Finally, after 39 episodes, I’m going to address the aca-elephant in the room. I’m not even going to do an intro to this episode because I just want to dive in and share my thoughts and some useful information for those of you who are planning recording projects for your groups. This is the closest thing to a rant that you will ever hear from me.
So the topic usually comes to me in the form of a question from a potential recording client and it goes like this.
“Hi we are <insert group name here>. We are a mixed group from <insert school name here>. We have 20 members in the group and we want to record 10 songs this year for an album. We want to release it in late April.”
And then they drop this… “ We love the Nor’easters or the Socal Vocals or Voices in Your Head or Pentatonix (you get the idea) and we want to record an album that has that sound.”
And then when we talk about budget, I inevitably get the information that they want to do everything for $2000 or that they haven’t even started to fundraise yet (and lets not even talk about how this email usually shows up the week before new years 4 months before the release).
Bill Hare wrote a great article about this topic back in 2015… and before that in 2006… and he’s probably had this conversation with groups in person more times than I can imagine. In his 2015 article he gave a very wonderful car analogy calling this the Aca Wealth Gap. I’ll link to the article in the show notes.
I’m going to go into a bit more detail. Not to discourage you but to share some reality.
First off the groups I listed above have invested tons of time into getting where they are… Over many years, they first set their standards high. They didn’t let people join their groups who didn’t reach their standard. Some went through lean years of 6 or 7 people in the group just so that they could maintain the quality level and expectation.
Then they worked their butts off… If you haven’t read Pitch Perfect (yes, the book, not the movie), I recommend it. In the book, you’ll see how much effort went into getting groups like Oregon’s Divisi and the Tufts Beelzebubs to where they are now. It’s pretty impressive.
These groups rehearse more and rehearse better. They listen and refine. They expect more individual preparation.
And then they work with professional arrangers and then learn from those professional arrangers and become great arrangers in their own right. They study music theory and vocal arranging. They listen and analyze the songs they are covering. They learn from the techniques and choices that the songwriter made.
Then they prepare for recording sessions. I’m not going to say it never happens but in most cases these groups come in so prepared to record that they can even start to experiment and create during a recording session. And in most cases all of the singers are prepared to record individually or in small groups and don’t get thrown off. And as a result, they can give musical, passionate performances on mic and take coaching.
And this is why their albums are amazing. The passion and the energy. Creativity is one thing, but the passion and energy are what really connect with the listener.
And if the time investment wasn’t enough, then they invest money in their product.
The arrangers that most of these groups hire for at least part of their albums charge $300, $400, $500 or more per song to create an arrangement that really fits the singers in the group.
The top 10 – 15 recording engineers, editors, and mixing engineers that most of these groups work with start at $75 per hour or more. And to get a really great recording even with groups that have great talent and great arrangements, you’ll easily spend 4 – 6 hours or more recording the song, another 3 – 6 hours editing the song, and 2 – 6 hours mixing the song depending upon the engineer and the amount of tweaks you make to the mix. So you can see how quickly a budget of $2000 for an album would disappear.
And I’m not saying you can’t find some awesome up and coming talented engineer to work with you, but those up and comers get booked up really quickly when people find out how good they are, and they will really quickly move into that higher price range.
And believe me, the people charging $75/hour and up aren’t money hungry corporate CEO types. They love a cappella and want to help groups make great music, but they are just booked solid. And they are running businesses and supporting families and they also have to deal with their fair share of frustration when the occasional group can pay on time or 6 months late or ever.
Wow… sorry. That was a lot of negative. Like I said, I don’t normally rant like that. And I don’t want to discourage you.
If you are a group that doesn’t have financial support from your school or is in a smaller town and can’t get a lot of high paying gigs, don’t worry. There are ways to take advantage of parts of the system that these amazing groups have used.
First off, you can control your time, preparation and goals. You can commit to being awesome.
Secondly, you can learn how to record yourselves. If you want to learn how, I know a guy who has a blog and some video courses.
Third, you can invest the money you have wisely. You can get an arrangement or two from a pro arranger and learn from it. You can take a music arranging or theory class at your school. Then you can send the tracks you’ve recorded on your own to a top 10 – 15 a cappella producer to have them handle editing, mixing and mastering for you. And if they are in the top 10 – 15 (meaning you’ve seen their names on BOCA or their clients have won CARAs), they have their reputation for a reason. Listen to them when they give you advice.
Alright, so what have we been talking about today? I complained about a lot but I hope that I shared some good strategies for how the well known groups have gotten to where they are and how they make amazing recordings.
So thanks for joining me today. If you liked what you heard today, please drop by iTunes and subscribe and while you’re there, leave me a review. And please if you like the show, please share an episode with your friends and other a cappella fans. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy week to listen to me talk about recording a cappella and I hope that I’m helping you on your journey.
Bill Hare article – https://www.casa.org/content/how-much-ferrari-window
Recording A Cappella Mastermind – https://recordingacappella.com/mm
Ultimate Pre-Production Checklist – https://recordingacappella.com/checklist
Interested in a coaching session or joining one of our groups? – https://recordingacappella.com/coaching
Video Courses – https://recordingacappella.com/shop