Dave Longo is, in many ways, the future of a cappella. He founded Sled Dog Studios, an outfit which specializes in studio and concert production for a cappella music. When Sled Dog Studios recently merged with The Vocal Company, he took on the new title of Chief Executive Officer, and continues to act as a producer and engineer for the new business.
Longo has also been busy recently working with Deke Sharon as a co-Executive Producer for the new weekly vlog “Inside A Cappella.” He was a co-founder and organizer for the Social Media and A Cappella Conference in 2011 (SMACC, which went on to become the Boston Sings A Cappella Festival), founder of the RIT Eight Beat Measure Alumni Foundation, and founder of the “Next Level” workshop series on producing a cappella music. If there is something contemporary or technologically advanced happening in American a cappella, he likely contributed to it, or knows quite a bit about it. Please check out his website here http://www.thevocalcompany.com.
Let’s start with the big news. In January, your company, Sled Dog Studios, merged with The Vocal Company. How did this come about?
It’s funny – Mark, Nick, and I are all incredibly competitive people, but we are also very helpful and largely selfless people. It was interesting seeing the beginnings of both of our companies play out. Mark and Nick got me my first Sapphires live gig. We did a bunch of recording and editing for TVC during our start. We collaborated on CASA festivals. Etc.
It got to a point where we were doing so much work together…but marketing separately or against one another. It didn’t make much sense.
So what if… what if, you could take two of the most driven companies in a cappella, pool their talent, their resources, their offerings, and create one mega-organization? What if, Sled Dog was more than just a company – what if it was an idea?
Will you guys be merging names, adopting one name, or creating a new name?
All of the above.
Sled Dog Studios, LLC is now Sled Dog Music Group, LLC. SDMG is a family of brands designed to do more than just produce. We plan to introduce clients into our family and jumpstart their careers from there. More importantly, we plan to have an effect on the community – a real effect.
The Vocal Company is our a cappella production umbrella, with acappellaLIVE, acappellaEd, diyacappella, and a few others under it. Sled Dog Studios is now the name for our physical studio locations – such as Sled Dog Rochester.
What kinds of things do you guys see for the future of this bigger company?
We have many…many things in the works.
We have The Vocal Company doing its thing with studio work at an increased level of efficiency and collaborative creativity.
We just wrapped our live offerings into a new brand: acappellaLIVE. We now have multiple systems and engineers across the States and have introduced a lighting rig that will change your life.
Ben Stevens has joined as our Director of Education – that’s exciting at the level of mind-blowing. His first work is to tie up all the loose ends with the Next Level workshops and to rework DIYAcappella a bit. He is also assisting in managing the recently funded Eight Beat Measure Foundation scholarship fund.
The big one though – acappellaEd. Free seminars all across the nation with the cream of the crop of a cappella.
acappellaTV will be huge. It starts with Inside (which we pledge to maintain as a beneficial, ad-free, marketing-free news center), but will quickly expand out to exciting new content in the world of vocal music.
A bunch of other stuff is in the works but hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet. This combination of people is really breaking new ground fast. Keep your eyes on our website / Facebook page / Twitter for more info.
Now let’s get a little more into the history of Sled Dog. How did you get into recording? At what point did you decide to open your own studio?
I was in RIT’s Eight Beat Measure. At the time – the group wasn’t recording every two years, wasn’t gigging nearly as much as they do now, wasn’t doing ICCAs. It was almost a new group even though it had been around some twenty years before us. Our first album we did when I was a freshman was recorded at a local studio. We realized we needed some work. So, honestly, I bought a mic for rehearsal. I started recording us in different ways, experimenting. Then I got a second mic – we needed to mic the VP after all. Then I got a third, then a fourth. Next thing I knew I was inside of audio, surrounded by it, living it. I was assisting with the sound for all of our concerts, trying out pedals, wacky miking techniques. I still remember building a Decca tree out of copper pipe from the hardware store a few nights before my senior spring show. When I finally realized I wasn’t going to pursue a career in Mathematics, I signed up for classes at Berklee and did a Master Certificate in Music Production using Pro Tools. That solidified it. I was going to pursue music.
When I got out of school, there weren’t many positions open as a studio intern or some such. I wanted to do something specific and had some unique opportunities to do so. I was a finance minor in college and used those skills and some connections to seek out government funding to help start the business. It worked. We paid off the loan three months ago.
In recent years, more studios are essentially rooms with some Auralex or similar foam product and a few mics. Your studio was designed by JH Brandt and is more of a throwback to the days where musicians could feel comfortable in a unique or special space. Was it an easy decision to put so much money and effort into this kind of space, or did you seriously consider keeping it simple and stripped down before you went in this direction?
I had been to a number of studios with Eight Beat and others. I had tried different scenarios, different situations. The one that caused the least stress, the least drama in the group, was at home. Record in someone’s dorm, in your communal living area, whatever. Anything that was familiar.
Well what if (can you tell I’m a what if guy?) you could have a home away from home? What if there was a house big enough to house two groups with ease, with chalkboard walls, games, a breathtaking backyard, and room to just CREATE?! No spouses banging at the door, no RAs watching over your shoulder. Just….music. That is Sled Dog. That is The Vocal Company.
It was a no-brainer. I’m very much an all or nothing kind of guy.
Sled Dog has a pretty impressive collection of microphones, including some tube mics and ribbon mics. Do you get a lot of projects which are not vocal, or do you try using these different mics with different voices? If so, any really interesting results?
We have gotten a few here and there, but really we just use our collection on the voice. The difference between a condenser, a ribbon, and a dynamic is pretty striking – let alone the difference between a standard mic and the Placid Audio Copperphone for instance (a mic that telephones you – live). Does it do anything strikingly different than what most can do with an MBox and an NT-1A? Maybe…maybe not….but it certainly changes the workflow. These types of decisions force commitment in the moment. There’s no “Oh…I don’t know….maybe we’ll figure it out later.” Within a split second you are a telephone…running through a guitar amp…and into a reverb. No questions asked. No decisions to be made.
You guys do a series called #LiveAtSledDog, where groups can incorporate professional video with live recording. Do you think this is a service which is increasingly in demand given the massive explosion of YouTube in recent years?
I sure hope so! We’ve been discussing modifying the idea slightly and actually making it a private concert. Have a small number (10-20ish) of people act as the audience – lounging on bean bags or the like – for a small showcase. Live on air and in home. If anyone is interested – please, drop us a line.
You guys have done live sound and streamed it online for a couple of CASA festivals. How difficult was it to coordinate that? Have you considered experimenting with streaming more a cappella concerts?
We actually stream every concert we do. It’s not difficult at all. We are definitely looking at upping the bar in that area though. We’re just waiting on some new cameras to come in – but we have everything in place to handle multi-camera streaming. We’re also working on different delivery methods… more to come soon via acappellaTV.
TOPIC: INSIDE A CAPPELLA
In other news, you and Deke Sharon recently started a new project called “Inside A Cappella” which produces a weekly video clip hosted by Rachel Chaloub. This past week, the clip broke the news first about The Sing Off returning for a new season. How did this come about?
I’ve always been inspired by Deke (as I think most are), but I don’t like being a fanboy. If someone inspires me…I typically have lunch with them. I get involved. I offer my services in some fashion. I asked Deke: “What is next for a cappella. What will take a cappella to the Next Level (TM), if you will?” His response: “There is no single thing in a cappella more important than Inside A Cappella.”
From there we discussed details of what would be necessary, did a private audition round for anchors, figured out how to develop and package the thing – and launched with our MVP. It was a hit – and we kept going, adjusting as we went using our viewers as the definition of the program.
What kind of future do you guys see for Inside A Cappella?
I only see Inside A Cappella growing. I think right this very second people are skeptical… I’m not really sure why. We want a cappella to grow. We want to introduce a cappella to children in Sri Lanka, senior citizens in Morocco, and teenagers in France. What better way to do that than 5 minutes of quick, exciting content each week? We are looking for more reporters, more content, more….just more.
How do you guys come up with your content each week?
We keep our ear to the ground for the latest mutterings in aca and what is going to be the next big news item. We have a network of reporters all over the globe feeding us content and ideas. Also…we ask. We open the floor to the people – members of the community, performers, viewers, producers, anyone and everyone. I’m sure I’ve annoyed someone with my incessant posting in the CASA group “FEED ME CONTENT.” It’s for the greater community and thus far, it’s working.
The idea at the start was for it to be the follow up to an S2N or an ABC. Again, thus far – it has worked. One of our first students, Peter Yang, has appeared on both Voices Only Forte and Sing with his personal multitrack recordings. Jim McCann was just up last week leading his group to their latest album (it’s going to be great). Mike Purcell is interning at our studio for the next two quarters. Students from the second Next Level are starting their own production businesses, revolutionizing a cappella at their universities and more.
With the prior knowledge of an S2N or ABC, so much more is open to you. Now that you’ve already spent time discussing what a microphone is and why illegally sharing music is bad, you can focus on how to get that extra 10% out of your recordings. You can have a SWOT analysis done of your life with Dave Sperandio. You can participate in a yoga session with Ben Stevens before discussing the philosophy behind the lead your about to sing. It’s hard to say “we teach you x” because realistically – we just chuck you into a house full of talented people and say “go!” with some direction and hand waving along the way.
We’ve also created a group for all Next Level alumni and are regularly trading work and assisting one another in any way we can.
Considering that you have professional Pro Tools training and certification from Berklee, how far do you think someone who is in a group or has an MBox can go towards creating their own EP or album without that kind of specialized training?
Oh gosh, yes. The training means nothing, as do most pieces of paper. What the training did, for me, was it gave me access to the staff at Berklee. It gave me the chance to turn the dials on a real Digidesign console at Future Media Concepts in NYC. It gave me the chance to talk to people. The reality of it – looking back many years later – is that I could have done the same thing by emailing Dave Sperandio (as I did), Bill Hare (as I did), or Mark Hines (as I did), or any other producer in the industry. We are all incredibly approachable and only want to see everyone succeed. I will say that my training provided a different perspective, a deeper understanding, one that I would not change.
I know that you founded the Eight Beat Measure Foundation which recently had a successful drive for a scholarship fund. What are the goals for the foundation and the fund?
The goals of the foundation are to develop and spread vocal music. The goal of the fund is to provide opportunities to those students showing true promise. People like a Bri Holland who is in 47 groups, recording 14 albums, and is changing the face of a cappella as we speak. We would love to bring them to these festivals (a la CASA) where people’s lives are regularly changed. Attending an aca festival is a wonderful experience as you realize there are other people just as obsessed with this artform as you are. Not only that, but you can actually walk up to Avi from Pentatonix, say hey, and he won’t slap you (as far as I know…).
I had the idea while at the Westminster Chorus’s 25th anniversary show. Avi walked up to Martin (the bass for Ringmasters) and they just geeked out. It was too buddies geeking out over bass technique. And I thought well shucks, I’ve done that…we all have – but it takes proximity. You have to be able to walk up to someone to truly get that experience.
I know you were a singer with Eight Beat Measure. Do you have any plans to sing with a group in the near future? Do you miss singing in a group?
I miss singing more than I let on to most people. But, the reality of it is that I just don’t have the time, and my efforts are better spent helping others live their performance dream. Those couple hours of singing while directing recordings will have to suffice for now.
Thanks to Dave for his time and his insightful and thorough answers.
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