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Essentials – with John Kjøller

You’d think that an a cappella group wouldn’t need much technology. Actually, we rely on many devices to help us to achieve the quality we’re aiming for. We tour heavily and there are many things I would not leave home without:

1. Metronome (Boss DB-60)
I’ve been packing around an electric metronome for years. As you can well imagine, having an a cappella act means that we have to learn not only the notes by heart, but also the tempo. So, we rely heavily on this little device in each rehearsal. I also use it to evaluate our recordings – to see if we have stayed on tempo. The Boss metronome can also play notes; thus, I also use it in the postmortem to see if we’ve stayed on-pitch.

2. Macbook with Finale 2008
With the tight and complex harmonic singing we do, it’s not enough for us to agree that a song is in E major, and then just “wing it” – or jam. We have to agree on who is doing what (i.e. the guitar-sound, the fifth in the chord, etc.). This planning helps us avoid several members suddenly singing the minor seventh and one deciding to spice it up with a major seventh—that could turn out really nasty! The fastest way to plan our harmonies is to put them on paper. That’s what I do with Finale. Sometimes it turns out that a song doesn’t really work the way it was intended and, again, Finale helps me out. I can quickly rearrange the song and hand out the new arrangement to the rest of the guys.

3. Roland Edirol R-09 Recorder
The Edirol has a really nice digital quality, and is already in mp3 format, so it’s easy to transfer to my computer. The mic in the Edirol is fairly good too. We’ve been recording concerts and rehearsals for years, but it’s only recently that we’ve been doing this consistently. I usually evaluate a performance alone. If there is a consistent error or weak spot throughout the recording, I send out evaluation comments to the guys. Every once in a while I send an Edirol file to the guys and ask them to evaluate themselves. I ask them to find things that they would like to improve on each song and write it down to make it a goal. Recently, after listening to a number of recordings, we discovered that we had slightly different perceptions of the general sound than our sound engineer had; so, we have spent a few sound-checks changing balances and effects – thanks to the Edirol.

4. iPod, 30GB
I use my iPod to clear my head and listen to something different to the concert I’m doing. Last week I needed my head cleared! Our sound-check didn’t go too well; the venue was “loud” and therefore our in-ear system didn’t perform well, making it difficult to intonate. At times like these, I really need to try to get in a better and more constructive/creative mood and that’s where inspiration from another artists can help me out. So, I find a spot somewhere by myself and flick the switch. On the tour bus when everybody is so tired that they actually get excited and giddy (read: noisy and annoying), the iPod comes to rescue (unless, of course, I am one of the giddy ones that particular day!).

5. Nokia N95 (8GB) Smartphone
This is my lifeline back home. I’m actually not very good with all this traveling; I get homesick, so my phone is essential. I love how easily my Nokia synchronizes via blue-tooth with my computer, Address Book and iCal. Have I said that I get homesick? Skype on my Mac helps too – I make video calls with everybody at home – often! Chocolate also soothes the loneliness – too bad it comes with a larger waistline. Belgian chocolate is the best, though I have been known to pig out on something of lesser quality. Since we’re on the subject, Marzipan is a top priority as well: try Danish Anton Berg with chocolate! (Or, if that isn’t available: Ritter Sport Marzipan and Chocolate.)

Useful Links

John Kjøller on Vocal Perfection

Basix Website

Boss Metronome DB-60


Roland Edirol R-09

Ipod, 30GB

Nokia N95 (8GB) Smartphone

Danish Anton Berg

Belgian Chocolate

John Kjøller is a member and vocal director of the hit a cappella group Basix. With their energetic and dynamic vocal harmonies, Basix is rapidly gaining an international following . Basix’ latest album Star People now available worldwide at all major online outlets including iTunes.

© John Kjøller and Gregory A. Barker 2009