HomeDemystifying The Sing-Off

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The Sing-Off is here, and social media has already had its share of a cappella scandal before the premiere on Monday. A video was leaked before the rights were secured to use a particular song? There’s a group with members that were never in the group to begin with? Sound the alarms! We’re up to season 4 of Nick Lachey’s all-too-glistening smile hosting us through the contest, and there are a few things to remember before you explode on various social media outlets at your support or outrage behind a group.

This may not be a competition where the most talented group will always win. My personal feeling is that, last year, Pentatonix WAS the most talented group and deserves every ounce of success they have seen since their victory. However, this is a major television network that has advertisers paying for time slots during the show. They need to produce great television. For the demographic that watches the show, that will mean faces that are nice to look at and familiar tunes that are catchy and packaged with a shiny ribbon.

There is a record label looking to sign an artist. As someone who worked for Sony (and BMG) in the early 2000s, I can say with confidence that they want to know who will sell the most records and who can tour. This means, which may come as a shock to some of you, that a high school or college group will NEVER win the show. They can’t be plucked from their lives of academia and quest for knowledge to hit the road or spend months in a recording studio.

Groups were assembled for the show, and there’s marketing magic. This does not come from insider knowledge! I judged the ICHSA Finals in 2012 and saw Sarah Vela blow the roof off the house with her high school group, Vocal Rush. I followed her on Twitter and knew she graduated, and she is performing with Vocal Rush for The Sing-Off. NBC and Vocal Rush will 100% benefit from having her there. They’re still marketed as a high school group, just as beauty products are touted as age-fighting or movies are touted as the funniest you will EVER see. Rachel Chalhoub (a member of Element) has another a cappella group she’s in, and we have even tried to start a group together when she lived in Florida. It reminds me that she is a VP talent that all-too many female groups lack. Jo Vinson (also in Element) is chock-full of sultry bass, and we’ve seen her on The Sing-Off before. Why not bring them on board to create a female supergroup? I would like to see a representation of my demographic, which would be women over the age of 25 (or, in my case, over 35), as they have been notably absent since season 1 (Maxx Factor).

Groups must be assembled specifically for The Sing-Off to make for better television, a better image, and to craft the ideal, mass-market appeal sound. The group TEN has a bio that states their first performance together will be on The Sing-Off stage. Why is it a problem for anyone that groups are formed for the show, whether by producers or by the performers themselves? Is Ringo Starr any less of a Beatle than Paul, George or John because he was chosen to be their drummer after Pete Best was fired? Am I aging myself with The Beatles reference?

The winning group will not become rich overnight.
Most labels have a clause where their artists have to recoup 100% of their costs before the artist sees any money. Translation: if a label spends $500,000 on touring, marketing, advertising and promotions, then the artist has to earn $500,000.01 before they see even a penny in their pockets. Don’t forget there are management and publishing companies to pay this profit to as well. Winning The Sing-Off guarantees that the winning group will be putting in overtime to launch their career, but being a top-selling artist does not a millionaire make.

Ben, Shawn and Jewel aren’t picking the winner or honing the talent. There are arrangers, choreographers, vocal coaches and more helping each group out. The groups on the show are lucky enough to have masterclasses with these brilliant members of our a cappella community working with them. But, we have no idea if more time is invested in one group or another, and the producers of the show will spin the angles as much as they want: the judges are not deciding who wins. The network and the label investing time and money will ultimately select the winner. One can only hope that the best talent emerges that is most deserving of both a recording contract and a touring schedule to reach fans and fans to be.

Who Will Win? The high school and collegiate groups lucky enough to appear on the show are getting incredible publicity at no cost. That is their ultimate prize. Never fear, fans of academia: producers will most likely tease the viewing audience with one 21-and-under group in the top 3. The post-collegiate, professional groups are the only ones truly vying for the title, and I expect Home Free or Voice Play to come out on top. Having performed with and directed a cappella groups for 20 years, you can’t teach blend and precision overnight, even with individuals who are incredible, professional singers. The winning group needs at least 1/2 of the ensemble to have previous experience performing together to win this year’s Sing-Off.

About the writer:
Randi Stanley has been arranging for high-school, collegiate and post-collegiate a cappella groups for over 20 years. She sang with all-female groups in high school and college, and directed, arranged for and performed with two post-collegiate groups in NYC including Treble. She began NYC A Cappella www.nycacappella.com 8 years ago to reach broader audiences with her arrangements. In 2010 she was hired to arrange for the premiere of the show A Cappella Humana, a full-scale musical written by Kevin Ramsey. She worked as a producer for Varsity Vocals, and was honored to be a judge for the ICCA and ICHSA Finals in 2012. Her proudest accomplishment is being a Mom to two young children, and she cheers for a cappella groups everywhere from her home in south Florida.