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Dec 18, 2009

Dear All,

I've gotten quite a few emails and letters asking how judges are making decisions on which groups are voted off Sing Off. Most agree though I got a few suggestions to put down various crack pipes.

What I'm listening for is to be moved or entertained. If that doesn't happen my experience has to kick in and I must analyze in a way I can quickly relay my thoughts to the bands (I like to call em bands...) Each subsequent performance should show improvement at a rate that makes me comfortable giving the band a record deal next week. Solving one problem and creating another can happen too. I feel I need to project into the future a bit to see if the band is heading the right way and doing it quickly enough. Can this group make good, interesting records song after song?

FACE
A very talented group of singers from Boulder Colorado. They had loads of things in their favor. Good voices, relatively good pitch and blend... fatally for them they chose a song by Bon Jovi that they had to move down a few keys and that really made the "dude next door" image a liability. They were the group that could have related to the common man but they shouldn't have sounded common. I'm sure with the right song choice they could have survived that show, but the judgement call indicated there was a long way to go until they were making records. Their swan song showed they might just get there one day.

SOLO
Full of soul, vibe and heart but were just too far behind in terms of the basics of arranging. A few of them could well make good recordings as solo artists, a point that Shawn made well. But its the way they work together. Any a cappella act is going to go sharp and flat but the trick is that they listen and do it together. If the audience don't know, who really cares? But if they don't know we're in trouble. I hope that they get some other opportunities as a result of the show, at least individually.

NOTEWORTHY
That was a tough call. The mormon girls were good sports about my input and my urging them to cuss. haha. These kids sang as in tune as anyone. They weren't voted off the show because they weren't good or because they were an all female group as they seemed to imply (Maxx Factor are all female and there are only four of them). They were solving problems and creating others in my opinion. They had star quality but it wasn't there when I closed my eyes and listened. They fall completely inside a type of a cappella group that you see on campuses and I hate to say they're a dime a dozen but they haven't found their unique voice. Having all female voices creates a challenge, but then again so does having all men frankly. And with a female group you sort of know going into it what those challenges will be. They tried to address the challenge I think but they didn't help their sound in the process. If you're still scratching your head then please imagine Sinead 'O Connor on the stage alone singing in a whisper. That would blow us away (and has) and its a cappella. Sometimes subtraction is key, dynamics and knowing your strengths. I didn't see these girls landing that plane this series although I wouldlove nothing more than for them to have great success and show us all. One TV show, one judge... just a long in the line of opinions they'll endure as we all do in our careers. They're very good and I believe we haven't heard the last of them.

MAXX FACTOR
I did hate to cut this group because they were filling a very special niche and were the most radical group in the running. Only four of them. They were basically running a race in a go cart and working out ways to stay in. They artfully implied that there was more music going on than there
actually was - that's artful in any kind of arrangement, a cappella or otherwise . They were very relaxed about the spaces they left and that was attractive musically. As much as I loved their voices, they didn't have a home run lead singer even though Leslie definitely has her own style and can hold her own. Sonically live they were very powerful, the only group that I often heard straight off stage vocally over the actual in house sound system. They tuned like a brass section, not like they'd learned from auto tune or recording separately to keyboard tracks (and muting). Unfortunately the go cart ran out of gas. They were up against equally talented groups who pulled ahead because they had the resources in terms of numbers and serious singers. So good luck Maxx Factor - your swan song was class and we expected nothing less!

SOCALS
Ouch it hurt to cut this group too. I really personally related to them as personalities and musicians but I still didn't have a solid picture of their collective musical identity and that's key to making records. They came together over the course of the series in ways none of the judges expected. I was hoping for a slay on their last song Hazy Shade of Winter, which is what it would have taken for them to have put any of the remaining groups out of business. But I felt the awkward interpretation of that song didn't help the case that the group had a 'voice'. The three remaining groups now all have solid thumbprints. I feel the SOCALS are moments away from completely knowing who they are but they're still swerving - I'd have liked for them to have had that defining moment happen during this show, but hell, if its next year then right on!

Maybe this will clarify where we're coming from, what we're listening to. And of course I'm always open to what you're hearing out there so twitter (@benjaminfolds) and let me know. One of the great things about a cappella is how powerful it is in person. It touches a nerve and moves people in a way that probably goes back to the dawn of man/(woman!). Any one of these groups would blow you away off mic in person. Its hard not to love it all when you're in the middle of it and very hard to distinguish pitch because really we're not meant to care about that stuff so much. But on TV its under the microscope and it has to live up to the high standard of perfectly tuned musical instruments. I've been learning a lot listening to the playback and the production people continue to improve on the sound. But is a genre in process, not just a TV show in process.

Sincerely,
B. Folds

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