By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com
It is a privilege to welcome singer Peter Hollens to Jake’s Take!
The Sony Music Masterworks artist first captured the attention of the nation when he appeared as a soloist for the University of Oregon’s male a cappella group On The Rocks on the sophomore season of NBC’s The Sing-Off.
After the group placed fifth on the singing competition, he set off to build his own solo career. Along the way, Peter continued to showcase his talents on YouTube. He released over 100 videos have been viewed over 95,541,921 times and his channel has over 967,304 subscribers.
In addition to putting his unique spin on current Top 40 favorites and classic tracks, Peter has collaborated with a smorgasbord of artists such as Sabrina Carpenter, Jackie Evancho, Hunter Hayes, Lindsey Stirling and music legend Brian Wilson.
In this edition of A Conversation, Peter talked about the rise of a cappella in mainstream music, his recording process and shared which YouTube icon played a vital role in the establishment of his solo career.
Jacob Elyachar: When did you get interested in music? How did that passion for music evolve into the desire of having a career in the recording industry?
Peter Hollens: It all started back in eighth grade, when I made a deal with my mother. I was going to be a freshman and I desperately wanted to drop my French class because my teacher and I did not get along. My mom told me: “Okay, I will let you drop the French class, if you would take choir when you start your freshman year!” At the time, I lived in a small town and my perception of singing was that only girls sang and it was not cool if guys sang. I ended up trying it out and immediately fell in love with it. I had a hard time in high school. I was labeled the class nerd and everyone picked on me. But, music gave me the confidence I needed.
Because my choir teacher instilled in me the confidence and happiness I needed in life, I wanted to go to college to become a choral director. When I went to the University of Oregon, I tried to double major in music education and voice performance. Unfortunately, my double major became too much for me, so I decided to concentrate on my voice performance degree.
While I was working on my degree, I formed the On the Rocks a cappella group! We focused on creating musical rearrangements on songs that our peers loved. When On the Rocks recorded, I ended up being the engineer and I started to develop a passion for being a record engineer. Our music led our group to The Sing-Off! After our group appeared on The Sing-Off, a hundred people or so asked me to release my own music and I just started recording. It has been really rewarding to make my own music and I am very honored to support my family by doing what I love.
JE: What attracted you to a cappella music?
PH: I think there is something truly special about the human voice. When it is done correctly, it is so incredibly appealing and it really touched me very early on in life. I listened to cassette tapes from collegiate a cappella groups and I think I have this pertinacity of really loving male vocal harmony. I do not know why, but I just love it and that is what I did for most of my college years. I got a voice performance degree, but I really majored in a cappella music. I focused on every angle from both the performers and producers’ point-of-views.
JE: I believe that you (along with Pentatonix and Straight No Chaser) have played an integral part of the latest a capella revolution. In your opinion, how has the genre…grown to be accepted in the mainstream music industry?
PH: First of all, I do not think I deserve that high of praise! But, I do believe that there has been a strong insurgence of people giving validity to the genre and I think it has brought a cappella to the forefront. I would also add that Glee has tremendously helped out the genre as well. The entire focus on the Warblers during the show’s second, third and sixth seasons is just impeccable. In fact, some people on my team also worked on the show.
In addition to Glee, Pitch Perfect also played an important part as well in making a cappella accepted in the mainstream music industry. I do not think anyone knows this, but my wife founded the University of Oregon’s a cappella group, Divisi. This group was featured in the book that the Pitch Perfect film was based on. So, the Garden Bellas were based on my wife’s a cappella group! (JE: Wow!) If you actually look up the book, my wife’s name is the first two words of Chapter One. A cappella has played a central role in both of our lives and both of us were known in our circle as the “Danny and Sandy of A cappella music.”
I am just happy that this genre is finally getting notoriety it deserves. If rap can be a legitimate musical genre that everyone takes seriously, then why on God’s earth can’t a cappella be a respected genre? There are so many reasons why a cappella can be so helpful to so many people! Number one…it could give people a positive, nurturing musical experience. Two, a cappella music is so organic and we so need that in our country! Everything is manipulated by electronics and I think that there is something special about the human voice.
If we look where we are in supporting music and the arts, a cappella is becoming more and more mainstream. A cappella music can be so useful in encouraging youth to be a part of this movement. What I would love to do in the future is to provide inexpensive arrangements for the masses to sing and to help educate and inspire youth to sing contemporary a cappella music.
JE: What steps should artists take if they want a cappella music to be played on Top 40 radio stations?
PH: We need to have someone on iHeartRadio’s Board of Directors! Also, in honesty, it is going to have to come down to when Pentatonix is allowed to breakthrough the barriers. For goodness sake, how can a group or any artist have the number one selling Christmas album for two years running and not be played on the radio? It does not make any sense! The consumers like this music, and yet radio stations across the country will not play it. Why? In my opinion, Pentatonix is going to be the first a cappella group to break through!
As for a normal music artist, it comes down to the artists themselves to ask their supporters to hound the radio stations to play the track. Eventually, like politics, the only way something is going to be changed is that it bothers the decision makers. Once, they get tired of the nagging…then the influential radio stations will start playing the material! However, at the end of the day…it all comes down to the moneymakers’ decision. I hope this happens, because I strongly believe that there would be so much good that comes from a cappella music gaining mainstream traction of the radio!
JE: You have uploaded over 100 videos onto YouTube and released multiple singles. Could you describe your arranging process to my readers?
PH: My recording process heavily involves my fans! I record the most requested songs that my fans want to hear. I actually copy and paste all of my comments from both my YouTube videos and social media posts into a Word document. Once I have done that, I put together a Top 10 on my board and from there I begin to record each song. For example, Jennifer Lawrence’s “Hanging Tree” was asked for over 1,900 times! So, it was an easy choice for me to sing. Once I begin to conceptualize the key and tempo, I meet with my wonderful arranger: Tom Anderson. We have been working together for over a decade. He is smarter than I am and would help me figure out the vocal parts. We would put our notes on paper and I record the music by myself in my studio. I sight read every part! (JE: Wow!) After I record the song with up to 200 tracks of my voice, I send my music to be edited to my team: Ed Boyer and Bill Hare. They are also the same mixing engineers that work with Pentatonix on their material. With their help, I am able to keep releasing new material every two weeks. I really love making music and making people happy!
JE: Last October, you released your first full-length studio album for Sony Masterworks. What were some of the challenges that you faced during the recording process? How did you overcome them?
PH: One of the biggest problems that I faced was that I was consistently releasing new material every two weeks. That was so challenging in a time perspective. When I was conceptualizing the album, I wanted to have so many new songs that no one had ever heard of. The entire album structure that we have been using for decades is dying. The only reason artists are still releasing albums is that it satisfies the 35 and older demographic.
Another big challenge was that I wanted to work with people that I have not worked with before. I pitched artists that I really wanted to work with and it was very cool to work with a group of incredible people such as traditional artists Jackie (Evancho) and Brian Wilson. He remains the God of Harmony and it was a dream come true to work with him! My father’s favorite musical group was the Beach Boys and when I released that track, I thought of how proud my father would have been of my accomplishment.
JE: In addition to collaborating with Jackie Evancho and Brian Wilson, you also worked with Lindsey Stirling. How did each of these artists help you grow throughout the recording process?
PH: If we are talking about growth and bringing Lindsey into the conversation, I have to say: I owe my entire career to Lindsey Stirling! She came along during the beginning period of my solo career, when I was only able to do it part-time. During April 2012, I had 26,000 subscribers and maybe 2,500,0000 views on my videos. I had been trying to do YouTube on-and-off for the past 14 months and Lindsey contacted me and asked me if I wanted collaborate with her. After we recorded the Skyrim theme song, I had an exponential growth not only in my social media channels, but also my revenue. It allowed me to become a full-time musician and producer. Lindsey is a lovely human being and someone that I deeply care about and I owe her a lot of gratitude.
JE: Which artists are on your collaboration wish list?
PH: I have put a lot of thought into which artists I would love to collaborate with. For the longest time, I truly wanted to sing with Josh Groban and I know a lot of people on his team and hounded them about the potential collaboration. I think we could really record something special. In addition to Josh, I would also like to work with Jason Mraz, Sara Bareilles and Pentatonix.
JE: How has social media helped you grow your online presence?
PH: It goes without saying that utilizing social media is the core of my ability to do this for a living. Social media has allowed artists to bypass “the man” and go straight to the consumer. I would have never been able to succeed without YouTube!
JE: If you had the opportunity to meet with aspiring musicians who want a career in the music industry, what advice would you share with them?
PH: The number one thing that I would recommend to musicians is whatever you put out on the Internet, it needs to be genuine as the artist that you are! It is vital to be genuine to be successful and it is also important to enjoy what you do, because even if you do not succeed, I think by having more people out there doing something that they love we can make the world a better place. I would also add something that I hold dear: “Do not think that you are better than anyone that follows you!” I do not like the word: “fan” and I abhor when people do not respond back. I spend a lot of time reaching out to everyone that messages me. Finally, make sure that you read every contract that is put in front of you! Everyone in the music world has been taking advantage of artists and it is time that artists educate themselves about the contracts that they are signing!
To learn more about Peter Hollens, visit his website!
Learn more about Peter’s advice on his FAQ for other artists on his site here.