Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The AP does Straight No Chaser

The Associated Press has a story today about Straight No Chaser's current promotional push. (Full text here.)

Oddly, the piece seems to exist in a bubble, ignoring the fact that there was just a nationally televised competition show with a mission to find an a cappella crossover act.

Anywho... if you're new to the Straight No Chaser story, here's the feature I wrote about them for the New York Times back in 2008.

Post Script: 'The Sing-Off'

Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen the finale of The Sing-Off (and don't want to know which group won) stop reading here. Otherwise, continue.

So, The Sing-Off concluded its four-episode run last night. And while my heart goes out to the Bubs—whom I got to know during a year reporting Pitch Perfect, out on the road with them in Los Angeles, in the studio with them in New Hampshire, and on campus with them at Tufts—I wasn't surprised that NOTA took the top prize. And I'm guessing the executives at Sony (who award the winner a record deal) are relieved at the outcome. Because sending six grown men out on the road to tour is easier than shipping out 12 undergraduate students (with pesky midterms and papers to write).

The series was well produced, and a thrill for a cappella fans. But I have to say: There was a funny misstep in last night's finale. Just before the winner was announced, the two remaining groups—the Bubs and NOTA—joined judge Ben Folds in a rendition of "Why Can't We Be Friends?" The problem: Folds accompanied them on the piano. And whenever you introduce an actual instrument into an a cappella show, there is the unfortunate consequence of reminding listeners of what they've been missing. In short: The piano upstaged eighteen singers just at the moment NBC had convinced viewers that pop music was better without instruments.

Oh well. It's a small quibble. Here's the Folds-NOTA-Bubs performance to judge for yourself.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Team Bubs.

The Sing-Off finale airs Monday night (live) on NBC. Currently, some 20 alumni of the Tufts Beelzebubs are en route to Burbank, California for the taping.

It's been a thrill to watch the Bubs—whose story and legacy is featured in Pitch Perfect—thrive in competition.

One thing the The Sing-Off hasn't addressed is how a cappella has changed over the last two decades, and the role the Bubs have played. If you're new to collegiate a cappella and are looking for a primer on how this genre has evolved, give this NPR story a listen.

And pick up a copy of Pitch Perfect for the holidays!

Friday, December 18, 2009

He's the Mann

Chris Mann (an alum of Vanderbilt's all-male Dodecaphonics) was riding high earlier this year. He was a solo artist signed to a major label, Sony/Victor. He was finishing up his debut album. He met Prince! And then, a snag: His label folded and he had to reboot his career. “I was crushed,” Mann says. “And had what I now refer to as The 72 Hours of Darkness.”

Eight months later, he’s back in the studio writing some of his best music to date and fielding fresh offers. Oh, and he’s got a side job. “I’m a studio singer for Glee.

Mann speaks:

Dude, how did you get involved with Glee?
I play tennis. One of my tennis buddies is the music director on the show. We played tennis for a year. He asked me if I wanted to sing on this new show. It ended up being Glee. This was before Glee was Glee.

What do you actually sing on the show?
Technically, the cast sings everything. But there are back-up singers. There are eight of us, and we sing on the soundtrack, too. It’s the job to have in town. I stood behind Jane Lynch at the Post Office. I’m like, “Hey, I sang on your song!”

What’s the song?
I’m not sure I can say. It’s an iconic pop song by an iconic pop artist.

Musicals are hot right now. As an a cappella alumnus, what do you think of The Sing-Off?
Ben Folds said something so real on the show. Another judge commented that someone’s pitch was off. Ben said, ‘No, it’s not off. We’re just not used to hearing actual live singing.’ Everyone is so faked-out now. Everything is fake. I appreciate that they’re singing. I was actually in the running to host the show. I had meetings six or eight months ago. My agent sent me in.

Really? Did the casting department know you had a cappella experience?
No. I went in for the meeting. I said, ‘You don’t know this, but I have this huge background in a cappella.’ I was in the Dodecs. I told them all about my experience. They were really wondering about judges at the time. They were hoping to get Ben Folds, which they did. I suggested they talk to Sara Bareilles. They didn’t realize that she had that background, too.

Yes, she sang with UCLA’s Awaken A Cappella. Tell me about your time with the Dodecs. Was the group well-respected on campus?
We were a big deal. We had that frat-y factor. There was a lot of swagger going on in that group, for sure. Girls would freak out. We sang at the high schools around town. As dumb as this sounds, we had to have a police escort to get away from a show once.

A police escort?
It was ridiculous.

That’s unreal. Did the group travel much?
We did a little bit. But honestly, that frat factor won out. We stayed in town on the weekends and partied. We were really good, but we were kind of half-assed. We were the a cappella group that would rather get drunk.

What was your big solo?
“Anytime” by Brian McKnight. We also had the sex medley—that’s we called it. It was a mash-up of 80s and early 90s hip hop songs about sex.

Why do you think Glee has taken off? The show just received a bunch of Golden Globe nominations.
Glee is just so fresh. Aside from the fact that it’s hilarious, it warms your heart. It’s a story about normal kids who can do extraordinary things. I tear up over it and laugh my ass off.

You’re back in the studio working on your own music. What’s the vibe on the new disc?
It’s kind of like retro George Michael.

Like, Wham-era George Michael?
It’s like George Michael but with a 60s cool hipster vibe on it. It would be more like Wham/George Michael, with a little bit of Faith. But with my spin on it. It’s more me than what I was doing at Sony. They wanted me to be an adult artist.

In the vein of Josh Groban?
That’s what they signed me for. That’s the record I made.

Your label shut down before your album was released. How did you get over the disappointment?
I was crushed. I was a wreck. But I had this really random encounter that made me realize that it’s still in the cards. I ran into Clive Davis on the street. He’s like, ‘Come on up!’ I had a meeting with him immediately. And I felt like I was going to bounce back. I spent about six months writing for other people, getting stuff out of my system. Then I went to London and in ten days I wrote 14 songs—like it was nothing. The songs just fell out. And it’s the best stuff I’ve ever done. I got a lot of exposure last year. I have a couple of offers on the table. I’ll finish the record first and see where it goes.

Check out Chris Mann’s music—including an unlikely cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless”—at http://chrismannmusic.com.

Preview: Monday Night's 'Sing-Off' Finale

Ben Folds's A Cappella Manifesto

Ben Folds posted a 1,000-word a cappella screed on his website.

An excerpt: "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."

Nice. The full story is here (courtesy of The Daily Swarm).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Smokey Robinson Joins the 'Sing-Off'

A string of special guests have just been announced for Monday's live finale of The Sing-Off. They include: Natasha Bedingfield, Bobby McFerrin, Boyz II Men and Smokey Robinson.

It's too bad that BYU's Noteworthy was kicked off already, because they do a great cover of Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'The Sing-Off' Is a Hit

From a story just posted on Variety:

Airing from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., "The Sing-Off" (2.3/6, 6.9 million) gave NBC its top 18-49 numbers since Sept. 28. While there was a predictable dropoff for "The Jay Leno Show" (1.5/4, 4.8 million) at 10 p.m., "Leno" still bested every ABC broadcast in the demo Monday: "Jennifer Hudson: I'll Be Home for Christmas" (1.2/3, 5.6 million), "Find My Family" (1.4/3, 5.4 million) and "Castle" (1.1/3, 4.3 million).

Full story here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Bubs: Before 'The Sing-Off'

Congratulations to the Tufts Beelzebubs on making it through to the second episode of The Sing-Off. Glad to see the judges were, ahem, nicer to the Bubs than David Letterman had been a few years back. If you're new to the blog, check it out:

Before Ben Folds was on 'The Sing-Off...'

...he was on the radio (with me) talking about a cappella.

In anticipation of tonight's premiere of NBC's The Sing-Off, it seemed like a good time to revisit Pitch Perfect's coverage of Ben Folds.

Here's the two of us interviewed together on WNYC's Soundcheck—talking about the rise of collegiate a cappella. (Give the clip a second to load.)

And here's Ben's interview from this blog, back in June 2008.

Is Wyclef an A Cappella Fan?

Have you seen the ad for the T-Mobile myTouch 3G? Check out these images. It seems that Wyclef is using the phone as a pitch pipe. Any a cappella groups out there doing this?

Check out the commercial here:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Poker Face. Again. And Again. And Again.

When it comes to ironic pop/dance inspiration, Lady Gaga officially replaces Beyonce. Here's Berkeley's Noteworthy...

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Cappella Stage Musical Set for 2010

In Transit—an a cappella musical about twentysomethings in New York (we wrote about the workshop here)—will get it's professional premiere in September 2010 at Primary Stages in New York.

The full story is here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

First NBC Promo

The Jungle Book!

What is A Cappella?

Unintentional comedy from eHow.com.

What Is A Cappella?

Here Comes the Judge

Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls will be a judge on The Sing-Off. But can she, you know, sing a cappella herself? You be the judge!

Who Spiked the Egg Nog?

PBS's Straight No Chaser special just started airing. Check your local listings. My mom called to tell me she cried when she watched it.

Here's a sneak peek.