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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