By John Colton | November 29, 2013
Eight Beat Measure is the oldest established a cappella group at Rochester Institute of Technology, one of six groups on campus. Founded in 1987 as the “RIT Men’s Octet”, in the mid-'90s they transitioned into their current more contemporary form. They sing a variety of music; this past year, their choices have ranged from Usher to disco to classic rock to Celtic folk songs. Recently they’ve been making a splash in the collegiate a cappella world. Last year they advanced to the ICCA semifinals, came out with their first full studio album (Heatin’ Up, released in the fall of 2012), and received four CARA nominations on three songs. They’ve also decided to release several singles this year and next year as free downloads. The group records its albums at the nearby The Vocal Company studios, where alumnus David Longo serves as CEO.
We at RARB were intrigued by their plan for free singles, so I sat down with several members of Eight Beat Measure for an interview: Jack Kelleher (president), Andrew Athias (PR director), Cory Nitschelm (business manager), and Brian Clanton (music director).
RARB: You mentioned that you are the first group from your school to put out a studio album. How did you fund that?
Cory Nitschelm: Most of our revenue comes from gigging. RIT doesn’t provide us with funds, but we do have a good relationship with them. We get some money from online sales of CDs as well as physical sales of CDs, and concerts.
Brian Clanton: Some donations too, from alumni.
Andrew Athias: And crowd sourcing…
CN: We used crowdtilt.com to get our new attire at the beginning of last year.
RARB: The thing that caught the attention of RARB was this new idea that you have about recording singles. Could you explain it to me?
BC: The rhythm that we’ve gotten into, is that one of our members arranges the song and we perform it for about a year until we start recording it. We realize that there’s a difference between a live arrangement and a studio arrangement, so we enlist the help of professional arrangers to edit our existing live arrangements for the studio. Then, if we continue singing the song into the next year we usually take that studio arrangement and edit it back to live by removing some of the extra parts. So we sing the song in one version, then we edit it and fix it up—make it even better through professional help—and then the next year sing a more improved live version of the song.
RARB: And you’re offering some of these as free downloads?
JK: Yeah. Basically, what we’re looking to do for our next album [to be released in the fall of 2014], is to do more of a concept album; some songs that are high quality might not fit this, so we’ve decided to just record them separately. Also, we like to get in the studio because why not? It doesn’t hurt to have songs like that. It also gets our new members that vital experience. And basically, we are pushing to get a high quality product out there at a low cost to entry. There’s really not a better way to do that than to release our music for free, let people listen to it and download it, and share it with their friends. We realize that we could put a song on iTunes for a dollar, and someone might listen to a sample and think, “Oh I like that”—but then they might not want to pay for it, so they are done. They won’t listen to it again, because they don’t have the song. So our whole mission is to get our music out to people and let them do whatever they want with it.
RARB: But the studio time to record, and so forth, must cost money, so how are you recouping that?
JK: It does cost money. We try to get some of that back by using our singles. We’re going to try to strategically release them near our concerts, to get people to go to our shows. And we work really hard [to make this possible]. Cory’s exceptional at getting us paid gigs. We’re working on getting merchandise to sell. We’re probably going to do a high school tour over winter break. We love our fans, they’re our life blood. Without their support we wouldn’t be anywhere. So, if it means we have to do an extra gig or two to get the song recorded, mixed, and edited, we’re doing that because we want to give back to our fans. Something else that helps — The Vocal Company gives us a good deal on the recording, and with Dave Longo being an alumnus of our group, he really pushes us to succeed.
RARB: Will there be all new material on the Fall 2014 album, or are you incorporating some of these free singles into it?
CN: If it does happen, don’t expect more than two [of the singles], though probably just one.
RARB: Whose idea was it to start releasing singles like this?
JK: It happened last year when we were in the studio with Carry Out, our first track done for “Heatin’ Up”. Dave Longo brought up the idea and we just loved it. We released it for free at our concert in the spring, just as a thing for our fans to hype up our album.
RARB: How many free singles have you released so far? Carry Out was the first one, and how many from then?
JK: Carry Out, then Scream, and then Panic Station. We also decided to release our [other two] CARA nominated tracks for free, just to get people to listen to them, to kind of add to the CARA buzz around the a cappella community. They are still free. That’s five tracks, and that’s probably five more than most a cappella groups have!
RARB: What’s your main goal behind this whole project?
JK: It’s obviously not financially driven, since we’re releasing the tracks for free, but we do get people to our concerts—which is great. I think our main goal is just to get our product out there and be recognized. We were in the ACAs recently, nominated for favorite collegiate album, and favorite male collegiate group. It kind of speaks to the results. We’re just trying to get our brand out there and have it be associated with a high level of a cappella.
AA: A lot of the really well known groups had their own way of getting known… The Sing-Off, the ICCAs, and so forth. We’re just trying to take a different approach. [Our goal starts] locally with our fans on campus, to be the “best group” on campus, and then extends out to the greater Rochester area, then to the New York area, and country wide, to where people in Oregon, California, and Minnesota can hear the name “Eight Beat Measure”, and they’ll know exactly who and what we are.
RARB: What have been some of the challenges with this process?
BC: One of the huge challenges that Eight Beat faces, is that RIT is a tech school, and also a co-op where a lot of the students have mandatory internships that they have to do, so often group members will have to leave for parts of the year. The people in the group are ever changing.
AA: Another thing is that we don’t have a music program at this school. Most collegiate a cappella groups have someone, perhaps the music director, studying something like musical theater or music education. None of us are studying music. Most of us are engineers, physics majors, game design majors, and programmers. We sit and make code all day, and then go and sing music! So we’re a group that doesn’t study music, yet we’re still trying to be successful—and we are ultimately being successful at what we do.
RARB: How has this been received, and what will the future hold?
JK: When we released Scream, we released it with our ticket sales. We announced it on Facebook. Everywhere we were, we said, “Listen to this song! Click here and listen!” And over the first 8 days it got 800 plays. People were tweeting about it, and writing on our Facebook page, and coming up to us and telling us how much they loved it. When we released Panic Station, we made small business cards and put them under every single freshman dorm room door. The cards had QR codes, a link to our singles, and the dates to our auditions. That got about 400 plays in 3 weeks, which is a little less than we anticipated, but we never really advertised it [aside from the cards]. But, for both tracks, we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback in person, and it’s cool to see people actively interested in the success of our group. We even have non-a cappella people listening to it…a friend [another group member] and I take a class together and once we had to go in our Eight Beat attire: a black dress shirt, black jeans, black blazer, and orange tie. We got recognized by four or five people in the class. Maybe with the next single we’ll time the release to be at an a cappella festival or something like that. But we really don’t know what the future holds except we’re going to keep doing what we do, and keep making music we love. And hopefully keep giving away free singles to our fans.
The singles are available for download at soundcloud.com/8beatmeasure.