Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Please Stop Covering Adele

Oh goody. A new Adele album is coming.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think Adele is one of the most talented singer/songwriters in the world today. I love her and her albums and I am just as excited as everyone else to hear what her new album sounds like.

But as an a cappella musician and educator, I am frustrated. Her album 21 was released in 2011 and a cappella groups are STILL releasing covers of Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You, and Set Fire To The Rain. Sigh…

A cappella people, this is a plea. Please don’t cover Adele.

The main reason that so many a cappella groups want to cover Adele is because her songs are great and it gives someone in the group a chance to show off their belting range. So, I’m glad you want to sing Adele, but from the audience’s perspective, I don’t want to hear Adele.

Now, to be fair, I’m probably in the minority. If an audience, who is unfamiliar with the growing a cappella movement, hears Adele, they will go nuts. They will clap and cheer and love every moment of it. But this post isn’t for them. This post is for the groups who want to stand out from the rest of the a cappella crowd.

If you want to appear on an a cappella compilation, or make your mark at the ICCA, you need to do one of two things: You need to either think of a totally new, and revolutionary way to sing one of Adele’s popular songs, or you need to not cover Adele.

For those of you who choose the latter option, allow me to suggest some lesser-known, but incredibly talented alternatives:

1) Haley Reinhart

The third place contestant from the tenth season of American Idol has a voice unlike any other. Her album of all original songs Listen Up, is a masterpiece of female pop singing. If you love Adele, try listening to Haley Reinhart.

Songs you should listen to: Oh My, Spiderweb, Wasted Tears

2) Postmodern Jukebox

Postmodern Jukebox is currently my musical obsession. Led by Berklee graduate Scott Bradlee, the band takes radio hits of yesterday and today and transforms them into authentic re-creations of jazz and fifties music records. Just some examples of what they have done include a Ragtime version of “Call Me Maybe,” a Motown version of “Maps,” and probably the best jazz version of “Bad Blood,” I’ve ever heard.

The best reason to listen to this band is that every song is its own lesson in arranging and composing. If you ever wanted to know how to re-arrange a song in a completely different medium with a different tone/inflection/harmony/whatever, the band that can teach you all of that is Postmodern Jukebox.

Songs you should listen to: Sweet Child of Mine, Poison, All About That Bass, Bad Blood, Radioactive

3) Marianas Trench

 The Canadian Pop group resembles a modern version of Queen mixed with 90’s boy bands mixed with alternative punk bands. Their songs are not just infectious, but rhythmically diverse and full of vocal harmonies. Each song practically screams “Sing This A cappella!” because of all the different layers contained within each song.

Even more impressive is their desire to push the boundaries of storytelling. The video set for their 2011 album, Ever After, actually tells one long story when you watch them in sequence. The opening and closing track of their latest album, Astoria, is a connected series of musical vignettes that form a complete story.

Songs you should listen to: Pop 101, Stutter, Shut Up and Kiss Me

4) Dirty Loops

The only word to describe this Swedish group is “disgusting.” It’s disgusting how talented they are. It’s disgusting that they can play like that. It’s disgusting how incredible their arrangements are.

Chances are, you or one of your friends has already watched their videos on Youtube.  True, covering their arrangements would be incredible difficult, as there is no printed sheet music and the chords are so complex they almost sound inhuman. But if you want a good representation of how to turn overplayed pop songs into incredible works of musical art, this is the band you should emulate.

Songs you should listen to: Baby, Wake Me Up, Rolling In The Deep

5) Pomplamoose

A duo from San Francisco that specializes in polytonality. Their arrangements are fascinating, because it feels like those chords shouldn’t work with those songs, but somehow they do. For those of you playing at home, polytonality is when a song is two different keys, simultaneously. The composition is tricky to get right, but when done as well as Pomplamoose does it, the result is fantastic.

Bonus fun fact! Pomplamoose member Jack Conte was one of the founding members of the widely used website Patreon.

Songs you should listen to: Pharrell Mashup, Single Ladies, Don’t Stop Loving Me

Marc Silverberg

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pentatonix Needs YOUR Help!

Pentatonix just released a new album last Friday, and it is magnificent; A crowning achievement to what is fast becoming the group success story of the decade.

Believe it or not, a cappella music is STILL not taken seriously as a mainstream form of art. A cappella can quickly go the way of “passing fad” if we don’t band together and help Pentatonix reach Number 1.

To better inform you of the situation, I’ve prepared this handy F.A.Q.:

What situation? What the hell are you talking about?

The members of Pentatonix are on their way to achieving an a cappella milestone. If Pentatonix gets the number 1 album in America, it will be the first time in history an all a cappella album took the top spot.

Fighting tooth and nail for that same spot is Demi Lovato’s new album. While I’m sure she is a lovely person and her album is probably very good, we need to make a stand for Pentatonix.

Why on Earth should we help them? I’m not in Pentatonix!

There are several reasons why the new Pentatonix album taking top spot would benefit YOU directly:

1) It would support the claim that singing a cappella is both relevant and cool.
2) It is an album with absolutely no dirty or explicit lyrics taking the top spot, thus reaffirming the belief that artists don’t have to use explicit lyrics to sell records. (Not saying Demi is doing that...just saying in general)
3) It would be perfect ammunition for starting/developing/continuing an a cappella group in your school.
4) The knowledge that 3 members of Pentatonix met in a high school choir would help recruit new singers to your vocal program.
5) It would further encourage an emphasis on musicality rather than over-production and money.

Are you telling me that if this album reaches number one, all these things will happen to me immediately?

No. In fact, very little will change in the near future. But the future of vocal music will benefit in the long run.

How could you possibly know this?

I’m a psychic.



So if Demi Lovato wins the top spot, none of this will happen?

No. In fact, just the thought of Pentatonix giving Demi Lovato a run for her money helps all the above causes, whether they win or lose. Plus, they already won a Grammy. But as a self-proclaimed a cappella super nerd, knowing that a cappella is SO CLOSE to this victory makes me want it even more.

Okay I’m in. How do I help?

Buy the album. Encourage others to buy the album. That’s pretty much it.

If I buy it in bulk, will that help them?

No. Multiple purchases on one receipt only count as one purchase, according to the way Billboard tallies their records.

Isn’t this battle a little stupid?

Yes. It is incredibly stupid. Really, all that should matter is that both artists are doing well and will still be around for years to come. But it’s no different than rooting for your favorite sports team. As long as you don’t take to social media about hating the other side.

Seriously, stop doing that. Both sides.

Marc Silverberg

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