…and how late 2009 tries to kill the A Cappella genre of music.

So I finally have had the chance to start watching NBC’s new show, “The Sing Off” over the past couple nights. I probably wouldn’t have watched it except that my father called me up and told me that his company, VideoLink, shot all the Boston footage of the group from Tufts University, the Beelzebubs. I still have yet to watch the final episode, but it has kinda been a relative love-hate relationship between me and the show, and I am not sure that I would watch it again if they do another season.

Lets start with the fact that this is a show about singing and singing groups. Each episode is two hours long and each group only got maybe two minutes for each song (and they only did one song each in the first episode. You hear more music in an hour of American Idol (once you get through the first couple rounds) than in this show. These a cappella groups worked really hard and some travelled pretty far to get to the show and they are singing a maximum of four minutes each in a two hour show. That would be 32 minutes of singing in 120 minutes of show (if all eight groups performed two songs). What is up with that? We want to watch the show for the music, not the stories and the talking.

One of the other things that they neglect to mention ever on the show is that the groups that are on the show are amateur groups. There are a ton of amazing a cappella groups around the country but they probably fall into the professional category. Think of groups like TMinus5, The Sons of Pitches, Blue Jupiter, XRP, or Rockappella. Now, most of the groups on “The Sing Off” were very good groups, and college a cappella is pretty much where it is at, and where the professional groups come from.

So, there were three college a cappella groups in the competition and one group made of of alumni from a college group (The Beelzebubs, Vocies of Lee, Noteworthy, and The SoCals). In general, I think that these groups really embodied the spirit of the a cappella genre. Then there is the great group from Puerto Rico, Nota, who also really understands what a cappella is all about and they have a great sound. Nota in my opinion has the potential to make it as a professional group like those I mentioned before.

There were also the groups Maxx Factor and Face that I dubbed “The Mamas” and “The Papas” respectively. Face was out in the first round which I thought was crap, but I will get into that later. On the other hand, I think that Maxx Factor lasted way too long in the competition. They were good, but I don’t think that they were right for the show. Maxx Factor sings in a barbershop style and they sing well, but the style wasn’t right, the vocal quality was too mature, and they weren’t loose enough. I was sad that they lasted longer than Noteworthy.

In all, I think that the final three groups deserve the spots, but there are groups that I think could have gone farther. Even though I have not watched the last episode yet we know Nota won and I think they deserved the win.

So what do shows like this do to a cappella music? Well, odds are this show was inspired by “Glee” (which is a whole other blog post in and of itself). I think it is great to call more attention to the genre, but I wonder if this forum is fully developed yet. Competition is great, and a lot of these groups compete all the time, but it should be about the singing and the music. “The Sing Off” was a collection of butchered songs to fit in the time limits imposed by the show. I don’t feel like I ever got to see a full performance by any of the groups.

Every year up in Ogden, UT, TMinus5 hosts Acappellastock and they invite great groups to come sing. I have gone every year since I learned about it, and I bet that next year more people will want to go because of a show like “The Sing Off.” I would love to see Noteworthy at the show next year, they were fun to watch. I much prefer the Acappellastock type venue for this type of performance as you really get to see each group shine. By the end of “The Sing Off” each group will sing less music than a short set for a live concert.

So, my overall thoughts are that the concept for “The Sing Off” was good and they had great intentions, I just feel like the execution was poor. Let’s hear some singing next time! I enjoyed the snippets of music from these groups, but a full performance is definitely warranted for a competition like this.

Why did I start by saying that late 2009 is killing the a cappella genre? Well, it was always a niche genre followed mostly by “artsy” people or college students. Opening it up to more people is good, but how have we done it? Well, we have the overly dramatic “Glee” and then we have “The Sing Off” which just was poorly executed. Neither show really showcases what modern a cappella music is about. The shows are usually fun to watch, but I don’t know if this is the boost that this corner of the industry needs.