HomeBlogsDekeSharon's blogThoughts on BOCA 2009

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Here are a few of my thoughts upon picking BOCA tracks:

* The annual trend of BOCA track selection becoming more competitive continues. In fact, I think this year might be a watershed year in which the average collegiate a cappella album had at least one potential track. More importantly, the number of "yearbook" albums (with a sound that only a mother could love) is at an all-time low. Groups realize that collegiate a cappella recordings can (and should) be something that average Joe would want to hear. A big step for the community as a whole.

* Each year's album has its own flavor, and for whatever reason this year is atypically edgy, punchy and powerful, with an unusually low number of ballads and choral sounds.

* Perhaps it's the faster tempos: this year's average song length was shorter, allowing us to squeeze 19 tracks on the CD, which might be the most ever (not counting the BOCA humor album).

* I might be late to the party, but who knew that U Penn has a Chinese Pop a cappella group that sings in Mandarin? They would be very popular out here in San Francisco.

* Our new rules were strictly enforced, which kept some fantastic groups and their tracks from consideration (like U Penn Off The Beat who have been on BOCA more than any other group). Don't worry - they'll be considered next year when their album is complete, along with anyone else who didn't have a mastered disc on November 1st.

* There remains a very strong correlation between album art and album quality. You can almost always tell how much you'll like an album by how much you like the cover (or at least how much you appreciate the quality of the cover).

* It can now be said that women's recordings used to be a couple notches below their male and mixed counterparts, and we'd have to dig deep even to include a handful per album. I'm happy to say that's no longer the case (spoiler alert) to the extent that we have two groups from Wellesley on the same disc (!)

* I mean no disrespect to Voices In Your Head when I say this: Has Nick Hornby not heard any other collegiate a cappella? Their cover of Ben Folds' "Magic" is very nice, but it's not, to my ear, measurably better than many other recordings released this year. Why it made his 10 best tracks of the year list is honestly beyond me (and I'm a big Nick Hornby fan).

* If you have a few bucks to throw around once your album is mixed, consider sending a track off to get remixed (perhaps by Tat Tong, reigning master of the a cappella remix). A very cool idea that can yield some spectacular results, and gives your listener the ability to hear the effects of production, and adds one more layer of creativity.

* Most ambitious album of the year goes to the Stanford Harmonics. Charlie Forkish is perhaps the young David Lean of collegiate a cappella, with an eye (ear) for epic landscapes, broad strokes and big statements. I can't say that every single track on their album is a complete success, but there's no doubt they're swinging for the bleachers every time, and that kind of determination deserves to be loudly applauded.

* BYU Vocal Point remains a very, very funny group.

* There remains no substitute for a great solo performance.

* Don't make the mistake of assuming the exact tempo of the original recording is the best possible tempo for a cappella. Sometimes makes a song sound like it's dragging because an a cappella arrangement might not have as comprehensive and thorough sense of subdivisions running throughout. If you're not sure, take the tune a few clicks faster, the way you do when performing it live, and your breath-length phrases will sound less stretched and the song less wooden.

* Eager college singers are sometimes on top of or even a big ahead of the beat. Pushing the whole take back 50 milliseconds can make a big difference (or you can just listen for specific lines that jump ahead). A little thing that can really change the feel of a song.

And, as always, if your group is not on BOCA it's in no way a statement of ultimate quality. BOCA is just 2 people's opinion, and our desire is to make an album that will draw new fans into collegiate a cappella (as opposed to create a recording for people within the community). I think it'll be an album that everyone will like, but want to make sure no one feels slighted or disrespected that isn't included. Remember - there's no accounting for taste. Even mine!