Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Best A cappella Songs You've Never Heard

On this blog, I usually highlight a cappella albums that I believe deserve as much attention as the latest release by Pentatonix. You can view those posts here:

I’m going to change things up a little bit and talk about specific a cappella songs that I think also deserve special mention. Why am I changing from albums to songs? The reason is simple... I’ve discovered that it’s becoming more common for a cappella groups to release small EP’s or singles. By releasing individual songs more frequently, a cappella groups can stay relevant in this ever-growing musical marketplace. To help foster that trend, here are some a cappella songs you should be listening to. (In no particular order)

The criteria for selecting these songs are as follows:

A. It has to be a song I believe the majority of blog readers have not heard yet. This eliminates songs from more popular albums like the BOCA compilations and Sing-Off winners.
B. I have to be totally obsessed with it.

1) “Real Thing” by Hive

It’s probably a good sign you like this song when you downloaded it last Wednesday and it’s already on your “top 25 most played” playlist. The ladies of Hive are clearly sending a strong "Here we are!" message. In fact, the entire production of this single, from the arrangement to the mixing, was done by female a cappella artists.

The song is a little offbeat- It’s an arrangement, written by Lisa Forkish, of the “Tune Yards,” a band I had never even heard of until last week. The song begins in a typical R&B style, but the sudden shift in the middle is enough to excite music nerds like me. Don’t judge the book by its cover- listen all the way through.

2) “Agua De Beber” by Sambaranda

About a month ago, I asked the Facebook hive mind to suggest Latin a cappella albums that I could listen to, having little-to-no idea what groups specialized in Latin music. This is how I found Sambaranda, an a cappella group from Brazil. Their cover of Jobim’s “Agua De Beber” simply rocks. Half of the entire song is in 7/4, a meter that most of us never dare to tread.

What I love most about the arrangement is the beginning loop, repeated several times throughout the recording. I use that loop as inspiration for several a cappella arrangements I’ve recently written, and I’ve mentioned the song in last week’s post about informative arrangements.

3) “Love is Just That Way” by Accent

As a massive Take 6 fan, I’ve played their albums to death. Naturally, this has led to some jazz withdrawal- It’s extremely rare that anyone is writing complex harmonies that only Take 6 can deliver.

This is why I was so happy to find Accent’s new album In This Together. Their penchant for jazz writing breathes new life into my a cappella addiction. These harmonies are probably as close to “Take 6” as any group has gotten thus far. Every song on the album is amazing, but my personal favorite is “Love is just that way.” Only a group like Accent could rock that hard and still be considered jazz.

4) “Stay” by Vocalight

Vocalight is the new “it” group in town, and they deserve it. A mix of alumni from Eleventh Hour and Forte, they stunned the world by taking 3rd in the Varsity Vocals Aca-Open, and now they’re debuting complex arrangements in the vein of Pentatonix, but without the restraints of trying to please a general audience. My expectation of “Stay” was for them to over-emphasize the harmonic clashes in the chorus—probably the most well-liked part of that song—but once again the group shocks and amazes me by totally reinventing the song and inventing their own groove. It’s like they removed all the "Zedd" and added more "Alessia Cara."

5) “Wildest Dreams” by Drastic Measures from A cappella Academy

An older inclusion in the list, this insanely difficult version of the Taylor Swift tune makes me hate the fact that I’m too old to apply for the academy. If you were ever looking for a way to totally re-imagine a song, this would be a good example. Rarely have I heard a group sing an arrangement this complex. From now on, THIS is how I'm going to arrange Taylor Swift.

6) “Home” by Freshmen Fifteen

Another oldie but goodie. The absolute best arrangement of this song comes from the Freshmen Fifteen, who meld “Home” with several others spirituals. There’s a moment, right before the final chorus, that no matter how many times you hear it, you never fail to get goosebumps. The soloist emits more emotion in this recording than every solo on the last BOCA...COMBINED. It’s raw, imperfect, and absolutely outstanding.

7) “Talk2Me” by House Jacks feat. Postyr Project

“Talk2Me” is a strange mix of rock and electronica that works a little too well. The House Jacks' album Pollen is a concept album that has them traveling and recording with a cappella groups all over the world. The entire album deserves your attention, but “Talk2Me” is the one that grabs your attention the most. The song manages to build an enormous amount of tension in the sound and never really releases the pressure, but you don’t seem to mind.

8) “What Kind of Band” by Avante

Avante is not widely known in the a cappella circles yet, but probably more so in the vocal jazz community. This song was written for a specific kind of audience—the major a cappella nerd. I bet you’re shocked why I love this song…

Just try to catch all the a cappella easter eggs if you can…

9) "In The River" by ARORA

I’m cheating a little here, because this song is not commercially available yet. As an attendee of SoJam 2017, I was able to purchase a copy of their demo CD for their upcoming album release. "In The River" is shaping up to be the next “Bridge-” a seamless mix of electronica, rock, and calming ambiance- a grouping of styles that only ARORA could pull off. While you probably can’t listen to this one yet, you can ABSOLUTELY set your expectations high and your anticipation at maximum. ARORA will deliver.

10) "Little Drummer Boy" by Five O' Clock Shadow

This one is definitely the oldest song on the list, but I have gotten multiple uses out of it in educational settings. The vocal percussion solo is a testament to both the incredible talent of David Stackhouse and the musicality one can bring to a percussion solo that is more than “look at the cool sounds I can make.” Whenever I introduce a class to vocal percussion, this is always the first track I play, because it never fails to shock and amaze. Couple that with the insane talent of this iteration of Five O’Clock Shadow, and you get my favorite a cappella holiday track of all time.

Marc Silverberg

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Informative Arrangements 2: Electric Boogaloo

So…apparently people enjoyed last week’s post. Well, I’m glad you liked it. In case you missed it, here’s a link:

Also, I’ve finally accepted that more than 3 people read this blog. So that was nice. (Hello 4 readers!)

Addison Horner, content creator for the AEA, went ahead and put the songs on Spotify. Here’s a link: 

I'd have done that...but I don't have a Spotify account. Plus, I'm lazy. Plus, meh.

It’s time for round 2!

Q: My group wants to do this pop song that EVERYONE and their mom is singing right now. I want to turn it into something totally new like it’s almost unrecognizable. What can I do?

A: Listen to:

“Can’t Buy Me Love” by The King’s Singers
“I Want You Back” by SONOS
“Billie Jean” by Fermata Town
“Killing Me Softly” by Singers Unlimited
“Swingle Ladies” by The Swingles
“I Knew You Were Trouble” by Blackout
“Hildepunk” by MIX

Q: I want to write something that sounds exactly like a jazz big band. Where can I find textbook examples of that?

A: Listen to:

“I’m With You” by The Real Group
“Straighten Up and Fly Right” by Acoustix
“Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” by Quintet
“Have You Met Miss Jones” by The Swingle Singers

Q: Where can I find really good examples of what a “mash-up” is supposed to sound like?

A: Listen to:

“Never Close Our Eyes/As Long As You Love Me/Sweet Nothing” by OneVoice
"Another Way To Die/Skyfall" by The Amalgamates
“How Far I’ll Go The Distance” by Scott and Ryceejo
"Gravity/Run To You" by Jonathan Reid
"Single/Acappella" by Eleventh Hour

Q: My arrangement is missing a really cool chord. Like “Whoa! What was that?!” kind of chord. Where I can I find one of those?

A: Listen to: (You'll know it when you hear it)

 “And So It Goes” by Groove For Thought
“Water Night” by Eric Whitacre
“224” by Cluster
“My Future Self” by Postyr Project
“God Bless The Child” by SoCal VoCals
“Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap
“I Got Rhythm” by Glad
“Locked Out of Heaven” by Vocalosity

Q: We have a really good bass and he/she gets bored really easily. Where can I find examples of more interesting, and difficult bass lines for him/her to sing?

A: Listen to:

“Sing a Song” by On The Rocks
“Feel So Bad” by Voices In Your Head
“Dance With Me” (or really anything) by Rockapella
“Agua de Beber” by Sambaranda
“Wrecking Ball/We Can’t Stop” by Delilah

Q: I’m a live looper and I need some inspiration. What can I listen to so I can get an idea of how to arrange for a loop station?

A: Listen to:

“Cupcakes Can Kill You” by Mister Tim
“Whiskey” by Julia Easterlin
“I Shall Be Free” by Kid Beyond
“Ave Maria” by SONOS
“Unison” by Bjork
“Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin (even though he doesn’t use a loop station, the arrangement is very repetitive)

Do you have an arrangement question? Send me a tweet @docacappella and I'll include it in Informative Arrangements 3!

Marc Silverberg

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Informative Arrangements

I’ve discovered that the key to writing great a cappella arrangements, especially if you don’t have any formal training, is listening. And stealing. More stealing than listening. About 60/40 stealing.

The great composer Igor Stravinsky once said “Lesser artists borrow. Great artists steal.” Don’t think of it as the negative connotation we apply to stealing- that you are plagiarizing someone else’s work. Think of it in terms of borrowing knowledge. Knowledge belongs to everyone and cannot be owned.  

"There's no ownership of a musical texture, vocal lick, or arranging trick." -Deke Sharon, A cappella

 I’m drawing inspiration from existing a cappella arrangements to help me learn. A chord here, a texture there- all adapted to fit the particular song I’m arranging. I don’t directly copy the material note for note, out of respect for the arranger I’m studying, but I use the musical material to help inspire me to create something new.

Sharon, the father of contemporary a cappella, has made this point before. In fact, chapter 9 of the book A cappella is titled “Steal from the best.”

To better help you improve your craft, I’ve compiled a list of arrangements or recordings that I’ve found to be extremely inspirational. (Or in other words...I've stolen from these songs...)

Q: How do I compose a more interesting and varied harmony for a song that originally only has four chords?

A: Listen to:

"Stereo Hearts" by Fermata Town
"Rude" by Accent
"Lady Madonna" by Swingle Singers
"Get Back" by Overboard
"Chandelier" by Twisted Measure
"Up On The Roof" by Countermeasure

Q: How do I create a really interesting rhythmic texture?

A: Listen to:

"Brand New" by The A cappella Group
"Everlong" by Tufts Amalgamates
"Cherry Pie" by Men in Drag
"Drive" by Seven On Earth
"Let Me Entertain You" by The Chordials
"I’ll Be Waiting" by the Northwest Undertones

Q: My group is really small or can only sing 4 parts maximum. How do I create an interesting arrangement with such few resources?

A: Listen to:

"Water Fountain" by GQ
"Who’s Gonna Be Your Man" by Honey Whiskey Trio
"Friend Like Me" by Dakaboom
"My Shoes" by The Bobs
"Say My Name" by The Funx
"Moments of You" by Rockapella
"Cheerleader" by Pentatonix

Q: My arrangement needs a really BIG moment. What can I do?

A: Listen to:

"Diamonds" by The Nor’Easters
"We Found Love" by Voices in your Head
"Expensive" by The Hexachords
"The Bridge" by ARORA
"Starry Eyed" by The Virginia Sil’Hooettes
"Uprising" by Pennharmonics

Q: I need to write a looped section. Where can I find good loops?

A: Listen to:

"I Want You Back" by Ithacapella
"Earth" by Imogen Heap
"Go Straight Away" by Julia Easterlin
"Plain Gold Ring" by GQ
"Walking Down The Street" by The Real Group

Q: What’s a good representation of a typical large group arrangement? You know, with one section singing pads, one section singing guitars, etc.

A: Listen to:

"I’ve Got The Music In Me" by Sing Off Season 2
"Better" by The A cappella Group
"Love Runs Out" by The Academical Village People
"Real Love" by Onevoice
"Blown Away" by Forte

Q: I have to write a medley. What’s a good representation of how to write a good medley?

A: Listen to:

"Bella’s Finale" from Pitch Perfect
"Super Mario" by BYU Vocal Point
"Ode to Donna" by Musae
"Country Dances" by Swingle Singers

Q: How do I write crunchy, shiny, complex pop chords that don’t sound jazzy?

A: Listen to:

"Where The Sidewalk Ends" by Euphonism
"Never More Will The Wind" by Ghost Files
"Run To You" by Pentatonix
"Hallelujah" by Cluster
"Poor Wayfaring Stranger" by Swingle Singers
"I Will Wait" by The Vassar Devils
"We Three Kings/O come Emmanuel" by Groove For Thought

Marc Silverberg

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Monday, October 9, 2017

A cappella Power

Okay. This one is going to get about 10% political. Apologies in advance…

I’ve been unable to blog the past couple of weeks, once because I had the black plague and the other because I felt that whatever I blogged about was just not important. The crisis in Puerto Rico. The shooting in Las Vegas. We seem to be hit with a large number of catastrophes lately and many of us have felt almost powerless to do something about it.

If you’re reading this, then you are part of an elite group of human beings who have the ability to make music. And not just any kind of music…a cappella pop music.

A cappella pop music goes a long way.

So firstly, I need you to keep an open mind.

Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican…

Liberal or Conservative…

Dog person or Cat person…

Morning person or Night owl…

Iphone or Android…

Coke or Pepsi…

It doesn’t matter.

Because you’re an a cappella person.

And an a cappella person can help people in need.

You see, I don’t think you really understand how much power you have. You have the ability to sing the music that people actually want to hear.

I’m not trying to put down unfamiliar music. We all need to experience unfamiliar music, because listening to unfamiliar music is how we grow as musicians.

But let’s be honest. The average non-musician doesn’t want to hear unfamiliar music. They want to hear “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s great, because we can sing Bohemian Rhapsody. We can perform the entire song without instruments in any acoustical space.

We can travel. We can sing in any environment. We can sing any song we desire. We can design a set of songs for a specific audience who only wants to hear Michael Jackson.

We have that power. And we have to put it to good use.

How you ask? It’s simple. We sing.

We put on benefit concerts that raise money, even if it’s just $100.

We make inspirational videos that give hope to anyone who watches.

We write and perform songs that show others we are watching, and we do care.

As an a cappella person, I’ve felt powerless these last two weeks, thinking there was nothing I could do to help.

I’m done feeling powerless. I’m ready to do something, even if it’s just a little something.

And so, if you’ve stuck with me to the end of this post, you have been challenged. I challenge you to use your a cappella powers to help.

It doesn’t matter who you help, or what cause you believe in. You can reach the masses faster and more efficiently than other artists.

I’ve been working on something myself, and when the time comes, I hope you’ll participate. I’ve been (slowly) planning and designing a collaborative album of a cappella superstars and any a cappella singer who wants to participate. I plan to record and release the album and donate 100% of the profits to organizations I support.

I don’t know how it’s going to work yet. I don’t know who’s going to help me. I don’t know if it’s going to fall apart before it even begins, thus ruining my credibility and reputation. I don’t know any of these things.

But I’m going to try, because as an a cappella person, I have the power to do something.

And so do you.

Marc Silverberg

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*A portion of the blog post above was taken from Theoatmeal.com. You can read the original comic here: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/believe