LCU and Best Friends

In 1983, as a sophomore in college, I was part of something new. John Paul Blankenship was forming a new mixed ensemble a capella group to travel and recruit for the college (Lubbock Christian College, at the time). I was recruited as part of the original group that became known as Best Friends and stayed with the ensemble for the next three years.

Thirty years later, what goes around comes around, I suppose. LCU has recruited me once again for Best Friends… this time as director. As I write this, we are drawing close to the end of the first year. It has been very enjoyable and has kept me busy and young at heart.

I’ve produced a couple of music videos for the group. I’ll post the 2nd one later, but here is the first. This is the title track to their 2016 album That Was Then, This is Now. The music, by the way, can be found on iTunes at this link. Hope you like the video…

It’s Time for a Compulsory License for Musical Arrangements

Photo credit: Andrew Gustar via CompfightAs an arranger of musical works, I often feel as though my hands are tied behind my back.

I have arranged hundreds of songs for various events and groups, 99% of them being a capella in nature. I would love to publish these arrangements and make them available to the general singing public. How many have I published to date? One. Count them. One. Do not proceed to two.

The problem, as far as it concerns me, is in obtaining a license to publish. Now, any recorded work is a different story. If there is a song that I’d like to record that is something other than public domain, the tools are in place to obtain a mechanical license to be able to record and publish (thank you Harry Fox, Limelight, Loudr and others). Release on video? No problem, just get a sync license.

To release a written arrangement of a work… well that’s a horse of another color. There are no laws in place that allow you to do so. An arranger must contact the owner of the song and request a license to release the arrangement. The answer can be no. Or, the answer could be, “You want to release an arrangement that may sell 10 copies? Ok, that’ll be $2,000.00.” Might as well be a no.

Responses and processes are all over the map. All those composers who make themselves available to arrange that special song you’ve been wanting? Most likely you are breaking the law, since the majority of them do not seek permission and leave it up to you to request the necessary license. And who will most likely get zapped if the copyright police come calling? The arranger.

I read an article that sums up the problem quite nicely. Jonathan Minkoff wrote “The Legality of Arranging” in 2009 and it’s still applicable today (unless a law has changed since I wrote this in the summer of 2014). It’s worth your time to read, but I quote his last paragraph:

The best answer, as I’ve proposed in the past, isn’t a change in the behavior of all these arrangers. It’s a change in the law. It’s time for a compulsory license for musical arrangements. Composers get revenue, arrangers and artists get peace of mind and everybody wins.

I agree. And I’ve got loads of arrangements waiting on it. How about you?

The Fab 3 Strike Again

My son, Austin, has released his third video in the series of five he must do as his Senior Project in high school. This time, he went for a classic (at least in my opinion). He chose The Beatles’ tune Come Together. Enjoy!

Herculean Tasks – otherwise known as Senior Projects

My son, Austin, has a task he must undertake. Like any ancient hero of old, this task must be completed in order to advance “beyond.” In his case, it’s called a Senior Project.

Students at Shallowater High School, here in Shallowater, TX, must complete a project their Senior year. This project must be something that they would not have done otherwise. Something that will stretch them a bit. Something that educate them in a new field… and they must invest at least 18 hours into the project.

In her Senior year, my daughter chose to turn the animated movie Mulan into a staged musical, complete with full cast, props, arrangements of the songs from the movie and sound effects. Her project took over 250 hours and was a big success.

My son also chose to venture into the arts. Being a child of the millennial age, he has grown up watching more YouTube than broadcast television. It came as no surprise that he wanted to create a YouTube channel of his own music videos. Voilà! A senior project is born.

Each senior must enlist the help of a mentor in the process. Austin was able to recruit one of YouTube’s more popular artists, Justin Robinett, as his mentor. Justin has been very helpful and as I write this, Austin is finishing up the mix on his 3rd video. He has two more to go to complete his project.

You can find Austin’s videos on his YouTube channel – ProbablyNotAustin. But for your enjoyment, I present his 2nd video in the series… Don’t Worry be Happy by Bobby McFerrin.

Acappella Classic’s Last Concert… of 2014

George and gangMarch 7, 2014 was a fun night. I had the wonderful opportunity to take the stage once again with many of my old friends. Acappella Classic was in concert in Longview, TX and the joint was definitely jumping.

I was joined by founder Keith Lancaster, bass Rodney Britt, lead vocalists George Pendergrass and Steve Maxwell, baritone Robert Guy and tenor Kevin Schaffer. As far as I can tell, this was the only scheduled appearance of “Classic” in the 2014 calendar year.

The event took place on Friday evening, but most of us arrived around lunch on Wednesday. The next couple of days were packed with rehearsal, laughter and food. It’s really hard to get anything done when all these guys get together. We spend way too much time laughing and telling old stories.

The event was a full house. We sang at Pine View Church of Christ, which officially seats 750 or so. We had 850 or so in attendance. It was one of those nights that you just hope the Fire Marshall doesn’t show up. It probably would have blessed him if he had, but only for as long as it took him to shut us down.

As usual, satan always throws a hitch in the plans. We conducted a quick sound check on Thursday evening… without lights. Friday afternoon, we cranked up the system (with lights) and promptly started blowing fuses. After 3 different attempts with 3 miniature explosions and a couple of busted speakers, the system was finally working. We didn’t get a chance to sing on the system until 5:30, with doors opening at 6:00. In other words, we didn’t really get a chance at all.

That proved rather interesting, as there were several songs that we never had a chance to completely rehearse. One, in fact, that I don’t think we ever sang until that night. Sure, we’ve sung them all many times before… but it’s a bit different with each configuration. Memories fade over time.

Consequently, we made some mistakes. I don’t think most of the crowd even knew it, though – unless someone realized that we completely skipped the bridge of Criminal on the Cross. Or sang the middle section of Holy City twice. Roll with the punches… that’s about all you can do.

For those interested here is the set list for the evening:

Longview setlist

That set list is pretty accurate with one exception. After Teaching the Truth in the first set, we immediately launched into For the Lost. It was basically one long song. They fit together very nicely.

Also, thanks to Randy Lamp for the concert shot. That’s me that you can’t see standing right behind George. Lord willing, this will not be the last time you see us together, but who knows?

Melodyne: Tuning Vocals… and Tuning Guitars, Keyboards and Other Things During the Mix

melodyne

This post will most likely find a much smaller interested audience than my last post, which topped half a million readers (craziness!). This time I’m talking to that unique demographic of people who spend countless hours in the engineer’s chair at a recording studio. So, for the 12 people who will read this, I’ve discovered a wonderful program called Melodyne.

For years, I’ve been involved in vocal production for studio projects. I am always striving to get the best sound, as any engineer would do. Some musical styles call for that slightly out of tune floating-around-the-pitch sound. I am not involved in much of that. My stable of projects either have a full band with a lead vocal and background vocals that need tuning, or a complete a capella song where everything needs tuning.

For years, I’ve used a program called Autotune. Most people have heard of this, since it was popularized by its overuse, resulting in robotic voicing. I believe Cher was one of the first to do this back in the 90’s. It’s so popular it has resulted in a slew of iOS apps that achieve the same result for the fun of it. Too much.

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Kickstarter Success

follow us on kickstarterIf you have followed me on Facebook or any other social media outlets, you’ve probably seen that the Kickstarter campaign I mentioned a few posts ago has finished. And finished very well. We set our goal at $26,500 and we received $31,660… 120% of our goal. To say we are excited about it is somewhat of an understatement. I’ll have a lot more to say about Chasing David and where we go from here in future posts. For now, I thought I’d address a question I’ve already been asked… “What did you guys do to make sure your Kickstarter campaign was a success?”

I’ve seen several books and e-books on this very subject. Here’s my take on it and I’m not charging a thing.

We relied heavily on the social aspect of Kickstarter. We did several big pushes on Facebook and used the promoted post feature 3 or 4 times. Also, every time we did an update on our campaign we would post a link to the update page on our facebook profile.

We were counseled early on to not be afraid to use the “a” word – Ask. Whenever we would post something on Facebook, we would always ask everyone to please share it on their own personal profile along with a message for support. That got a lot of traction.

Also , the use of videos helped tremendously. We took our time and did a humorous, upbeat and yet serious video for our campaign. You need to make sure that it is embedded into your Kickstarter page. They walk you through that and they make it part of the box at the top of the page. That’s important. You don’t want people to have to leave your Kickstarter page to go watch your video because most of them won’t come back. That’s not a statement on quality, that’s just the way the Internet is.

Also, about halfway through our campaign, my daughter suggested that we do some kind of music video. Up to that point we did not have anything showing our musical style. We got together and shot a video with just a few simple cameras and did a quick mix on it. We posted this on Facebook, YouTube, the Kickstarter page, and just about everywhere we could post it. We noticed a considerable up-tick in pledges after the video went live.

And last but not least, since there are 3 of us, we were able to tell people about it at church and get support there. Thats 3 different churches.

Other than that and copious amounts of prayer, that was pretty much the formula. Kickstarter allows you to tap into social media pretty easily. You have to take advantage of that and get people to share your Kickstarter page. It’s the same concept as the “street team” in concert publicity… just all online.

If you have a Kickstarter campaign coming up or are considering it, let me know. Sound off! For now, I leave you with the music video we recorded with cheap cameras and iPhones. Enjoy…

Kickstarter: Day One for Chasing David

Support us on KickstarterFor those of you who have not seen it, we launched our Kickstarter campaign this morning around 8:00 AM. By “we,” I mean Duane Adams, Kevin Schaffer and me. Maybe I should back up and explain.

About a year ago, the three of us started talking about a strong feeling we’ve all had to return to music ministry. Granted, we are all music ministers at our respective churches and thoroughly enjoy serving in that role. At the same time, we felt like God might not be finished with us quite yet regarding professional Christian music. I almost hate using that term, because that’s not what we want to be known for.

Like it or not, God placed us in a position with Acappella that allowed us to have a pretty strong impact on the church and people as individuals. It was all out of our hands and God did the work. We were just young guys who loved the Lord and enjoyed singing about him to anyone who would listen. Through that fun and singing (along with a lot of hard work), God did some amazing stuff.

It left a legacy that we are still trying to understand. It’s been 13 years since the last of us left Acappella, and we still get emails and comments on an almost daily basis. This is what has led us to consider trying it again. Apparently, the opportunity for God to work through us in that same manner is still open. Consequently, we’ve been writing songs for the past year in anticipation of starting a group. Chasing David was born out of this year of consideration, praying and song writing.

And so,  our fund raising campaign was launched today at Kickstarter.com. It’s been a flurry of activity all day long with Facebook feeding most of the frenzy. In the first 12 hours, we’ve had 26 people back us with a total commitment of just over $2,000. Our Facebook Page has skyrocketed in attention. We’ve even had inquiries about doing concerts in Houston, Japan and Korea.

Indeed, it seems that God might not be done yet. We shall see. 27 more days to go.

If you’d like to know more, you can read about it at these links:

Chasing David Kickstarter page

Chasing David website

Chasing David Facebook Page

Chasing David Twitter

An Inside Look at Vocal Arrangements

arranging

Today’s guest post is an article by Deke Sharon, who, as Wikipedia puts it, is an American singer, arranger, composer, director, producer and teacher of a cappella music, and is one of the leaders of the contemporary a cappella community and a pioneer of the contemporary a cappella style, referred to as “the father of contemporary a cappella” by many. That’s high praise and not completely unjustified. If you watched “The Sing-Off” on national television, you’ve heard many of his arrangements. He was the main force behind the sound of many of the groups who performed. He’s done MUCH more and you can find out more about him at totalvocal.com.

The following article was written in response to multiple requests for him to critique arrangements. I think his response is spot on and I would like to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it.


I’m frequently asked to look over an arrangement and offer my thoughts. I find an alarming number of my responses contain the same comments, the same thoughts.

So I’ve decided to create a one-size-fits-all, universal arrangement critique. If you want to know what I probably would say about your arrangement, read below:

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14 Online Tools for Independent Musicians

Independent MusiciansI follow a good number of music blogs. It seems that bad news comes out of L.A. or Nashville on a weekly basis. The record labels are scrambling for ways to monetize their artists and sales of physical media are plummeting. Strangely though, sales of vinyl LP’s rose 10% last year, but that’s another blog post.

As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, the tools available online to independent musicians are quickly making the labels obsolete in many areas. I wish I’d had these resources available when I worked in the industry. So, here’s a quick overview of some of those tools. This is not an exhaustive review, but it’s a good starting point.

If you are an artist or a member of a band and have not made use of at least a few of these resources, you are missing the boat my friend.

1. Discmakers. I have already done a review of these guys and I still think they are a great tool. You can read it here.
Discmakers.com

2. CD Baby. These guys have been around a long time and are very good at what they do, which is being your very own personal distribution system. You supply them with a few copies of your new CD and they will make it available all over the place. They will sell the CD’s for you as well as distribute them into all the major online sales forums like iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, etc. They’ll also get your music inserted into the various streaming sites, e.g. Spotify and others. They offer other package deals and services as well. Highly recommended.
CDBaby.com

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