A Cappella group Pentatonix
started making headlines when they won season three of The Sing-Off.
With an EP released over the summer and a Christmas record coming
next week, the group’s made it pretty clear that their time
in the spotlight didn’t end when the show wrapped that season.
We were lucky enough to speak with Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying,
who gave some insight into how the group approaches their arrangements,
why they’re determined to break a cappella into the mainstream,
and the differences between recording original work and cover songs.
Let’s start with the basics. How’d the group come together?
The group started as a trio: Kirstie, Mitch, and I. We formed a trio
in high school, arranged an a cappella version of “Telephone,”
and used it to compete in a radio contest to meet the cast of Glee.
We didn’t win, but we got a lot of YouTube attention, so we
decided to try out for Season 3 of The Sing-Off. A friend of mine
from USC suggested I find a beatboxer and a bass for the group to
add some depth to our sound. We found our beatboxer on YouTube; he
had a viral video of him playing cello and beatboxing to a song called
“Julie-O.” We called him up and he was down to fly out
and try out with us. My friend also knew Avi because he was a powerhouse
bass in the a cappella community around LA, so we asked him to join
as well and he agreed! And voila! The rest is history!
How do you put together the arrangements? Does everyone contribute?
We have 2 methods. Generally, the five of us just sit in a circle
and start coming up with basic ideas and an outline for the song.
We figure out the beats and grooves we want, then Avi learns the chord
progression and puts his own spin on it, then we all sit down and
figure out background parts. After we finish that, we go back and
add “moments” to the song that make it special. A moment
would include the breakdown section of “Your Love is My Drug,”
or the measure-long silence in “Born To Be Wild,” etc.
Our second method (for
more complicated arrangements such as “Aha!”) is where
we sit down at a computer with our producer/arranger Ben Bram, and
write it all out on paper.
There are 2 original songs
on your debut EP. Did everyone participate in writing those?
“The Baddest Girl” I wrote by myself, and “Show
You How To Love” Avi and Kevin co-wrote. We all helped with
Did you find a difference in the recording/performing of your original
work versus your arrangements of cover songs?
Regarding recording, it is SO fun to record originals because you
literally have complete creative reign, and you can change lyrics/melodies/rhythms
at any time without having to reference another work. As for performing,
we initially didn’t enjoy performing our originals as much as
our covers, because people didn’t know them as well as the covers,
but since the release of our EP, fans have become much more familiar
with them, and now at our shows everyone is singing along to lyrics
we wrote, which is an incredible feeling.
How do you choose which cover songs to arrange?
Whenever one of us really wants to cover a song, we bring it to the
group and “pitch” it. When pitching, we explain our idea
for the song and why we think it would be awesome for the group. If
everyone is down, then we try to arrange it. Sometimes it works out,
sometimes it doesn’t. We also like the fans to pick our next
covers too so we have polls on our Facebook page.
Congrats on winning the third season of The Sing-Off! The show has
shined a bright light on a cappella. What kind of growth have you
seen in that genre?
Thank you! The show was incredible not only because it highlighted
a very underrated style of music, but it also focused more on authentic
musicianship than flash or glamour, which I personally found very
refreshing. The past 5 years have been a big time for a cappella!
Shows such as Glee and The Sing-Off and motion-picture Pitch Perfect
have found their way into the mainstream and become popular, boding
well for the future of a cappella. I think the mainstream public is
entering a phase where we desire true, authentic, and organic music
rather than the formulaic computer-enhanced pop stuff that is prevalent
in Top 40; thus, a cappella music is on the rise!
Were there any lessons
you learned or takeaways from being on the show?
We all learned so much, it will be hard to tell you in a concise answer,
but overall, I think the biggest thing we learned was that the only
way we were going to be successful was if we worked together and thought
outside the box. We went into the show being one of the smallest and
most inexperienced groups, and we were BEYOND intimidated; however,
after weeks of being on the show, our group started becoming a family,
and as a result, we found that we creatively and musically we were
always “on the same page.” We always started every arrangement
with “How can we make this different from the original, but
not lose the essence of the song?” That strategy really worked
What are your goals as a group, and what are you doing to work toward
We have many goals and dreams, but our biggest one would have to be
that we want to break a cappella music into the mainstream. We want
to prove that intriguing and radio-playable music can be made with
only 5 human voices. This sounds laughable to many, but we’re
ready to prove the doubters wrong!
I can see that you’re very active on your social media channels.
What are some specific ways you use these channels to engage with
We LOVE social media and we attribute it to much of our success thus
far. Twitter is a really good way to constantly promote material.
Facebook is an organized way for fans to interact with us and with
each other. For instance, we do polls on our Facebook to let the fans
decide what we will arrange next.
YouTube is not only how we keep current fans engaged and excited about
our music, but it is the perfect tool for gaining new fans as well.
YouTube users are growing exponentially every day, so we are constantly
trying to upload viral material that will expand our fanbase. We’ve
even dipped our toes in other social media sites such as tumblr, instagram,
and even the Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo. Be sure to follow
us on everything
What kind of team do you
think an artist/band needs behind them in order to find success in
I think there are a million ways to find success in the industry and
a team can consist of just a single artist or can be an entire business.
What is most important is that everyone on the team is truly passionate
and believes in the music being created.
What advice would you give to other young artists or bands working
to get their name out there?
I would say take a lot of time to really brainstorm on how you can
be unique in an industry with thousands of artists. How can you stand
out? What are things that make your music/talents special, and how
can you capitalize on that? Also, try to upload well-made videos on
YouTube and see peoples’ reactions.
It’s a cut-throat industry, so it’s important not to get
down. I personally have received thousands of NOs in my lifetime.
I’ve been rejected from multiple shows and have been rejected
from TONS of auditions, but I stuck to it because it was my passion
and in the end it really paid off.
What can we look forward to next from Pentatonix?
I don’t want to give away too much, but we have a lot of REALLY
fun stuff coming up. Our first-ever Christmas record will be released
on November 13, touring for the rest of 2012 and a huge North American
tour in 2013 as well as more albums! 2013 is going to be a big year!