Interview with Face’s Mark Megibow

Mark Megibow, the percussionist for Face — the all-vocal group featured this week on NBC’s Sing Off — made some time in his busy schedule for an exclusive interview. My questions are in bold.

Have you noticed any increased interest in your group since the December 14 show? For instance, are your web page views or iTunes sales up?

We have received an enormous response nationwide, not just since the show aired on the 14th, but actually while the show aired. According to the ratings, there were 6-7 million viewers during our segment. Apparently people liked what they saw because we immediately saw a surge in web hits and CD sales. We are getting as many web visits in a day as we used to get in a whole month.

Was the December 14 show live, or was it pre-recorded? (At what point did you guys know you’d been cut?)

The first three episodes were all pre-recorded, so we were actually cut from the show about a week before it aired. Knowing that this was going to be our one shot, we spent the week making sure people were going to watch the first episode so they didn’t miss us. We were proud of our performance and wanted people to enjoy it, in spite of knowing the outcome.

Did the show restrict what songs you could sing, or was the decision totally up to you?

There were a lot of factors that went into song selection for the show. The network’s ability to get proper licensing for the song was a very objective restriction, and there were many subjective ones as well. We were brought on the show to be the “rock band,” so the producers wanted our first song to be pretty straight-ahead rock. Playing to a wide viewing audience, they also required that the song be “immediately recognizable to the general public.” There were so many criteria on song selection, we didn’t have a single song in our existing repertoire that matched them all, so we had to start from scratch and choose a song we’d never done prior. I would call the process a “collaborative effort,” with the final decision resting in the hands of the producers. We chose the Bon Jovi song because we felt it would be one that would show off our full range of voices — it has soaring vocals, a signature bass line, and a fun, driving beat, so we thought it was the best pick of the options presented to us.

Similarly, the producers had complete control over our image, wardrobe, and even choreography. We had the right to our own opinions, but ultimately it was their show, so they got to make the call. The producers gave us the nickname of “mountain men” and decided that was going to be their theme for our wardrobe. People who have been to our shows know that this is not how we style ourselves, but that’s what we were given for the TV show, so we decided to just do our best with what we were given.

Do you have any personal reflections you’d like to share regarding the show, its host and judges, and the other participants?

We had a blast with the other groups and staff while we were out there. All of the groups were made up of great people. We spent a lot of time together being shuttled around, as well as in group rehearsals for the opening number, so we got to know them all. We were tremendously impressed with the staff — both with everyone’s professionalism, as well as friendliness. It was a first-class production from top to bottom.

Is there any chance that you’ll collaborate with the other groups in the future, such as in a joint concert in the area?

We would love to see any of the groups again, and we told them all that as we were leaving. Obviously we have to wait for the TV show to come to a close before we can put anything together, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we wind up on stage with some of these groups again in the future.

What impact do you think the show will have on all-vocal music? Where do you see the genre headed?

I’m glad the general public is getting a main-stream introduction to how far all-vocal music has come. I think the producers picked eight great groups that will represent the genre very, very well, and that it will attract more people both as performers as well as audience members. The human voice is the most versatile instrument in existence (or more accurately, the most versatile analog instrument). Most vocal groups are still learning that the music doesn’t have to be limited to choral sounds. Face has been playing with those sounds for years, and I think even we’re still just scratching the surface. Then there are vocal groups that are starting to push the envelope using technology to assist or enhance the human voice, which is opening up a whole new world of sounds and ideas. Purists prefer to hear the unadulterated human voice, but the technology movement has had an effect on all instruments, and it’s only natural that the voice be explored in that realm as well.

It seems like most all-vocal groups concentrate on arranging and performing existing songs. Do you think all-vocal groups (perhaps including Face) will turn more to original compositions, or will the strength of the genre continue to be offering interesting interpretations of music first performed elsewhere?

Although the genre of a cappella has become extremely broad, its roots can be traced back to vocal jazz, doo-wop, and barbershop, all of which rely heavily on “the standards” or “classics.” As a cappella has grown and expanded into the realm of contemporary and popular music, it’s no surprise that most groups continue to cover existing material. In the a cappella world, this is the norm. Song-writing is a completely different skill and you will find far fewer people who are good at song-writing, versus just singing other peoples’ work. There are a number of contemporary vocal groups in the country that are singing original material and are presenting themselves as true bands, trying to make it with their own music. Face has talked for years about introducing original material into our set, and we’ve begun that process. In contrast, we have also found that the audience loves hearing songs they immediately recognize and like, but with our unique instrumentation, so our future will always include a mix of both original material and well-known classics.

Thanks, Mark! Congratulations again, and I look forward to seeing Face’s continued rise.