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…