Boston Representing!

Wow.  This was an amazing weekend for the Boston A Cappella Scene.

For me it started with the Five O’Clock Shadow 20th anniversary reunion. 20 years is a long time in this community. A really long time.  Rockapella existed, but hadn’t yet started their sting with Carmen Sandiego.  The House Jacks would be formed a few months later. And like both of these groups, FOCS helped usher in a new sound, and a new style of professional a cappella.  And in the past twenty years, FOCS has changed, and evolved, with 22 different singers having been a part of the group at one time or another.  Some of these singers even joined other groups, to continued success. Groups including The House Jacks, Rockapella, Firedrill!, Overboard, Duwende, The Vantastix, 91 Ghosts, Slapdash Graduate, and more.

FOCS has notably had some of the top VP wear their logo, including Jeff Thatcher, Wes Carroll, Samrat Chakrabarti, and Dave Stackhouse.  In fact, they were one of the groups to pioneer VP, and Dave ‘Stack’ Stackhouse has helped pioneer the Thumper mic, and sings ‘Beatbass’, both VP and bass guitar lines. They’ve also been frontrunners in the use of distortion effects on vocals, the lead/rhythm/guitar structure of a vocal band, and outreach to schools and the community.

They managed to get 17 of the former members back together for this reunion, including several who flew from the west coast, and videos from a few more.  It was an impressive feat.  Besides a great concert with fantastic music from fantastic musicians, the show did a wonderful job of showing the evolution of the group, and of the sound.  They even made a few tongue-in-cheek references to some recent dormant times. More than that, though, the whole concert felt like a party.  Everyone was having a blast, audience and performer alike, and it was the -fun- that came through more than anything else.

It was an amazing show, and a real pleasure to spend a little time with everyone, both those I already knew personally, and those I didn’t.

(As a side note, unlike many groups, this one no longer has any original members in it. But as one of the early members fatefully said, “This is bigger than any one person”.  The group still rocks, and I hope does so for another twenty years.)

Ball In The House had sent FOCS a congratulatory video, and wished they could have seen the show in person, as FOCS was a big influence on them, but they were busy flying to Korea, for a VIP gig! So cool.

I came home from the concert and jumped onto twitter (@acapodcast) to see what all the folks down in New York had to say about the ICCA finals, which were the same night.  I was pleased to see that Pitch Slapped, last year’s bridesmaids, took home the winner’s bouquet this year! I know after their 2nd place last year, and their early elimination from the second season of The Sing-Off, they have been working hard and itching to put a checkmark into the ‘winner’ column.  Along with their recently released 5 track EP (edited, mixed, and mastered by the up-and-coming Plaid Productions), they definitely have a lot to crow about.

The next day was the Boston regionals for the Harmony Sweeps, in some ways the corresponding competition for professional and semi-professional groups.  The sweeps see a wide variety of groups every year, including pop, barbershop, doo wop, folk, and more.  It’s really a vocal competition, and not a genre competition.  This year saw groups like Mainely Acappella (Women’s Barbershop) and former Sweeps champions North Shore A Cappella (Doo Wop). Victory, and the pass to the finals in California went to Overboard, an especially impressive feat when you realize that one of the members, Caleb Wheldon, was singing his heart out the night before as part of Five O’Clock Shadow (He’s actually part of -three- currently active groups…).  Congratulations to them.

Overall, like I said, this was an amazing weekend for Boston A Cappella, and I’m thrilled to be in the heart of it.

Acapodcast #65: Seven minutes to say goodbye.

65 isn’t a hugely significant number. Its a common speed limit on highways. And it’s the nominal age of retirement.  Neither has terribly much to do with a cappella. But they are both indicative of limits, changes, and endings.  No joke, it has literally been 6 months since I last put out a show, and it’s time for me to fess up to myself and to everyone that The Acapodcast, at least as it is, is being retired.  And I’ll go into this in a bit, but I want to start with some thanks.

Thanks to all the groups who sent in music, or gave me the green light to put them on the show. Especially those in the first year, when podcasts were still fairly new, and The Acapodcast was a new thing with not a lot to show. It’s because of early groups responding to emails out of the blue from some random dude with no name or affiliation that I was able to build a show and a brand and get more and more for the listeners.

Thanks to fellow podcasters and audio wonks who contributed their knowledge. When I started I came with a knowledge of the computer side, but not the audio side, and the help was invaluable. A special nod to Brian Ibbott of Coverville fame for his write-ups on dealing with music licensing agencies. Similarly, thanks to all the other podcasters and websites and people who made a plug for me, mentioned me to their audience, or just told a friend.

Thanks to the a cappella community as a whole.  The folks at RARB, CASA, and every other a cappella community venue are some of the most passionate, and yet the most kind and supportive folks around.  Every hobby, niche or not, should have such a talented and dedicated community.

Thanks also to a few specific people who helped me turn the show into what it became.  Thanks to Tony Angeles for the artwork, and the enthusiasm.  Thanks to Deke Sharon for all the music, the bed tracks, and his humble cheerleading. Thanks to Joey C., Mr. Tim, and others who gave me something to measure up to and who unknowingly egged me on to be better.

Thanks most of all to all the listeners over the past 5 years. I never stopped hearing from fans, giving words of encouragement, suggestions, thanks, and compliments.  I’m a fundamentally shy guy by nature, and you rewarded me for putting myself out there.

So, why stop?  Well, basically, its because the show has kind of reached the point where it’s done what I’ve set out to do with it.  When I started 5 years ago I was interested in podcasting, and especially interested in podcasting a cappella. At the time I saw a big vacuum in that regard, one that I had the ability to fill.  At the time, podcasts were starting to take off, but a cappella was still far out of the mainstream.  I’d hoped that by starting the show I could reach out to a little bit more of that mainstream.  Now, I’m not saying that a cappella is mainstream yet, but face it, we’re closer than we’ve ever been.  I say this coming off the heels of the second season of the Sing-Off, including appearances in the Macy’s Day parade. I say this because I feel we’re now at the point where almost everyone has at least heard the term a cappella, and knows what it means.  I say this because more and more mainstream musicians are connecting with a cappella, from Naturally 7 touring with Michael Buble, to Ben Folds releasing an a cappella covers album.  I say this because shows like Glee are raising a global interest in vocal music, and the interest in voices as more than just the lead to a pop song.

I also set out to become more involved and connected with the a cappella community myself. To get to know more great artists and groups, fans and a cappella movers and shakers.  And I have.  It’s brought me to more concerts, festivals, and discussions than I would have thought possible.  As I mentioned, I’m not normally one to put myself out there. I was always the guy who sang the harmonies or the fundamentals, and not the soloist. So it was also a dare to myself, to be the front man on something. And since I have too much stage fright to front a group as a soloist, I started behind a microphone at my desk instead.

There are other reasons for wrapping up the show.  To be fair, my life is in a different place.  It’s been 5 years, and a lot can happen in five years.  I’ve changed jobs, gotten married, and bought a house.  And those are just the big things.  Putting out a regular show doesn’t fit in my life the way it used to.  And I care too much to phone it in.  Some might say I’m letting perfect be the enemy of good, and that any show is better than no show, but there’s more to it than that.  There is no reason for me to put out a subpar show now when there are so many good places for you to go that are way better avenues.  The rise of iTunes, Pandora, and YouTube make it far easier to find new and quality music.  Websites like the Acappella Blog and The Vocal Blog can give you more news and updates than I ever did.  Twitter and Facebook can keep you more connected to your favorite artists.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Mouth Off Podcast, where Dave and Chris do a better job at everything I was hoping to do than I could ever do.  Having two people, with a segments and updates format, a weekly album review, and a legitimate background in the hobby gives them more insight, authority, and connectedness than I ever had.  You might complain that they don’t play full songs, but trust me, the licenses for that are -not- cheap, and if the goal is to learn more about a cappella and to find great new music, it;s hard to do better than their show.

So where do I go from here? Where does the show go from here?  Well, I’m not going away.  The web site is staying up, I’m still on twitter and Facebook and email and forums.  For the third year I’m nominating for the CARA awards.  And I’m still going to more shows and listening to more a cappella than I did before all this started.  I’m going to be stepping back though, and looking for where I can next spend my energies to help out this community.  And yes, I’m open to suggestions.  I’m hoping to do more singing in 2011, as I haven’t been in a group since 2007, and haven’t done much singing at all since then.  I fear I’d have a hard time with even the warmups at this point.  I may even change things up and record a podcast now and again, but The Acapodcast as it has been is over.

So, in closing, thank you all for listening over the years, and for being a part of this with me.  I have been deeply humbled and honored by you.  It has been an amazing ride sharing the love of a cappella with all of you.

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Acapodcast #64

No bones, I’m a big fan of the music from the late 80′s and early 90′s. It’s when I started making my own music collection, and when I started listening to a cappella music extensively… so for show #64 it seemed the perfect time to do an 80′s focus. Specifically on 1988. Get it? 64=8*8? Of course you get it. All my listeners are smart. (And good looking too, right? And talented.)

So here are a bunch of songs that all topped the charts in 1988, starting with the first (and only, so far, I think) a cappella song to hit Number One on the US music charts. Only fair to feature an original song by the original artist.  In a cool tie to the last show, the original music video for the song stars Robin Williams in addition to Bobby McFerrin.  And it connects with another song in today’s show, as they both were in the movie Cocktail.  I remember “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” being on the radio about the time I first joined my grade school chorus… aaaand right about now I’m going to tell all my listeners still in college (or high school) to stop sniggering. One day you’ll be where I am.  In the meantime, go to Audible.com and get some learning on the Eighties, alright? Those of us who don’t know our vocal history are doomed (or blessed?) to repeat it.  In the meantime, listen to the following on this show:

Track Title Artist Album Original Artist
Don’t Worry, Be Happy Bobby McFerrin

Simple Pleasures

Bobby McFerrin
Sign Your Name The House Jacks

Drive

Terence Trent D’arby
Sweet Child o’Mine Deep Treble All Kinds of Treble Guns n’ Roses
Kokomo The King’s Singers

Spirit Voices

The Beach Boys
Faith The Coats

Your Joy

George Michael
Wild Wild West Boyz Nite Out

Harmony Sweepstakes 1995 /

Very Best of the

Harmony Sweepstakes

Escape Club
Never Gonna Give You Up On The Rocks

Best of College A Cappella 2009

Rick Astley

Wow.  I’ve been utterly unable to find any place to pick up a copy of Deep Treble’s album ‘All Kinds of Treble’.  If you know of a place to get that, let me know.  Likewise, the recording of the 1995 Harmony Sweeps is completely unavailable and out of print.  If you get lucky though, you can still occasionally find a copy of ‘The Very Best of the Harmony Sweepstakes’.  This is not one of those occasions, sorry to say.

The Shipyard Sings – you can find this, as mentioned during the show, at http://www.hinghamlaunch.com .   I’m really sorry to everyone who was hoping to go see NoTA live..  They were there back on June 26th, a few days ago as of this posting.  There are still opportunities to see other great groups, including the Tufts Beelzebubs.

For now, go ahead and listen to the Acapodcast #64, and let me know what you think…

P.S. I can’t find the video showing Bobby singing the different parts (I thought I’d seen that somewhere…) but here’s the original video with Robin Williams in it.

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Acapodcast #63, Beatles Collection

Who doesn’t love The Beatles?  One of the most loved, respected, and covered artists of all time, they helped define a new movement in music, and even today there are fans, critics, and imitators.  I’ve pulled together ten of the best A Cappella covers of Beatles songs for this episode.  If you like it, let me know.  I started with over 120 tracks, so I may do another Beatles episode at some point.  Here’s what you’ll hear in the show:

Track Title Artist Album
Strawberry Fields Forever The Bobs

Come Together: An A Cappella Tribute to the Beatles

Eleanor Rigby Overboard

Help!

Penny Lane The King’s Singers

The Beatles Connection

Got To Get You Into My Life Firedrill!

...Sings Without Music, Vol. II

Blackbird Clockwork

Tesseract

Paperback Writer Toxic Audio

Chemistry

Let It Be The Nylons

Fabric of Life: Vocal Percussion Remix

Day Tripper Swingle Singers

Ticket to Ride: A Beatles Tribute

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band /

With A Little Help From My Friends

Da Vinci’s Notebook

Bendy's Law

Come Together Robin Williams

and

Bobby McFerrin

In My Life

Don’t forget to leave your comment below for a chance to win a copy of ‘Chemistry’ by Toxic Audio, which includes that fabulous rendition of Paperback Writer.  If you like the idea behind this show, which artist or theme should I tackle next?

This show was brought to you by Audible, the best place on the Internet to get audiobooks.  All it takes is a computer or an iPod…. the same sorts of things it takes to listen to this podcast!  Sign up at http://audiblepodcast.com/acapodcast to get a -free- audiobook.

Click here to listen to the Acapodcast show #63!

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Play Ball!

One of the best things an a cappella group can do is to sing the national anthem at a ball game.  I don’t care what group you are, what country you are singing for, or what kind of game it is at.  You could be a high school group at your cousins jai-lai game in Ecuador singing the Ecuadorian national anthem.  It doesn’t matter.  And here’s why it’s a good thing for your group to do:

  1. National Anthems were made to be sung.  Every national anthem is simple enough to be sung by everyone. That’s part of instilling national pride.  It is hard to sing a national anthem and sound bad at it. Well, certain notable exceptions (Sorry Ms. Barr) aside.
  2. They’re short.  Or at least, the portions you sing at a game are short.  No one sings all the lyrics.  So you can focus on perfecting just a small bit of song. Plus, I’d be willing to bet you already know the words and melody.
  3. The heart of the song is pretty basic. This ties into part one.  But this means that you as a group have the freedom to innovate, to build on that structure and hang your own style off of it.  Start with the core that everyone recognizes, but make it your own.
  4. Sports fans are a great audience. They’re eager, excited, happy, perhaps already a little drunk, and they love their national anthem. It’s a tradition and a hallmark.  They are at the stadium to cheer someone on, and they will cheer you on with just aas much fervor.  Plus, because you’re not competing with another team, everyone is cheering for you, not just half the fans.
  5. You  get to put yourself and your art out in front of a lot of people that, let’s face it, probably aren’t coming to your concerts. This is marketing gold. Untapped markets that are ready to hear your product. And if you are a high school group singing at a high school game, this is -not- a bad way to get noticed by that team member or cheerleader you might have an eye on…
  6. You’re only out there for a minute and a half, singing a song you know well, to an audience that is happy to hear you and isn’t listening with judgmental ears.  It’s a chance to relax, have fun, and learn to let go of performance jitters.  Even I can belt out the melody as a soloist at a ball game, and I’ve got pretty bad stage fright when it comes to solos.

Check out this clip here of Firedrill! (yay!) singing the national anthem at a recent Red Sox (yay!) game at Fenway Park.

Do be careful though, there are some big pitfalls if you’re not careful.  Don’t sing for more than about a minute and a half.  The audience isn’t there to see a concert.  Actually, I know for a fact that they don’t want you to sing longer than that at major venues like Fenway.  Also, don’t get so crazy with your arrangement that you lose the audience. Key to this is keeping the well known melody front and center.  Be as jazzy as you like, but don’t depart too much from that.  Also be careful changing the familiar tempo too much.  Remember, everyone in the stands knows this part of the song really well, and getting too far away from it will make them uncomfortable.