HomeBlogsDekeSharon's blogMosaic's America's Got Talent Performance Analysis

DekeSharon's picture

It's rare that an a cappella group gets 90 seconds of air time on a prime time television show, so when they do, it's worth paying attention. Closely.

How did Mosaic do? Let's take a look (you can watch the video on the CASA.org home page, or at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOJULQWITNo&eurl ):

1:17 - song starts - vocal percussion - strong kick snare backbeat - Troy lays an an excellent foundation.

1:19 - no time to lose, they start dropping in layered vocal parts, one by one. Very clever, because it allows an uninitiated audience to understand what they're doing sonically and visually. Sean's pitch is a little unclear at first, but that's to be expected - the pressure is extremely high. He's singing the synclavier part, followed by Josh on bass, then a soulful trio in close voiced triad. A good blend between polyphony and homophony, rhythm and harmony.

It's clear right away that they chose Stevie Wonder's Superstition - a strong choice as it's such a beloved song... but there's also the burden of living up to Stevie's vocals. 

1:28 - they step up and cross as they do (creating more visual interest, and allowing them to walk farther without coming too far downstage - a clever choice), and then lock into a synchronized move, followed by a quick freeze to tie off the intro.

So far, so good: energetic, well executed, and quick - just 12 seconds to set up the sound. 

Something to know: when you're on a show like this, nerves are high, and it's hard to get a deep breath of air. As such, you need to breathe more often, and the sounds are often more staccato or even clipped. I hear a bit of that happening here, which makes the overall sonic picture perhaps a bit less full than it was rehearsing in their hotel room. I think one or two of the judges commented on this without realizing what it was directly (to them it probably appeared a bit too empty or angular rather than a rich, full texture).

1:30 - solo enters. Strong sound, excellent voice. Sound board mixing comes into play here as you can hear how the backing voices are arranged to fill the holes between lead lines, but it sounds a bit empty.

This isn't the groups fault most likely, as they're singing their asses off - just look at their faces! Not surprising, as most sound engineers don't know or understand a cappella, and it takes them some time to figure out who is singing which part on which mic, especially with all of the moving and stage crossing. And, if an arrangement is complex and through-composed like this one is (and should be, for a brief 90 minute showcase), by the time it's figured out, the song has changed completely.

Alas, that might be contemporary a cappella's achilles heel in a competitive variety show format.

1:48 Second half of the verse with its signature horn line. I doubt it makes any difference for the competition, but I'd personally like to hear the complexity continue here, as opposed to dropping to so much unison, but they probably did the right thing, if the judges ears were confused earlier in the song. 

1:58 Horn line pops up the octave - extremely high, not entirely precise - draws attention to itself. Also the energy dies down through this passage as the soloist is stationary and the group is just locked into synchronized back and forth movements - cool, but repetitive. Were I coaching the group, I'd have recommended they send a second soloist out to echo the lead in this section, with some riffing ad libbing... or cycle through different guys on the background parts, showing how each one of them has a great lead voice as well. Different faces would keep the interest level high, and they'd be even more impressive to the judges as a group full of lead singers. But armchair quarterbacking is easy - performing on network television is hard!

2:05 the song's great parallel chords - would love to hear more harmony here, but this isn't their fault, as it's clear they've got lead, bass, VP and 3 part harmony, but I can really only hear one of the background parts, leaving the highest note teetering precariously above the rhythm section. 

If they had it all to do over again, I'd suggest dropping the VP, stopping the energetic movement and just locking those chords, perhaps with the bass up an octave and one more chord factor (octave? fifth?) to help solidify these chords into a big wall of harmony.

2:11 - on the dominant chord you can hear the group's jazz flavor. Excellent moment.

2:12 Corwyn steps out and sings the chorus to I Wish, which is a clever way to get around the fact that Superstition's chorus is largely devoid of melody - just a return to the opening groove. One of the best moments in the performance, and the energy ramps up with this unexpected moment.

Finding the perfect balance between unexpected moments and musical predictability is one of the hardest things to do in this setting. They strike an excellent balance overall.

2:21 Best performance moment as the all charge to the lip of the stage and invite the audience to clap along. Engaging the audience is key, and having the entire group move forward at once is the most powerful choreographic choice possible. They need to end big, and they clearly intend to. Still almost 30 seconds left, which is a good sign. 

You can see the Hoff likes this moment, as he bobs his head along.

2:30 Great choreographic move with the center pair stepping back and the two pairs on the sides crossing behind... but the music is static. Not uninteresting or unexciting, but the same. Not sure if this was a great choice as it's a cool vamp and they're riding a wave of excitement with the audience, or a risky one, because if the audience isn't on their feet clapping and singing along, they're pointing up that fact. Not being in the room, it's impossible to gauge, but knowing those guys it's probably the former, making it the right choice.

2:38 A full shift to I Wish, grabbing its excellent vocal breakdown. Cool leg move at 2:42

2:48 Done! 90 seconds exactly - perfectly timed. Used every possible moment. Very well planned, designed, choreographed. A masterful set, one that should be analyzed by anyone considering competing on The Sing Off or any other televised competition.

Alas, Mosaic didn't make the cut, but they definitely came correct.

So... why didn't they make it? Well, that's something that was decided by the viewers, and I didn't see the other performers, so I can't say with any certainty. Technically, I doubt there were many other performances that had a similar level of difficulty or dexterity. Ultimately it's impossible to know for certain, and I doubt we're the people to analyze, as we're obviously particularly interested in their sound and style.

A cappella is always best live, in person... and I'll bet money that if it were up to the audience in the house, they'd have moved on. Just a guess, but a good one.

What did you think of their performance? Highlights? Moments that could be improved? Comment below:

Comments

What I noticed:

Sweet analysis, Deke.  I pretty much totally agree.  I do think that a group in preparation for a show like this faces a zillion tiny decisions, and you're always going to get some right and some wrong.  You never know how the audience is going to react, or the judges, or what the camera work is going to do (I would have moved quite a bit less if I'd have known there was going to be so many swoopy camera moves).  I think under the circumstances they made great decisions and did a fantastic job.

What I noticed:

1) 'pack up and move to Vegas' ... 'it's been so tough' ... 'then along comes AGT' ... no mention of years of touring, opening for George Wallace/Jay Leno for the several years, MTV Pop Group award....  This is not Mosaic's fault!  They are not mis-representing themselves; this is the producers all the way, coaching content to make it sound more interesting, more sympathetic.  Because _obviously_ America is not interested in a successful act!  Might blow their high fructose corn syrup-addled minds.

2) Nick Cannon's smile gives me the willies

3) I move that all a cappella groups boycott The Sing Off _unless_ they guarantee they will hire competent sound techs.  I don't literally mean boycott; I mean, it needs to become a very vocal issue with all groups going on these shows.  This performance reminded me exactly of Mosaic's MTV performances: you could tell the audience was digging it, and the sound was great in the venue.  The mix coming to the viewers was CRAP.  Simply, indisputably unacceptable.  If the NBC producers of the Sing Off want a good show, they must have 2 super-qualified live sound engineers, and 2 super-qualified broadcast engineers, and _SEPARATE LIVE AND BROADCAST MIXES_ so that the sound that goes to the viewing public is EXCELLENT.  Every person who auditions, every person who talks to the producers, BE SURE TO THIS UP WITH THE PRODUCERS.  If they hear it enough times, maybe they'll get it through their thick skulls.  And we as singers deserve to sound good, and ought to push for it.

4) I thought it was a great 90 seconds.  It was too rushed, but that's the nature of this kind of competition: it's not about art, it's about spectacle.  I agree with Sharon's comments, it was busy at the start, but I think I would have made the same/similar choices, based on the nature of the show.  

5) Bigger choreo, bigger movements than I'm used to seeing from Mosaic, and I liked it... if only the camera had stayed still long enough for us to enjoy it!  That big leg pop was great.

6) That 2-toned thing on Josh's head is ghastly.

7) I think Skinner got the emotional vote; I also think Mosaic might be _too_ polished, _too_ professional, and probably _too_ hip for the AGT audience.  I do think they, or a similar group, could be packaged and presented in a way that the AGT audience would dig, but _not_, unfortunately, in the current format of the show.

wow--I obviously don't even know what to look for!

Astute analysis, Deke. If I ever started a group, I'd hire you to produce. Or at least coach.

From a non-musician perspective, I thought their performance was visually fantastic (except for the 2-tone hair...it drew my eye away from the show). Auditorally, I found it lacking. I couldn't hear the bass. The balance was horrible. I know this isn't Mosaic's fault. It's also not the fault of the TV (the sound on the car ads was perfectly balanced...). From my very non-expert point of view, it sounded like they ALL had their mics set up for solo singing in front of a backing track (or for talking)--and that's NOT how a cappella mics are usually set up.  A cappella bass doesn't function the way a bass soloist does, nor does it function the way a bass in a small "traditional" harmony group (think barbershop, "Forever Plaid", MoTown) does.

So I second Mister Tim here--a cappella groups appearing on TV need to make a fuss to get the sound right, or they'll never sound good. I think it's possible. I mean, you ought to sound at least as good as the car ads.

My $.02

I've not been one to be shy about advancing my limited knowledge as an opinion on here.  Why stop now?

Deke's points were interesting to me.  Again, coming from the perspective of creating my first group from scratch, a lot of what goes down on here comes off as being food for thought for what I'm doing.  Sometimes too much food.  Indigestion.  I have to pass on a great deal of the wisdom that's emanating from this site because I simply don't have the stomach for it yet.  Maybe that's a point; Mosaic has been around for a decade so they're ready and it makes sense to them.  I can only digest 50% or less.

What was clear to me was the judges' reaction.  The live audience seemed clearly interested, and as Deke opined, were they the sole arbiters, I think Mosaic would likely be moving on.  Nick Cannon's reaction was effusive as well; I think either he's familiar with the genre, the way he was carrying on about a cappella, or a fan after.  But the 3 judges didn't know what to think or what to say.  They were aware that they heard something, but didn't seem able to put  anything of any relevance into words.

The Hoff says, they started "light" and got "better and better".  Since the song wasn't one giant crescendo, I have to assume this meant that he was bored in the first moments because the beat-boxing thing didn't grab him.  He realized by the end that what they put together was solid and there weren't any moments that distracted him from the performance so he had to conclude it was good, but still didn't understand it.  Sharon made the comment it was "too much" at the beginning, which is effectively the opposite of what David said.  It seems she prefers her a cappella to be something more like what a traditional choir does and didn't really appreciate the energy Mosaic was putting out or why.  Perhaps if they had chosen a slower chart with more legato blending...then she would have criticized them for not putting more energy into it instead.  Piers was complimentary about their voices, and their choices, but then made the comment that he didn't know if they could do a Vegas act without music (I assume he meant "instruments"; typical naive comment)....did he not hear what they just did?  First of all, there's a little group called Toxic Audio I saw in ads while I was in Vegas last year, so I'm pretty sure that the concept isn't foreign to the city and it's booking agents.  Secondly, the implication that they need to "think about this" almost makes it sound as if Mosaic should consider bringing in a few instruments if they want to go somewhere, or if they survived to the next round.  It's as if they can only be truly great vocalists if they surround themselves with the usual trappings of all the other singers out there and get away from what is making them different.

That makes me wonder: I'm not sure how singing with a backing track then is acceptable, but forgoing instruments to be replaced with voices is somehow taboo....except that it just doesn't fit the mold of what is accepted as appropriate.  I think it helps to remember that a lot of the industry has a copy of "Music for Dummies" on their coffee tables and only have a qualified opinion where someone else has already given it to them.  They're just trying to hitch their wagons to the next big copycat (because most weren't innovative enough to sign the original and instead walked them out the door).  Or maybe that's jaded.

The point is that the judges represent some of the prevailing responses and opinions of people who make the call about CAP and where it sits in the larger scene.  People who don't have a stake in the outcome seem to like it...even love it.  But the people who actually have to sign/book/judge the acts don't seem to understand that there are no instruments, and that's OK.  We make unconventional noises with our mouths and that's OK.  There is vocal complexity to what we're doing, and that's OK.

I have to believe that continued exposure to the form will help erode the expected and replace it with an appreciation of what we're doing.  Mosaic represented us very well and I applaud them.  We may never be the what the Grunge movment was to the '90s, but maybe a little larger than Hooked on Classics was in the 80s.  In that spirit...here's hoping for a successful season of NBC's The Sing Off!

The Judges said that?

I didn't listen to the judges on this one, actually--I rarely agree with them, and they annoy me. So I missed Piers saying he didn't know if they could do a Vegas act without music. This cracks me up--Mosaic IS a Vegas Act! I've lived in Vegas for 18 months now, and Mosaic has been performing a regular gig here the whole time--they are part of George Wallace's show. As themselves. And they've done a couple of solo gigs in town, too.

Goes to show how much the judges know about Vegas and what works here!

Not to mention the fact that they can't identify music when they hear it. What was it, a mime act?

I DVRed it (ooops! excuse me)

In eager anticipation of the TRIUMPHANT WORLD PREMIER OF MOOSEBUTTER!, I DVRed the show waiting for a Sign, and found out after the fact that Mosaic auditioned too.  But I'm a few weeks behind on my TV watching so I made time last night to catch up instead of watching the YouTube clip.  I'm guessing the clip mentioned cuts out after the performance and doesn't cover the judges?

What was striking to me is that many of the times, especially in these "quarterfinal" or whatever rounds, the judges have discussed the groups extensively and already have a common agreement/disagreement among them about strengths/weaknesses.  With Mosaic, none of the judges had any cohesiveness to their message.  They all universally recognized that they saw "talent", but none of them could offer any constructive details, except Piers--who's only contribution was that he wasn't sure pure a cappella would work.  "It's hard", he said.  Brilliant.

I forgot that Mosaic was also doing the Vegas thing!  Silly Piers.  I do like to remember though that these three have really nothing to do with booking a Vegas show and everything to do with TV.  Lets face it, Sharon Osborne is qualified to judge talent because.... her husband was Ozzy?  And David had a hit TV show...once a long time ago?  And Piers is....British?  I would give a body part if one of them would actually say to someone "look, we're not really qualified to judge talent, so don't take anything we say with a grain of salt and keep doing what you're doing.  We're just trying to entertain a television audience".  Ahh REALITY television!

mis dos centavos

Overall, I thought they ROCKED!  Off the bat, I agree that Troy laid it down (as he ALWAYS does).  The tough part for the listener was that Corwyn's mic was clearly set for his solo right out of the gate even though he started on a BGV part and that pulled my ear.  I loved the staging for sure.  It was simple, cool and interesting.  Corwyn's solo vocals always seem to give me a feeling that everything is going to be okay.  Love it.  Solid, musical, effortless.  I hate that I could barely hear Josh on bass as that really would have rounded out sound and brought about the fullness some were missing.  Again, all a mixing problem.  As for what Mosaic brought to the stage, I thought it was A+ all the way.  I have been fortunate enough to sing with these guys a hand full of times and it was always musically thrilling and inspiring!

Juan Cantu
juancantu.com
mixdco.com

Alternative Video Link

it seems the Youtube video link is dead. Here's an alternative on Hulu for the performance:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/87344/americas-got-talent-mosaic

Re: Alternative Video Link

And here's a link that working outside the US:

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=629...

-Stefan

Cars

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.