2012- The Year in A Cappella

2012- my first full calendar year with the blog. A lot of new a cappella adventures for me personally, but also for the a cappella world in general.

Let’s begin with the 2 best stories of the year in a cappella:

1) Pentatonix blew up, y’all. If you thought Straight No Chaser was the group most likely to bring a cappella to the biggest chunk of the public, you were wrong. While SNC has peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, Pentatonix surpassed that mark in 2012, landing as high as number 14, number 5 in overall digital album sales, and number 2 for independent albums. Then, approximately 5 months later, their Christmas EP hit #45 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, with peaks at number 5 for independent album and number 8 for holiday album. In the past few months, they’ve made appearances on the Tonight Show, the Katie Couric show, and the Talk, among other shows. They’ve also toured all over the country. Did I mention their YouTube channel has over 42 million– MILLION— views.

So, congratulations to Pentatonix for finally, unequivocally, and with appropriate humility and sense of self, breaking a cappella music into a new tier of mainstream success. Plus, they put out great YouTube videos at a surprisingly robust rate.

2) Remember when Mickey Rapkin wrote a book called Pitch Perfect, and the nerdiest of the a cappella nerds (myself included) rushed out to buy it and then enjoyed it, but were not necessarily blown away? Yeah. That book has been erased by the movie of the same name. A movie which took in over $5 million in its limited release opening weekend in the U.S. A movie which, as of today, has grossed more than $64 million at the box office in the United States and another $20 million abroad (according to Box Office Mojo).  Oh, and it was nominated for the “Favorite Comedic Movie” People’s Choice Award, Rebel Wilson was nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy by the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, it got a very respectable 80% rating from Rotten Tomatoes (compilation of movie reviews from a variety of sources), and there’s talk of a sequel. Did I mention the soundtrack hit number 1 on the Billboard Soundtrack chart?

There’s a slew of Pitch Perfect content on CASA which is worth checking out, seeing as how it was written by people who love a cappella music as much as you do.

Congratulations are certainly in order to producers Elizabeth Banks and Paul Brooks, director Jason Moore, screenwriter Kay Cannon, and especially to our own aca community members, and film music staff, Deke Sharon, Ed Boyer, and Ben Bram. By the way, if podcasts are your thing and you’re missing a cappella content on the pod-web-tubes (see my later comments), there was an interview with Ms. Cannon (the screenwriter) which you can check out here.

Other Noteworthy (not the group) Stuff in 2012

Books– There were a number of a cappella books released in 2012 which are worth checking out. The most important one, which I am still working my way through, is one which most arrangers should consider a necessary addition to their collection. A Cappella Arranging, written by Deke Sharon and Dylan Bell, is a true textbook on the art and science of arranging for contemporary a cappella, and it is written in a thoughtful, accessible, and fun way with examples and diagrams. I’m sure it is available from numerous online outlets, but I bought mine here. It is a terrific value and worthwhile investment.

Other books worth checking out (and which I have purchased, but not yet read) include Brody McDonald’s “A Cappella Pop” and “The A Cappella Book” by Mike Chin and Mike Scalise of the A Cappella Blog. And if you still haven’t read “AcaPolitics” by Stephen Harrison, you should pick that up as well. It is the first, and to my knowledge only, fictional book about the collegiate a cappella scene and it does resemble the Pitch Perfect movie (which it predated).

Festivals– As the global a cappella community becomes more connected, the number of festivals across the world have grown. Here in the U.S., CASA introduced 2 new (or revamped) major festivals, BOSS (Boston Sings) and Acappellafest (Chicago) which were, by all accounts, very successful. Other festivals of note occurred in Toronto, London, Sweden, Australia, and Taiwan, among many other places. An international collaboration between myself and Florian Städtler resulted in this list of as many international festivals as we could compile for the year. We hope to get updates going for 2013 soon.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards (CARAs), issued each year by the Contemporary A Cappella Society, were announced in a live ceremony at this year’s Boston Sings festival, and it appears CASA intends to do the same in 2013.

SoJam celebrated its 10th anniversary with an all-star concert featuring Fork, Pentatonix, and the Edge Effect, among others.

Sing Strong announced that it will feature not one, but two festivals in 2013, one each in Washington D.C. and Chicago.

Web– There were a number of new blogs and other web resources devoted to a cappella music, including:

http://www.reddit.com/r/acappella/

http://www.acafeed.com/

http://acappellaquest.blogspot.com/

http://lovedeacapella.wordpress.com

There was the controversial list of the “coolest” people in a cappella generated by the A Cappella Blog, and a number of streaming a cappella performances including, on the same weekend, one from the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival and one from Denmark by Postyr Project (my takes on these here and here, respectively), in April, the House Jacks’ 20th anniversary concert, and then SoJam X in November.

Groups

At one point, Overboard was a group of guys from the Boston area who did a series of free songs every Friday for a year, who released a brilliant compilation of Beatles tunes reimagined to tell a story, you know- a group with a startling lack of vision (heavy dose of sarcasm). In 2012, the members of that group were everywhere. First (and to be fair, it was late 2011), founder Nick Girard joined The House Jacks to cover both VP and tenor (and a few other parts in their live show). Because, you know, that’s totally doable. Then,  a group called Blueprint, featuring OB members Alfredo Austin, Jeff Eames, and Caleb Wheldon dropped an acabomb at BOSS, followed by a stunning 5-song EP which yielded a track (“Sweeter”) for SING 9.  Not too bad.

Later in the year, the talented Mr. Austin joined a new group called The Exchange, joining with established a cappella singers and personalities like Christopher Diaz, Richard Steighner, and Aaron Sperber. This group toured the world, released a number of videos with varying levels of silliness, from this to this to this.

Lastly, Overboard itself tried some new things, with the permanent addition of Eric Morrissey to replace Jeff Eames, and the temporary/permanent(?) addition for many gigs of Johanna Vinson (of Divisi, Delilah, and Musae) and Donovan Davis.

Talented jazz-y group Simply Put called it quits, Duwende said goodbye to an original (and very talented) member, Ari Picker, and Dan Ponce (founder of Straight No Chaser) helped produce a new group called Gentleman’s Rule. Musae released their debut album, as did The Executive Board.

The Swingle Singers said goodbye to longtime bass Tobias Hug (11 years), and welcomed new bass Edward Randell.

Misc.

The Sing Off China was a thing. There were a series of excellent blog posts following it here.

Sled Dog Studios held 2 separate production workshops, called Next Level, which featured talented instructors including Dave Longo, Tom Anderson, James Cannon, Tat Tong, Chris Crawford, Dave Sperandio, and Ben Stevens.

The ICCA’s have added a new region, the Great Lakes Region, and ICHSA added 2 new semifinals. The SoCal VoCals won ICCA’s for an astounding third time, and Vocal Rush from Oakland School for the Arts.

Six Appeal won the 2012 Harmony Sweepstakes. They will be performing the national anthem at the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 2013.

Emerald City Productions released a benefit a cappella album for kids called “Sing Me a Song,” the proceeds of which go to organizations devoted to Cerebral Palsy research. The album features a cappella superstars like Nota, Overboard, Cluster, Rajaton, Peter Hollens, Postyr Project, and others. There’s some great insight about the project from Danny Ozment here, and I can tell you that my kids (ages 4 and 20 mo) love the album.

Voices Only Forte, a compilation of non-scholastic a cappella music from all over the world, was released. Corey Slutsky from Voices Only also put together this benefit track, the proceeds of which benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

At the end of the year, CASA President Julia Hoffman stepped down, and she will be replaced at the helm by Tom Anderson in 2013.

The Worst of 2012

Sadly, members of the Persuasions (Jesse “Sweet Joe” Russell), the Penguins (Cleve Duncan), the Cadillacs (Earl Carroll), the McGuire Sisters (Dorothy McGuire), and (Dion and) the Belmonts (Fred Milano) all passed away. These groups were critical to the history of modern a cappella music.

On a far less tragic, but still disappointing, note the Mouth Off podcast apparently went on an indefinite and stealthy hiatus. It’s hard to say exactly what happened, because there didn’t appear to be much explanation via Twitter, Facebook, etc., but presumably it was related to Christopher Diaz being extraordinarily busy traveling and touring the world with various groups and to various festivals.

My 2012 in a cappella

– I became a reviewer for RARB

– I wrote a few pieces for CASA (herehere, here)

– I attended my second a cappella festival, the very first Boston Sings (BOSS)

– I began the Spotlight series on this blog and got to interview some terrific producers and performers.

– I got to meet some really great people in the a cappella community, something I hope to do a lot more of in 2013.

I’m sure there was a ton of other newsworthy content which happened in 2012. Feel free to leave me some reminders or jabs in the comments section.

Happy New Year to everyone, and here’s hoping to bigger and better things for a cappella music in 2013!

28 Comments

  1. Emily May   •  

    Great list.
    Also worth mentioning: The birth of ‘The Single Singers’ at the London A-cappella Festival January 2012 and it’s American spin-off The Pick-Ups. Hundreds of individual festival participants from around the globe gathered by facebook and twitter were able to sing and perform at an a-cappella-festival, together with new aca-friends and acalebrities.
    There have been 3 Single Singers and 5 Pick-Up editions in 2012. A new trend to be continued next year!

    • Dave Bernstein   •  

      Emily- Thanks for the response! I actually participated in the BOSS version of The Pick-Ups, so that’s a big oversight on my part. Thanks for reading and reminding me and others of this terrific new addition to the standard a cappella festival lineup!
      ~DB

  2. Dave Dinardo   •  

    Thanks for the re-cap, and thanks for acknowledging that Pentatonix has “de-throned” Straight No Chaser. Let’s face it: SNC is successful because of PBS, only a very small percentage of their fans are under the age of 60. I confirmed this personally when I saw them in concert this year. My girlfriend and I were laughing because we were the ONLY people in the audience without grey hair. Don’t get me wrong – they put on a good show. GOOD show, not great show. Pentatonix has a much younger fan base that will surely propel ‘a cappella’ music into the mainstream.

    I’m looking forward to more of your posts in 2013!

    • Dottie Kovacs   •  

      Dave, I beg to differ… being an active member of the “Chaser” community, I have seen evidence that a very large percentage of SNC’s fan base is under 60. I have been to many of their shows in various states, and while some of them are dominated by an older, PBS-type crowd, I would not say that those fans make up the fan base predominately. Lastly, if you think SNC only put on a “good” show, maybe it was because you were too busy counting the grey heads in the audience to pay attention! 😉

      • Lieve De Geyter   •  

        Well said my Chaserfriend Dottie !!!!

      • Katie Coy   •  

        I definitely agree with Dottie! Straight No Chaser in my opinion has a wide variety of fans. And, in my opinion, I’d prefer SNC over Pentatonix? any day.

    • Kerri   •  

      Actually, a rather large percentage of SNC’s fan base is under 60. The appeal of SNC is that they can reach across generations and don’t necessarily focus solely on “the much younger fan base”. While Pentatonix is incredibly talented (as well as one of my favorites, my pick to win TSO and on my “must see” list) the fact remains that SNC and their fans is what made me attend 7 different shows in 5 different states. Additionally, it is movies such as “Pitch Perfect” that supplement a cappella and help enhance it’s appeal.

      Yes, SNC had a showing via PBS but it was YouTube that actually propelled them and caught the attention of Atlantic Records a decade ago…and I don’t know about you, but my 60 year old relatives weren’t the hardcore YouTube users of ten years ago.

    • CM Rodriguez   •  

      I am a Straight No chaser fan under 60, who has gone to numerous shows this year, I don’t know which one YOU (Dave Dinardo) were at , but your observation is not only incorrect but just plain silly. Look at the audience photos on their Facebook page to see for yourself. If your going to sling untruths around, at least pick one that is not so blatantly obvious as a lie, c’mon dude. At least try a little harder. At a SNC concert I see kids to grandmothers, sure and ALL having a great time! I am also a Pentatonix fan and have seen them in concert this year as well. They are equally as fun and have their own audience. I think there is room for both in the genre without the mudslinging.

    • Cynthia Musselman   •  

      My first response to you Mr. Dinardo is this: having attended only one SNC show does not make you the expert on the crowd mix. I have been to 91 SNC shows and I can assure you that they pull a wide age range from 2 to 96. I also think you need to keep an eye on SNC because they continue to push the boundaries a cappella music. There is room for everyone and we should celebrate the growth a cappella has had and not verbally “bash” or pit one group against another.

    • Ellie   •  

      I don’t know where you saw a show, but I know the majority of SNC’s fans (and we’re called Chasers, btw) are under 40. And I know many that are part of that “younger fan base” who are fans of both SNC and PTX. As for their shows, great doesn’t touch it. They perform songs from genres that span generations, making this a show anyone of any age can go to and enjoy.

      The a cappella community is not a contest or rivalry. It’s full of lovely people with beautiful voices who often mesh and meld with each other, creating new sounds. The success of any one group raises awareness of the genre, and I’ve found many groups congratulating and supporting each other.

      It’s a big ‘ole extended family, and I am proud to be an a cappella fan.

    • Allie Uyematsu   •  

      Even though I have yet to see an SNC show I am a huge fan of theirs and I’m only 24. I heard about these guys back in 2007 from someone who was only 19 at the time. SNC has been such a big part of my musical life and yes I love PTX too but SNC Chasers are my friends that have become my family. Keep in mind that not all Chasers are over 60 most of them are under…

    • Cindy Warrick   •  

      Wow, one show and you are saying we’re all over 60. So not true, but I do have gray hair. Learn a fact or two before judging, hair color has nothing to do with age, or love of music. SNC has brought me close to many new friends, and yes, I too love PTX. Different groups same genre. Apples and oranges. SNC is where they are from a YouTube video, PTX from a television show, different audiences. Maybe if you spent more time watching the show instead of laughing at the audience you would have enjoyed it more.

  3. Karen Burkhardt   •  

    I’m nowhere near 60 (and neither are my friends), and we all love SNC. I’ve been to a number of their shows and they have tons of people in attendance my age or younger…very few older people with gray hair there. Not sure where you’re getting your information. 😉

  4. Susan Herman   •  

    Dave you couldn’t be more wrong. There are over 200,000 fans of Straight No Chaser on Facebook alone. We’re all sizes shapes and colors. We are students, moms, nurses, accountants, teachers. We are intelligent men and women. Chasers span all generations. We aren’t all over 60 with gray hair. Get your facts straight. It’s a Chaser Nation and I am proud to cheer my lungs out for these always classy, super talented, fan loving men!

  5. Holli   •  

    Thanks to Dave Bernstein for this great round up. Much appreciated and well written, sir! I’d just like to add my feelings on the SNC/Pentatonix comment posted here by Mr. Dinardo in the spirit of healthy debate!

    I’m 28 years old from the UK and I recently spent 13 shows in the company of Straight No Chaser as part of my US vacation.
    I traveled alone and was not a member of the ‘chaser’ fan base really before heading out. Those fans that i met rarely proved to be older than 50 (which is a spring chicken where i come from!).
    Of course, there were those out for a great evening of music and entertainment who may have been older, but the fan base that has helped propel the group to a mainstream label artist name were much much younger than that. I also happened to see MANY young children at their recent Detroit, Cleveland and Hershey fall tour performances. Something i was surprised but happy to see parents investing in for their children- to see pure live music. It’s also worth adding that out of all 13 shows, only 2 were not a complete sell out.

    As a professional performer myself i see that there is plenty of space in the market for a multitude of groups within the genre.
    Pentatonix are a talented group whom i also enjoy and they will indeed provide much needed momentum to the genre and it’s exposure. But as with most things, their performance will mature as they get older and deeper into the workings of the mainstream market. I am sure they will also have an older demographic that perhaps may not be as vocal. (Or may have found out about them through other mediums other than television and social media and don’t have the option to be so). My nan is 74 and is quite taken with their current YouTube offerings.

    For me personally, i chose to see as many Straight No Chaser shows as i did because their whole show (not just the vocals) performance provided me with entertainment, fun, passion and imagination to continue on with my own work. Their arrangements also, technically thrilled. As a performer, i find that hard to come by.

    And i found out about these guys buy pure chance on television since the UK doesn’t have PBS or really understand what it’s about as we have no comparison. So i picked up a CD based solely on a 30 second clip on morning TV and the rest, i am very happy to say is history.
    The only other A Cappella act to sell me that fast was Take 6 (whom also have a varied age demographic when it comes to their supporters, concert goers and fans).

    Ultimately it comes down to this: It really doesn’t matter what the age demographic, or which artist it is (or you personally support and prefer). As long as A Capella continues to offer up new, different and constantly evolving arrangements along side the old faithfuls that we all enjoy- it really doesn’t matter what you’re age is.

  6. Dave Bernstein   •  

    Thanks to all my Chaser friends for proving your dedication to SNC. I would point out that I first heard the ORIGINAL Straight No Chaser back in 1998, and have their first 2 college albums. “Last Call” was one of my favorite college albums for many, many years. So, I am a fan, and do not agree with any suggestion that SNC appeals only to an “older” audience. That being said, I DO think Pentatonix, by virtue of both their NBC exposure and their individual ages (mostly early 20’s) probably do appeal to a generally “younger” audience than almost all a cappella groups out there.

    SNC is a terrific group, and I don’t think anybody who has seen them or listened to them would dispute that. Moreover, their fans (yes, you Chasers!) are clearly among the most devoted to any a cappella group in the world. I was simply pointing out that Pentatonix has reached an entirely new level of success which SNC had yet to achieve since the first big press coverage started coming out back in 2007ish (?) about that Atlantic Records deal and the YouTube video.

    Mostly, I agree with Holli that it doesn’t really matter what a listener’s personal preference is so long as people are enjoying a cappella music and that music continues to grow and change.

    Thanks for the great comments, everybody!

    • Dottie Kovacs   •  

      Thanks for your great response, Dave! My comment was directed at Mr. Dinardo and I want you to know that I agree with everything you outlined here about Pentatonix vs SNC. I’m excited about modern a cappella getting more exposure in the mainstream and would be thrilled to see these two groups work together at some point to reach an even broader audience. Here’s to 2013!

  7. KCtheChaser   •  

    I adore Straight No Chaser. So do many of my friends. MANY. I’m not 60. I’m not even 40. I’m the same age as most of the guys in the group. I take offense that you would make such an ignorant generalization about Chasers.

  8. Dave Dinardo   •  

    Wow!

    My intention was certainly not to offend any ‘Chasers’ out there. I used a poor choice of words by saying “under the age of 60” however I stand by my observation that MOST people in the audience were older. (don’t believe me? look at their audience photos on Facebook)

    Is there anything wrong with being an older fan? Heck no! I discovered SNC because of my parents who gave me their first xmas album and ‘with a twist’ (“Indiana Christmas” and “Fix You” are two of the most beautiful arrangements I’ve ever heard, and I’m from Ohio LOL)

    I was merely pointing out that SNC does not have what it takes to propel a cappella music into the mainstream, and I agree with Mr. Berstein that Pentatonix has the best chance of appealing to a younger audience. I don’t know their ages, but most guys in SNC all look to be pushing 40, that one bass guy looks like he’s pushing 50… again, is there anything wrong with that? Not at all! But older musicians and older fans certainly do NOT make many bands mainstream. I’m entitled to my opinion.

    thanks for your blog Mr. Bernstein!

    • Cindy Warrick   •  

      Once again Dave, please check facts before general observations. All members of SNC are under the age of 40 every single one of them. SNC started in 1996 at IU, so let’s think about this, Randy by no means looks like he is pushing 50. Yes, you are entitled to your opinion. And I do agree the PTX is appealing to younger audiences, they are the tv crowd after all, and I wanted PTX to win the Sing-Off the first time I heard them. And the Sing-Off helped bring a cappella music to the attention of some of my younger family members.

      But this is not a competition among the groups as they are fans of each other and have expressed an interest in working together, what will this do? But bring more awareness of both groups to more people. Whatever groups “brings a cappella to the mainstream” it doesn’t matter as long as it is done. But what is needed is for the industry as a whole to recognize a cappella.

      • Leisa Nelson   •  

        In my eyes there is a big difference in both groups. I am a “Chaser”. I have been following from the begining. SNC treats us like family. This group did not have to win a contest to get started. They worked hard to get where they are. Thank you Randy Stine for posting the video and answering the phone….The age range of there fans go from 2 to 97 yrs old. I would say 90 % of chasers are under 40 yrs old. Please get your facts straight.

    • Jess   •  

      Ok I am entitled to my opinion as well and I kept my mouth shut when you first commented pretty much saying that we all have to be old to listen to SNC, for which it looks like a fair few of us have promptly showed you that you are in fact wrong! Now you have the need to what I feel is attack a much loved founding member and personally my favorite who for the record is 35 and extremely talented. I myself am 30 and have been following them for years, I feel you owe an apology the member of this group that you so rudely commented on (we know hell will indeed freeze over before then) but just be aware that you are pissing off the wrong group of “old” people with these asinine comments. The followers of SNC AKA Chasers are a big family and when you mess with one you mess with us all.

    • mama2josh23   •  

      Wow…. just WOW!!! OK…. so first of all I have to get control of my “oh so old” 36 year self! Randy and the rest of the guys are my age or younger in some cases. I adore these men…. all of them. I enjoy PTX as well, but I prefer my SNC guys.
      Second…. please stop referring to us as just “fans” and get it right…. we are and will always be faithful Chasers!
      Third…. I have been to 5 SNC shows in the past year and 4 months…. my 9 year old son has gone to everyone of them with me and has not only loved every show, but has gotten shout outs from the guys on stage and one on one attention from them during the meet and greet line. I have many Chaser friends that are around my age also so I am not sure where you are getting your fact from sir, but we are not a “60+ crowd”. I also don’t know what Facebook pictures you are looking at, but the ones I have seen (and I have seen a lot) have shown mostly young people…. are they all teens and 20-somethings… no! But we aren’t old either.
      Randy (and the rest of SNC) we love you guys and love the show you put on and wouldn’t want you to change anything! Please don’t let the words of one uneducated concert go’er affect you…. in the words of Seggie…. I think we can all dispute his comment together as one!
      Love you guys!

    • Stacey   •  

      Well Mr. Dinardo, lets see what happens in May when Straight No Chaser’s new CD “Under the Influence” is released. I foresee mainstream success the likes a cappella music has not seen to this point in time!

      As many have said here, it is not a competition between these groups as the a cappella community supports each other and their different styles. Pentatonix focuses more on their YouTube videos & Straight No Chaser on their non-stop touring schedule. In my book NO ONE provides brilliant vocals/arrangements with all around fun, laughs & entertainment like SNC.

      • Stacey   •  

        Mr. Bernstein,

        So happy to see that DR (David Roberts) of Straight No Chaser replied to your tweet about their upcoming CD. “Under the Influence” is scheduled to be released on May 7th & most of the details are still under wraps. As DR said, the track list & guest artists (YAY!) will be released in the weeks & months to come.

        Info they have already revealed is that the album was produced with Mark Kibble & Mervyn Warren so that should give you a clue as to what a monster hit “Under the Influence” is going to be! All the guys in SNC are at the top of their games vocally & arranging and I’m sure their 4th full length studio album is going to blow everyone’s minds – a cappella fans & soon-to-be fans alike.

        Thanks for blogging about all these great artist, especially Straight No Chaser who are not only incredible musicians but the nicest guys in the biz. They appreciate their fans tremendously & work tirelessly to share a cappella music with Chasers from 5 to 95. :)

  9. Amy Wolter   •  

    wow dave dinardo!! you obviously haven’t done your research on SNC!! i think the oldest in the group is 35, so not quite yet pushing 40!!! for the most part, they are early 30’s (under 35!) i have been to several shows this year and the age range of the audience varies, i think in part to the venue!! i’m 34 and i love them! my daughter is 4 and loves them. she hasn’t been to a live show yet, but she will hopefully this year. music should appeal to a broad range of people, no matter the age. i appreciate your comments, but please don’t stereotype all chasers as “over 60” crowd, because we are certainly are not.

  10. mama2josh23   •  

    Chasers….. Love you guys too!!!! :)

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