How Pentatonix can break from the a cappella niche into the pop mainstream

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From left to right: Kevin Olusola (beatbox), Mitch Grassi (vocals), Scott Hoying (vocals), Kirstie Maldonado (vocals), and Avi Kaplan (bass)

I’m a big fan of Pentatonix, the group that won the third and final season of The Sing-Off, NBC’s a cappella competition, last year. I’m not into a cappella, but I checked them out after someone posted YouTube links to their Sing-Off performances in a gushing comment on Vulture.

Prior to this discovery, kitschy numbers in cheesy matching attire like this came to mind when I thought of a cappella. Pentatonix blew all those stereotypes away and won me over. Check out their killer cover of Kanye West’s Love Lockdown:

They are young, good-looking, hip, likable, and current — a marketer’s dream. Another point in their favor is that there are only five of them, unlike other a cappella groups which have a bajillion members. Less people means it’s easier for fans to get to know each member, which helps in becoming invested in the group. It also means each member is essential in creating a signature sound — when you hear a Pentatonix song, you know exactly who is singing what.

I knew then that if an a cappella group can break into the pop mainstream, it would be Pentatonix. So I was happy to hear that their debut EP, PTX, Vol. 1, debuted at #14 on the Billboard Top 200 earlier this month.

Despite this achievement, there is little mainstream buzz about Pentatonix. This is unfortunate, because I truly believe that with the right marketing push, they have the potential to be big. Even our favorite uncle Simon Cowell says that “the biggest opportunity…this year is a vocal group.” Debuting at the top 15 of the charts with an exclusive iTunes release is already no mean feat for a new artist, a cappella or otherwise. Their management and record company better act swiftly now, especially while Scott, Mitch, and Kirstie are still young enough to capture the tween demographic. A few suggestions:

1. Get a stylist

In the pop world, image is everything. So please, no more matching outfits. This is not the 50s. Think big, like the Black Eyed Peas. I’m not asking Kirstie to wear some wacky suit a la Fergie, but for them to wear their own cool personal style, something young people their age would want to wear.

2. Improve their official website

Theirs has got to be one of the most bare-bones official sites I’ve come across. No bios, photos, schedules, whatever. Even most unsigned artists have meatier sites than this. Yes, they’re on Facebook and Twitter, but not all new fans would be willing to slog through old status updates and tweets for basic info on the group.

3. Get their music out there

Apparently their record label, Madison Gate Records, is the in-house label of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which was created, per their own description, to “create, distribute and market music and related products from today’s top films and television programs.”

If that’s the case, then it really shouldn’t be too hard for them to get Pentatonix’s music on movies and TV shows. I can easily hear their original song, Show You How To Love, as the BGM in some club or emo scene. When I hear an especially great tune in the background, I usually look it up online. I believe others will do the same when they hear Pentatonix while watching their favorite TV show.

4. Guest-star on Glee

Even better than appearing as background music is appearing on screen in person, and what better show to be in than the one that made vocal groups cool. They could guest-star as a rival group or something; imagine how many iTunes downloads their performance would get. It doesn’t have to be just Glee; they could appear as, say, prom performers in tween shows like 90210 or Teen Wolf. Sony could get it done if they get serious about marketing Pentatonix.

5. Promote overseas

Seems they’re concentrating their promotional efforts in the US, but how about jaunting overseas? They’re big on dance music in Europe; Pentatonix’s vocal dubstep would go down well over there. Out of their two original songs, the clubby Show You How To Love is the stronger one for me (I think this dance vibe is the creative vein they should pursue in their next release). It’s catchy and could be a Euro hit with the right airplay.

Or how about Japan? They love groups in Japan. Sony could easily get them on TV there. By limiting themselves to the US audience, they’re missing out on a lot of opportunity abroad.

6. Book more non-a cappella gigs

Most of their gigs so far seem to be at a cappella festivals. Their people should market Pentatonix not as an a cappella group (which doesn’t scream commercial appeal), but as a regular group (which just happens to make all their sounds by themselves). Listen to Show You How To Love — an unsuspecting ear hearing it for the first time wouldn’t immediately think it was an all-vocal performance. And the best thing is, they can recreate the same sound live (hmm, maybe they could do a live European club tour).

The NBA All-Star Game gig was a good start, but amp up the production, will ya? Justin Bieber had a bloke or two dancing behind him even when he was just starting out and singing at amusement parks. And bring a sound guy who can mix and mic the group correctly at these events.

If Sony still doesn’t get it together by the end of their record contract with Pentatonix, there is always:

7. Audition for The X-Factor

Uncle Simon is big on groups; he’d welcome Pentatonix with open arms. With their fanbase, I can easily see them going as high as Top 5. They don’t even have to win (One Direction, anyone?).

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