The Indie A Cappella Project: The Idea
This is merely a rough-draft and outline of how I envision my project. None of this should be considered final or set-in-stone unless explicitly stated below.
How it came to be
During the summer of 2013, I was listening to a lot of a cappella music. The recent release of the BOCA 2013 album, and Voices Only 2013 had me investigating what was considered "popular" so that I could help to lead my own collegiate group, Elon University's Rip_Chord to stardom of their own. What I found was not altogether pleasing. While there were a lot of talented groups featured on the best-of albums, I realized that this year's offerings sounded nothing like the a cappella I was so used to hearing; the arrangements were more bland, and the mixed songs sounded grossly over-produced, to the point that I wasn't convinced that some of the songs could be performed live. The basic premise of this project is to take a cappella back to its roots, where the live performance and the music matters more than the mass-appeal factor that is encouraged by popular demand.
The source material for this "concept album" will also be unconventional. Where most collegiate a cappella is tailored to audience demand (aka Top 40 Radio), the music featured on this album is meant to give credit where credit is due. Some of the best music out there is rarely played on the radio, and there are plenty of touring musicians that work hard and play good music because they love to, not because it will pay rent. The source material for this concept album will come from singer-songwriters and bands that do not receive the recognition for the music they make. Just because a song doesn't hit Top 40 doesn't mean it's not a good song. The reasoning behind this is reinforced by the fact that popular music generally sounds all the same, and doesn't offer a lot of options for creative arranging without re-writing the structure and feel of a song. I want to write arrangements that are true to the original song as much as possible, but still are suitable to a live performance; In showcasing the original writers' visions for the music, I want to write arrangements with boundless energy and emotion that are just as good on a CD as they are on stage.
In a music business class that I took during the spring of 2012, I realized that a lot of collegiate groups don't take the time to give back to the artists' whose songs they are performing. I want this project to be as legally by-the-book as it can be, derivative works licensure and all. Through a Kickstarter campaign, I hope to do more than just fund the project. My group, Rip_Chord, spent just over $10,000 on their 10-track CD, "Baby Back Rips", released in Fall 2012. For this concept album, I will be doing most of the actual recording and mixing, and most of the work will take place using the Music Production facilities at Elon; this keeps the monetary cost of the production to a minimum, easily achievable with my much smaller $750 stipend from the University.
The purpose of the Kickstarter campaign is to give back to the artists that wrote the songs in the first place.
With a $5,000 Kickstarter goal, my hope is to be able to give back at least 50% to the artists. Each artist whose music is featured on the album will get a cut of this 50%, based on the number of their songs chosen to be on the album. The remaining 50% will go towards paying for professional singers, compensating students for their time in the studio, and the mastering, duplication, and distribution of the album.
The Project Outline
As I envision the project, there are three different major parts to making this happen:
This portion of the project was inspired by a general lack of flow in the arrangements featured on the best-of compilations. In preparation for this portion, I am analyzing professional arrangements against the original songs, to find out how these arrangers make successful musical products from the source material. I have some experience from arranging for Rip_Chord, but nowhere near the experience nor education of people like Tom Anderson and Robert Dietz. I'm analyzing professional arrangements to assemble a toolkit of tips and tricks to keep me from getting stuck in the arranging process.
While I have exclusively arranged for all-male a cappella so far, I intend to broaden my horizons with this project. If I feel that a song will be better when arranged for mixed voices or all-female voices, then I will do that. All of the arrangements for the album will be my own, and could be marketed as a potential backer reward for the Kickstarter Campaign.
A large portion of what I critiqued from the best-of albums was production-based. Small changes in mixing and attention to detail that would make a world of difference for the authenticity and overall quality of the a cappella production. This project is a labor of love for me, and I intend to put as much time into it as possible while continuing to be a full-time student and graduate in four years.
I will act as both the producer and engineer of this project (recording and mixing), but I do not have the resources, nor the training to master this project on my own. All of the finished mixes will be shipped out to a professional mastering house that will also handle duplication. Depending on the popularity of the project, distribution for the final project will involve either a lot of downloading, envelopes, and stamp-licking, or that will also be handled by a professional distribution company.
I want to make sure that this portion of my project is handled properly. If I intend to distribute beyond backers, family, and friends, I want to make sure that I'm giving credit where credit is due. The proceeds from the Kickstarter campaign will go towards paying for the copyright permissions to the different songs, and the production costs of professional singers, mastering, duplication, and distribution. If the scope of the project proves too big for just me, I could assemble a team of people to take on the task of managing the funds for the project, and handling the copyright and licensing details. This is the only portion of the project that I would feel comfortable "outsourcing", as I don't intend to go into the music business. While this portion of the project is very dear to my heart, as I believe that musicians should be more valued than they are, the other two portions are more relevant to my education.
If you have any questions for the project, or would like to submit a song for consideration in the project, feel free to use the contact link to the left to get in touch with me.
For more information on the Elon College Fellows program, please visit their webpage HERE.