James Cannon is, without a doubt, one of the loudest a cappella producers out there – his dynamic personality serving as a real-life counterpoint to the hard-hitting music he produces. A master with sequenced percussion and a go-to source for soulful tracks, Cannon is a talent with a sound and style all his own – just listen to his work on “Earthquake,” as performed by the Techtonics from the Imperial College of London for proof.
He has played a role in producing some of the most pulse-pounding offerings in the a cappella community, from his work on a cappella festival collaborative tracks (most recently, the cover of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” recorded by a who’s who of a cappella attendees at SoJam 2012), to staying ahead of the curve by mixing and producing tracks of up-and-coming mainstream chart-topper hits (such as his work on Ari Chalk’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie”) – not to mention his works for collegiate and professional groups from all parts of America, and across the pond in England.
For someone so successful in contemporary vocal music, it may come as a surprise that Cannon got his start as an instrumentalist.
“I’m a classically trained … [on] clarinet, baritone sax, trombone, flute … and I spent high school as basically the king of band geeks,” he explained, additionally noting that he was his high school’s drum major and a first chair clarinetist.
When he arrived at Cornell University, he ultimately found himself in co-ed ensemble The Chordials. It was in that group that he would begin to evolve into the fiercely talented a cappella musician that he is today, with the help of his increasing involvement in contemporary vocal music and his engagement with members of the a cappella community at large.
As he assumed the role of musical director for the Chordials, and endeavored to bring their recorded game to the next level, Cannon began to find his calling as a producer.
“I joined [the forum for the Recorded A cappella Review Board] and started studying a cappella about 8 months before [the production of] ‘Arrival’ – before completing it 9 months later, I’d produced four other albums for other groups,” he said, crediting the help of established producers such as Bill Hare, Tat Tong, Dave Sperandio, Ed Boyer and Rob Dietz for their support and mentoring as he developed his talents and formed his own identity as a producer.
His career took off from there, earning approximately 25 CARAs and producing an estimated 40 Best of Collegiate A cappella tracks (in addition to work that has appeared on SING and Voices Only). And in an effort to help others hone their craft, Cannon has teamed up with Dave Longo of Sled Dog Studios and Tat Tong of T2 Productions to create a program called Next Level.
He has also worked outside of the realm of a cappella, producing hip-hop tracks for up-and-coming talents and using his innate skills with beats to create infectious, ear-grabbing sounds. His work with up-and-coming talent Chance Fisher has been critically acclaimed on several prominent hip-hop blogs, including The Smoking Section and Pigeons & Planes, and “Greatest Feeling Ever” – a track he produced for Spits Nelson – earned a spot on Music Choice’s top 20 list.
However, though his work is highly regarded both in and out of the a cappella world, and his star only shows signs of continually rising as more projects move their way to completion, Cannon admitted that he is never happy with his work – an attribute he credits in regards to his success.
“Every melisma can be perfected, every drum can hit harder, every mix can be a bit cleaner – or dirtier if the style calls for such,” he said. “This is the gift and the curse, I’d say, of a lot of good producers.”