HomeBlogsjoanieh's blogCalling All Acamoms / The Ancient History of Modern A Cappella Recording As Told By Someone Who Was There

joanieh's picture

Better late than never, I'd say. 

In the fall of 2011, when I was 71 years old, I attended my first a cappella festival, SoJam, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  Then in January of 2012, I flew to England for LACF, the London A Cappella Festival.  And right on the heels of that I found myself in Los Angeles at LA-AF, the (you guessed it) Los Angeles A Cappella Festival. Now I'm so addicted that I recently returned to London for LACF 2013.

I can honestly say that I've had some of the best times of my life at these festivals.  The only improvement I can think of would be to have the company of more AcaMoms.  I'd strongly encourage all AcaMoms to come to whatever festivals they can whenever they can.  I met Deb LoBiondo (Kristin's mom) at SoJam, Sue Wheeler (Clare's mom) and Maria Goldsmith (Jo Goldsmith Eteson's mom) at the London A Cappella Festival, and Julie Bram (Ben's mom) and Karen Van Hoosen (Adam's mom) at the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival. If any other AcaMoms were at these festivals, I'm sorry I missed them. 

And the concerts at the festivals! What a thrill it was for me to see and hear some of the world's finest a cappella groups in action!  Also, the workshops were absolutely fascinating.  Although I was involved first-hand with a cappella recording even before the advent of CASA, since I'm not a musician myself (far from it!), I'm still pretty clueless as to what it takes to be a member of an a cappella group - or to BE an a cappella group.  Check out "The Boxettes Mentor the AcaBelles" link below for a wonderful example of one of these workshops.  If you don't want to watch all sixteen minutes, just drag the cursor along, stop every once in a while, and notice what happens as the workshop progresses.  Also, take a look at the Dakaboom video to see yet another delightful workshop moment.  Finally, be sure to see Bud Anderson's excellent, professional-quality video of the Collaborative Recording Project at the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival.

And the up-close-and-personal contact with the headlining groups is very special indeed. See "Priceless Moment at LA-AF", "Avi's Special Talent", and "Kevin's in the Zone", three of the other videos that follow this article.

But I think what I cherish most about the festivals is meeting my a cappella Facebook friends in person. This is something that has given me great joy.  Imagine yourself as an American tourist walking along the sidewalk in front of London's exquisite Parliament House with its "Big Ben" clock tower, and suddenly someone gently takes your arm.  Lo and behold, there was my friend Amanda Aldag, along with the other members of Euphonism, who had opened for the Swingle Singers at the London A Cappella Festival the night before.  As it turned out, we were all heading for the Sunday afternoon vespers at Westminster Abbey.  I must confess that my son Bill and I went to the service mostly as a way to avoid the £16 entry fee for tourists to see the Cathedral.  But Amanda and fellow Euphonism member Charlie Friday are both cantors in the Episcopal Church, which made it especially meaningful for us to be able to join them at the service.

Now I suppose I should talk a bit about the past - the distant past - before many of Bill's and my AcaFriends were even born.  Astral Sounds Recording was an 8-track studio in San Jose, California, founded in 1977 by Bill's friend and bandmate Jeff Tracy.  Skipping over a few details, suffice it to say that by 1984 Jeff had sold the studio, but remained there as an engineer. The new owners were fellow bandmate Randy Musumeci, Randy's two brothers, and Bill and me.  By 1987 or thereabouts, Jeff had moved to Texas, and - although it wasn't planned this way - Bill and I had bought out the three other partners and were now the sole owners. (We weren't crazy about the name "Astral Sounds", but this was long before the advent of the internet as we know it, and we were an "A" in the phone book, which placed us right near the top of the recording studio listings in the Yellow Pages.)

When we first got the studio it had an 8-track machine that recorded on 1/2" tape.  Not long after that, we upgraded the mixing board and replaced the 8-track recorder with a 16-track machine that recorded on gigantic reels of two-inch-wide tape.  The board and recorder came to us from a company in Los Angeles that had purchased them from Capitol Records.  Bill and I visited Capitol and toured Studio B where our machines had first resided.  As it turned out, these machines had quite a history.  Bill could give you a long list of who recorded on them, but the only names I can think of at the moment are Frank Sinatra and Steve Miller. 

However, by the time we got them, these third-hand machines were pretty much held together by gum and paper clips.  In fact, we had to fly one of the console's original designers, Norm Dlugatch, up from Los Angeles several times to work on the board.  And Neil Young's technician, Harry Sitam, was a Godsend.  I'm not sure Bill would be doing what he does today if it weren't for Harry's many trips from Neil's place in Woodside, about a half hour north of us, to patch our 16-track recorder back up enough so that it could keep going for a while longer.  (Neither Bill nor I can remember how we first got acquainted with Harry, since we weren't personal friends of Neil Young.)

In 1989 we upgraded the studio, buying a new mixing board and a 24-track recorder.  That was the year that Bill recorded his first acappella album, not really knowing what to do with his new clients, the Stanford Mendicants. See the final link below for Bill's hilarious description of his first impression of collegiate a cappella.  In the early 1990's, coincidentally right around the time that CASA was founded, as more Stanford groups came to us, Bill started to experiment with different techniques for recording acappella. I spent many a day setting up mics in a circle for the groups.

By 1996 we were a fully digital studio, using vastly smaller ADAT recorders.  And since 1989 Bill had been beta-testing a Sound Tools system, which enabled him to be one of the first recording engineers in the San Francisco Bay Area to do digital editing.  One of Bill's clients was the ice skater Brian Boitano.  Bill would edit Brian's CDs for his upcoming programs, taking a bit out here or adding a bit there, in order to make the music conform to Brian's choreography.  One day in the fall of 1996 Brian tried to make an appointment with Bill, but we were fully booked.  Because I wanted to make sure that Brian was taken care of, I called a studio owner in San Francisco, where Brian lives, and this person referred us to someone else who would be able to do the job.  After the work was completed I asked Brian if everything went well, and Brian said that it did.  As it turned out, the man had edited Brian's music in the bedroom of his apartment.

A day or two later I suddenly thought, in a true lightbulb moment, "Wait a minute. This guy edited Brian Boitano's music in his bedroom!  Bill could take his clients home with him, and I could retire."  And that's exactly what happened. By December of 1996 Astral Sounds was no more, and Bill Hare Productions was born.

Every AcaMom's story is different.  This one is mine.  I'll close by going full circle back to the festivals.  AcaMoms, come to the festivals!  I guarantee you won't regret it.

The Boxettes Mentor The AcaBelles ~ SoJam, November 12, 2011



Dakaboom! Los Angeles A Cappella Festival in January 2012



Filmed and edited by Hookslide's Bud Anderson:
LAAF 2012 Collaborative Recording Project: Duwende, Pentatonix, Hookslide

Priceless Moment at LA-AF

This is a perfect example of the up-close-and-personal access we have to the aca-stars at the festivals.  It's from the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival, an extemporaneous back-room performance by the members of Pentatonix.  I haven't posted it before because it starts late and I waved the camera around when I took a step back and landed on Kurt Walker's toes.



And here are two more short up-close-and-personal videos I took at LA-AF.  Kevin was so engrossed in what he was doing that he had no idea I was there.  He was very gracious when he finally discovered me spying on him.  Avi...well, you'll have to see for yourself.  That one's not to be missed.

Avi's Special Talent



Kevin's in the Zone



Photos of Astral Sounds Recording over the years: http://dyz.com/astral/

This is a video we made in January of 1993 for an Australian friend who was a recording engineer, and who would soon be meeting Bill for the first time. Bill and his wife Jennie were married on Valentines Day of that year, and they spent their honeymoon in Sydney.  This was right around the time most of Stanford's a cappella groups started coming to us, and Bill was just beginning to figure out what to do with all these singers. Bill and I are acting rather silly at the beginning of the video. (At least on paper I have the opportunity to rewrite.) Now I look more like the mother and grandmother of the two people in the video.

Astral Sounds Recording ~ January 1993



And finally, here's what Bill has to say about the history of his own career.  I found it online quite by accident. http://acappellablog.com/ownwords/their-own-words-bill-hare

[photo: Joan with Sue Wheeler, Clare Wheeler's (Swingle Singers) mom, in London]

featureimage: