To many reading the title of this article, you’re probably thinking the following… “What are you talking about? It’s always been a great time for choral music!!” And of course, you would be right. For people that are choral musicians and enthusiasts, we already know the tremendous attributes of voices combined in song. It’s a regular part of our lives.
But from the standpoint of the musical world– especially that vast and arduous expanse which is pop music– the choral arts are getting high praise and lots of new exposure. Take this recent article from Ashley Lee of Billboard.com highlighting the successes of Texas pop phenom group Pentatonix…
Alongside needle-moving, genre-defying priority releases on the RCA Records slate — Sia‘s 1000 Forms of Fear and “Weird Al” Yankovic‘s Mandatory Fun among them — is the new album by Pentatonix, highlighting one of the oldest musical forms: a cappella vocals.
But before you cry “Gregorian chant,” don’t call it a fad: Pentatonix — an electro-infused five-piece that formed for NBC’s The Sing-Off in 2011 (and won) and cut its teeth on cover songs before graduating to instrument-less videos of Lorde and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hits, original songs and brand alignments with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Oreo — has collected more than 520 million cumulative YouTube views and boasts more subscribers than Avicii and Beyoncé. So for the group’s major-label debut, PTX Vol. 3, on Sept. 23, “we expect it to be a pull, not a push,” says RCA president/COO Tom Corson. Industry sources predict an opening week of 50,000-plus units (the act has sold 475,000 albums and 1.5 million downloads to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan), which should be good for a top 10 debut on the Billboard 200.
Indeed, the seriousness with which Pentatonix hones its craft has made a cappella an attractive booking for promoters, too. “It was challenging at first,” says manager Jonathan Kalter of handpicking seated and standing-room venues that could be calibrated to the act’s sound needs. “Once promoters understood that anywhere Pentatonix went, they’d sell tickets — which is all promoters care about — it was a matter of finding the room.”
The group just wrapped an international tour — including a North American leg that grossed $1.1 million (its top stop: New York’s seated Beacon Theatre, with more than $186,000 in ticket sales) — with a 90-minute set that included choreography, storytelling and solo moments for the singers. But can that live showmanship translate into a hit? Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying says it’s a matter of making “an a cappella sound that’s unique” without trying to emulate instruments. “It’s just five people singing, and it works.”
The above article was from the September issue of Billboard Magazine. Just this week, Pentatonix’s newest release That’s Christmas to Me debuted at number 3 on the US Billboard 200 albums chart, above all but two “standard” pop music acts. This marks their highest ever debut on the chart, and their highest ever 1 week sales figures. Check out this track from the new album… a cover of Mary Did You Know?…
Groups like Pentatonix are showing that there is growing interest in choral music. But for the classical realm, some may be left to wonder why this interest isn’t necessarily showing in ticket sales or record purchases. While it is true that overall sales of classical sub-genres are down when compared to the greater market, this may be more of a format problem (classical music simply isn’t as widely available on streaming services or in digital formats) than an indicator of waning interest among the general public. For younger listeners, the discovery process is vastly different. Social media, especially YouTube, has become a critical force in the way that the Millennial generation encounters new forms of music. So it’s now more important than ever for good choirs of all genres to have a solid social media presence. Pentatonix wouldn’t be where they are today without their loyal online fans.
Other choirs are catching up, to their great benefit. One Texas choral group, the Houston Chamber Choir, has worked in recent years to build its social media following with positive results. Though they operate in a different genre than Pentatonix, their increased YouTube presence has served well to bring attention for the group outside of the Houston area, and even spread the word about upcoming concerts. Here is a video one of the group’s recent concerts…
Whether classical standard, primal folk tune or pop rock, choral groups have always a great vehicle for great music. Pentatonix may be the first choral group in a long time to achieve wide-ranging, national success in the charts, but it’s safe to assume to that will not be the last. Everyone in the music industry struggles with the nebulous new reality that is social media and streaming, but fear of the unknown is no reason to hold back or sit out. Indeed, it is a great time for choral music. As we find more ways to connect to our audience, the times will get even better.