Lessons From Pentatonix

Origin From: Total Vocal
Author: Deke Sharon
Date: 2012-12-22

They're everywhere, and they make it look easy. Pentatonix has had many stumbling blocks in their path but you wouldn't know it from their rapid rise to fame and incessant viral buzz. Yes, they're great people and yes they're very talented, but that's hardly enough in today's music business. Whether you're a middle-school quartet or a Sweet Adeline chorus of septuagenarians, there's much to be learned from Pentatonix:

Steady stream of content

The late 20th century business model of album releases every couple of years is now dead. We're back to the early days of rock and roll, where singles are king, although rather than radio, the driving promotional tool is the internet. PTX has yet to release a full-length album, but it doesn't matter as they've got 2 EPs released, and more importantly  they're making and posting videos every month, sometimes every week. A steady stream of content that feeds and reminds their easily distracted 21st century fan base that they're always working and constantly relevant. 

Identifiable sound

Before they open their mouths, you have an idea of what you're going to hear: Kevin's kenetic percussion, Avi's rumbling, overtone laden bass, and a tight-voiced trio with a solo line floating in and out as needed. Pentatonix has their own sound, and although it might seem obvious now, think of all of the different a cappella quintets you've heard around the world, and how many different sounds and styles you can cover with five voices. PTX doesn't bother with that, as they're not trying to do everything, they're trying to do one thing very very well. As I was fond of saying on "The Sing-Off", they "don't go to the song" they "bring each song to them." And that's why their fans want to click on each link: to see how they've interpreted the latest hit. 

First to market

I'll bet their a cappella versions of current hit songs are often the first a cappella versions you've heard of those songs. And you're an a cappella insider. For the general public, I can pretty much guarantee they're first, over and over again. Being "first to market" provides a clear advantage for them, as they're time and time again defining the a cappella versions in people's minds and ears. 

Outside perspective

His name is Ben Bram, and he does it all: he helped put the group together, he helps them arrange, he records them, he tour manages them, mixes their shows on the road. But none of that is perhaps the single greatest thing he does for the group. Above all, he's their eyes and ears. He can see what they do, how they sound, and help them with a nip here, a tuck there. A supportive word when needed, a gentle reminder. The value of a trusted outside advisor cannot be overestimated, as it quickly took them from diamond in the rough to diamond. If you don't have someone like this for your group, find someone.

True to themselves

Pentatonix is not trying to be all things to all people, as is sometimes the case with a cappella groups. They don't have one set for rock clubs, another for theaters and another for corporate events. Granted, they became known for their sound on television which helped popularize them right away, but look at other groups from "The Sing-Off", and you'll see it's the same: Nota, Committed, Street Corner Symphony, Afro Blue. Click on any video, and you'll see they all have retained their sound and style, and continue to reinforce it with each decision, each song. At their core, they're all true to themselves, and audiences like this, as it's sends a clearly defined image and message. 

True to their image

What you see is what you get. Is Kevin really that excitable? Yes. Is Avi really that nuts about a cappella? Yes. Are they all as nice and as sincerely grateful as they seem? Absolutely. Their image is an accurate reflection of reality. They're nice people who love each other and work very very hard, not taking a moment for granted. They live near each other and hang out all the time because they want to. It's cute to follow their tweets, when two of the guys will be tweeting back and forth, and you know they're sitting next to each other backstage. They love singing and they love each other. A perfect formula. 

Room for more

You might think I've just given away several trade secrets and potentially undermined Pentatonix's success, but the opposite is true. If there's one thing we can do to help them, it's to continue the growth of a cappella in the major media by creating more great groups, more viral videos, more appearances here, there and everywhere. Nirvana benefitted from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the like, because it went from one breakout group in Seattle to "the grunge movement" which was written about everywhere and now holds a chapter in the book of rock and roll. Learn from PTX, learn from Straight No Chaser, learn from all the other groups that are out there on the road, and help them by getting good and getting popular. Help them by helping yourself.



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