time to change the way we view music and the arts

Is “A capella A Goner?” (For Primetime Anyway)

The Sing-Off TV show logo

The Sing-Off Logo,
(Cit. acapellablog.com)

I haven’t taken time to discuss much in the way of music/arts from the point of view of a business figure in a while. So I thought it appropriate to take a less “gee, that’s pretty” approach to this art form I enjoy, and get right down to the black and white of it all.

It’s hard to believe that season 2 of the a capella based reality competition, “The Sing-Off” is already more than a year and a half behind us. The one major post I did talking about the awareness expanding potential of the show back in December 2010 intended to shed light on how much of a stylistic difference a well executed, strictly vocal performance can be spun on a song at any particular time. Not only was a capella itself starting to become a term and thing of “cool” but what the performances themselves were doing breathed such refreshing life into seemingly uni-functional songs. (a dance song, is a dance song, is a dance song…. or maybe not!)

Amid the already rising trend of additional music based, and even more so, singing based, reality shows coming out of the wood works around that time, the “it” factor that no one could imitate from the Sing-Off was its sheer transparency. Sure, at the end of the competitions viewer voting was always involved but there was no way to fake, embellish or weasel your way into or through this contest. Singers and groups had to be on point. Period. Choreography was a component, as well as coordinated stage outfits, but a pitch being off? That’s all it would take to separate the goods from the greats. That might seem like a lot of pressure, but having an element that made it pretty much impossible for the show to sink down to the depths of “selling out” really made the singing the front and center focus and immovably so.

Sadly, I am writing this in past tense because the show has been cut after being put on NBC’s chopping block for no returning fourth season.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on this honestly. Now, I am perfectly aware that NBC is a business. It’s a television station. TV stations need ratings to retain shows. Projections are made about the potential strength for additional seasons and the viability for high viewer numbers when ultimate decision time comes around. That said, as I just praised the Sing-Off for its raw talent and non-smoke and mirror ways, that could perhaps be the very problem. As has been said in the sound bytes during the show over and over, the groups that made the cut to be on national TV had to practice and practice and practice! There is nothing, to smooth over a flubbed note. A group has to be in sync and in tune (literally and figuratively) with what they are physically doing and mentally thinking in order to nail a song. It’s not exactly something that can be clicked on overnight, nor is it a process that can be adjusted with any kind of digital cover up/sparkle. It takes plain old time, trust and determination.

So, would it be wrong to infer that perhaps these necessary qualities are becoming harder to find in enough groups to hold up an entire season of prime time viewing? Not really. A capella groups can’t just be slapped together in a couple of days. Even with some of the lesser experienced groups that braved the TV camera, this wasn’t a lightning decision. It’s somewhat ironic that the very stand out factor about the Sing-Off’s contestants would be the very thing that could prevent it from carrying onward. Flipping the coin for a moment though, if this is in fact, part of the reason NBC axed the show, would that lead to an inference of “easier” when it comes to systems on other veteran music reality shows?

The Voice, also an NBC hosted show, has simultaneously announced that it will be hosting two editions starting in the coming fall. (To compensate for the Sing-Off’s absence?) With their second season having just ended, the show is certainly exploding in popularity quickly but I think it’s an unfortunate exchange of singing exposure. Although The Voice originally marketed itself as different because it wasn’t about drama or glamour but just audible singing talent, beyond the initial auditions, the show has started to succumb to gossip and rumors involving contestants and judges most definitely not related to singing alone. Add to that, the fact that audience voting has taken a bigger role in the show’s format.

I’m not here to say that people who have ventured onto the Voice or any other show like it aren’t hard workers or aren’t talented. However, perhaps it’s easier to obtain the needed larger pool of people to put on the show, even if some of the people are less talented because these other shows can play with some of that smoke and mirrors, which can distract from mishaps? When you get down to it, a capella is a niche passion and niches don’t tend to connect with the majority. Still, if the mass public was starting to recognize something accomplished and something new in all these vocal groups and it truly distinguished itself with intense musical analyses, isn’t that a win-win? NBC has gotten viewers, objectivity and a bit of modern flair (with accompanying celebrity judges) through what is often considered a musical underdog.

A capella groups everywhere! Get your name to the NBC execs! Musicians and non-musicians alike can’t watch you and hear some solid singing if you don’t give it a try!

Right now, the judges (@benfolds, @SaraBareilles and @ShawnStockman) from the Sing-Off, as well as the consistent host, @NickSLachey are banding together with hundreds of other Twitter followers to support an account called @SavetheSingOff to show their love and support for all the past and yet-to-be-discovered a capella singers. Maybe 100s of auditioning groups can’t appear out of the blue, but if nothing else, such an honest, open and musically educational view of a capella shouldn’t fade away, even if we have to lose the show!


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