Pentatonix Pop Into Cracker Barrel’s Music Catalog

Pentatonix sing at Cracker Barrel. Photo: Monarch Publicity.

Pentatonix sing at Cracker Barrel. Photo: Monarch Publicity.

Two members of Grammy-winning vocal group Pentatonix, Scott Hoying and Kirstin Maldonado, sat down with MusicRow this month to discuss their recording and songwriting process. The group was in Nashville to attend the CMA Awards, where they were presenters on the show.

In October, Pentatonix made SoundScan history as the first a cappella group to hold the No. 1 spot on the overall album sales chart. Their new project on RCA is also available through Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, marking the first time the Nashville-area company has partnered with a pop artist. Pentatonix is published by Sony/ATV.

MusicRow: Did you record in Nashville?

Scott Hoying: Yes, we recorded part of the album at Reba’s studio, Starstruck. We also do tour rehearsals in Nashville, and have been here on tour.

Who produced the album?

Hoying: A lot of different people: Kuk Harrell, Martin Johnson, Ed Boyer, Drew Pearson, Ben Bram. And we produce a lot of it ourselves. A lot of the songs were arranged by us. It’s funny, what’s the definition of producing when it’s a cappella? Because you don’t really have the synths and background parts and layers. But there is an element of production. We have stomps and had to change around harmonies and stuff, so we had people help us with that.

This is your first album of original material, since you mostly recorded cover songs in the past. Tell me about the songwriting process.

Kirstin Maldonado: It was amazing. It was really kind of scary at first. We say it’s kind of like going on a blind date because you don’t know how it’s going to go. It could go really great or really terribly. But thankfully most of them went really well. We got to explore different creative avenues, different genres and styles of music. I think it really opened up our minds creatively and we got a lot of good content out of it.

Hoying: I couldn’t believe how happy I felt in those two months when we were writing non-stop—so creatively charged and my brain was so active. I probably did 30 songwriting sessions. We were in the studio all the time. It was so much fun. I’ve never been crazy about songwriting. I would write a song here and there, but this is the only time I immersed myself in it and it was incredible. And we couldn’t get enough songwriting sessions with Audra Mae. She’s so talented.

Since you are an a capella group, do you write with instruments?

Hoying: It depends. Normally for a cover we take a song and flip it and do our thing to it. We’ve found it’s easiest when we’re writing a song, to write it on an instrument or write it with a melody and a beatbox, so that then we have the demo of the song. Then we go into arrangement mode, where we say, “OK, what do we want to do with this song?” So we just added a step.

Read more about Pentatonix’s relationship with Cracker Barrel in the upcoming issue of MusicRow.

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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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