Producer Profile: Danny Ozment

Ozment 300x190 Producer Profile: Danny Ozment

Danny Ozment. (Credit: emeraldcitypro.com)

Danny Ozment is one whose name is well-known in the a cappella community. A board member for the Contemporary A cappella Society of America and the owner of Emerald City Productions, Ozment is an active and talented contributor to the world of contemporary vocal music.

It was a world unknown to the Richmond, Va. native before he began furthering his education – first earning a bachelors degree in music education from James Madison University, then a masters degree in conducting from the same institution of higher learning.

“I hadn’t heard of contemporary a cappella until college when I joined The Madison Project at JMU,” Ozment said. “I went on to start another group there – Exit 245 – but after getting my degree, I left the a cappella world for several years.”

Once he discovered a cappella, it didn’t take long for him to cultivate his interests not just as a performer, but as a recording engineer as well. He credits fellow producer James Gammon with showing him the way to turn his beloved interest into a career.

“After a few months I took the plunge and posted on the CASA forums that I’d be available to record some groups for free if they were willing to put up with me learning on the job,” he said. “Bill Hare, [Dave Speran]dio, James Gammon and Ed Boyer were extremely open and supportive with their advice during my first year.”

He added, “Without them, I don’t know where I’d be now. After that first year I was able to work part time at my day job and now I operate Emerald City Productions full time.”

The sense of community he felt as he became involved with a cappella at an increasing rate, combined with his deep-rooted choral sensibilities, combined to inspire Ozment’s love of others in a cappella, and his awe at the capabilities of human voices making music together.

Ozment’s future is bright, with big plans on the horizon. Some highlights include his work on a King’s Singers 2013 release on Signum Classics and continued work on the “Sing Me A Song” series, an a cappella compilation for kids. The first volume in this series, released through A Cappella Records in December of 2012, featured NOTA, Overboard, Cluster, Rajaton, Peter Hollens and Postyr Project, among others. Ozment will also continue to offer his award-winning services to groups throughout the nation – and the world.

He’s fueled forward by one strong, driving force – passion. Not only his, but that of the performers with which he so frequently works as well.

He explained, “Whether it’s a cover or an original, I really love when I can believe what a singer is singing into the microphone.”

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Producer Profile: James Cannon

Cannon 300x300 Producer Profile: James Cannon

James Cannon. (Credit: Facebook.com)

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.”

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Producer Profile: Tat Tong

Tat Producer Profile: Tat Tong

Tat Tong. (Credit: tattong.com/t2productions)

Tat Tong – exceptionally driven, internationally successful and deeply knowledgeable – is an a cappella producer who has reached well beyond the confines of the American contemporary vocal music world and forged a successful, prolific career in the production of Asian mainstream pop music.

According to the website for his company, T2 Productions, Tong has served as the brains behind almost 30 chart-topping hits in six countries throughout Asia. Also an accomplished songwriter (presently signed with Universal Music Publishing and on the receiving end of several other songwriting contracts), he has composed for both critically acclaimed Asian musicians and for advertising campaigns by major companies such as 7-Eleven Taiwan and PepsiCo Foods China.

Despite his mainstream successes, though, Tong has remained an influential presence in the a cappella world, garnering a slew of Contemporary A cappella Recording Award (CARA) nominations and wins while mixing/mastering the tracks of countless clients who have then found their way onto well-respected compilations such as the Best of Collegiate A cappella, SING and Voices Only.

Juggling multiple successful ventures is nothing new to Tong – even at the beginning of his a cappella career, he was accustomed to wearing multiple hats, and wearing them well.

“My journey in a cappella began with my time in Last Call, an all-male a cappella group in Cornell University,” he told A Cappella Records. “I was a baritone, occasional [vocal percussionist], arranger, and assistant [musical director], at various points in my time in the group.”

Tong also got his feet wet with recording during his tenure in Last Call, by co-producing the group’s successful studio offering, “Straight Up.”

“This was a milestone album for the group – our first DIY dorm-room recording, and the first time we were hiring famous mixing engineers for the job – at that point, we had chosen Bill Hare, John Clark, Dave Sperandio, and Dylan Bell for various mixes,” he recalled.

However, the higher the group set its sights, the higher their budget became. To save money, Tong himself took on the job of mixing several tracks – and they were hits with the a cappella community.

Encouraged by his initial success, Tong pushed himself further, first by forming the CARA-nominated one-man vocal band S.T.C. to expand his a cappella production portfolio, then by significantly expanding his roster of clients (and teaming up with several other producers to form the now-defunct alliance known as VocalSource in the process).

As time went by, the a cappella accolades continued to add up for Tong. However, after he moved back to his native Singapore, he began to establish himself more and more as a mainstream producer of music.

“Business continued to grow until my commitments in mainstream pop music forced me to reduce my number of a cappella clients and focus only on the premium niche of the market,” he explained, adding that he has still found some time to produce music for some of the biggest names in the aca-game. “I’m thankful that through this time, the very best groups including Pentatonix, The Backbeats, and Ithacappella have continued to work with me on their music.”

Several songwriting contracts and mainstream music awards later – including a 2012 Pop Album of the Year Award in the Philippines, and a Top 20 Song of the Year award at the 2011 Global Chinese Music Awards – Tong hopes to ride the wave of his own success and spread his musical influence to other countries and continents around the globe.

“I am looking to make inroads into the United States, European, and Australian markets in the next few years, and aim for my songs and productions to chart in these countries soon,” he said. “I will be setting up a second base in Los Angeles later this year, in order to bring my hit songwriting and production skills to the American market.”

But no matter what, he hopes to always keep a cappella – and the people involved with it – as a significant part of his life.

Tong noted, “[A] cappella is really about community: my participation in SoJam in 2011 and 2012 really drove home this fact. It is truly a rare and wonderful thing to have a community that is this open, accepting and friendly to all sorts of people, doing all styles of music. We all enjoy the friendship of many incredible people, just because of a cappella. This is the main reason I want to continue making a cappella music, even as my mainstream music business continues to develop and grow.”

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Producer Profile: Tom Anderson

anderson Producer Profile: Tom Anderson

Tom Anderson. (Credit: acappellafest.com)

Tom Anderson, a cappella arranger extraordinaire and the man behind the music of many of aca-solo artist Peter Hollens‘ greatest works, is a name practically synonymous with greatness in the a cappella world –  especially when it comes to arranging music.

The current president of the Contemporary A cappella Society of America, Anderson is looked to, trusted and respected as a true leader in the a cappella world.

And as an arranger, his work with Hollens is just one of many testaments to his prolific talents. But aside from continually crafting music for one of the genre’s most respected solo artists, Anderson has worked with groups across the nation with his own company, Random Notes LLC.

For Anderson, working in a cappella is a no-brainer.

“The sound of vocal harmony is something that I’ve loved for as long as I can recall listening to popular music,” Anderson said, adding that the Beach Boys and Boyz II Men had a large influence on him during his formative years.

After growing up and graduating high school, he earned his education from the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire on a jazz piano scholarship. He received a degree in music composition in 2002, and has been working his way to the top of the a cappella arranging game ever since.

Before graduating from UWEC, though, he garnered several arranging and vocal percussion awards while competing in the International Championship of Collegiate A cappella with Fifth Element, a group he helped start at school. After graduation, Anderson was a member of celebrated professional vocal band Ball in the House, departing just as Hollens was entering the group.

It was that connection that led to the arrangement that would take Anderson’s career to the next level.

He arranged a piece for the University of Oregon’s On the Rocks called “Kyrie,” by Mr. Mister. The song was a smash hit, for OTR and Anderson alike, and his career took off from there. Now, years later, he has worked with some of the most respected groups and studios in existence, including The Swingle Singers, Cluster, and Sled Dog Studios – just to name a few.

And he shows no signs of stopping, bringing his talents to Off-Broadway musicals and teaching others at festivals such as VoCAL Nation while continuing to arrange for groups who frequently earn their way onto respected a cappella compilations and into the finals for the International Championships of College and High School A cappella – all with the help of Anderson’s uniquely complex and thoughtful arrangements.

It might be, in part, due to not only his high self-standards of quality. But what makes his work special is that Anderson also aims, with every arrangement he does, to make his pieces truly speak to their audiences.

“…Emotional resonance – that, to me, is the more powerful of the two [things that inspire me], and the more difficult to capture, perhaps because it’s more personal and subjective,” he noted. “The unfettered melancholy of a Tom Waits ballad, the wrenching sense of nascent alienation in Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know,’ or the nostalgic sense of home in James Taylor’s ‘Letter in the Mail’ might not strike a chord with every listener, [but] they do with me.”

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Producer Profile: Deke Sharon

DekeSharon 239x300 Producer Profile: Deke Sharon

Deke Sharon. (Credit: dekesharon.com)

The a cappella community is blessed with a true glut of talent, ambition, and camaraderie. There are so many who are ready and willing to offer their time and expertise in the name of bettering the genre overall.

When tasked with making a list of the most respected, many would find it easy to name at least a few of their fellow musicians. And we assure you that every a cappella person would include Deke Sharon on that who’s-who list.

Sharon, a San Francisco native, has been enamored with vocal harmony for as long as he can remember.

“I started singing in church choir at age 5, and at age 7 joined the SF Boys Chorus,” he said. “I loved singing, and I guess I was good at it as I was the youngest member in the top SFBC ensemble, but that didn’t matter much.”

He added, “And I loved the sound of improvised harmony, around the campfire. Simple lines, simple songs, but it grabbed me.”

He made his way cross-country for college, to attend Tufts University and sing with the widely-celebrated Beelzebubs after they sang at his school – and subsequently changed his life.

“I sang lead in the quartet in the Music Man freshman year of high school, loved it, kept it going for 4 years during lunch with various singers,” he recalled. “[W]hen the Bubs came to my high school and sang as a sophomore, that was it. Game over. Everything came together.”

He worked his way up to musically directing the group, arranging songs in a way that can only be described as entirely innovative. His work on “Foster Street,” the 1990-1991 Bubs album, is regarded commonly as the creation of what we now know as the sound of contemporary a cappella.

Sharon continued his education at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he further honed his skills as an accomplished singer and arranger of a cappella music.

While completing his extensive education, he created the Contemporary A cappella Society of America, the beginnings of TotalVocal (his arranging service), and introduced the east coast to the Harmony Sweepstakes.

Sharon is also a driving force behind the creation and continued success of the Best of College A cappella compilation series, CASA’s Contemporary A cappella League, and the International Championship of Collegiate A cappella.

His influence is also known through his consultation work with NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” which later developed in to an Executive Music Producer role with Dutch Sing-Off. He additionally arranged for the widely-popular movie “The Social Network” and musically directed and arranged for “Pitch Perfect,” the competitive a cappella movie that took the nation by storm last fall – and an accompanying soundtrack that has risen up the mainstream charts.

Sharon, presently a member of the House Jacks, is also a fantastic performer, whose vocals (and instrumental emulations) have delighted audiences for over 20 years. As a performer, arranger and producer of recorded and live a cappella music, he has won more awards than we could even try to count.

And he happily shares all that he has learned in an annual seminar, “Soup2Nuts,” co-hosted with fellow a cappella legend Bill Hare (in addition to advice offered through his writing for CASA, his talks at a cappella festivals, and countless interactions he’s found the time to have with those hoping to become involved with the a cappella community).

Sharon’s career represents what happens when immense skill, a knack for invention, and a simple, true love are combined – it’s the sort of mix that leads to truly great things. For him, it’s especially all about the love.

Said Sharon, “I love entertaining a crowd, and love making great music. I love passion over precision, especially now where precision can be so easily digitally manufactured. I love original music, although there’s far too little in a cappella. I love the pure joy with which a scholastic group sings when they let go and just revel in the music and their youth.”

That’s merely the short list – it seems almost everything about a cappella inspires him to keep going, keep performing, keep creating. And for that, as well as all that he has done for our musical community, we are truly thankful.

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