Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Where Do I Find A cappella Arrangements?

I get asked this question time and time again:

“I want to start an a cappella group, but I don’t know where to find arrangements.”

Okay, that’s more of a statement than a question. But it’s a common problem for amateur a cappella directors or choral directors who want to incorporate a cappella into their curriculum.

Hopefully, this handy guide will help:

1)   Betteracappella.com

One of the most popular websites for a cappella arrangements is betteracappella.com. Arrangements are often cheap (or sometimes free if you ask REALLY nicely). You will have to contact the arranger by email to do business, so if you’re looking for an arrangement at that very moment, this is NOT the place to go. Also, anyone can post their arrangement on the website, so there is no quality control. Be sure to ask for a sample before you buy.

2)   Random-notes.com, Acappellapsych.com, thevocalcompany.com, totalvocal.com, human-feedback.com, thebenbram.com, edboyeracappella.com, clearharmonies.com, etc.

All of the websites above offer arranging services, with either a catalogue to choose from or a service that creates a new arrangement tailored for your group. The good news is that all of the above websites are run by experts in the field, so you’re almost always guaranteed to get a quality arrangement. For example, random-notes.com is run by Tom Anderson, arranger for Peter Hollens and many other groups. Total Vocal is Deke Sharon’s website, the father of contemporary a cappella. Thebenbram.com is Ben Bram’s website, arranger for many groups including Pentatonix.

The bad news: With quality comes price. Custom arrangements are expensive. They are worth every penny, but they will dip into your already limited choral budget.

It’s important to understand that once you purchase an arrangement, it is generally understood that you can make as many copies as you need, without paying per copy.

3)   Borrow arrangements

Do you have a favorite a cappella group that you’ve seen on youtube? Try contacting them directly and asking to use one of their arrangements. More often than not, groups are happy to comply.

4)   Do it yourself

Arranging a cappella is an art, but that doesn’t mean it is a talent. It’s a skill, just like composing other music. Through trial and error, or resource guides (like A cappella Arranging by Dylan Bell and Deke Sharon) you can learn the skill yourself.

5)   Formal websites such as jwpepper.com, Alfred.com, etc.

There are pros and cons of buying arrangements on these websites. One benefit is that most school districts favor these companies, because they usually have an account with them, so ordering is simple.  Another benefit is the authenticity of the arrangement. It would be a mistake to assume that every song you buy on these websites is a quality arrangement…I’ve been burned by too many scores to back that statement up. But well known names in the choral world, Kirby Shaw for example, carry more recognition capital than arrangements by unknown authors. If you’re playing the political choral game, this may be your best bet.

As an a cappella superfan/academic/crazed stalker, I try to avoid these websites as much as possible. Only a small handful of a cappella arrangers have had their music officially published (Deke Sharon has the most titles), but these titles are often older and written for general use. Let me explain each of these further:

Typically, a cappella groups want to sing pop music, and even more typically, they want to sing CURRENT pop music. The chances of finding an a cappella arrangement of a current radio hit on a publisher’s website is next to impossible. The publishing world doesn’t work that quickly. If you’re looking for an earlier song, maybe ten years or more, that would be much easier to find.

The other problem is the general use: The go-to a cappella arrangers are writing arrangements for specific groups. They ask a lot of questions, so that the arrangement comes out exactly the way you want it. They even ask you to pick your soloist in advance, so that the key fits the soloist perfectly. Published arrangements are not tailored to specific groups. They are tailored for a unknown group, or commissioned by a group that isn’t yours. You have no idea how many parts are in the arrangement, or if the key fits all of your singers. It’s a roll of the dice.

6)   CASA.org and Acappellaeducators.com

Both of these organizations have a free a cappella library. All of the arrangements are public domain or original material, so you’re not going to find the current radio hit you are looking for, but the arrangements you do find are 100% legal and 100% free. Speaking of which…

7)   Copyright problems

Okay, so this isn’t a website to find arrangements, but I believe it needs to be addressed. Want to know why there aren’t a lot of guides pointing you in the right direction of where to find arrangements? Want to know why it is so difficult to find a cappella arrangements? Because there are a significant amount of copyright problems associated with a cappella music.

Typically a school will have an auditorium, and for that auditorium to be legal, the school will have a performing license. Wonder why you can put on so many concerts in your school? It’s because the performing license covers this. It says that anyone can perform any minimal work legally (note how I said minimal…full length plays and musicals are NOT minimal). A cappella is included under this umbrella. Performing an arrangement of a pop song, that just happens to be with a cappella singers, is fine. Writing an arrangement and selling it is not. A cappella arrangers have ways of selling their material legally, but since I’m not a professional a cappella arranger, you’re going to have to ask them how they do it.

There is a handy-dandy website that explains all of this in much better detail than I have: acappella101.com

Marc Silverberg

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dissecting the Pitch Perfect 2 Trailer

The trailer for Pitch Perfect 2 is out! I’m SUPER excited for this movie. So excited in fact, that I decided to watch, re-watch, and breakdown the trailer piece by piece. I recommend you watch the trailer first, because this article will contain trailer SPOILERS!

1)   The World Championships of A cappella

Is there such a thing as the world championships of a cappella?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: Sort of.

The most well known international choral event is called the World Choir Games. Though not exclusively a cappella, and definitely not exclusively pop a cappella, the World Choir Games is the Olympics of the choral world, so in a sense, there is definitely an international choral competition. That part is true.

Also, don’t forget that the ICCA is an international competition already. (hence the word “International” in the title)

There are DEFINITELY international a cappella festivals, and some even have local competitions. As for the competition featured in the movie, no, that doesn’t exist…yet. I’ll bet five dollars that this becomes a thing once the movie has premiered.

2)   Riff off part 2

David Cross (Arrested Development, Mr. Show) is a rich a cappella enthusiast who hosts an international, underground Riff-Off. That’s the mansion the Bellas travel to in the trailer (the one that requires a fart noise password…or so I assume). Does this exist? As I am not part of the underground a cappella scene (most likely the dorkiest underground scene of ALL TIME) I can neither confirm nor deny this. But all bets are that this does not exist.

3)   Cups

I LOVE the new version of cups. After the song hit the Billboard charts and went viral, I was wondering if a bigger, cup-pier version would make an appearance in the sequel, but the softer, more mellow version is more appropriate to the story. Besides the main rivalry between the Bellas and the international groups, the story is mostly about life after college, where the Bellas will “miss me when I’m gone.” Well done.

4)   Recurring characters

They are hard to spot, but Benji (Ben Platt), Aubrey (Anna Camp), and Jesse (Sklyer Astin) are definitely there. Benji is the hardest to spot, because he only has one quick glimpse, when he performs a magic trick with a puff of smoke.

5)   They don’t speak loser

The two European actors who stole the trailer are possibly (this is a guess) Flula Borg and Birgitte Hjort Sorensen.

Birgitte is not very well known in the American cinema community, as she has only had roles in mainstream films like Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s “The Worlds End.” She is starring in an upcoming rock and roll project for HBO, according to imdb.com, but after Pitch Perfect 2, I’m sure she will be much more recognizable.

Flula Borg is more of a musical personality, with a viral Youtube page of over 40 million views. A musician/DJ from Germany, Flula has many comedic posts on Youtube, combining silly discussions of American idioms with music.

6)   Aca-talent

The first glance of the riff-off shows a tremendously talented beatboxer. Deke Sharon has confirmed that his name is Andrew Fitzgerald, formerly a collegiate a cappella singer from Madison. You may also have noticed famous live looper and comedian Reggie Watts of Comedy Bang Bang. Multiple sources have confirmed that famous groups such as Pentatonix and the Filharmonic are set to appear in the movie, but are not currently in the trailer.

Marc Silverberg

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Introvert's Guide To A cappella

Recently, I read an article, or rather a comic strip, that perfectly summed up how I would describe my personality. You see, I am an introvert. According to the comic, the main difference between introverts and extroverts is how they gain and lose energy.

Extroverts gain their energy by being around people. When they need energy, they socialize. Introverts make their own energy by thinking, reading, creating, etc. Socializing is seen as a way they spend energy. That’s why introverts often feel exhausted after being social and have trouble being social multiple times in a row.

So why would someone so introverted, like myself, be so attracted to a vocal genre that is, by definition, an extroverted music experience? After all, unless you are live looping or you’re Bobby McFerrin, a cappella cannot be performed live without another person, which forces you to become extroverted.

My introverted personality often wins the argument, especially when I’m faced with a choice of going to the after party or going home and being alone. (Home usually wins) I can’t imagine that I’m the only introverted person in a cappella today, so here is my handy guide to being a successful a cappella introvert (with a few lessons that I should follow myself)

1)   The Lunchroom Scenario

A cappella festivals are often packed with the who’s who of the game, and these people tend to know each other from years of experience and collaboration. So what if you’re the outsider? What if you get your tray of food, you look around the lunchroom, and all the popular kids are at the popular table, a table you desperately want to be a part of?

A cappella is a much friendlier genre than you think. The people who are clustered around their own table only do so because they know each other, not because they are trying to exclude you. Never once have I ever heard someone say “Uh oh. Here comes _______. Let’s make sure they don’t sit here.”

Just because you are an introvert doesn’t mean that no one wants to hang out with you. It just means that you have to make the first move. Your best course of action is to approach these people separately, make conversation, and then leave. They will remember you and, over time, they will get more comfortable around you. Then, there just might be a seat at the table for you.

2)   The Peer Pressure Scenario

This happens with my a cappella group all the time. (cue the angry text messages now…) Rehearsal is over, I’m exhausted from spending my well-earned introvert energy, and they want to keep the party going by hanging out. Now I’m torn.

You see, I understand, just as much as anyone, that these hang out sessions are one of the most important exercises in becoming a great a cappella group. Group bonding is the key to group success, and group success is something I want very badly. But I don’t want to keep the party going, because I am physically and mentally drained.

What do you do? You basically have two options, neither of which is bad, just different. You can either force yourself to hangout, keeping in mind that it’s for the good of the group, or you can keep your distance, and treat them like you would a class of students, where you are the teacher and though you enjoy their company, it stays strictly professional.

I know groups that work both ways, successfully. But if you want to hangout without the stress of hanging out directly after rehearsal, why not do what my group does now, and schedule some hangout time on your calendar, and treat it as importantly as you would a regular rehearsal?

3)   Sing More, Talk Less

Carrying on a conversation with someone I barely know, or talking to someone I’ve known for too long and having nothing to say, are the two biggest reasons I avoid conversation. I detest trying to force conversation and I often avoid situations where I might have to do that.

But singing, especially in a group, or even improvising in a circle song setting, is much more natural, and much easier for me to do. The conversation isn’t technically about anything, because you’re just singing. The easiest way to make friends is to sing.

And that may be the very reason I’m drawn to a cappella music. Singing, especially improvising, is as natural to me as breathing air. I don’t have to think about it. I just do it. When I’m in a group of people singing, I don’t think about how introverted I am. I’m not even worrying about whether or not these people like me as a person. I’m lost in the moment and singing is the quickest way to get to that euphoric feeling. Singing a cappella allows me to act extroverted while simultaneously gaining introverted energy because I’m creating.

How does an introvert survive in a primarily extroverted activity? Sing, and don’t ever stop.

Marc Silverberg

If you want to read the original comic that inspired this post, go here:

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Adventures in Babymixing

I have a word problem for you to solve:

Let’s say you want to make an a cappella album, but you are highly introverted and the thought of collaborating with someone, anyone, is terrifying and you’re probably sure that they won’t understand your unique vision. Now say that you have the drive to make an a cappella album yourself and you’ve learned how to track and edit that album, but mixing is not only foreign to you, but incredibly complicated to learn. It’s like when you look at all the buttons available to you on Protools, you suddenly get nauseous, you blackout, and you’ve awaken to find crudely drawn images of pagan gods on your walls scrawled in what you think is your own blood.
What do you do?

Do you want to learn how to mix all by yourself? Well, anyone reading this blog who already owns a studio/mixing business will probably send both you and me some hate mail for suggesting it and they are definitely correct that without years of hard work and study, you won’t get a better mix than they do. But what if you’re not looking for a high quality mix? What if you’re looking to get your feet wet and you don’t know where to start?

Here are some books, events, workshops, etc. that will help you get your foot in the door so you too can learn to be a quality a cappella mixer:

1)   Next Level

Built as small, interactive, hands-on workshops designed to address your specific problems and needs, Next Level promotes themselves as your best chance to get one-on-one face-time with some of the industry’s top experts, from tracking to mixing, arranging to producing.


2)   A cappella Boot Camp and Soup To Nuts

Both these week-long programs train you, from scratch, to produce an a cappella track. Not only do you get face-time with industry pros like Deke Sharon, Bill Hare, Dave Brown, and Freddie Feldman, but you get to take the reigns of their studio as they throw you headfirst into the shallow end of the pool. A cappella Boot Camp is where I first learned about a cappella recording- Protools, Melodyne, etc. It was a game changer and it opened my eyes to the men behind the curtain. The reason I group these two together is that, even though they only host them once a year, these workshops are not guaranteed to run. YOU have to make the commitment to sign up and show your interest.


3)   Mixing and Mastering In The Box by Steve Savage (available on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com)

Out of all the books I’ve read so far, this one has the most logical progression of steps, mainly because it is intended to be a textbook for a college mixing/mastering class. The most important thing I learned while reading this book was the differences between mixing and mastering. I knew they weren’t the same thing, but I didn’t really understand why until I read this book. Give it a read, and see if things make sense to you.

4)   Home Recording for Musicians FOR DUMMIES (available on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com)

This may sound dumb (no pun intended), but for a novice like me, I feel no shame in reading these types of books, because they are intended to talk down to you, which is what I need to begin. They make things as simple as they can so you can at leats understand the basic vocabulary of what you are doing. (I also read the Korean FOR DUMMIES and Dungeons and Dragons FOR DUMMIES in earlier years and they helped a lot.) True, none of these books will make you a master, and some of the titles are better left on the shelf (like Sex FOR DUMMIES…look it up. It’s real) but for someone just starting out, it functions the same way Wikipedia does: You should never use Wikipedia as the final word in anything, just like the FOR DUMMIES books, because they are compendiums from secondary sources, but both these outlets are highly functional when you’re just looking for someone to point you in the right direction.

Jump in, get your feet wet, and avoid any Pagan God symbolism on your journey.
Marc Silverberg

P.S. If I’ve missed any great resources, please tweet me and they will be included in part 2!

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