“Haywire” Meta-analysis

By Jim McCann, NTS Music Director

Here’s why I’m EXTREMELY pleased with the review that the Recorded A Cappella Review Board (RARB) gave Not Too Sharp’s latest album, “Haywire.”

(A little background: 3 reviewers review an album and rate the songs, as well as a few categories, on a scale from ‘1’ to ‘5’. ‘1’= poor, ‘2’= weak, ‘3’= average, ‘4’= good, and ‘5’= excellent. Also, kudos to you if you make it to the end of this… it’s worth it if you’re into that kind of thing)

So, by definition, our album came out to be “average” to just above average. And I mean that quite literally. When all 3 reviewers’ scores were averaged, all of the songs and categories’ scores were within the range of 3 to 4, with no outliers.

Here’s why (and how) I can be simultaneously pleased with this result, while still feeling that this is not an accurate representation of the album as a whole.

For all intents and purposes, the scores reflect exactly what I set out to do with this album. That is, to make music that might not be for everybody, but that makes sense for us as a group to make. You might be saying, “But Jim, that’s sort of a weird goal, isn’t it? To set out to be ‘average?'” However, only when all 3 reviewers’ scores were averaged together did it come out to be… well… “average.”

If you were to take a closer look at the 3 individual reviews and scores written by the 3 reviewers, you would find the following:
– On only 2 out of 11 songs did any 2 of the reviewers agree on a score for a song. On a typical album, two thirds to three quarters of songs have a common score.
– On 0 out of 11 songs did all 3 reviewers agree on a score.
– “State of the Art” was heralded as a masterpiece and given a ‘5’ by one reviewer, and then received a ‘2’ and a ‘3’ respectively from the other 2 reviewers
– “What is Hip?” received simultaneously the lowest score (‘1’) from one reviewer, the highest score (‘5’) from another, and the most middle score (‘3’) from the last.

When picking songs for this album as a group, Not Too Sharp could have easily chosen to record songs like “Radioactive” or “Wagon Wheel” (well, not really because we didn’t know we were doing those songs yet), but I think that while those are definitely safer song choices, the final score of our album would have remained at “average.” I just think that all 3 reviewers would have had an easier time agreeing that Not Too Sharp was definitely an average group, as opposed to one thinking we were “excellent” and the others disagreeing from song-to-song. If I wanted to make safe music, I wouldn’t have made music at all. I much prefer this to 3 reviewers agreeing that we’re average.

So what do you get when you combine all of this? Yeah, you get “average.” But you also get some of the most polarizing and erratic reviews that there have been on any one a cappella album in recent memory.

And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this is all happening on an album called “Haywire.”

I set out to make music that makes people ask themselves why they record a cappella music and why they go about doing so the way that they do. I think I fell just short of that goal, but I’m definitely getting close. In no way am I displeased with this review. Do not take this for a rant where I wish for higher scores. It is not one. I love the scores we got and I would not have it any other way.

If you’ve made it to the end, congratulations. Now… let’s discuss.


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