Monday, April 27, 2015

What I Learned at the National A cappella Convention

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending, and teaching at, the first every National A cappella Convention (NACC), hosted by the A cappella Educator’s Association (AEA).

This festival, among its many other strengths, was a welcome change from the typical format of other a cappella festivals, for many reasons; the main reason is that the festival was modeled after the American Choral Director’s Association, the largest organization for choral ensembles and choral music. (Incidentally, the ACDA was one of the sponsors of the event.)

If you were unable to attend this year’s event, then I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, you missed an incredible experience with out-of-the-box workshops only found here. The good news…tickets are already available for next year.

Here is what I learned from attending the festival:

1) Building the Grid

In Brody McDonald and Ben Spalding’s rehearsal technique class, the instructors were eager to emphasize the necessity for technical mastery. Each instructor gave the audience several new rehearsal techniques they use with Eleventh Hour and Forte, respectively, that was intended to structure each piece of music dynamically and emotionally.

It is important to understand that neither of these ensembles rehearse notes. Rehearsals are not for “note plunking.” Note plunking is done outside of rehearsal. Rehearsals are for vocal techniques, mapping out the song, rehearsing as a group, etc.

Did you know that Brody makes a grid, mapping out each section of the music like a chart, so that each section of the song has its own dynamic markings, mood, percussion beat, etc.? It is this attention to detail that makes both these directors successful.

2) The Recording Roundtable

One of my favorite aspects of the NACC was the roundtable discussions. It is important to understand the difference between panels, roundtables, and lectures. A lecture is one or two instructors, instructing the class and teaching them tools they can use. A panel is several experts, who typically sit at the front of the space, and answer questions about topics. A roundtable is something much different.

One of the key differences you notice, walking into a roundtable, is the obvious shape of the room. The tables are placed in a circle, so that no one leads, everyone is equal and bring something to the table. Another key difference is the level of expertise. Roundtables are not for amateurs- no one is going to teach you the basics in a roundtable discussion. Roundtable discussions are for pros to debate topics that shape the industry. If you are an amateur, like I was in the recording roundtable discussion, your role is to listen and absorb, and then ask questions that are specific in nature.

For example, I wanted to know if the professional a cappella engineers had a “formula” for every mix they start. Is there a set of parameters that engineers use on every mix, and what are the effects they add to each voice?

The formula for mixing an a cappella song is to focus on the big three: Percussion, Bass, and Lead. If you get those right, the harmonies and background vocals will then be measured against what you have done to the big three.

I also asked about the trend I had noticed, where a cappella businesses are moving over to Venmo, over Paypal. I did not know that Paypal actually owns Venmo, but Venmo is a combination social site and money transfer site. It allows people to talk to each other, post comments, and also transfer money without cost.

3) The Director Roundtable

The other roundtable I found very engaging was led by Dr. Erin Hackel, director of  MIX and Lark, from University of Colorado-Denver. In this workshop, we debated the need for group identity, and how all male groups, once the most dominant force in a cappella, have taken a backseat to the mixed groups. Dr. Hackel suggested that for male groups to survive in the new a cappella format, male groups need to find an identity above the “silly, goofy, sexual” persona that so many male groups take.

I attended the roundtable because I wanted to ask specific questions about her group, MIX. I had started thinking about forming a version of MIX at my school, with a small number of singers and with a more theatrical element. This round table gave me a chance to ask those detailed questions, in a small setting, with plenty of face time. Do yourself a favor and attend roundtables in the future.

4) Reading Sessions

Free music? An hour of singing with no breaks? “Impossible!” you say. Nope. It was the reading session. Every attendee got a free packet of music, and they just sat there and read through it. ACDA has several of these at every festival, but I had never seen an all pop a cappella version until now.

For more information about next year’s festival, go to

Marc Silverberg

Follow The Quest For The A cappella Major:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nine People's Favorite Thing

Competition season is over. While a few groups are celebrating their win, many more are mourning their loss. I have competed in the Harmony Sweepstakes multiple times now, and every single time, my group has yet to win. The constant disappointment of losing can make you so angry that you want to just quit a cappella all together.

Let me give you a list of my failures: Runner-up for a CARA, 4th place at Harmony Sweeps (multiple times), rejected on every major a cappella compilation multiple times, and denied entrance to multiple a cappella competitions.

After so much failure, you’d think I would have learned my lesson and just given up.


There is a wonderful motto from a Broadway show called [Title Of Show]. No, I didn’t forget the name…that’s the actual name of the show. To make a long plot short, it’s a show that gets written as it is being performed. It’s like a very meta “Charlie Kaufman” film. The penultimate number is a song called “Nine People’s Favorite Thing.”

The premise of this number is that the writers of the show, having been driven to madness by their desire for success, take a step back and realizes that the reason they even started writing this unique and quirky show was because they would rather be “nine people’s favorite thing, than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.”

At our last Harmony Sweepstakes performance, my group Satellite Lane wrote a similar ten-minute musical in the same style as [Title Of Show]. In this musical, we played fictitious versions of ourselves, me being the crazy director who strives only for the gold medal and the rest rebelling against me because they just want to sing for fun.

This musical sums up my a cappella philosophy perfectly. I realize that I will never win the gold medal. I will never be the Harmony Sweepstakes national champion. I will probably never win a CARA. We will go through hundreds of rejections before we are entered in another competition. I will sing a crowd-pleasing jazz set that the audience loves but the judges despise because our chords are “too complex.”

But I will continue to make creative, interesting music, breaking the barriers and making myself and my friends laugh. We will have a handful of fans, never sell out a concert, but we will have fun doing it.

If you are that group that constantly arrives in second place; or puts out multiple albums that are never recognized by the CARAs; or wonder why you never appear on BOCA, despite arranging your album EXACTLY like you think the judges want; then this motto is for you.

I would rather be different and underappreciated. I would rather make the music that I like to make, than bow down to the squeaky-clean sounds of a cappella today. I would rather explore new musical ideas, think outside the box, and shock the listener than compromise my values.

I would rather be nine people’s favorite thing, than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing.

Marc Silverberg

Follow The Quest For The A cappella Major:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Getting Your Foot In The Door

The biggest hurdle I had to overcome when I was starting my quest for the a cappella major was anonymity. I was a nobody, lost in the sea of ever increasing a cappella and I had absolutely no idea how to get my foot in the door. I knew that the quest would take support- I would need to interview the prominent a cappella superstars of the day, as well as get to know the ins and outs of a cappella from in front and behind the curtain. I simply did not have the “street cred” to achieve this yet.

So what could I do? I didn’t have a group I could coach, so entering competitions wasn’t possible. I knew the names but not the faces, and I’ve never met anyone in person. It seemed like I was caught in a hamster-wheel of confusion.

The answer to my dilemma was CASA.

I knew the first step to a cappella acceptance was to be a present face at events, so I bought a VIP pass to LAAF (Los Angeles A cappella Festival) and met a lot of people who were very warm and friendly to me. I felt accepted right away, and when I told them my idea of a collegiate major, they were eager to help.

After LAAF, I started my blog. I didn’t think it would ever amount to anything. In fact, I was pretty sure I would give it up in a few months or so, and no one would ever know. (Fun fact! I was wrong…)

Showing my face at CASA events, meeting and introducing myself to people, making connections, sharing laughs…that was my way in. You see, a cappella is a very big community. Just like the social aspect of being in an a cappella group, the festival is the same, just on a larger scale.

It wasn’t long before I was accepted as an instructor at the festival in Chicago. There, my foot was solidly in the door and I grew more confident, more present in the community, until I applied and was accepted as the CASA Director of Education.

Here’s the point of the story…CASA needs people. Lots and lots of people. CASA wants you to volunteer. CASA wants you to teach workshops. CASA wants you to be a program manager or a board member. CASA wants you to volunteer and become best friends with the talent who perform at our shows.

Getting your foot in the door is much easier than you think. But you have to be proactive.

We are looking for a few good a cappella people. And by few, I mean a lot. And by a lot, I mean “holy hell we need you.”

What are the benefits of helping? You could help shape the future of a cappella, because CASA has their finger on the pulse of the a cappella community. Volunteers get free, all access passes to festivals. Volunteers get to meet, eat with, and hang out with the biggest names in a cappella.

CASA wants you. If you feel like you need to get your foot in the door, now’s the time.

Marc Silverberg

Follow The Quest for the A cappella Major:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why You Should Come To BOSS, 2015 Edition

The Boston Sings festival, presented by CASA, is being held April 10-12. The festival, which is now in its fourth year, is known for innovation, breaking barriers, and awarding excellence in the field of a cappella. Want to know why you should go this year? Check this out:


The biggest highlight of the festival is the live CARA awards. Every year, the awards show ups-the- ante in terms of presentation and delivery. Last year, the first ever lifetime achievement award was given to the BOSS headliner, Rockapella. This year, another lifetime achievement award will be given. Who will get it? You’ll have to attend the banquet to find out.

There’s even rumor that this year's live show will include live performances from nominated groups; kind of like an a cappella Grammys.  Each year, the live show gets bigger, and this year will be the biggest, most surprise-filled show yet.

2) Club For Five

One of the headliners this year is the outstanding international group Club For Five. Think of them like a combination between The Real Group and ARORA. They use loop machines and sing incredibly complicated arrangements. The best part is, they RARELY ever perform in the United States. This is probably your ONLY chance to see them live, and they are not to be missed. Their album, “You’re The Voice” was rated the number one a cappella album by the podcast series Mouth Off.

3) Overboard

The other major headliner is the fantastic Overboard, one of the innovators of pop a cappella for the last few years. Overboard innovated the concept of “Free Track Tuesday,” where they release a new song every week. In addition, Overboard has been instrumental in promoting a cappella throughout the country, including live media and commercials.

4) Star-Chasing and Networking

Want to meet your biggest a cappella idols? Want to promote your group and get face-to-face time with the leaders of the industry? BOSS is the best place to do it. Because Boston is one of the biggest and most thriving a cappella cities in the world, you can guarantee there will be some big names and bigger rewards for attending this year's festival.

Go to to purchase tickets.

Marc Silverberg

Follow The Quest For The A cappella Major: