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A week long seminar in the beautiful Bay Area of Northern California. Two pioneers of the a cappella world. Seven guys from all over the country. Burmese Special Noodles. One sick Jamiroquai cover. One bumpin' hip-hop original. It must be Soup2Nuts
Read up on my experience at the Soup2Nuts Recording Seminar Summer 2009 session taught by Bill Hare and Deke Sharon...

My first CASA blog post! Sweet.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Bill Hare and Deke Sharon's five-day seminar on a cappella studio recording, Soup 2 Nuts. I found out about the seminar from spotting Deke's thread on the RARB forums. As a frequent lurker of the message board, I skipped over the topic because the original post was fairly vague, not really saying what the seminar was all about. Several people kept posting to the topic adding more about their previous experience at Soup 2 Nuts and how they learned so much. That's when I decided to look a little closer into this seminar with a strange title. Luckily for me, I got in as the last registrant and I'm so glad I did because the seminar was the bomb.com.

Prior to actually arriving in the Bay Area city of Milpitas, where most of the seminar was held, all seven participants were added to a Yahoo group to start discussion on what we would be learning, things we would like to experience and practice, and what we would like to take away from the seminar. We also discussed which song we would like to work on during the week. One of the biggest draws for me to attend was being able to listen to the tracks that previous classes of Soup 2 Nuts had produced. We eventually decided on “Cosmic Girl” by Jamiroquai as our class project, a throwback to 1996. I was nine years old then. Holler.

Arriving at Deke’s San Francisco home early Sunday morning, I have to admit that I was a little nervous to be meeting the “Father of Contemporary A Cappella.” After ringing the doorbell a couple times, I was greeted with a smile, coffee and freshly baked scones. Score. That day at the Sharon house, we talked about everything A-Z regarding a cappella studio recording. Here are some tidbits from the pages of notes I took on Sunday.

Song Selection and Sequencing – Know your market. What does your audience like about you? What’s being overdone? What is my group actually good at? Record songs that your group absolutely kills live because most of your album sales will come from your shows. Typically, your first three songs on your album should be your best. People generally start getting distracted afterwards. Sequence your pre-mastered bounces in iTunes to get a feel for the transitions.

Arranging: Live vs. Studio – Track what you know and put the basics in. Build up from there. Unravel the strings and go nuts. Create different textural focuses (Focus and Blur). When you’re live, your tenor might be mimicking a guitar part, but then switches it up to punch in with a horn section. In the studio, you don’t have to switch. You can have both. Take away the title “arranger.” Be more collaborative and creative together.

Studio Thinking – The most important part in tracking is your performance. It’s not the pitch, rhythm, or volume. Those things can be fixed in mixing; Energy, emotion, and feeling cannot. Do away with timidity and carefulness. Rock out. A cautious rhythm doesn’t groove. Don’t nitpick. Always look at the big picture. What story are we telling here? When singing, don’t edit yourself! Be organized when tracking. Keep your parts together. This will save your group money. Don’t be so OCD. General rule: If it looks right and sounds wrong, it’s wrong. If it looks wrong and sounds right, it’s right.

Production and Distribution – For covers, you have the right to obtain licensing for songs. It’s called Compulsory Licensing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. How do I get my music out? AcaTunes, Tunes4Teens, CD Baby, A Cappella Records, A-Cappella.com. There are plenty of places to distribute your music! Pre-Orders, Campus Bookstore, Alumni Newsletters, Campus Radio/TV.

That's just a snippet of the things I learned. I have a bunch more, but I won’t put it all here. You’ll just have to attend the seminar next year in January! People, this is all stuff from the first day. The next four days were spent in Bill’s studio in Milpitas, an hour drive from the city.

Monday morning we got into the studio with only a MIDI file of “Cosmic Girl” Deke had found on the interweb. Using that as our guide track, we laid the foundations of our new song; Hi-Hat, Kick, Snare, Bass. I'm not going to get into the details as to how we tracked, edited and mixed the song. That would probably take another post to do. However, I will say that learning to track bite-size portions separately as opposed to recording through the entire song was paradigm shifting for me. You get better performances from your singers, it’s easier to remember your parts and you won't be thinking too hard about what you’re supposed to be singing.

Here’s a clip of us doing the “strings” part at the very beginning of the song.
(For some reason the embedded videos aren't popping up, so here's the link: clip

To make a pretty long story short, it took us three days tracking in this manner from going into the studio with just a MIDI file, no written arrangement, and coming out with a fully mixed and mastered album ready track. Check it out: Soup 2 Nuts Summer 2009 – Cosmic Girl.

Though producing this pretty dense track (I think the ProTools session had over 150 channels) in three days was quite rewarding, the best part of the seminar for me was being able to work with Deke, Bill and the six other attendees Dave Brown (CASA), Erik Abi-Khattar (Brown Jabberwocks), Doug Friedman (Brandeis VoiceMale), Josh Bedlion (Western Oregon 15 Miles West), John He (UCLA Bruin Harmony), and Jeremy Winston (JMU Madison Project). The classes each day ran from 9a-5p, but the learning and collaboration continued throughout the night at the local Embassy Suites.

After finishing “Cosmic Girl” Wednesday at 5. Bill and Deke left us alone in the studio to do whatever we wanted. After dinner and watching the sunset, we decided to collaborate on an original song regarding our experience at the seminar.
(For some reason the embedded videos aren't popping up, so here's the link: clip)  

That night we wrote, arranged, tracked and edited “Royalty,” our original rock/rap song until 4am. After taking a 5 hour break, we were back in the studio until 5p finishing the song. At that point, Bill put on his Mixing Hat and went to work. Four hours later, we had our second fully mixed and mastered track of the week. Soup 2 Nuts 2009 – Royalty.

Here’s a clip of some of the guys listening to the mastered track of “Royalty” for the first time.

(For some reason the embedded videos aren't popping up, so here's the link: clip)

I had an amazing time at Soup 2 Nuts while learning so much about the recording process. The Takeaway: Though your group may not want to sound exactly like Cosmic Girl or Royalty, you should know that your group, in fact, is capable of sounding like those tracks. If seven of us who had never met before and didn’t have an arrangement could create something this crisp and jaw-dropping in less than a week, I feel like anyone can.

I know that my group will definitely benefit from what I’ve learned at Soup 2 Nuts. Prior to the seminar, our plan was to record at an expensive studio as we had on our last album. Now, I’m more than confident that we can track and edit our next album ourselves and send it off to be mixed and mastered for a fraction of what we would have been paying had I not learned the things I did last week.

Thanks again Bill and Deke for your sharing your knowledge and experience and muchos thanks to my classmates for providing one of the greatest experiences I know I’ll remember forever.

(Left to Right: Dave Brown, John He, Jeremy Winston, Cy Serrano, Deke Sharon, Erik Abi-Khattar, Doug Friedman, Julia Hoffman, Josh Bedlion, Bill Hare)

I’ve also uploaded a handful of videos I took over the week on to my YouTube account. Check them out!
Soup2Nuts Summer 2009 Playlist

Cy Serrano, President
The Trojan Men, All-Male A Cappella
University of Southern California


Like the czars we royal

Like the czars we royal flushin'!

--Dave Brown

now: Mouth Off host | ICCA & CARA Judge

then: CASA president, CASAcademy director, CASA Bd of Directors | BYU Vocal Point | Noteworthy co-foun

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