.


The Bubs get mentioned a lot in these money/production conversations. As the recipient of the money from the mixing of "Code Red", let me state for the record that it was on the average to slightly below in terms of amount spent on mix projects at my studio last year. I've worked with many groups who spent more, whose albums are never mentioned. Why? Because of the aformentioned combination of factors - a successful producer can usually make a *good* group sound *great*, but it's nearly impossible to take a *bad* group and make them even sound *good* !

yahtzeealum wrote:However, the fact that BOCA exists causes groups to try and record like the groups that get on BOCA so they, themselves, can get on BOCA.


Brian's quote is more scarily true in some cases than you might think!
I have been approached by groups specifically because they want to get on BOCA - no other reason given. I have to bring them down to Earth pretty quickly, that BOCA STARTS WITH THEM - not me, gabe, dio, John Clark, or anyone else. Now, while this does drive SOME groups, they are a small minority, but the point is still well taken.

yahtzeealum wrote:I think it's sad because collegiate a cappella used to be a broad mix of genres and styles. A men's a cappella group could to Sting one minute, vocal jazz the next, and then close the concert with a traditional barbershop piece. Do groups do this anymore?


And I think it's sad that the Beatles broke up, but things have to change, even if it looks to the old guard like it's stagnating for awhile. Sinatra thought Elvis sounded like noise, Elvis thought the Beatles souded like noise, and on down the line - music is always "ruined" when our era is done. Now we have to go through our *own* Disco and New Wave eras, and whoever has the spikyest hair wins for the moment. I was there for the 80s and 90s, so I know what you speak of. But this is a new generation, and we have to either move over and see what happens or help them achieve their goals. Yes, I'm very lucky that I make my entire living doing this, but I'm also very happy after all is said and done seeing very hard work by very enthusiastic young people pay off with accolades from their peers, positive reviews, and good album sales.

We also have to remember that this is what the groups of today WANT to sound like, just as Blink 182 doesn't care to sound like Chuck Berry. Different values, different experiences, different life technology. They didn't yet have computers when I was in college (though a "typing" class was available, which I didn't take), so here I sit hunting and pecking at the keyboard while any 12 year old can type circles around me. Most of today's college students don't remember life before the Internet. My generation doesn't remember life before Television, my Grandparents' generation doesn't remember life before automobiles, and on down the line. It's what makes us different, and what attracts us to new things. I don't think Collegiate A Cappella would have grown so much in the last few years if everybody still had to sing "Coney Island Washboard" - that they can sing a Creed song sparks their interest... yammer yammer blah blah....

I could keep going, but I will spare you all for now - I'm even starting to bore myself!... ;-)

-B

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

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