Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Final Smash!

The biggest video game release of the year, Nintendo’s eagerly awaited Smash Bros., is finally coming to stores in just a few short weeks. As a fan of Smash Bros., I await the next installment with as much excitement as I do the next Weird Al album, because I know these releases are few and far between. I’d like to draw your attention to one particular element of Smash Bros., which could be a vital strategy to promote your a cappella group.

To better understand the game, first you should visit their website: http://www.smashbros.com/us/

You’ll see a huge list of new and old characters that you can choose from, and every new character, known as a newcomer, has their own introduction video and special poster. Nintendo, in order to generate huge buzz and keep interest alive, releases a newcomer video every so often, and each video release is timed perfectly with a national event for maximum exposure. The moment a newcomer is introduced, every geeky website, video game website, and toy website makes the release a major headline.

This marketing strategy, the equivalent to dangling a carrot in front of a hungry rabbit, is one of the most reliable, and effective ways of generating buzz, and a cappella groups such as Street Corner Symphony, Musae, and Pentatonix, have used the teaser method successfully. But what if your group is not as buzz-worthy as Pentatonix? How can you utilize the same method of marketing when your fan base doesn’t match the staggering numbers of more popular pro groups?

Here are some ways to borrow the Smash Bros. model to increase your fan base:

1) Introduce your characters

Like Smash Bros., it wasn’t the prospect of the overall game that first intrigued fans...it was the release of major characters. Your group may not have the fan base to make each member memorable, but in my opinion, that’s your own fault. What if, each week, you released a “get to know you” video, dedicated to one of your members? That would increase your video output two-fold, give you a chance to highlight some of your recordings as background music, and expand your creativity. Every group does a webpage about who each member is. BORING! No one does a “get to know you” video of the week. Why not start now?

2) Think Outside of the Box…WAY outside the box.

One of the big things Smash Bros. has going for it is the inclusion of non-Nintendo characters, some of whom fans would never think they’d see in a Nintendo first-party game. This upcoming version of Smash Bros. has two major characters, Pac-Man and Mega Man, as playable characters. Now, you could have a four-way fight between the four biggest gaming mascots of all time: Pac-Man vs. Mega Man vs. Mario vs. Sonic.

Try to answer this question, and when you come up with the answer, do it immediately: What is the one thing every a cappella fan really wants, but doesn’t have yet?

3) Stream live

A cappella groups are famous for their Youtube posts, but how many groups stream live concerts and make a big deal out of it? Very few, if any. Nintendo has been making big waves lately with their live stream announcements, in the model of Apple, where they announce new platform games, as well as a new tidbit about Smash Bros. What if your group streamed live?

4) Duels

Here I go again…the Riff-off. People, Smash Bros. is famous because it is a fighting game. People love conflict, they love winners and losers, they love to see epic battles of good versus evil. In a cappella, that’s called a riff-off. No one has done it yet…

Marc Silverberg

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Tribe Has Spoken

SPOILER ALERT! I’m a huge fan of Survivor. My wife and I watch the show religiously, because frankly, you can’t find a cast of characters weirder or more entertaining than the freaks they put on the show. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to watching a real-life Hunger Games, but thankfully, no one dies and the outcome doesn’t create a rebellious government.

If you’ve never seen the show, the premise is simple: anywhere from 16-20 people are divided into two tribes and sent to live on some remote island. They compete in challenges that win them rewards, like comfort and food, and immunity from going to tribal council. When a team loses an immunity challenge, they are sent to tribal council where they must vote off one of their own. This formula leads to secret alliances, backstabbing, lying, crying, and all sorts of amazing television moments.

I’d like you to try an exercise. Don’t share this exercise with your group until you know they are mature enough to handle the repercussions. I’d like you, just you, to play a game of a cappella Survivor: After each subsequent concert/gig, think of one person you want to vote off your tribe. Presumably, it would be the weakest member of your group. Continue doing this until you whittle your group down to what you consider the cream of the crop to be. If you choose correctly, you win a prize better than a million dollars- a finely tuned a cappella group (which I believe to be better than a million dollars).

The point of this exercise is not to determine the ranking of your members, like one person is more important than the other. The point of the exercise is to see who isn’t giving 100% of their efforts within the group; Who is phoning it in? Just like the challenges on Survivor, usually the tribe member who performs the weakest in the challenges gets voted off. (MOST of the time) It isn’t until the tribes merge, and each challenge becomes an individual challenge, that people start voting off the really good players to give themselves an edge.

I’m suggesting that you ignore this phase of the competition, and focus on making your tribe/group stronger. If you think your group is mature enough to try this exercise, go for it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if the tears start coming.

The moral of the story is: Do you think, if every group member knew that they could be kicked out of the group by the majority if they fail to give 100% in rehearsals, would that change the way your group operates? If the answer is yes, then your group has some serious soul searching to do.

Marc Silverberg

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My Friend Al

The start of the school year brings a lot of new a cappella beginnings, the most notable being new members and, especially, new songs. While all these groups are picking their newest track lists, album sequences, and competition sets, there is one artist always left in the cold. An artist whom I adore, an artist whom I admire, an artist whom I base my whole existence around, and an artist whom I consider to be my personal hero: “Weird Al” Yankovic.

So consider this my plea to every a cappella group in existence: You need to cover more Weird Al. And to convince you, here are ten excellent reasons why a Weird Al song belongs on your repertoire list:

1) Number One Album

This past July, Al released his 14th studio album, "Mandatory Fun," which debuted at number one on the Billboard chart. Not number one on the comedy chart…oh no…number one album on the main, overall chart; The highest selling album that week, beating the more heavily-favored Jason Mraz release. Not only is Al culturally relevant with every new album, he’s actually more relevant now than he’s ever been. Jump on the bandwagon and cover the number one comedy artist of the summer. Oh, and in case you were wondering, a comedy album hitting number one on the Billboard chart hasn’t happened in over fifty years!

2) Al is a genius.

I’m not speaking metaphorically, like he’s a musical genius, or a lyrical genius. Al really is a genius. Valedictorian of his high school class. He has a degree in Architecture from Cal Tech. (Why architecture? Because it was the first major listed in the book…Told you he was weird.)

3) Videos

Not only did his album reach number one this past summer, but four of his videos remained in the top ten videos on iTunes for several weeks. If you haven’t seen his video for “Word Crimes” (a parody of Blurred Lines), you are seriously missing out.

4) The King of Parody

I’ve heard many a cappella parodies in my time. Clever as they are, they don’t hold a candle to Al’s parodies. Al doesn’t just create new lyrics to an old song. His lyrics often borrow the original lyrics and double in meaning. His songs are meticulously transcribed from the original recording. His topics are carefully selected to produce the best sounding parody. Al is the master. (The best, non-Weird Al a cappella parodies today, come from my close personal friend Mister Tim)

5) Musicology

Musicology is a scholarly analysis of music in every form. People spend entire lifetimes trying to understand the intricacies of a certain type of music. Al does the next best thing: He writes original songs in the style of a specific type of music. His most recent album has an original song in the style of the Foo Fighters, that sounds more authentic than the Foo Fighters. He imitates Cat Stevens, The Pixies, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young on the album as well. In addition, Al has written songs in the style of:

Talking Heads, B-52s, Queen, Ben Folds Five, Hanson, College Fight Songs, They Might Be Giants, The White Stripes, The Doors, Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Cake, Bob Marley, and so many more.

6) The Polkas

Oh, those polka medleys. If you ever want to be schooled in how to write an effective medley, just listen to Al’s polka medleys. The transitions are seamless, and he covers major songs from the past few years in each of his medleys. These polka medleys are brilliant, from the opening standard polka, to the traditional, and oddly similar, end. He’s even covered the entirety of Bohemian Rhapsody in polka form.

7) Television

Lately, Al has appeared in many major television shows including How I Met Your Mother, 30 Rock (an amazing episode), My Little Pony, Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, Drunk History, Yo Gabba Gabba, The Simpsons, and Robot Chicken. MTV often gives Al his own special, where he gets to program whatever he wants. And if you’ve never seen any of his faux interviews with famous musicians, just find them on youtube. Trust me.

Oh, and he was just on this year’s Emmy Awards show. Go figure….

8) UHF

This movie is canon for geeks and weirdos. Low-budget hilarity packed with before-they-were-stars actors and actresses, like Michael Richards before he became Kramer, Fran Drescher before she became the Nanny, and Victoria Jackson before she was on SNL.

9) A cappella ready.

Hey! Did you know Weird Al did Peter Hollens before Peter Hollens became famous for being Peter Hollens? That’s right. On his 1996 album Bad Hair Day, Al sang every part of his a cappella number “Since You’ve Been Gone” (NO relation to Kelly Clarkson’s song) a la Bobby McFerrin. The score is available in his one and only sheet music book: Weird Al Anthology. So you can start singing Weird Al a cappella without having to arrange a thing!

10) Al is different.

Despite all the reasons above, Al is different. He’s interesting, creative, and weird. He’s won two Grammys, published 2 books, appeared on numerous movie and TV spots, influenced almost every major comedian today from Jimmy Fallon to Andy Samberg, and he’s a definitive part of our music history. Let’s give Al the attention he deserves and cover his music.

Bonus Featurette!

And now, a completely biased, and almost entirely controversial, ranking of every Weird Al album (not counting Greatest hits, Permanent record, TV album, Food album, and non-album releases)

14) Polka Party

Sorry Al, but something had to be last. Al’s fourth album release, which didn’t do so well in sales, has its ups and downs. While tracks like the James Brown parody “Living With a Hernia” and the apocalyptic Christmas carol “Christmas at Ground Zero” belong in Al’s greatest hits collection, the majority of tracks are cute but not terribly memorable. For those listeners who like really weird songs, try the Talking Heads-inspired “Dog Eat Dog” or the original “Don’t Wear Those Shoes.”

Favorite tracks: Christmas at Ground Zero, Living With A Hernia, Good Enough For Now

13) UHF

The soundtrack to Al’s major motion picture event. This album includes some of the parodies from the movie, like Ghandi II, but without the visual effect, they don’t really get many laughs. One of his best parodies has the unfortunately titled name Money For Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies*, which the lawyers demanded would be the only way to release the song legally. Despite the setbacks, the theme to “UHF” is a killer rock number, and “Biggest ball of Twine in Minnesota” is a five-minute epic that remains today as one of my favorite Al songs.

Favorite tracks: UHF, Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies*, Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

12) Weird Al Yankovic

The album that started it all. The tracks may seem a little dated, being that this album was released 32 years ago, but the songs that made Al a household name all appear on this album, including his first hit single “My Bologna,” “Another One Rides The Bus,” and “Ricky.” Plus, you get to hear Al as he originally sounded, without the aid of studio equipment, when it was just his accordion and Jon Bermuda Schwartz on the percussive wooden box.

Favorite tracks: Happy Birthday, Another One Rides the Bus, Mr. Frump In The Iron Lung

11) In 3-D

In 3-D was the infamous album that made Weird Al the “Eat It” guy, when he parodied the hottest pop star of the millennia, Michael Jackson. The album itself has its ups and downs, the ups being Al’s first polka medley and “I Lost on Jeopardy,” the lows being “The Brady Bunch.” One of my favorite Al parodies of all time is on this album: “The theme from Rocky XIII (a.k.a. The Rye Or The Kaiser),”  a parody of both the song and the endless Rocky sequels.

Favorite tracks: Theme from Rocky XIII, I Lost on Jeopardy, Nature Trail to Hell

10) Dare To Be Stupid

Quite possibly the quintessential Al original song, “Dare To Be Stupid," brilliantly sums up his philosophy on life and music. This album also contains two of his greatest parodies: “Like A Surgeon,” which, of course, parodies Madonna, and “Yoda,” a parody of “Lola” by The Kinks. “Yoda” is still performed in his live shows today with an amazing tag ending affectionately known as the “Yoda Chant.”

Favorite tracks: I want a New Duck, Yoda, Dare To Be Stupid

9) Alapalooza

When fans of Weird Al, like my friend Alex, see how low this album is on the list, they scoff. Personally, I didn’t find Alapalooza to be as humorous as Off The Deep End or Bad Hair Day. “Talk Soup” and “Waffle King,” both great originals, sound very similar. “Jurassic Park” is a decent parody, but without the amazing video, it doesn't hold up. Al forgoes the polka medley to cover the entirety of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a polka style. The best track on the album is “Bedrock Anthem,” a Flinstones tribute set to two Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.

Favorite tracks: Bedrock Anthem, Waffle King, Frank’s 2000 Inch TV

8) Running With Scissors

His last album of the nineties, Running With Scissors, sports some inventive parodies like Al’s ode to Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, titled “The Saga Begins,” as well as a parody of One Week by the Barenaked Ladies, all about Jerry Springer. The good songs are timeless, the no-so-great songs are forgettable. You can probably skip "Truck Driving Song," "Grapefruit Diet," and "Germs." But this album sports the greatest closing track of any Weird Al album: "Albuquerque;" An eleven-minute epic story about travel, love, donuts, and glow in the dark snorkels.

Favorite tracks: Pretty Fly For A Rabbi, Your Horoscope For Today, Albuquerque

7) Even Worse

Despite this album being much older than most on this list, this is Al’s first album to go platinum, and it’s no surprise. His grammy-winning parody of Michael Jackson’s Bad, simply called “Fat,” the brilliant original “Melanie,” and the hilarious closing number “Good Old Days” all contribute to its success. This album is priceless.

Favorite tracks: Fat, Melanie, You Make Me

6) Off The Deep End

After the box office failure of UHF, Al set his sights on the next big parody, and it just so happens that Grunge was becoming the new craze. Al took the definitive grunge song of all time, Smells Like Teen Spirit, and turned it into "Smells Like Nirvana," a song about how no one can understand a single lyric sung by Nirvana. From "Trigger Happy’s" take on gun control to "When I Was Your Age's" take on how hard your grandparents had it when they were kids, this album serves as the prelude to Al’s golden age.

Favorite tracks: Trigger Happy, When I Was Your Age, You Don’t Love Me Anymore

5) Alpocalypse

Despite the re-release of his “Internet Leaks,” five songs he offered exclusively on iTunes years before Alpocalpyse was made, this album had some solid numbers, including the Hanson-inspired “If That Isn’t Love,” and one of Al’s best parodies to date, “Perform This Way,” which spoofs Lady Gaga’s outrageous wardrobes.  He also commissioned a host of new videos, each made by a different animator. Not his overall best effort, but still worthy enough to land at number five on the list.

Favorite tracks: If That Isn’t Love, Party In The C.I.A, Ringtone

4) Poodle Hat

This album is my personal favorite. Looking at it objectively, however, doesn’t give it enough juice to go to number one. So Poodle Hat came after some major life changes…heartbreaking loss and heartwarming marriage. Al stated once in an interview that he wanted Poodle Hat to be a little edgier, so he could show fans he wasn’t losing his touch. His big parody on this album was of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” as he listed every major television show on at that time. The eight-minute ode to Frank Zappa, “Genius In France” might have gone over some fans’ heads. But the crown jewel of the album is “Why Does This Always Happen To Me,” a Ben Folds-inspired original with Ben Folds himself on the keyboard.

Favorite tracks: Why Does This Always Happen To Me, Hardware Store, eBAY

3) Mandatory Fun

Al’s most recent album, which hit number one on the Billboard chart (see above). This album is an effort worth celebrating. His parodies are shorter, simply due to the fact that some of the songs he chose to parody are less than three minutes, but his originals are some of the best they’ve ever been, including his Pixies-inspired “First World Problems,” and his Foo Fighters-inspired “My Own Eyes.” The standout track is his parody, “Word Crimes,” where he hilariously takes bad grammar, and the people who use bad grammar, to task. (And if I have made a grammatical error, please forgive me oh Weird One.)

Favorite tracks: Word Crimes, My Own Eyes, Sports Song

2) Bad Hair Day

Despite this album being almost twenty years old, this is the first instance of a perfect Weird Al album. In my opinion, while the other albums on this list are great, every album contains at least one song that doesn’t match the others in creativity and hilarity. But Bad Hair Day, the infamous album where Al had a misunderstanding with Coolio over his parody “Amish Paradise,” brought Al a new level of fandom and it is rightly deserved. There isn’t one bad song on this album. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this album contains Al’s best polka medley ever, “Alternative Polka,”

Favorite tracks: Amish Paradise, Since You’ve Been Gone, Night Santa Went Crazy

1) Straight Outta Lynwood

Al’s masterpiece and his best selling album before Mandatory Fun. The insane parody, “Trapped In The Drive Thru” is a masterful mockery of R Kelly’s “Trapped In The Closet,” and helped Al reach the top 100 Billboard charts. “Weasel Stomping Day” had a video that premiered on Robot Chicken, and “Close But No Cigar” was a loving homage to Cake. The single that skyrocketed Al into the new era of pop culture was “White and Nerdy,” a parody of Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ Dirty. This album is nothing short of brilliant.

Favorite tracks: Pancreas, Confessions Part 3, Close But No Cigar

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Welcome back to school! Now take a quiz.

Welcome back! This year is jam-packed with new stuff, including the official beginning of the Quest For The A cappella major.
It's so wonderful to see you again...Now take these a cappella-related quizzes:
Marc Silverberg
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