At Harvard Business School, the tradition of men’s a cappella singing dates back to 1947 and the founding of “The Tycoons.” This group of “monetary musicians” brought good cheer to the campus for over 25 years before succumbing to the pressures of the radical 60’s, the corrupt 70’s, and the conspicuous early 80’s. At the end of the 80’s, however, the group was reborn as Heard On The Street (HOTS). Since then, HOTS has filled HBS’s hallowed halls with music and laughter (and a bit of 80’s pop, which the administration neither endorses nor acknowledges).
HOTS is composed of male RC’s and EC’s, partners, and friends with a wide variety of musical backgrounds (including voices trained both at the conservatory and in the shower). Given this diversity, HOTS performs a mixed repertoire at a variety of functions. Such performance include a campus concert each semester and gigs for the HBS Board of Trustees, the faculty dinner, admitted students’ dinner, graduation, and various executive education events. The highlight of the HOTS experience (not withstanding the annual NAACP show on campus – no joke, they rock!!!) is recording our annual CD.
Last year HOTS recorded in a studio outside Boston that was reminiscent of the classic settings seen in the movies: a large, microphone-filled room adjacent to a smaller room stocked with recording tables and computers behind which a ragged engineer (looking like he has been awake and partying for 3 weeks straight – kind of like Foundations) manipulates a slew of knobs and dials. Each singer was given a microphone, which, while singing together, allowed a separate recording to be simultaneously captured on 12 independent sound tracks. After each take we would listen, re-record, listen, and re-record ad nauseum until the recording was perfect. In the event of imperfection, recording is a humbling experience, as we could listen to each of the 12 tracks to find out which singer screwed up (then we humiliate him publicly). The humiliation was slightly offset, however, by our choosing to wear our headphones sideways to look cool and not mess up our hair.
All in all, we recorded 12 songs in 3 sessions, from 5pm to 2 am-roughly 27 hours of work for a whopping 40 minutes on the CD, indicating an average of 7 takes per song. Sound like low ratios? Maybe from a TOM perspective, but professional artists often record for months until they are satisfied. Some even find it cheaper to build their own recording studio in their homes (we’re currently in discussions with Mr. Spangler about this) than to rent a studio. Recording, however, is just the beginning of the story. The real trick of the music trade is editing.
Good editing can make a boy with a tin can and a stick sound like the
drummer from Motley Crew. Imperfections that are hardly noticeable in a live concert become blatantly obvious on a CD. Like Superman, editing changes the direction of the earth’s rotation and enables us to improve the sound of music that has already been recorded by varying the level of “presence” of each individual voice in the final track (i.e., we turn off the mikes of anyone who goes off key or more frequently turn down the volume of any voice singing too loud). After digitally adding ambiance, the acoustics of your kitchen will sound like Madison Square Garden. We could tell you more, but then we would have to kill you.
The economics? CD production is relatively cheap. Marketing and distribution make up a majority of the shelf price, as was proved by the blah-blah theorem from first year marketing (you do remember taking marketing?). Recording, editing, mastering, and reproducing our 2,500 CDs cost about $6,000. Inexplicably, Fidelity once again sponsored the album, so please buy or use whatever services they offer you. Thank you!
“Disruptive Harmonies” will soon be on sale at the Coop for $10, with $5 going to the Red Cross. It makes a great gift idea since you’ve already given an HBS t-shirt to everyone you’ve ever met. More importantly, if you feel like singing outside the shower this year, please contact Laurent de Vitton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sing-On!