An Interview with Alec (Part 2)
if you haven’t caught the first installment of this series, catch up here.
How is vocal percussion different than, say, a beatbox battle?
So often Vocal Percussionist (VP) vs Beatboxer (BB) are used as interchangeable terms, and in a general sense they do more or less mean the same thing. To clarify though, the connotations are different though. VP usually refers to someone in an a cappella group, where a lot of their purpose is imitating a drum kit, where they are making a realistic snare and kick drum back track. Their goal is to accompany your singers, keep steady and consistent beat, and make beat and rhythm clear.
BB really leans more toward the “battle scene”, and it is somewhat tied / loosely affiliated to hip hop culture. In a lot of cases, battles may be 1 person versus another person, or group of people, and can incorporate additional elements (such as using a looping station). As a beatboxer, you are the music completely (not the accompanist). This will include more bass sounds, more synthetic sounds, incorporating melody, potentially singing, all different types of beats, etc. It leaves lots of room for creativity, synthetic sounds, and other elements that may not make sense in a pure a cappella setting.
Also, the scene is super cool, because the sounds that people make with their mouths is insane and super neat. There are a lot of talented people out there, with some wild abilities.
How do you pick your sounds that you ultimately use? Do you create new sounds? What’s your inspiration?
To be honest, I have not fully explored the wide world of beatboxer sounds besides existing research I have done previously online (because there is A LOT out there), but I can say it takes persistence in order to learn new sounds and really master them / put them in your portfolio. For me, YouTube tutorials are super helpful in this regard! I tend to watch a variety of videos, and when I find something I like I will watch the video repeatedly to get a sense of the sound, and practice it repeatedly until I have it mastered. This can be a long process. Also, music I like just inspires me too, like favorite songs I listen to frequently (for example the marimba sound in the beginning of Shape of You by Ed Sheeran, I love that sound!).
From my own personal life, one sound I make is the conga / cowbell sound at the beginning of Rather Be. Fun fact, I learned that from my grandpa actually, when I was a pre-teen! It was a sound he used to make just for fun, and he can actually make a couple of really odd sounds. He likes to make weird noises and funny jokes, so it’s kind of in his lane. I just imitated it growing up and it stuck, and the cool part was realizing I could incorporate that into an arrangement.
What other VP artists do you follow?
Hmm, let’s see. Around when I started VP, I got super into Pentatonix and Kevin Olusola from the VP standpoint in particular, since they kind of set the bar for a cappella and Kevin does as well for his craft. For BB, NaPoM is someone I have seen perform multiple times, and has even won several championships for his work and someone who innovates quite a bit. He even has an album of just beatbox on Spotify, which is wild to me. I tend to also listen to BB-based music with looping stations / melodies, and a couple artists do this really well. KRNFX is really cool, and Tom Thum is crazy good, he has his own TEDx talk, does a lot of vocal scratching, and other neat things.
Another artist I follow is 80Fitz, who is the VP from Pitch Perfect (specifically Das Sound Machine). He does a lot of collaborations on YouTube with different singers, and does a wide variety of recording and mixing of beats. He dabbles in some recording, some sampling, and will mix the heck out of it, to create unique arrangements and lots of crazy sounds.
If someone wanted to get into vocal percussion, what do you recommend?
I would say the following are all great ideas:
YouTube is great, lots of tutorials are available online.
Don’t be afraid to spend lots of time making the same weird / silly noises until you master it.
Be persistent, be willing to put in the time, be yourself in the process.
Find a VP or BB community in your city, i.e Columbus has workshops and battles and lots of resources.
Put yourself out there, and take chances. The quality rubs off on you being around that community.
As a key trait, your timing, consistency, and rhythm is key when executing on your craft.
Practice with a metronome!
What would fans be surprised to know about you?
In no particular order, here are 3 things that may surprise you:
I am mostly self-taught (apart from some workshops I have done here and there).
Spectators are frequently surprised that I am the VP, or if people know me already they are surprised that this is something I am capable of and really good at (knowing my personality). You can even hear this happen if you listen to our interview on air with WNCI when we were first starting out.
One of the hard parts of being a VP is not belching on mic! You are constantly bringing in air and outputting sharp bursts of air, and that can really affect my air stream.
Wow. The more you know. Alec, thanks so much for your time and letting us into your world,
this is awesome!