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November 9, 2012

Making Their Voices Heard


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.