2015- The Year in A Cappella

By: Dave Bernstein,  Tara Marie Ahn, and Christopher Hoffman


Unless you were unplugged from society in 2015, we shouldn’t have to tell you that it was another HUGE year for a cappella.

It all begins and ends with Pentatonix and Pitch Perfect 2, with a whole lot of great albums, videos, and news in the middle.

Before we begin, we just want to note that we have revived the monthly news posts at Acatribe so pay attention at the beginning of each month for all the relevant news from the previous month. In light of preparations for this post, we are skipping a formal December post but you may find some December news scattered in here. We will also include some of the big news from the September, October, and November news posts but you can read the rest on the summary post for each individual month. As always, if you have big news you’d like to share, feel free to email us at news@acatribe.com.

Finally, if you can think of some noteworthy a cappella news we omitted (and we’re sure there is plenty), please feel free to comment below or email us and we will update the post accordingly.

Also, though she is credited as a co-author, we have to note that our own Tara Marie Ahn did a ton of the work here and is very deserving of most of the credit. Show her some love on Twitter!


So, let’s dive right in with the box office and music charts success of Pitch Perfect 2 and Pentatonix, respectively.

Pitch Perfect 2 was…a little bigger than expected. As in it grossed nearly $70 million in its first weekend and found up at $184 million domestic at the box office, and another $103 million elsewhere, for a total worldwide gross of nearly $287 million. So, yeah. A cappella is even more mainstream than you might have thought. The movie did fine critically, for what it is, garnering a 66% at Rotten Tomatoes and getting decent reviews at Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

The movie also won the Top Soundtrack and Anna Kendrick thanked Deke Sharon and Ed Boyer in her acceptance speech.

Pentatonix did more in 2015 than we can fairly recount here. A few of their notable highlights, however, were:

Obviously there is plenty more Pentatonix news from 2015, but again- we can’t possibly get to it all. Feel free to add or share in the comments below! Continue reading…

The Sing Off Live Tour Hits NYC

The Sing Off has always been a carefully choreographed opportunity for the world to see what a cappella music can do, both stylistically and in a more meaningful sense. It is a show which offers a glimpse into and an invitation to join the tribe of people who enjoy all vocal music to an almost irrational degree. While the dwindling ratings with each progressive season might seem paltry to network executives, the several million people around the country who tuned in to the most recent “season” still exponentially outnumber the highest estimate of the proud members of our little tribe.

The Sing Off Live Tour which is now working its way across the United States is also carefully choreographed, though with less age and gender diversity than its television counterpart. Instead, the tour offers a 100-120 minute show featuring three all-male headlining groups of varying styles.  Sort of.  Ok, they are all male groups performing pop/rock music, and the singers are generally between the ages of 24 and 40. However, their performing styles are indeed quite different, and we will have accept that this was the extent of the headlining diversity on the tour. Yes, each city features a different opening group, and many of those groups include women or groups with members that aren’t in the 24-40 age demographic, but the opening groups tend to get only 10-15 minutes.  Regardless, the three headlining groups are exceedingly talented, so it would be impossible to argue that any one did not deserve to be included.*

I was pleased to catch the show in New York City last Thursday, February 19, at the Best Buy Theater. Though I can only guess that the frigid temperatures were to blame, there was a noticeable lack of energy in the crowd leading up to the show and during the performance by opening group Traces.

Luckily, The Exchange kicked off the show with a ton of noise and energy, and things started to pick up shortly into their set. Though they are technically the group with the least experience singing together (certainly in temporal terms, possibly in terms of total number of performances), one would never know it. This “super-group” of former contestants, arrangers, etc. from the show put out a set of modern, edgy, aggressive, polished music. The Exchange is the rarest of commodities in vocal music, a group in which nearly every member could carry them or another group as a lead soloist. I have never heard Richard Steighner sing a solo (gauntlet: thrown), but Aaron Sperber and Jamal Moore showed off their powerful solo voices in season 3 of the show, Christopher Diaz has won solo awards at ICCAs, and Alfredo Austin appeared several times on The Daily Show singing soulfully behind Jon Stewart and has been featured in solos for groups like Hyannis Sound and Overboard. Any one of those 4 could carry a group, but they all took turns showing off (and I mean that in a good way) Thursday night. Continue reading…

The Sing Off Season 5- All in a Night’s Work

Well, it wasn’t the length or format we wanted, but last night The Sing Off returned to fill that hole in our collective a cappella-loving lives. Sure, we all would have loved even 3 or 4 episodes, and I would have enjoyed the return of the “battle” segment from last season, but since none of us (that I’m aware of) holds a leadership position at NBC Universal, we take what we can get.

If you missed my commentary on Seasons 3 and 4 of The Sing Off or the articles leading up to this season, you can find them all from this handy-dandy link:


If you want to learn more about the groups that competed last night (sorry, in “Season 5”), you should check out the terrific work from our friends at the AcaFanBase right here:


And now, if you are still with me (fingers crossed), let’s get on with the show.

The show began with the ensemble of all competitors performing “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde, and an immediate appearance by presumed front-runners The Exchange (who harbor alum from on and off-screen work with prior seasons of The Sing Off). There was a ton of energy both onstage and off, and the crowd seemed to be ready to have a really good time. Shawn Stockman was bopping his head, Ben Folds-wannabe/neverbe Patrick Stump was even bopping along. My wife and I were irrationally excited. I should note that the arrangement was pretty much spot on for a high energy, large group effort like this.

Before I continue, let me just make it clear that I”m not taking gratuitous shots at Patrick Stump. I have nothing against him or Fall Out Boy. I simply believe that Ben Folds has been the underrated MVP of this show from the beginning, primarily because he offered smart, honest, musically accurate criticism during the time in between songs when most of us just wanted the talking to stop and singing to continue. In other words, he gave us a reason to care what the judges thought. I think for most of us, the show was always more about getting to watch a cappella music on TV in the comfort of our own home and share this thing we love with the world than it was about “competition” or criticism. Regardless, Ben would often make me stop and think “he’s right- they did have a weird chord which followed that cool riff.”

In any event- I’ll try to keep my Folds-related comments to a minimum, but let it be known that I was truly affected by his absence given the limited time we had with the contestants and the music.

The first group was Timothy’s Gift, a group of ladies who do admirable work with prison inmates. Singing their “signature” song, “Ghost” by Ella Henderson, I was intrigued by the sparse start with a solid solo. Unfortunately, once the backing voices switched to some moving lines, the tempo began to pick up and the wheels came off a little. It wasn’t terrible, just not completely locked in. The ladies have a number of capable solo voices and the blend was alright- I agree with Jewel (*gulp*) that they had a generally warm sound and only allowed themselves to get flat and broad in spots. I don’t have a problem with them doing a song like this without percussion, though it would likely have helped them with the tempo issues and energy of the backing parts. Overall, I’d say it was a solid enough start. They aren’t in the range of prior winners, but I think they would have advanced beyond the first round in Seasons 1 and 2 of the show.

Continue reading…

Congratulations to…

Aaron at Acaville Radio, the winner of our first CD giveaway contest, who will receive a signed copy of the new Ball in the House CD. More on why he was selected in a minute, but first let me just say how exciting and rewarding it was for me to take a look at the cross-section of respondents to this contest.

We had pure fans, folks who run a cappella-related websites like Aaron and Trevor (from Popappella), performers like Daniel Alan (from The Edge Effect), and folks who inspired me to start this blog like Chad Bergeron from The Acapodcast.

Thanks to all who submitted responses, and I have to confess I am not surprised it came out fairly even in the PRO and CON camps regarding the use of instruments or backing tracks on The Sing Off.

I chose Aaron as the winner because of the depth and consideration of his responses, even if I don’t necessarily agree with his position.

As Aaron points out, language carries significant meaning. As someone who spends every day writing for my professional career and then spends more free time writing for this blog, I fully appreciate the power of word choices. I acknowledge that “a cappella” conveys something very specific to many people- vocal music performed without instruments. I appreciate that the distinction between unaccompanied and accompanied vocal music seems like it should be a natural line in the sand, one being “a cappella” while the other is not.

The problem from my perspective is that the last time we really truly had all “a cappella” in any kind of traditional popular music context was probably street corner doo wop. In the decades since, we’ve added microphones (which allow for direct manipulation of sound- try making an effective guitar fuzz sound with your mouth and no microphone), and more recently pedals. The last time I saw Arora, when they were still Sonos, Katharine Hoye sang half the basslines with an octavizer pedal. The show was still awesome, but is that the kind of a cappella Aaron suggests? I don’t know. There are no right answers.

It gets even murkier when you talk about what can be and frequently is done in the studio. I listen to well over 100 a cappella albums a year (between my responsibilities at RARB and Voices Only), and it is increasingly rare that I get a sense the group sang much of what I am hearing anywhere close to the way it comes through my speakers. Groups of 5 members are recording songs with 30 different vocal parts. Their parts are being chopped up and tuned, moved around to the point where they barely resemble a single performance.

Does this bother me? Not really. I still enjoy knowing that it derives from a human voice, but it generally doesn’t give me the chills that I get from a beautiful chord ringing in an acoustically pristine room, where overtones are winding their way into my ears. I think this is what Aaron is getting at- we who are especially enamored with or inspired by a cappella music often appreciate it most in a room, with those chords hitting us in just such a way. Does the addition of instruments or backing tracks reduce the enjoyment in that kind of setting? I suspect it does, at least for many of us.

However- Continue reading…

Our First CD Giveaway Contest

Acatribe team member Tara Ahn has graciously offered to donate a signed copy of Ball in the House‘s new CD “Move” to one lucky reader, and we thought this would be an excellent chance to get our first CD giveaway going.

A few weeks ago, we took a look at the new format for The Sing Off, which now allows groups to compete using backing tracks and/or instruments. You can read that post right here.  We got a terrific response from Aaron at Acaville Radio, and we’re looking for more of the same, so here goes.

Either comment on the original post page (here) or email us (here) your thoughts for or against this format change for the show.  Submissions can be as short as a few sentences or as long as a few paragraphs, and feel free to use any examples or links to make your point. Entries are due October 21 28, and the results will be announced on the blog later that week.

Technical note: You can submit a comment on the original page without creating any special accounts by simply using your Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ account.

Email any questions here, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the new format of the show!