Creating music with instruments is already an intricate process, but how hard would it be to create full scores of music just by using human mouths? Deke Sharon is responsible for the vocal production in the ‘Pitch Perfect’ films, and he has a huge passion for a cappella.
With the second instalment of ‘Pitch Perfect’ hitting theatres in May, Deke has been busy crafting new music and working with the cast to produce the same high quality a cappella magic audiences experienced in the first film. He has had years of experience with it, from simply teaching groups of young people in schools, to even working on the hit television show ‘Glee’.
Deke has been passionate about music his whole life. “I used to sing myself to sleep according to my parents,” he laughs. “I would bounce my head on my pillow so hard that they were worried I was giving myself brain damage.” Singing himself to sleep was just the beginning. Deke would then go on to attend church choir at the age of five, and sing all through high school.
It wasn’t long before he then began experimenting with arrangement and production. “When we graduated I said ‘this is what I want to with my life, I want to spread this music all around the world, spread harmony through harmony’, and people told me I was crazy,” Deke says. “I didn’t care, because it’s so much fun.”
Deke says that when he works with groups he sees each person as a different instrument, and being a part of the ‘Pitch Perfect’ films meant working with actors that weren’t as such known for their singing abilities.
“Making the second movie, the stakes are high, you know everybody’s excited about it so we needed to put more and more in, all these layers... We wanted to make sure that every moment and every sound forwarded the story and forwarded the emotion.”
It would seem that creating such complex sounds for a movie would be easy; just record as many takes as you like in order to get the dynamic right. But it’s not the case.
Deke believes doing a cappella for film is even harder than preparing it for a live performance, because all the energy has to be communicated through a camera lens.
So, in order to create the perfect sound and liveliness, Deke put the actors of ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ through what he likes to call 'a cappella boot camp'. “Every single day they had to come, and we worked on their music, worked on vocal technique and how to create all these different sounds,” he says. “It was a combination of rapid choral music rehearsal meets modern a cappella.”
Both the first and second films include what’s known as a 'riff-off'. This involves groups of singers performing a cappella back and forth at each other, singing different songs. Deke calls it the “Ali Vs. Frazier boxing match of voices”, and it requires a lot of planning.
“We want to make a really fun scene,” he says. “First what you have to do, is you have to decide what themes and topics there are going to be, and then, who are the right people to sing the right songs to create this great back and forth.”
Deke says everyone has some kind of a singing ability, and that all it takes is practice and expression. One actor he worked with in the films has no problem with expressing herself: our very own Rebel Wilson.
“I always say ‘Rebel, the first time we go through this, just sing the notes that are written’ and she says ‘okay no problem’, and then she goes through it, and I get that, and I go ‘okay… go nuts’.”
After Rebel has done her thing, and Deke has what he wants, they then go back and pick the best parts to use in the final product. All of the other actors sing their own parts in the films too, with the likes of Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin and Ben Platt all coming from musical performance backgrounds.
Deke has even lent his voice to the ‘Pitch Perfect’ music, and says it’s because he knows what is needed to create the right amount of dynamic, sound and expression.
Spending his whole life teaching and arranging a cappella has become a passionate, enjoyable career for Deke, who hopes to not only deliver incredible sound, but also performances full of emotion and meaning. “I care a lot,” he says. “The very best thing is that it’s getting more people singing. That is what these movies have made happen... I feel like we’re changing the world.”'Pitch Perfect 2' is in cinemas 7 May.