The Sing Off
DECEMBER 15, 2009, 10:55 pm
Thanks for the overflowing mailbox of kind notes about the Sing Off show. It shows that a cappella is growing and my interest is in not just growing the audience but pushing the genre and the art form.
A few of us had a twitter conversation (@benjaminfolds) last night after the TV show which threatened to be too much information for that format and probably clogged everyone’s twitter boxes so I thought I’d put up a quick piece for tonight.
A cappella is as old as ye hills. Its just singing and I can’t think of anything more musically natural and basic. Its emergence as a potentially competitive genre in the mainstream reflects another concept which is as old as ye hills, which is that when people hit harder times they get together and sing. Putting aside some of the cheesier conventions of the current form with its Broadway leanings (which if inspected aren’t any cheesier than some other forms of pop music currently sanctioned by THE MAN), a cappella music is poised to become the next in a half century of multiple and diminishing aftershocks post-eruption of rock music in the 1950’s. Remember that when rock music began, many of the hits were covers of earlier hits, often recycled within weeks. Now this music style is moving fast, both artistically and commercially and I perceive potential to steer a very skillful art form in some small way via a television show such as Sing Off. This is why I am here. It doesn’t need to take over the world, it just deserves its spot and some respect.
I have nothing against pop music or what’s going on currently.
There’s brilliance out there and amazing talent. But what I do question is a world where a super celebrity who’s propped up by a massive machine, pitch corrected gratuitously, photo shopped, marketed, backed by computer tracks is accepted as cool in the mainstream while if you google “a cappella” you’ll likely find associated searches such as ‘cheesy’, ‘vomit’, ‘nerd’ etc. No music form is superior to the other but I would point out that what you’re seeing on Sing Off is pure integrity musically speaking and extremely difficult to pull off. Yes the vehicle is a TV format and great, maybe it will help reach more people. If it involved a smackdown or makeover to get people to watch and listen, fine. These groups perform on this show with no instrumental backing and no safety net. Anything out of tune puts the modern ear off so there is no tolerance. They have to have a fairly thorough understanding of western theory, harmony, arranging, voice leading and so on, just to get through a few measure. We pro’s are rarely put through those kinds of paces, at least those of us in rock music, including the ones with the ‘street cred’.
The term “street credibility” is not something that we need to banter about about with a cappella. Its irrelevant. “Cred” (latin root credo) is fickle and can be manipulated, and those most concerned with it are marketing people and ex indie rockers going through mid life crisis. I’d prefer to concentrate on the concept of integrity. A cappella is all about musical integrity if nothing else and it will keep us honest.
What I’m hoping out of the show is to give a cappella some more momentum, so that groups are motivated to step it up. The conventions are fine but there’s so much more. This is music that could find itself on the radio and developing very quickly. As I’ve said, if the economy takes a total dump and none of us can afford instruments, then a cappella will be king. There’s a long way to go. It needs to be respected and developed. There need to be original songs coming from these groups and that’s a ways away. Whether its the Medici family, Alan Freid, or NBC, Sony, Oprah… somebody has to put some money behind it and there needs to be a vehicle and I’m proud and happy to put down what I’m doing to move it forward. For those most cynical bastards (category includes me) I’m earning the same for three weeks of work on this show that I would from playing two gigs. And I personally invested in the University A Cappella record in time and money and will not take a cent for it – my proceeds going to music education. I do fine anyway and I just enjoy this stuff – if it leads to other stuff then I’ll be happy and if not, I’ll be happy. (not saving the world, just having a good time) I’ll put up thoughts on the whole thing on this Facebook page all week as the show goes on. I believe the show is improving by the episode although there will only be four this run. I’m getting a bit more comfortable with my role as a judge though I’d like to have another week of shorter episodes to completely get my sea legs. I was worried that I was nerding out musically a bit too much while TV probably wanted a totally different approach but we got overwhelming response to the musical approach which is heartening. There seems to be a lot of people purely interested in music,not celebrity and not fads – disenfranchised music lovers (and some musical theater people?). Thank you for that. I’ll try and get my act together quickly over this short series to help it along. I’ll see if I can get our University A Cappella site updated so that people can get together on it, maybe get the Youtube channel updated. There’s a lot going on.
Like any form of music, some of it blows and some of it’s brilliant.
The difference is that these a cappella people can still make their own rules in this window. We rock and pop people have been working in an already mined art form, finding nuggets where we can for decades.
This is fresh. All of its music and I’m proud to go now and put on some kind of acceptable TV clothing, go to makeup and put up with some promotion because I get to hear kick ass singers doing it because they love it. Goodnight.