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Archiv für September, 2011

SoJam inside: Mark Hines talks.

30. September 2011 Keine Kommentare

SoJam A cappella Festival’s executive producer Mark Hines interviewed by Florian Städtler

Even with The Sing-off getting a lot of attention from both mainstream media and the aca-blogosphere, one question can be heard more often and more loudly: “Isn’t it November yet?” As a synonym for “CAN NOT WAIT!” this phrase tells us: Something big is going to happen on November 11-13 in Durham, North Carolina. An event that causes excitement all over the vocal music scene of the USA. And as I will have the privilege to join my US friends at THE USA’s a cappella festival highlight, I thought I had to speak to the head of the team that makes SoJam possible: Mark Hines, the festival’s executive producer.

VB: Great to have one of the true movers and shakers of US a cappella on the phone. Hi Mark, where are you right now?

Mark Hines: I’m here at SoJam Productions in North Carolina and we just had a conference call with the festival team. And all looks pretty good: The classes are set, tickets sales are coming in and it looks as if we might be sold out again this year which would mean record attendance.

VB: That sounds fantastic. But before talking about all the great things ahead in Durham, NC, we would like to learn a bit more about our interviewee. Who is Mark Hines and what does he do besides SoJam?

Mark Hines: Well, right now I don’t  feel that I’m doing much anything besides SoJam (laughs). I actually work a full-time job with a good friend of mine doing home audio and video productions and I’m also an a cappella music producer with Vocal Company and Nick Lyons – so there’s a lot of work to do right now.

VB: Probably 80-hour weeks for you, with the festival coming up. You are the festival’s executive producer – what does this practically mean, what is your job in the SoJam team?

Mark Hines: The festival is run through approximately hundred google documents, which are the starting point for many of our activities. What I actually do – for example in our phone calls – is to steer the boat, set up the itinerary for the conference call and then have lead the discussion with members like Kristin LoBiondo, Jennifer Fiduccia, Ben Stevens, Dave Sperandio. Of course we have everyone talk about where we are and adress the issues that we talked about the week before – we basically make sure that we’re all on the same page.

VB: CASA, the Contemporary A Cappella Society seems to play a big role in the development of the community in general and the festival in particular. How important is CASA for SoJam?

Mark Hines: CASA is extremely important for SoJam and the community. I would say, that CASA is certainly the reason that SoJam is at the level it is today. We started SoJam with the AACI, The Alliance for A Cappella Initiatives,  but joined forces with CASA in 2008. Since then CASA has such a thorough reach and all kinds of ressources that we weren’t accustomed to.

VB: From the external perspective it is really amazing that according to all sources, the whole SoJam team consists of volunteers. How can this work out resulting in a line-up and workshop programme of that quality?

Mark Hines: You know, that’s a really good question…I’m not really sure what it is that drives us. We just love what we do and it’s so great to see all these people come and interact with the stars of the a cappella scene. It’s fun and it’s exciting, it’s just that thrill that makes us all come together and live a weekend of our a cappella dreams.

VB: Let’s have a look at the festival’s programme. What’s new and what’s special about SoJam 2011?

Mark Hines: Mmh, new and special. Let’s start with The Boxettes: We think they are really special and we are very excited to have them this year. From a curricular standpoint, we have so many courses, e.g. vocal percussion, how to act on stage and the whole festival just gets bigger and bigger and better. We have a new technical producer we’re really excited about, the sound system should be pretty awesome. Bringing back Naturally 7 I guess is not new but for sure it’s exciting. And of course we have some new things that I can’t speak of yet…some suprises for the SoJam fans.

VB: For those who don’t have tickets yet, can you sum up the most important reasons to come to SoJam?

Mark Hines: Why you should go to SoJam? Well, I would say in the US it is the quintessential a cappella festival: We kind of borrowed good things from festivals of the past, put all the good things together and that’s how we got this unique festival. For tickets, go to and note that most of the tickets both for concerts and workshops are limited, we only have limited space in the venues and tickets will certainly sell out in the next two to three weeks.

VB: So people of the US of A (and of course from elsewhere in the world, too), go to the SoJam website and book your trip to the festival. Mark, is there anything that you want to tell our readers, something the a cappella world should know about your festival?

Mark Hines: There would be so many thing to say – it’s hard to put my finger on just one thing. If you’re reading this and are interested in helping out, getting involved and being a part of this absolutely amazing festival team that we have here at CASA, feel free to contact me or anyone in the SoJam team. And of course, we at CASA got a lot of other cool festivals coming up, too: We got one in L.A., we got one in Boston – festivals are sprouting up so we are happy to get in touch with people who want to help us out organising these events.

VB: Mark, thank you very much for taking the time – great having you! I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person in less than 7 weeks from now.

Do you want to learn more about one of the greatest a cappella festivals on earth? Then go to or even better go to Durham in November. You can be pretty sure to meet the most exciting bunch of a cappella enthusiasts you can imagine. And I would be happy to meet you there in person – just let me know that you are coming and when to meet up via Facebook or Twitter. C U @ SoJam!

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The Sing-Off Season 3 Episode 1 – Highlights

22. September 2011 7 Kommentare


By Robert-Jon Eckhardt, our Sing-Off co-blogger 2011.

So I imagine something like this going down at the NBC offices:

“Dude, we should make the intro super epic.”
“Dude… totally.”

And then they did.

A whopping two minute introduction starts off the show. Ground rules, prizes, interview soundbites, jury feedback and lots of clips from upcoming performances. Judging from the outfits, they are taken from the entire season. Man, we are off to a good start. As stated before, I’m not gonna be able to go over all details every week. (For general information on season 3, go here.) What I can give you, are the highlights of this season’s premiere episode. Let’s do this.


Personality is your only chance to set yourself apart in a high quality show like The Sing-Off. Remember how season 1 winner Nota introduced themselves with a latin-infused rendition of Jason Mraz’ I’m yours? Sadly, only a few groups managed to show true personality. The one that stuck most with me was “rap-appella” group Urban Method. With their lead-rapper they have a clearly defined and recognizable style.

I just think they’re good. First off I love that they don’t stick to a much heard “vocal” or “choir-like” style but are really going for a hip-hop sound. I was completely drawn in by the “at ease-ness” and emotion of the female lead vocalist. Both leads had a great delivery and the chemistry between them only added to the drama of the song. This showed especially when either of them did not have the lead: they both jumped in on the backing vocals without losing any intensity in their facial expression. Now that’s one of the things that can lift a performance from good to great.

Vocals, rap, beats and bass were all awesome. How I would want this group to evolve is by improving the sound of the harmonies. In my opinion they could be even harder and synthier to really give that rough edge to a song. If they manage to be versatile, while having a rapper in the group, I expect to see them reach the finals.

The other group with a real strong personality was Afro-Blue. I’m not going to go in-depth with them because basically, I don’t know enough about their kind of music (black jazz/r&b) to make any sense. What I can say is that they’re incredibly smooth and do what they do with full conviction. Obviously, Shawn went nuts about them because this is just his cup of tea. (Watch a clip including the judges’ feedback here.) I suggest just listening to them and making up your own mind. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the finals either.

Girl power

The last special mention is for all-girl group Delilah. Consisting mostly of chicks from earlier seasons, the group is here to prove that they can be successful in a cappella without men. Hmm, okay. Sure. Well, let’s see. They brought in a female bass, which I’d never heard of before, but it does add depth to the arrangements. Also they have a great female beatboxer. But still, I did miss the warmth of baritone-harmonies in their arrangement.

Nevertheless, their performance pretty much kicked ass. Their styling was amazing, their performance was musically sound, powerful, emotional and lead vocalist Amy just brought it down. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. They got legs. Lots of ‘em. I did not have a problem with that.

And the winner is…

Hands down: premiering judge Sara Bareilles. Man, does she bring air to the show. She’s funny, sexy, authentic and not afraid to embarrass herself with some hilarious sexual innuendos. Having her on the judges has The Sing-Off now be a complete fun and positive experience. It shouldn’t be long before someone creates a “Crazy Sara moments on The Sing-Off” compilation video and yes, I will post that on

I also think it’s fair to mention Nick Lachey here. It’s sometimes mentioned that he’s cheesy or something, but I think he’s doing a great job hosting the show. He’s humble, respectful and positive. So yeah, good job Nick!


As Ben said a few times during this episode, “that was a good first performance”. Which says it’s good, but also implies that more will be expected the next time. Same goes for this episode: it was good, but the cream has yet to rise to the top. With ten more episodes to go, there’s time enough for that to happen. See you next week, and keep an eye on for more Sing-Off posts!

further reading:

  • The Sing-Off Season 3 Primer – link
  • Shawn Stockman blogs on Access Hollywood – link
  • Ben Folds blogs extensively about this episode – link

by Robert-Jon Eckhardt, originally posted at Check out RJ’s blog, it’s awesome and we can be so happy that he will write about the whole Sing-off season both on his and on Vocal Blog. Keep doing the Sing-thing, my dear co-blogger.

The Sing-off – Season 3 kicks off today!

19. September 2011 Keine Kommentare

by our Sing-off special correspondent and co-blogger Robert-Jon Eckhardt – so happy to have him cover every single Sing-off episode in a collaboration between Vocal Blog and





Today is the day: NBC will broadcast the first episode of the long-awaited season 3 of The Sing-Off. After two very successful series during the holidays (and one failed and cut-off Dutch season we’d rather forget about quickly) the show is back and bigger than ever. In collaboration with my friends at Vocal Blog, I will be writing a weekly recap of all 11 episodes.

The Sing-Off is getting way too big to write a full review of all performances during the show and go in-depth with all participating groups. To lay a solid foundation for the recaps coming up, I’ll fill you in today on the basics.

New format

Last two years, the show was aired as a holiday special with four and five episodes respectively, each episode two hours long. It has been one of the most popular new shows in the States and as such was promoted this year to a weekly show with 11 two hour episodes. First prize is still a Sony recording contract, while the complementing cash-prize has been upped from $100.000 to $200.000. (Holy shit!)

There’s a new stage, which looks great judging from the promo-videos. Also, and I’m really stoked about this one, female judge Nicole Scherzinger has been replaced by cutie-pie Sara Bareilles. Nicole was generally regarded as the “fluff-judge”. The one that mainly is there to up the atmosphere. She liked mostly every group, danced on up-tempo songs, cried on sad ones and was there not in the least because the Pussycat Dolls, which she frontwomans, were huge in the U.S. Sara might be a little less known, but at least she is a true a cappella geek, like her co-judges Shawn Stockman and Ben Folds. Also, I’ve recently fallen in love with her album Kaleidoscope Heart and she seems to be a very likable and quirky character overall.

It’s the judges! Don’t you just wanna give ‘em a big hug?

More groups

More episodes, of course, means more groups to enjoy! This year there are 16 groups competing for the grand prize. A few weeks ago I already wrote some first thoughts on the contestants and later this week I’ll post a comprehensive “Who’s who”, including the judges and host, with links to more information on all of them.

What’s interesting though, is that the creators of the show decided that 16 groups in one episode is just too much. Which kinda makes sense when you come to think of it. So the first two episodes will both be marked as season premieres and will each feature eight groups. Around episode five (don’t pin me down on that one) all remaining groups will meet each other in the same episode, whereafter the series will continue like a regular talent show. (Even though it’s not a regular talent show on so many levels.)


Watching the show

Unfortunately, The Sing-Off can’t be watched from outside of the U.S. (Unless maybe if you are subscribed to a digital cable service that broadcasts NBC.) Worse than that, NBC is using the archaic method of geo-blocking to make sure nobody outside of the U.S. can even watch most of their promo videos. I can’t think of any explanation to make sense of this. It’s probably based on copyrights, but really music business, do you think we will buy less music because we heard an a cappella version of your song in a promo? Don’t you think such a promo might actually turn us on to the song and, heaven forbid, that we might even buy it on iTunes?

Same goes for online streaming of the show. I’m telling you NBC, I will watch your commercials. You could easily tailor them to me since you already know that I’m Dutch. But alas, no such option. Which means I’m gonna rely on torrent sites to see the show. Seeing the immense popularity of The Sing-Off, I’m pretty confident they’ll appear quite quickly after they’re broadcast.

Broadcasting will happen late monday night (European time) and as long as the episodes are appearing on the torrent sites, I’ll be blogging about them every wednesday, sharing about the highlights and where possible posting videos and images. If there’s anything you’d like to know or discuss about the show until then, feel free to leave me a message below, on twitter or on facebook.

Further into the Jungle

18. September 2011 Keine Kommentare

by Tine Fris, Postyr Project (originally posted at

Tine in NYC, 2009

So, the news is finally out. We just signed a contract of representation and bookings with Florian Städtler’s SpielPlanVier regarding the territories (as they say in the music business) of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (G/A/S). Already, we have new gigs coming up in both 2011 and 2012 –you will hear more about this on a later notice.

Today I would like to tell you about the next steps on our journey deeper and deeper into the European music industry jungle.

As always, when travelling in unknown land, you need to get an overview of the landscape, the possibilities and the unspoken rules of interaction and social conduct before moving forward. Over the summer, I have been following a few music business blogs to achieve just that. Indepedent Music Advice is one of my favourites.

Also, I have asked all the people I could think of for advice. I started with the people already connected to the project Jesper Mardahl, head of Promus, Anne Jensen, Promus, Gunnar Madsen, SPOT and ROSA and Andreas’ father in law, Søren Schriver, CEO at Hummel International. They were all very helpful, and even offered to set up meetings with people in their network.

Jesper suggested that we should join this year’s edition of Popkomm in Berlin to introduce ourselves to the German music business and to possibly find a German promotion agency, that could help us increase our presence in G/A/S even more by promoting the concerts and push our songs into the radios’ playlists. So we did.

After filling in the application and paying for the tickets, I started my research by surfing the Popkomm-website. Soon I learned that the Danish Arts Council ( also planned to attend, and they were actually managing some meeting facilities for Danes at Popkomm, here we were welcome to hang out and use as a platform to meet new people.

Also, I was made aware that the Danish Musicians Union were hosting a concert for some other Danish pop/electronic/rock acts on the opening night of Popkomm, and after a talk with chairman Lars Kiehn, it seemed as the perfect event to hook up with well-established contacts and there by put ourselves in a situation, where we could meet new contacts.

Later in the process, I researched all the Popkomm delegates, to check out who could be interesting for us, contacted about 30 companies and people, and set up meetings with about 15 of them.

Most importantly, I once again turned to Jesper, who set up a meeting with Mette Zähringer from Iceberg Records. Her company is very strong on the German market, and Jesper figured, that she might know more about, which German promotion agencies would fit our profile. Mette was really helpful, and we actually succeeded in catching the attention of one of the agencies, she recommended.

In the days before Popkomm, we had our hands full with the preparations, finishing the press-kit, mailing it to the right people, settling the last details about where and when to meet, finding a place to stay, designing and printing a new special made flyer, we could hand out at use as a staring point when introducing ourselves and much more. Fortunately, we made it in time, so we were ready, when we arrived in Berlin Wednesday night, September 7th.

Postyr ProjectThe days passed so fast, going from one meeting to another, listenings to a whole bunch of concerts and talking none-stop about the new possibilities that appeared to us, as we headed deeper and deeper into the music business jungle.

Nothing is settled yet, so far no deals have been closed, and it’s hard to tells wheather this is the silence before the storm –or simply just… silence… I guess, time will tell.

Tine Fris, singer with Aarhus (DK)-based electro a cappella quintet Postyr Project, is a great example of the young generation of artists that both have a very clear artistic vision (“to combine the natural softness and vitality of the human voice and the uncompromising and merciless roughness of electronic instruments”) and a very professional attitude towards marketing and selling their “product”. Vocal Blog is happy to have Tine Fris and Kristoffer Fynbo Thorning (Chief Electronic Officer of Postyr’s ;-) as regular guest bloggers.

Don’t forget to get a copy of Postyr ‘s pioneering debut album “Postyr Project”, available at And if you want to book the group for your event, send your offer to

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Hong Kong A Cappella: Up-and-coming

11. September 2011 Keine Kommentare

by Edison Hung

April 30, 2011, Patrick Chiu received applause from enthusiastic audience in the packed Hong Kong City Hall Theatre, announcing the a cappella concert “Time Machine” had come to an end. This was not only the end of a new production from Hong Kong Melody Makers (HKMM), but also marked the curtain of the month-long Hong Kong International A Cappella Festival is finally drawn down.

Patrick Chiu visiting Vocal Blog in Freiburg

Patrick Chiu is the Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Melody Makers. He is also a choral artist based in Hong Kong who had played an important role in the festival. He received his Master’s degree in choral conducting at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Patrick has composed a number of choral works in various styles and arranged songs for a cappella performance under the pen name “herrchiu”. He is one of the very few local musicians who enthusiastically contributes so much on developing a cappella music in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong International A Cappella Festival
I had a chat with Patrick about the Fest after the concert. I wasn’t aware that before The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, the Hong Kong Government had already organized A Cappella Series, inviting local and international groups to perform, such as Idea of North (Australia), Chanticleer (USA). However, the series have only lasted 3 seasons and stopped since 2009. Meanwhile, HKMM was founded by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups in 2005. At the beginning, it was not an a cappella group, yet over years of development, it had evolved into one of the leading team in town. And it is not until 2010, the Federation decided to organize its first A Cappella Festival which happened to take the “relay” from the government A Cappella Series.

About this year’s festivities, the programming although similar to the previous years, which included an opening extravaganza, a concert presented by a world-renowned international a cappella group, a free outdoor concert, a HKMM concert, workshops and master classes, Patrick indicated that this year, they focused more on education. “We pinpointed secondary school students this year by inviting groups to perform at schools, organizing ‘the-making-of’ a cappella workshop and guided tours for students. We also invited all school to attend the opening extravaganza concert.”

Patrick admitted that this year’s festival was “Well organized, went smoothly.” Thanks to the past year’s experience, he thought A Cappella Festival 2011 was better planned. “We draw lesson from the past and improve ourselves. The biggest lesson we had learnt is that we ought to understand the culture of different groups from different countries. That means we have to be more flexible when dealing these groups. For instance, we had invited Japanese teams in the past events, and we had difficulty in communicating with them as not much of them could speak English. Then we realized English is still rather uncommon in Japan. Therefore, this year, we seek translator and interpreters’ help.

After attending two A Cappella Festival and was even honored to have been invited to sing in one of the concerts, I genuinely feel that the Festival have certainly been playing a positive role in the development of a cappella in Hong Kong. The most influential part of the event is the performance by world class groups, which had given us a valuable chance to learn from the best team. Take this year as an example, Swingle Singers is the highlight of the festival, they brought down the house in the April 1st concert with excellent vocal / mic-control technique, smart program flow, strong stage presence and stage spacing. I believe that night had inspired many local a cappella singers to strive for better. And when it comes to the Alfresco concert, it’s a good platform to share the joy of singing and build friendship, acknowledgement between local a cappella groups.

Never an easy road for development
Despite the success of the festival, however, it is impossible to promote a music genre by one single event. In Hong Kong, although there are about a dozen of active a cappella groups, and they manage to find quite a number of performance opportunities, most of the performance is in private events, weddings or shopping malls, which are of rather small scale. Unlike the foreign groups who have their own concert and plenty of performance opportunities overseas (in April alone, Swingle Singers had performed in 9 different locations in four countries!) Among the local groups, Metro is the only professional group with signed label, the rest are either amateur or casual participants, giving hence sub-standard performances, which become the biggest obstacle to develop a cappella in Hong Kong.

To tackle with this problem, one way is to have professional groups delivering high standard performances with stable performance platform. Only professional performance can attract people’s attention and build audience base. However, it is always easier said than done. Under current situation, professionalize local amateur group with their own agent, sound engineer and artistic director would be very difficult to achieve.

It is the culture in Hong Kong make it difficult to happen. “For example” explained Patrick, “In Sweden, lots of people have choral experience, and have a deep-rooted singing culture. Growing up under this environment encourage locals to join the singing business, developing excellent a cappella teams such as Real Group

In contrast, the surroundings for art and culture are relatively weak in Hong Kong; art form other than pop music and movie can hardly support themselves, let alone making money. Even the artistically acclaimed Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra with solid audience base, also largely depends on government subsidies and still complaining for insufficient funding. Without any financial incentive, talented singers or a cappella groups are not inclined to take on this risky carrier. No wonder Patrick said he is probably the only person in Hong Kong who devotes this amount of time and energy in a cappella.

On the right track
Even though there is no easy way to let a cappella bloom in Hong Kong, it is not just as unattainable as a dream. The key is whether one would like to give it a try or not.

From my own performance experience in some school functions, I was so amazed to find that the teenager enjoyed a cappella so much and gave us a warm welcome. In the opening extravaganza of this year’s festival, I also saw the thrill from the student audience. Because of this, I am convinced that education is no doubt the right track for developing a cappella in Hong Kong. Through promoting a cappella to the students, we can nurture new audience, enlarge the current ‘audience pool’ to support a cappella performances. At the same time, we could encourage the youngster to go to the stage and be an a cappella performer themselves and let a cappella take root and flourish in Hong Kong.

Apart from audience-nurturing, we need to improve the standard of performance too – only good performances can attract the ears of the audience. Patrick thinks the standard of a group depends if there are “chemistry” between individual members, and if there is anyone who is able to raise critical comment on the team, from singing technique to styling, from performance to practice. Furthermore, there should be musical institutions to provide professional training for all level, for beginner as well as advanced a cappella singers to keep on learning and improving themselves.

In fact, after years of endeavor and attempt, a cappella in Hong Kong has been set on the right track of development, and is taking steps forward. This can be reflected from the difference of the a cappella scene between the past and now. ‘In the past, there were not so many teams in Hong Kong, and the “circle” is so small that the insiders would know who was the founder of a particular team, or the background of the team members. But now, there is no way to know where is the new teams come from or who is the founder. I think this is a good sign. It shows that the “circle” is getting bigger and bigger, more people get to know about a cappella music and enjoy it. And it proves that what we had done is correct.” Patrick said with confidence. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Translated by NG Yen Yen and Edison Hung