HomeBryan's Picks for 2012 A Cappella Holiday Gifts

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Well, the holiday is upon us, and if you're at all like me, you're just now frantically starting your Christmas shopping (men, I'm looking at you. Gay or straight, we tend to just not plan as well for Christmas as our wonderfully forward-thinking female compatriots are. Ladies, we thank you, friend or partner, for pushing us to do better). If you have anyone in your family who loves a cappella, I am going to quickly attempt to provide you with a wonderfully diverse list of options for excellent Christmas gifts.

I've attempted to diversify the list so there's something for anyone in any price level. The beauty of a cappella gifts, whether they be a concert ticket, an album, a book, or a subscription to CASA, is that they are gifts that keep on giving. Whether your loved ones listen to the album over and over again, get hooked on reading the CASA forums or Deke Sharon's brilliant posts or end up starting their own group, a cappella gifts open you up to an entirely new world of music, creativity and passion.

So, without further dissembling or preamble, here's my 2012 A Cappella Holiday Gift List (any of you are welcome to purchase me ANY of the gifts on the list, of course. A guy's gotta get his acafix wherever he can).

Recorded Music:

Streaming Services: Spotify & Rdio 

With the aching void "The Sing-Off" has left behind, it's easy to forget how much the music landscape has evolved in the past year, especially in the US and especially for a cappella. With the advent of services like Spotify, Rdio and others, it's become easier and easier to discover great music by simply connecting with your friends or subscribing to the many, many playlists that are curated by people with way more time on their hands than I have. The barrier for entry to a cappella is so much lower, because users can try and even use the services for free, and can dip in and sample music from a wide variety of groups without committing until they’re sure they love it. Sharing curated playlists can help you steer your loved ones in the right direction to get them hooked or simply expand their already burgeoning love of aca. Here are several of my favorites:

Spotify

●      Kristin LoBiondo's "An A Cappella Christmas"

●      Christian Hunter’s “2012 A Cappella Discoveries

●      Andrew Boysen’s “Collegiate A Cappella” 

Rdio

●      Chris Crawford’s “A Cappella

●      Justin Miller’s “The Best A Cappella on Rdio” 

Both Spotify and Rdio have plans that range from free (limited or ads) to $9.99 (unlimited, ad-free), with feature sets that include mobile offline syncing, many social options, app platforms, and in Rdio’s case, access through the Sonos Music System.

Digital Stores: iTunes/Amazon

Regardless of the proliferation of services like Spotify and Rdio (along with others like Slacker Radio), iTunes still remains the number one place people purchase and consume their digital music, with Amazon a close second. If you’re looking to gift a more traditional music selection to your acanewb or acafan, consider the following groups and compilations:

●      Pentatonix: Currently the hottest US group out on the market, this final Sing-Off season champion mixes amazing vocals, complex yet acoustically simple arrangements and a dance music vibe to produce some of the most compelling pop covers this guy’s heard in a long time. They currently have two albums out, EP PTX Vol. 1 (iTunes/Amazon) and Christmas album PTXmas (iTunes/Amazon)

●      Straight No Chaser: Still made up of the core group of men who started the original Indiana University group back in 1996 (were all of you born then?), this now fully-professional group burst back onto the scene in 2007 and have been touring and making sweet, sweet music ever since. Their uniquely vocal sound which mostly eschews vocal percussion in a beats-heavy world is excellent. They have quite a list of albums, so I’ll simply provide you with links to both their iTunes and Amazon listings.

●      Peter Hollens: This UO On The Rocks alum turned producer turned YouTube star makes some of the most amazingly powerful and inventive YouTube recordings, also available in iTunes and Amazon. Anyone who’s on the internet has heard of him, so Pete’s a great entree into the world of a cappella from a YouTube surfer’s perspective.

●      BOCA/BOHSA, Sing, and Voices Only/Forte:  We’re lucky here in the a cappella world to have not one, two, or three, but FIVE regularly released a cappella compilations to show of some of the last year’s best recorded a cappella. BOCA and Voices Only focus on collegiate groups, BOHSA on high school groups, Sing picks their choices for the best across all levels, and Voices Only Forte focuses on non-scholastic groups. The level of talent on any one of these compilations, in any given year, is absolutely outstanding and are wonderful sampler gifts for the newbie or year-in-review gifts for the aca-aficionado.

Bonus Recorded Music pick: A Cappella Records (ACR)

There are many, many, many more groups to list, from the Boxettes to Musae to The Exchange to Sonos, and more and more and more. I couldn’t list them all, but one thing’s for sure: there’s no better way to get your music into these stores than through A Cappella Records, our bonus pick for the recorded music category.

No discussion of recorded music and its digital distribution is complete without a mention of A Cappella Records, my onetime former employer (in its startup days, I was their intern Marketing Director; it was an amazing experience). Its founder, Chris Crawford (and highlighted Rdio playlist provider above) envisioned a way for a cappella acts to easily license and distribute their digital music to the wider world. Chris and his team have made this happen. At last count (just a few minutes ago on Saturday, December 15th,) ACR is currently managing licensing and digital distribution for 139 artists and groups through iTunes, Amazon and over 400 other digital outlets! What does this mean for a gift list? Simple. If you want to easily purchase the digital recordings of some of a cappella’s hottest acts in one easy place without messing with search and discovery, A Cappella Records has that list, and links to purchase.

Movies/Television 

A Cappella has always been present in movies and television, whether as highlighted in one specifically amazing scene in the just-released “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” or in “Glee,” where the Tufts Beelzebubs have helped to provide awesome voices to Dalton Academy’s Warblers. However, in the past several years, a cappella has burst onto the small and large screen in ways that we could have scarcely imagined five years ago: 

●      The Sing-Off: While this groundbreaking a cappella reality competition show which had three amazing seasons is now canceled, all three season are still available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. This is an excellent way to introduce friends and family to the joys of live a cappella.

●      Pitch Perfect: This snarky, heartfelt and hilariously funny comedy starring Broadway’s Skylar Astin (Spring Awakening) and Anna Kendrick(High Society) as two kids new to college who find themselves joining competing a cappella groups, as well as breakout star Rebel Wilson as “Fat Amy,” is the a cappella geek’s dream and an excellent date night or music lover’s movie as well. With amazing vocal production, an excellent parody of the ICCAs and a storyline to match, this movie, loosely based on the book of the same name by writer Mickey Rapkin, was one of 2012’s smash hits. It comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray and digital release on December 18th and is an excellent stocking stuffer for any a cappella or movie lover.

●      Do it A Cappella: While not a new movie by any means(it was released on VHS in 1990), this seminal documentary on a cappella by Spike Lee is still an enduring classic. If you can find a copy, get it! (Amazon still has used copies starting at $39.87)

Books

Books? Who knew a cappella had books? But we do, and here are my favorite a cappella book holiday picks!

●      Acapolitics: This book, by Stephen Harrison, originally started as a list of blog posts on Blogger. It garnered a following, and Stephen turned it into a full-fledged book! It’s an incredibly fast and entertaining read and truly depicts the crazy drama of being an acastar in college. Available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.

●      Pitch Perfect: The Quest for A Cappella Glory: This book, by GQ editor/Elle writer Mickey Rapkin, is the book the movie “Pitch Perfect” was loosely based on. However, in Mickey’s book, he follows three real a cappella groups, the Tufts Beelzebubs, the UVA Hullabahoos, and U of Oregon’s Divisi through a banner year, chronicling their ups and downs. Again, an absolutely engrossing read, much more realistic but just as funny and heartwarming as the movie. Also available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback and Kindle editions.

●      The A Cappella Book: This book, written by the founders of The A Cappella Blog, Mike Chin and Mike Scalise, is mostly geared to those in an a cappella group, whether it be student or professional. Offering advice in many areas, this is another great stocking stuffer for that acaguy or acagal in your life. Available from the authors’ website, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

●      A Cappella Arranging: This last book, the newest of the bunch, is also written by two of the most well-known men in the a cappella world: Godfather of contemporary a cappella and founder of the House Jacks, Deke Sharon; and Juno-nominated composer, engineer, teacher, arranger and all-around amazing musician, Dylan Bell. This seminal work on a cappella arranging takes the reader through almost every possible method to go from idea to finished arrangement. It is a must for any budding a cappella arranger or musical aficionado. It’s on my list, and is available at singers.com, Hal Leonard, Amazon and more. 

Live A Cappella Events: 

While recorded a cappella has a large place in my heart, what makes a cappella so special, beyond the music, the arrangements and the voices, is the community. The a cappella community often is the most welcoming, non-judgmental and inclusive community around. What better way to give the gift of the aca-community than by taking someone to a live a cappella event?

●      Your favorite group’s concert: Whether it be Pentatonix, Straight No Chaser, Home Free, FORK, Sonos, Musae or many, many others, take someone to a concert! Let them experience the unique experience of all-vocal music in a rock star setting. Check your local group’s website or the CASA calendar for listings!

●      An a cappella festival: From BOSS in Boston to LAAF in Los Angeles, Singstrong in both DC and now, new for 2013, Chicago, to the granddaddy of them all, SoJam in North Carolina, an a cappella festival is a great way to see a bunch of acts for one low price, take a vacation, learn something, and party with the most fun folks in the a cappella community! I can personally vouch for this option, as my father and I, in 2009, went to both Singstrong DC and SoJam. These experiences brought us closer together and have led us to so many concerts and experiences together as a cappella father and son. More information is at http://www.casa.org/festivals or http://www.singstrong.org.

●      ICCA quarterfinals, semifinals or finals: An event across the nation and globe, the ICCAs see the best collegiate a cappella groups battle it out in a series of competitions hosted across the country to see who gets invited to perform at the finals in New York City! Whether you find a concert near you, or travel to NYC for the finals, it’s a chance to see some of the best groups out there compete to win the crown of best college group. You can find more info at www.varsityvocals.com.

BONUS GIFT!

Well, we’re finally nearing the end of the list (whew! I still have to go out to do my shopping!) and I want to give you a quick bonus gift. So here it is! 

●      The gift that keeps on giving: A CASA Membership! Whether it’s for a die-hard a cappella fan, or someone who just enjoys music, a CASA Individual membership, at only $35/year, is an excellent investment. With a free copy of the Sing compilation every year, discounts to festivals and on services, a CASA Membership is a value at any price! For more information, visit www.casa.org/membership

Well, that’s it for the 2012 list! I hope you all found something worthwhile on the list, and that you purchase it for someone you care about. As always, I hope this holiday time finds you in good spirits with the ones you love and who love you. If you don’t have anyone you think loves you, you’re wrong, because I do, even though I don’t know you. Have a wonderful rest of 2012!!!

About the writer:
Bryan Guffey has been singing since he was old enough to talk; 1983, to be exact. A bass/baritone with a fierce falsetto, Bryan has performed all across the United States and around the world for the last seven years. Currently living, in Cleveland, Ohio, Bryan started his first a cappella group while in high school, and a cappella has been his love ever since. A graduate of Kent State University, Bryan was the founding Music Director of the Kent Clarks in 2011 when he returned for a (brief) MS program, and holds a BFA in Musical Theatre. In 2009, Bryan sailed around the world with such luminaries as Blue Jupiter's Tim Foust, singing in the a cappella group Full Sail. Bryan recently moved to Chicago where, in his secret day job, he provides technology leadership for nonprofits. Recently, Bryan restarted his long-suffering CAL group, vocalFISSION, which has traveled with him in his head from Cleveland. This has been a much more fruitful endeavor, as Chicago has about 400% more a cappella than Cleveland.