HomeBlogsadune55's blog"The Sing-Off"'s Robert Dietz: Mid-Season Arranging Magic

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In the middle of a Sing-Off run, the main challenge is always about figuring out new ways to show off a group’s talent, or finding new contexts in which to display talents they’ve already shown. Here are a couple of stories about what that process looked like for groups this season!

AcoUstiKats – "Amazed"

I’m not sure if people realized it or not, but this was the first individual group ballad on the show this season. With great ballad comes great responsibility, and pressure was high for the ‘Kats to deliver!

As I mentioned in my previous article, the AcoUstiKats come from a strong choral background, and they were passionate about showing that side of themselves on the show (having come from a similarly choral-rooted college group myself, I understood the passion). We worked a lot on getting the arrangement to the point where it would sound full, warm, and allow the guys to sell the emotion.

The group’s main arranger, Nick Johnson, did the first pass at the arrangement, and his ideas formed the foundation of what became the first verse and chorus of the tune. The first draft was pretty dense and busy (lots of moving lines and words), and after working with it a bit in rehearsal, we came to the conclusion that a simple four-part texture would allow the group more freedom to emote (and leave space for the song to grow). In the final version, the texture is limited to 4 parts, all the way until the last key change where it finally opens up (and Ross takes it over the top!).

With ballads on the show, the intro is always critical, and this one must have gone through at least 4 different iterations. First it was a wordless series of chords, then an expanding unison line, and so on until we finally landed on the brief chorus quote as a teaser to grab people into the tune from beat one. I love the way that lighting did the candle effect – the warm glow really underscores the mood of the song.   

Vocal Rush – "Holding Out For A Hero"

By this point in the season the audience had seen a lot of the tricks in the Vocal Rush toolkit. The question at hand was how to recombine those tricks in a way that would give this particular song a uniquely Vocal Rush spin!

We started with the stepping. It had killed in Bottom of the River, and the darker tone of “Holding Out For A Hero” seemed like a natural fit to use that more aggressive technique again. The thin texture of the backs in the opener was meant to create a mood, but also to put full focus on the big beat. The idea was to make the intro ominous and restrained, so that when the chorus dropped it felt like a huge release.

The initial idea for the intro was actually more chord-based, with normal held triads. The group, however, sensed the potential for it to be something more atmospheric. Those who saw their performance at LAAF 2013 may remember Vocal Rush’s rendition of “Heartbeat,” which begins with a wave of overtones and expands into full texture. The group suggested that we do something similar with the opening to “Hero,” and presto, there it was!

The next trick in the VR toolbox was Isaac as a rapper.  He’d showed his chops in “Gonna Make You Sweat,” but we all knew he had a lot more intensity to give. The bridge of “Hero” seemed like the perfect place to try it out! His charisma totally sells the moment, and gives the whole song that much more Vocal Rush flavor.

Funny story – in early rehearsals, a lot of people were confused by what sounded like a wrong lead melody in the intro. I had written it down from memory and given it to the group…only later realizing that the version I was most familiar with was the Broadway recording from Footloose! I had assumed the Bonnie Tyler version had the same melody, but as it turns out it’s actually pretty different. That’s what I get for listening to too much musical theatre! 

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Robert Dietz is a Vocal Arranger and Coach on The Sing-Off

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