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Archiv für September, 2013

Vocal Edu Series (6): The A Cappella Education Association

24. September 2013 Keine Kommentare

by J.D. Frizzell, President of the A Cappella Education Association (AEA)

jd casual head shotFlorian, thank you for giving me a chance to talk about our new nonprofit organization, the A Cappella Education Association.  Your work for the advancement of a cappella both in Europe and abroad has been stellar, and I want to thank you for it.

About a year ago, Ben Spalding started a High School A Cappella Facebook and Twitter account.  It was a way for all of us high school teachers directing a cappella to connect and share ideas.  He reached out to others to help spearhead this effort, and before long, we realized that we needed a website.  I helped build the website alongside Ben, Brody McDonald, and Alex Phan.  Those three, in addition to having some of the best HS a cappella groups in the US, had geographical proximity.  This was tremendously helpful to us as we got started.

Sometime this spring, we were all talking on the phone about the ways we’ve seen a cappella grow from a groundswell in our areas.  A few years ago, this process started in Ohio when Brad Rees and Brody McDonald presented on OMEA conference with Up In the Air and Eleventh Hour. Over the next few years, presentations and performances at the conference inspired more groups to form. The Tiffin University and Kettering festivals gave these groups a place to learn, perform, and grow. As an example of results, the Kettering festival grew from 5 groups to 13, 19, 25, 30 and now 50 groups. Most of these groups are from Ohio, and many were formed within the last 5 years.

I have one of the only active HS a cappella groups in my region, and I thought, “How can we replicate their success here and around the country”?  A couple of months later, we had laid the framework for the AEA.   The idea was that we:

  • ·         Remove barriers preventing people from starting groups at their schools (ignorance of syllables, vocal percussion, live sound, recording, arrangements, etc.)
  • ·         Provide easy-to-access, high-quality resources for all of these areas.
  • ·         Use our existing network of music educators to help inspire new group formation.

You see, every year, music educators go to one or two local, regional, or national conferences.  Most of us have to go because they coincide with our All-State choir events.  This means everyone is there—all choir directors, band directors, orchestra directors, etc. from the area.  These are organized by either ACDA, The American Choral Director’s Association, or NAfME, the National Association for Music Education. 

Brody’s presentation above at the state NAfME convention in Ohio is a great example of what can happen when you have a captive audience of music educators.  Brody’s group Eleventh Hour has also performed at regional and national ACDA conferences, introducing the concept of contemporary a cappella to hundreds of new high school choir directors.

aea-1This is how AEA will be effective in our mission to create hundreds of new a cappella groups over the next few years—combining state presidents, local volunteers, group performances, masterclasses, and presentations with a large body of resources.  Proximity is key– boots on the ground, so to speak.   It isn’t going to be easy, but we already have 55% of the U.S. covered by AEA leadership and volunteers. 

To help provide resources for a cappella groups, we are creating one of the most comprehensive, interactive sites on the planet, which will serve:

- as a digital starter packet for folks starting groups for the first time.

- as a resource for existing groups to find new arrangements, share ideas, make better recordings, and collaborate with one another.

- as a forum through which members of all a cappella groups from professional to amateur can interact and influence.

- and as a way to connect a cappella groups to quality providers of services, including arranging, production, live sound, mastering, and more.


The website will have a library of free (you read that correctly) original arrangements from some of the best in the biz, including Deke Sharon, Ben Bram, Chris Harrison, Alex Phan and more.  Moreover, many of these arrangements will also include studio and live recordings for added benefit.

The website will also feature a detailed, step-by-step guide to recording a killer album with advice from the pros.  With contributions from just about everyone you could imagine, this guide will be one of the best on the internet, with pictures, sound clips, and videos.

To help us, we’d love for folks to visit our CrowdTilt page.  Consider donating to get us started,  volunteering, becoming an industry member/sponsor, or applying to be a state president.  Together, we will make contemporary a cappella a defining musical art form for today’s generation and for many more to come.


AcaTech Series (1): Mastering 101 – What is Mastering?

23. September 2013 Keine Kommentare

by Dave Sperandio, Durham NC (USA)

Dave Sperandio photo22-361x290Mastering, as it relates to audio or music, is a term that is often misunderstood or misused. If you do some internet research on the topic, you may hear mastering referred to as many different things, including both “mixing” and “black magic”. However, neither of these descriptions are accurate.

Mastering is a delicate, complex, and artistic process, but it is 1) not at all the same as mixing and 2) not magical in the slightest*. With a little effort, even a complete production novice can gain an understanding of what audio mastering is – and what it is not – and can thus be prepared to make better informed decisions about the use of mastering in music production. Let’s dive in, shall we?

What is mastering?

Mastering has 3 main parts:

1.     Correction of sonic issues

2.     Creative enhancement

3.     Creation of media for distribution

At its core, Mastering is the final stage of audio production. It’s a mix or album’s final opportunity for quality control and corrective measures, as well as the last opportunity for creative input – ideally from an objective, uninvolved ear.

Mastering is the last chance for an artist to make sure a project sounds as good as possible – and sounds good on as many systems as possible – before its release.


How is mastering different from mixing?

Mixing involves taking all of your session or song’s audio, aux sends, and stems and applying compression, equalization, FX, level automation, etc. to each track, then bouncing or printing all of this down to (most often) a stereo file, or mix.

Mastering involves taking each of your mixed files (for instance, 10-12 stereo mixes), correcting (where possible) any sonic issues that are still present after mixing, making any final creative decisions (again, where possible; keep in mind that a mastering engineer is usually dealing with a stereo mix), and assembling the mastered tracks together as a sonically cohesive unit. This can involve noise reduction, equalization, compression, limiting, or other effects (*possibly even some “magic”), but these effects are typically applied on a “macro” level, to the entire mix (or to the middle and/or sides of a mix).

After this, the tracks are sequenced and spaced so that there is a continuity of sound to the project (so it won’t be necessary to adjust the volume or EQ when listening sequentially), and a final “master” is created. This “master” can be one digital file (DDP), multiple digital files (WAVs), or a physical product (CD/DVD). Once complete, the final ”master” is sent to be mass-produced / distributed.


What happens during the mastering process?

A typical mastering project may involve:

Setup – download and import of source material, sample-rate conversion, and labeling.

Auditioning – the source material is listened to, to evaluate and identify areas of focus.

Processing – the source material is processed as needed, and printed in real-time.

Sequencing – the mastered files are put in order and spaced appropriately.         

Media Creation – the mastered files are exported/assembled as WAVs, DDP, or CD.         

Verification – (aka “QC”) the final mastered project is auditioned in real-time by a separate engineer, to verify that no errors exist.    

Distribution – the final, QC’d “master” is uploaded or sent via post to client or distributor, label, and/or replicator.

Archival – the mastered project is backed up, and all settings stored for future recall.

Can my mixing engineer also master my project?

An analogous question: can your family doctor perform a quadruple bypass, or a facelift? Probably, in a pinch! But do you want them to?

Mastering involves a highly specialized skill set and often requires years of learning and well-honed objectivity to “master”. The tools used to master are also extremely specific and usually quite different than those used by a mixing engineer, and the listening environment of a mastering studio must be exactingly accurate and reliable.

Even with the proper tools and environment, it can be difficult for someone intimately close to the project to be objective enough to be able to make the “forest for the trees” decisions at this critical stage. Objectivity is critically important at this stage.

Mastering is probably one of the smallest financial investments you’ll make over the course of your project, but it is also one of the most important and powerful ones, with great potential to help – or to harm. To give your project the best possible chance to achieve it’s full potential, it is recommended that you seek out a dedicated mastering engineer.


What do mixes sound like after mastering?

Professional mastering is often described as the “x-factor” which makes recordings “jump out of the speakers” and/or adds crispness, punch, clarity, and (often) loudness, while also smoothing out rough edges – subtle or dramatic – and making songs within an album flow together.

After your project has been mastered, you may expect to hear any of the following, as is applicable:

        - More definition

        - Added depth, width, or space

        - Cleaner or punchier low-end

        - More open top-end

        - Less “mud”

        - More present lead vocal

        - Increased overall loudness and presence

        - Less obvious distortion

        - Mitigated phasing issues

        - Reduced room noise, hum, or clicks

        - Elevated awesomeness

How should mixes be prepared for mastering?

To maximize your music’s potential for enhancement, you should deliver your mixes as either multiple-mono or stereo-interleaved WAV files, in the highest native resolution possible. Here are a few Dos and Do nots:

Do not overly compress or limit your master fader / stems. Never worry about loudness!

Do not perform any sample rate conversion on your mixes.

Do not add any dithering to your mixes.

Do be sure to leave enough headroom for your mastering engineer to work with (-6dB is a good minimum starting point). Never worry about loudness!

Do make sure your mixes are truly “final” before they are sent to be mastered.

Short version: Just make your music sound as good as possible, fix as many issues as you are able to, and let the mastering engineer take care of fixing the rest and getting the levels competitive (again, a mixer should never worry about loudness).

What kind of guidance should I give the mastering engineer before starting?

Mastering can do a lot of pretty amazing things, and can sometimes absolutely “save” a project. But it’s not the same as mixing, so the feedback you give for mastering should be made with that in mind. Once your 192 audio and effects tracks have been bounced down to 1 stereo file (or one “mix”), there are certain things that mastering can do, and certain things it cannot do. Some guidance on feedback to give your mastering engineer:

Do say things like:

        - Make Song 1 brighter / darker

        - Make the bass louder on song 2

        - Tighten up the bass on song 3

        - Bring out the lead vocal on song 4

        - Leave some dynamics in song 5

        - Try to give song 6 some added depth / width

        - Try to remove the room noise in song 6

        - Just make it awesome!

Don’t say things like:

- Turn down the Guitars in song 1

- Turn up Florian in song 2

- Fix the solo tuning in mm32 on song 3

- Fix the T2 rhythm in mm8 on song 4

If you have questions about what you can and can not ask for, be sure to discuss with your mastering engineer before your mastering date. They will do all they can to address your concerns, even if that means recommending you go back and “fix it in the mix”.

Do I need a physical master (CD/DVD), a digital master (DDP), or just WAV files?

You may need one or all of these formats, depending on your plans for distribution. Please be sure to check with your replicator, label, or aggregator for their exact instructions. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

If you plan to replicate a CD (typically greater than 300 copies), most reputable CD plants will accept an upload of an exact digital copy of the project with all spacing added, called a DDP.

The advantages of sending a DDP are speed (no need to ship a physical CD overnight), cost, and increased reliability.

If you plan to duplicate a CD, (typically fewer than 300 copies – also known as a “short-run”, and essentially the same as you burning a CD in your computer’s CD drive), most CD plants will ask that you upload individual WAV files to their server.

If you require a physical CD to be sent to the plant (the plant should not *require* one, usually; this is a matter a preference for the client), or a reference CD to be sent to you, keep in mind that it will take more time, and there will be a chance for disk damage or shipping snafu.

If you’re releasing digitally, typically your aggregator will require you to submit WAV files.

Mastering a cappella music is especially difficult.The way sustained voices behave under limiting and compression is unique, and requires a highly experienced and delicate touch and a very specific set of tools to deliver maximum clarity and loudness while maintaining dynamics and musicality – without causing added distortion, smearing, or artifacts.

However, the payoff from having your a cappella music professionally mastered by a dedicated mastering engineer can be quite significant. In my next article, I’ll go into more detailabout exactly how your project can benefit from professional mastering.


– Dave Sperandio is the owner of Vocal Mastering, based in Durham, NC (USA). Recent projects include releases from Pentatonix, Peter Hollens, ARORA, Street Corner Symphony, Afro Blue, The Exchange, CASA (‘Sing’), and Varsity Vocals (BOCA).

Bobby McFerrin + SLIXS & Friends

21. September 2013 1 Kommentar

by Michael Eimann, SLIXS (GER)

Michael Eimann & Bobby McFerrinAn unbelievable weekend expired. We are all enchanted by the spirit of music, the joint music-making, and the power of the perfect sound.

2 months ago we got the mission to assemble an 18-headed choir for a concert at the “Solidarity of Arts Festival” in Gdansk (Poland).  This choir should contest one part of the three hour programme with Bobby McFerrin . The music was a mixture of different songs from the “Master of  Vocal Art” plus circlesong – improvisations. The highlight were musical pieces from VOCAbuLaries that came up in 2010 – wonderful compositions and arrangements by Roger Treece.  The bases were McFerrin-motifs which Treece had found in Bobby’s sound archive.
Time was short, even more fantastic was the result. Without any reason we feared that we can’t get together enough colleagues of choice on a short-term basis. Due to the circumstance that everybody wanted and could take time off for this special concert, we didn’t have to compromise in choosing the best singers.
We all met on a sunny Sunday in the castle Baumersroda. The lord and the lady of the castle, Marschel Schöne and Garnet Meiß,  along with their beautiful daughter Capaldi opened the gates and their hearts and prepared a classy home for the rehearsals for 4 days.  In the ballroom of the castle we could begin to put the pieces of the concert together. On the second day Karen Goldfelder from New York City consorted with us. Karen is responsible for Bobby McFerrin’s concert programme in the agency „Original Artists“. Since she is a singer as well, we incorporated her in the choir as an additional alto singer.  From the beginning, the collaboration with her has been pleasantly relaxing and extremely productive.  In general, we realized that we showed a lucky hand in the assembly of voices, not only in connection with the consonance. Also the characters of the singers seemed to have a perfectly balanced and harmonic sound. All in all it was the ideal precondition for a successful project. All the participants were highly motivated and only focused on the common performance with „the voice“.

The musical work happened fast because everybody was very well prepared. Soon after, an euphoria started to spread due to the wonderfully homogenous and the enormously powerful sound that was rounded off by a clean intonation.  Awareness grew that we were part of an unique ensemble of soloists and by courtesy of the sensitivity of each individual, no loner detuned the instrument “choir”.

All this happened in the marvellous ambience of the tenderly refurbished castle. We constantly caught ourselves saying: „Oh, how beautiful“. It got almost cheesy when a voice group assembled at the well to sing to the three peacocks of the house. We generally sang and practiced permanently and it wasn’t over after the rehearsals. It was then, during the jam-sessions, when it became clear what great artists were brought here together. The lord and the lady of the castle (we tenderly called them king and queen) cared for us discreetly but impressively, with an open fire, sauna, and good talks… The crowning glory of our stay was a trout meal, individually prepared by the king himself, at a festively decorated table with wines from the region.

With all our hearts we hit the road to Poland on Thursday morning at 4am. We went by plane from Berlin to Gdansk where we arrived tired out at about noon. But we didn’t have time to relax. The close-knit schedule instructed us to do the first rehearsal after two hours. And this rehearsal should have been our baptism of fire.  It was the first time that the entire organizational staff along with the management, the sound engineering team, and of course Bobby McFerrin himself listened to the choir.  You could sense the excitement among us (but luckily invisible for the eye). Especially Karen was nervous about the reactions. We were prepared for the possibility that Bobby could listen to our work without comment, give thanks, and leave – since he has also been distinctly exhausted after the long flight. However, all of these worries vanished when Bobby joined in the song “Come To Me” after the first beat and sang with us visibly impressed. His reaction afterwards was joy and relief for all of us: „I’ve never heard this tune so funky. Thank you so much. I was very tired, but now I’m revived “. But things turned out even better: Against all expectations he insisted to guide the 23rd psalm himself. This was a magical moment for all the persons present in the room. He said a big thank you to everyone for this beautiful moment and was profoundly touched. You could even see tears of emotion shine in some of the attendant listener’s eyes. After some circlesong-improvisations and the common singing of “Wailers” and “The Garden” from VOCAbuLaries, everyone was so enthusiastic about the power of voices that we spontaneously arrived at an unprecedented decision: For the first time in the history of VOCAbuLaries the musical pieces should be performed without the usually inevitable “backup tracks”. After this promising beginning we had a little time to explore the marvellous city centre of Gdansk.

On Friday, sound check and final rehearsal were on the schedule. Everything went well thanks to the impressive competence of the sound engineering crew around Daniel F. Vicari, who has been Bobby’s sound man for many years.

From then on everyone has been waiting for the big performance. The open-air-concert started at 9pm in the centre of Gdansk. Bobby’s backing musicians took turns on three stages that were located next to each other, while he attended the particular parts. The Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra that was conducted by Bobby started the evening off. The next part was the Polish jazz legend Urszula Dudziak.

Then it was up to us to give everything! The feedback of the approximately 35000 visitors to our “Come To Me” was overwhelming. And this even increased until our last song. Obviously, Bobby had as much fun as we had, and therefore it was a real treat to sing his songs with him. When we sang “Wailers” you could literally take hold of the energy between singers and the audience. This feeling changed into a pure euphoria on both sides. Fabulous – what a feeling!

But the night was still young, even though the majority of our work was done. At first, Slixs consorted with the Polish fusion band Laboratorium and Bobby for an interpretation of “Freedom Is A Voice”. After the Bulgarian choir The Bulgarian Voices – Angelite, the Atom String Quartet and the fantastic SpiritYOUall Part, all of the artists assembled around Bobby for the great final with the song “Glory”. That piece of music was acclaimed with a never-ending applause for a magnificent evening.

What should we say? Of course, there was an after show party suitable to the occasion with many good talks, fraternizations, bright faces of the artists, the organizers, and the management. And there was vodka, lots of vodka, until the new day dawned.

Was that it? No, this wasn’t the end, it was the beginning. On Sunday, just before our departure, we received the message from Bobby and the management that Slixs and friends are going to accompany the VOCAbuLaries tour in Europe next year in exactly the same ensemble. Somehow it was the only logical conclusion to this unbelievable week. Thanks to Karen Goldfeder, Maike Lindemann, Maria Sonnica Yepes Gutierrez, Sophie Grobler, Minerva Díaz Pérez, Jane Maturell, Irene Latzko, Christoph Mangel, Tim Ludwig, Stephan Eisenmann, Christian Nolte, Arno Brechmann and of cause to Bobby McFerrin!!!

Find more info at – A Short Review of Germany’s Choir Expo

19. September 2013 1 Kommentar

by Re Heller, Böblingen/GER

Reinhard HellerAgain I took what I could get. Due to time and resource constraints I decided to spend part of Friday and the complete Saturday in Dortmund. I had reviewed the calender and marked concerts and workshops beforehand, but used some flexibility when I was there. Which means, as an amateur singer in a Jazz Choir and a Vocal Improvisation enthusiast as of late, I cannot give you a real overview about the event other than what I heard, so please excuse me for a bit of second hand information

Some general facts on 2013: 4 days, 1600 (trade) visitors, a great organization including about 70 volunteers, an exhibition integrated into the event at the main location, the congress center Westfallenhalle, a program with 150 workshops, 3 intensive or master classes, 30 reading sessions, round tables and lectures, presentations and open singing, 30 concerts, 20 of these alone with the Saturday night event named Nachtklang (Night sound). Can you imagine? And I never had the impression that things were crowded, except the Subway line on Saturday afternoon that some Westfalenhalle visitors and thousands of soccer fans going to the Westfalen-Stadium shared.

So if you haven’t given up reading by now: bravo!!! How nice. You must be singers.

There was plenty of interesting activities for just everyone in the choir scene, conductors, singers, media professionals, as well as the odd amateur. All ages present, from children’s choir to senior hard rock singers, many different styles, classical, contemporary, folk, jazz, pop, you name it.  It was a motivating and educative event that I would not want to have missed! With many an opportunity to make connections, meet friends and peers, and all that in a friendly, supportive, professional and fun atmosphere and setting. Lecturers and workshop conductors readily shared their knowledge and gave you insight into their field of expertise to help you move forward in you personal and professional development. Logo 2013And what were my personal highlights? Even more than I had planned I was able to pursue my Impro and Circle Singing interest in workshops with Roger Treece and members of German A Cappella group SLIXS that were inspiration and fun at the same time. And the spirit of the event and the concerts of all these awesome choirs and ensembles accompanied me on the nightly train ride home, and still accompanies me!  So let me end with the words of choir conductor Simon Halsey: Thank you Dortmund Thank you Deutscher Chorverband Thank you Thank you everybody I am proud to have been part of

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10 Reasons Why You Should Go and See Slixs

16. September 2013 Keine Kommentare

Deborah Rosanwoby Deborah Rosanwo, Bonner Jazzchor (GER)

1)Extraordinary. They begin the vocal journey with a classical chant, layer after layer of enchanting vocal honey and cream with an erratic Karsten shouldering his old suitcase wandering busily and aimlessly from Point A to B. From the Get Go …superb musicianship, slightly eccentric, state of art.

2) The orchestration of a common cold. Sniffs, coughs, snorts, throat-clearing in a 6 part groove . Not at all snotty!

3) Choral Body percussion. A masterpiece … Intricate and precise. Groovt wie Sau!

4) Bobby McFerrin chose Slixs to sing VOCAbuLarieS with him on his European tour. Need I say more?

5) Check out the shoes! That’s where the color is. There’s something very sensual about well dressed, good looking singers in tailored, understated clothing but extravagant shoes!

6) Hear a full conversation in vocal percussion and background syllables accompanied by spot-on facial expressions and body language. Priceless!

7) French never grooved like this before. No wonder Le Mouvement won the CARA for Best Folk/ World Song.

8)  They sing in every position possible in a suit and skirt. Standing in a row to sing is so yesterday!

9) Watch the Beatboxer dance ballet, the Bass “twerk”, the Alto transform from Hamburg’s autumn to Paris in Spring, journey from the sounds of the ocean to the jungle , meet aliens, robots and shadow dancers and remind yourself that whatever you hear, it is always the accomplished unbelievable a cappella Slixs sound.

Slixs - Gruppenbild mit Logo10) Have you ever smiled so inanely that your cheeks cramp? Have you hesitated to clap for fear of destroying the magic moment? Be prepared for harmonic eargasms, wave after wave of goose pimples, soulful seduction, neck snapping groove especially from Thomas and Konrad, awesome arrangements by Michael Eimann, spot on staging and lighting by Jack. Forget Prince and Esperanza.. It’s Gregorio Hernández and Katharina Debus. You may even get a present if you’re lucky ;-) Jens Johansen thanked them for an amazing and mind-blowing show! That’s a knighthood! A cappella Festivals listen up…we want SLIXS!!!

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