On Feb. 9, Stanford Fleet Street Singers won the Best Humor Video award in the annual Contemporary A cappella Recording Awards (CARA). As the first Stanford group nominated for this honor in competition against all collegiate and professional a cappella groups, Fleet Street has been invested in bringing music and humor to the Stanford community and the wider online audience.
Directed and produced by Fleet Street director Liam McGregor ’20, “All-Nighter” tells the story of a typical college student staying up all night for work and procrastinating until the morning. Fleet Street member Aman Singh ’22 plays the lead role, and the video also features former Fleet Street member Chris Kim ’22. The audio was recorded on campus at Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), and the main body of the video was filmed in McGregor’s dorm room at Xanadu over the course of 24 hours.
“All-Nighter” was conceived during the group’s collective all-nighter event — a creative lock-in for 24 hours held back in 2015. The lock-in was intended to put a time cap on the creative process and “harness perfectionism” of the group’s musicians. Among the six songs that came out of the sleepless night, “All-Nighter” was a combination of the melody of “Buddhism Disco” and the idea that “the soloist drank coffee as the song got faster.”
Founded in 1981, the all-male a cappella group originally performed barbershop harmony style music and arranged fight songs at major University events. Fleet Street used to run shows in front of large audiences in Memorial Auditorium, but with the rise of other entertainment options such as Netflix, and increasing competition between student singing groups, the group faced a decline in show attendance and auditioning candidates.
McGregor said the group decided to tackle the challenges through “meeting people where they are at” and maximizing the group’s impact through leveraging the resources at hand. Harnessing the group’s talents in tech and computer science, the group built a matrix that helped them strategize video production that gained more watch time from viewers.
“Using the metrics, we learned that intros usually keep viewers,” said McGregor. “So for the Harvard diss track, we knew we would have to have an engaging thumbnail and a high percentage watch time. So we added a one-minute intro to the three-minute song so that people would only click away after the first minute.”
In 2018-19, Fleet Street produced four music videos including “Safety School (Harvard Diss Track),” which reached 2.8 million views across multiple platforms, and the award-winning “All Nighter.”
“With [“Safety School (Harvard Diss Track)], we want to show we can make a video that goes viral. Before, we only had a maximum of 500 views on our videos, but this video grew our views to 2,000 times more,” McGregor said. “After producing the third video on Christmas to show we can do shrewd business, we want to make the fourth video about our identity as college students and celebrate who we are.”
Stanford a cappella groups have turned toward music videos recently, as they’ve tried to grow audiences both on campus and online. Stanford Mendicants and Stanford Counterpoint have released a number of videos, and both groups were nominated as runner-ups for CARA music video awards in 2019. From shifting the musical group’s focus from live performance to online video, Fleet Street’s strategy has won the group 12.4k subscribers for its YouTube channel, in addition to doubling the attendance for spring show and doubling the number of people signing up to audition.
Contact Dongming Zhang at dongming ‘at’ stanford.edu.