Repertoire: Essential Vocal

May 1, 2017

By Dave Sperandio

In the last few years, contemporary a cappella music has exploded in popularity. Movies like Pitch Perfect, shows like NBC’s The Sing Off, and artists like Pentatonix have brought popular vocal music to the top of the charts and generated a lot of interest in the style of music. A great deal of music inspired by these acts and more has been created and recorded.

Incorporating contemporary vocal music into your repertoire is a great way to draw new singers – and new audiences – to your ensemble. The breadth of styles of contemporary vocal music being performed and recorded over the last several years is quite large, and runs the gamut from extremely organic to more “produced.” Nearly every genre of music now has its own contemporary vocal equivalent.

For those looking to learn more about examples of different types of a cappella music, there is so much great and accessible contemporary vocal music to listen to these days! No matter what your preferred style or level of production is, you’re sure to find inspiration in this fast-growing area of music not only for your singers, but also for yourself.

I’ve compiled a few examples that I’d consider good options for “required listening” in the realm of recorded contemporary a cappella music. A few qualifications:

This is far from an exhaustive list; there is much greater a cappella music out there!

I didn’t include many more notable artists that you may already know about (Take 6, Rockapella, PTX, et cetera).

I limited the songs I chose to ones that were available on Spotify, so that you could easily access them.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, some of these songs are ones I have had some part in the production of (usually mastering). Most I’m just a fan of.

Here is the playlist of all the songs I have listed, and others: spoti.fi/2nL3vyU

Firedrill!, Hyannis Sound

Authentic, all-male, organically produced. The vocal chops on both groups are something you must hear to believe, with their use of syllables as rhythmic and tonal tools being especially notable.

Sonos/ARORA

From all-natural to fully electronic, they can truly do it all. They took the scene by storm with their smoky, hyper-vocal reimagining of “I Want You Back”, and later redefined the genre with their landmark album Bioluminescence, including the electronic-textured opener “The Bridge.”

Street Corner Symphony

All-American, authentic, soulful, and rocking – all at the same time. Their original song “Voodoo” conjures a magical, creole-rock feel, while the wistful “Southern Autumn Nostalgia” conveys a deep sense of longing.

Tufts Beelzebubs

Along with the Yale Whiffenpoofs, one of the most influential college a cappella groups ever. Deke Sharon, Ed Boyer, and other notables are alums. Start with “Who Are You,” “Paranoid Android,” or “The Trial,” depending on your mood.

Brandeis Voicemale

Their original song “Phoenix” is a masterclass in organic vocal arranging and production.

Juxtaposition, Bruin Harmony, Bare Naked Statues, Clef Hangers, Pitchforks

Collegiate all-male a cappella music is the oldest voicing of contemporary vocal music, and it remains extremely popular. The Beelzebubs performed “Teenage Dream” on Glee, and many other all-male groups continue to set a high bar for recordings, inspiring a new wave of singers to push boundaries.

Musae, GQ

Simply beautiful, artful and strong professional all-female a cappella. “Glitter in the Air” is pure, all natural beauty; “Amnesia” is gritty and incredibly powerful. “Timshel” was a viral sensation, challenging all preconceived notions about what a Sweet Adelines ensemble “could” do.

OneVoice, Vocal Rush, Forte

These high school ensembles gives the pros a serious run for their money, covering every style from spirituals to pop, rockers to tear-jerker ballads. “Make It Holy” uses layering and space to highlight simple beauty, build, and catharsis. “Blind” shows that even young adults can write compelling original songs. “Save My Soul” is an ‘aca-pop’ success story.

Voices In Your Head, Scattertones, Mix, Chordials, SoCal Vocals, Nor’easters

Mixed collegiate a cappella music has broken much of the “new ground” of recent years. Songs like the completely reimagined  “We Found Love” by Voices in Your Head and “Stop This Train” by the Scattertones will seriously inspire you.

Cluster

This Italian group is a must-listen. Their original song “224” has a life-changing moment. Their cover of “Volare” will absolutely blow you away.

Vox One, Wibijazzn’

Vocal jazz done oh-so-right. Light on the production, heavy on the harmonies and vibe.

Committed, Naturally 7, Eight Beat Measure

More soul than you can shake a stick at, with a side of complex voicings and an extra helping of ‘tude. R&B and hip hop is very well represented in contemporary a cappella music.

The Swingles

Pure unadulterated vocal perfection, for more than 40 years. The Swingles (formerly The Swingle Singers) have a massive catalogue of recordings. Their cover of “Libertango” is sublime; check out the music video for it as well!

The Techtonics

Re: “Earthquake” – this is all voices?!

I’d encourage you to use this list as merely a starting point for your exploration of contemporary a cappella music. Happy listening!

Additional Resources:

  • Best of High School/College A Cappella varsityvocals.com/best-of-a-cappella-albums
  • ‘SING’ casa.org/sing_cd
  • ‘Voices Only’ voicesonlyacappella.com
  • Women’s A Cappella Association womensacappella.org/recordings

Dave Sperandio is the founder of the SoJam A Cappella Festival and the ‘SING’ album series. As founder and chief mastering engineer of Vocal Mastering, Dave has listened to and worked on thousands of recordings from around the world: vocalmastering.com

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