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A twist of fortune for Elon a cappella

What happens when your original arrangement of an already popular song "breaks the Internet?" Tyler Meacham, president of Twisted Measure, shares the story of a viral marketing campaign in late May that earned the Elon University a cappella group national attention.

With the right combination of talent and savviness, it doesn't take long to capture the attention of millions of people. Just ask Twisted Measure.

The Elon University a cappella ensemble drew national praise in late May with its original arrangement of "Chandelier," which tells of the shame and denial that comes with alcohol abuse as told by a "party girl." 

Co-written and originally performed by the Australian musician Sia, "Chandelier" rocketed up the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart last summer. It peaked around the same time Twisted Measure was putting together new material for the upcoming academic year.

When the group visited Liquid 5th Studios in Durham, North Carolina, earlier this spring to record the track for an upcoming album, Tyler Meacham, a cinema major and president of the group, brought a camera. She publicized the finished video on the social news website BuzzFeed on Tuesday, May 26, and within a week, nearly 3 million people had viewed Twisted Measure's work. The rendition shot into the top 50 singles on iTunes.

Founded in 1999, the university's first co-ed a cappella group had built a loyal campus following over the years, but nothing prepared them for their overnight success. National media lauded the arrangement, with TIME, USA Today, Elle Magazine and others linking to the video.

"There's only one thing missing from the video above: a blonde wig," Tehrene Firman wrote for Teen Vogue. "But we're sure Sia would be impressed either way."

Their good news doesn't end there. Twisted Measure's soloist for the arrangement - Abby Franklin, a journalism major from Florida and recent graduate of the universtiy - has been contacted about signing with a small record label in Nashville.

In their own way, group members have learned that in the age of social media, sometimes you really do have to hold on for dear life. Meacham answered questions from University Communications this week from California, where she's spending her summer studying and interning through the Elon in LA program. On the count of 1, 2, 3...

Photo of Twisted Measure's Spring 2015 Concert courtesy of Nic Nelson '17 via Facebook

UC: There are so many songs that an a cappella group can cover. Why "Chandelier"?

Meacham: I remember last summer when we were picking songs for the fall, there was a lot of talk about finding a song that we could deconstruct in a creative, beautiful way. A number of people in our group, including Kyle Whitaker '14, who ultimately arranged the song, are fans of Sara Bareilles and had seen a cover of "Chandelier" she did at her summer concert that had the same slowed vibe as the arrangement we recorded. We also really wanted a strong ballad in our set. "Chandelier" was perfect for that.

UC: Tell me about the inspiration for the arrangement. It slows the tempo to Sia’s original without changing the haunting tone. How was that done?

Meacham: Kyle is a genius, first and foremost. His arrangements for Twisted Measure while he was in the group were always electric. I don't know exactly how he approached the arrangement other than researching as many covers as possible and seeing what was already being done. The tone of the cover is pretty somber, as is the original song itself. I think the arrangement takes the lyrics and meaning behind the original and makes it more dramatic. I think all a cappella should attempt to tell the story of the song being covered in a unique and entertaining way.

UC: Why record a video of the performance? And in what way do you think the video affected the public reception of your song? 

Meacham: I'm a cinema major and often find myself coming up with ideas on the fly when it comes to filmmaking. The idea to make a music video came to me a couple days before we went to the studio. I probably texted one or two people about it and just decided to show up early and stay all day filming everyone's session in the recording booth. I had no idea how the final product would come together or how editing was going to go because what happens in the studio can be really different than the finished recording. I just knew TM was overdue for a high-quality video and this was the perfect opportunity.

UC: What roles did others play in the video’s production?

Meacham: Jacob Lenz was our music director at the time of the recording and he let me come in early and wander in and out of all the booths all day. Chris Juengel was our engineer in the studio that day and his company Liquid 5th is responsible for the incredible recording of the song. Jasper Thomas '17 and Abby Franklin '15 assisted with shooting when voice parts were recording, and the group as a whole was unexpectedly patient and focused with me, which was so necessary and helpful. Recording a song is tedious and nerve-wracking to begin with, so I imagine the pressure increased with a camera in their faces, but they were great regardless.

UC: You then posted the video to to Buzzfeed. Explain your motives.

Meacham: I've honestly felt in a state of shock about the whole thing because there wasn't a ton of planning and calculating behind the post. I really love promoting TM as well as my work in creative ways, so when I was bored on Buzzfeed one morning and saw community members could post, a light bulb went off in my head. We've posted our videos on Reddit before and gotten a small increase in traffic, so I thought Buzzfeed would have a similar effect. So I wrote a really quick, very casual article in the style of most Buzzfeed articles and shared the link on my personal Facebook page. I had no idea it would blow up so fast. 

UC: When did you first start to realize that the video was going viral? Where were you? What were you doing, and what did you think at that moment?

Meacham: The day I posted the video, the views started increasing pretty quickly, and I remember all of TM was writing back in forth in our GroupMe every few hours with updates. When I went to sleep that night, the video probably had 20,000 views, which was huge. We had never gotten that much traffic on any of our videos. The next morning, I woke up to probably a hundred notifications on my phone from various TM accounts. The views had more than doubled overnight and that's when I knew. What's weird is that, even now, I keep thinking, "Okay, this is the end, it's going to fizzle out." I thought that when we hit 100,000, I thought that when we hit a million, but it hasn't stopped and I keep having to pinch myself. 

UC: Twisted Measure’s “Chandelier” quickly shot into the top singles list of iTunes. What does that do for the group?

Meacham: It puts us on the map for sure. To see your college a cappella group's name next to Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj is surreal. Beyond that, as a group, we've never made a profit off of our music and we have no idea what the "Chandelier" sales will be, but I'm excited for the future. I also see it as a big step forward for collegiate a cappella. Popular a cappella groups like Pentatonix have already had hits on the charts, but collegiate a cappella is what makes up most of the genre, and until now, hasn't had a huge following in the recorded music realm. 

UC: What’s next for Twisted Measure? How do you top “Chandelier”?

Meacham: We're not sure what's next, but I am confident that whatever it is will be incredible. As a group, it's probably impossible to go back from something so big. In the fall, we're going to keep doing what we've always done - holding auditions, maintaining our quirky traditions, performing around the Elon-Burlington community, and learning more music. I think we'll also be doing more recording than we expected we might be able to do next year, which is the most exciting part because now, we have an international audience that supports us in such a unique, invested way. 

Eric Townsend,
6/3/2015 11:00 AM