Behind the Scenes: The Making of the SheSings 2015 Collaborative Track
by Elle Brigida
Collaborative tracks have become a staple at some of the largest a cappella festivals in the country including SoJam, BOSS (Boston Sings), and Los Angeles A Cappella Festival (LAAF). These collaborative recordings give attendees, festival headliners, recording engineers and festival staff the chance to work together and create a unique track featuring talent from across the country. At SheSings, we had the pleasure of recording a collaborative track with the help of Bri Holland, WACA ambassador, producer and recording engineer.
This collaborative track has been months in the making from choosing the track, arranging, tracking, editing, mixing and mastering. Bri walked us through the process that has brought the SheSings 2015 collaborative track from Ohmega Salvage to the Oakland School of the Arts and to your ears.
The first step in the process is choosing the perfect song. “XO by Beyonce was chosen as the collaborative track for several reasons. It's a celebratory track, and I wanted to promote the positivity that the festival emanates. It's originally performed by a powerful female artist and loud, self-declared feminist. And structurally, it held the potential to be divided up into sections featuring different groups and styles,” she says.
Bri also arranged the collaborative track for the groups that were performing at SheSings. The groups varied vastly in styles which lent to an interesting arrangement with vocals + electronics band ARORA, folk trio, Honey Whiskey Trio, high school superstars Vocal Rush, world music choir Voci and international barbershop champions .The Love Notes. With all of the different groups to arrange for Bri said, “I felt confident writing for most of the groups involved, as I've been very familiar with most of their work for years. But I knew Kari Francis would write a stellar arrangement for The LoveNotes. They perform the intro to the track, which is a barbershop arrangement of ‘It's a Pity’ by Jamaican reggae artist Tanya Stephens”
I spoke with Kari Francis about the barbershop portion of the arrangement and the difficulties of translating a pop tune into barbershop. Kari said, "Translating" anything into barbershop is much easier said than done. You can no sooner add a flatted seventh to 60% of your chords (especially those functioning as the dominant) and call it barbershop any sooner than you can throw some add6 and add9 chords over a walking bass line and call it jazz. Barbershop is unique for its 4-part homophonic texture, tendency toward circle of fifth progressions (listen to a classic like "Five Foot Two" to hear what I mean), and flexible rubato in performance, which is why when presented with a song with a solo lead that hinges on 2 chords in natural minor tonality over a steady swing beat you quickly realize you can't keep one style without sacrificing the other. That being said, I knew that this was ultimately meant to serve Bri's arrangement and, by extension, the WACA festival - both of which encourage myriad musical styles - and NOT a barbershop-only or reggae-only piece/venue, so the pressure to be strictly authentic to either source was luckily lifted. Phew!”
Bri goes on to describe the rest of the arrangement which features everyone in attendance, even the SheSings attendees on gang vocals!
“From there, I wrote much of the arrangement to feature the festival headliner, ARORA, with signature guttural vocal percussion from Ben McLain, breathy, resonant bass from Chris Harrison, and tight harmonies and soaring leads from Jessica Freedman, Rachel Bearer, and Kathy Hoye. Voci brings an ethereal, heavenly quality to the first verse, which Ted Trembinski and I recorded in a stairwell at Oakland School for the Arts. Honey Whiskey Trio appears on the first chorus, bringing their lightness and intimacy into the mix. Vocal Rush brings energy in the second verse and throughout the rest of the song, with a solo feature from the very talented Jada Banks-Mace, and with support from the WACA Staff. And Friday night SheSings attendees can hear themselves on our "gang vocals" from the second chorus through the rest of the song. The song closes on their vocals, tracked on a field recorder live at Ohmega Salvage. “
The track features more than 100 voices and represents countless hours of work. On how she got everything done, Bri thanks everyone who worked on the track for being so professional. “Every group I worked with was talented and professional, and recording went very smoothly. We tracked almost everyone on Saturday, with a little overlap on Sunday of the festival weekend. Over the next few months, I edited the track and Kathy (who wasn't present at the festival) tracked and sent me her gorgeous vocals. Then Ted Trembinski and I filled out the rest, I mixed the track, and Dave Sperandio of Vocal Mastering mastered it.”
We could not be happier with the final product and look forward to recording another track at SheSings 2016!