Chances are, you’ve seen Voctave, the acapella group based in Orlando, on Facebook. With millions of views on Facebook and even more on YouTube, their harmonies are wowing people all over the globe. At the helm of the group is Jamey Ray.
When I talked to Jamey in 2016, he talked about the formation of the group, saying, “Everyone in our group is either currently in Voices of Liberty or was at one time. Voices of Liberty has been at Disney since before Epcot and when they would perform elsewhere, instead of being called Voices of Liberty, the group was called Liberty Voices. They made a few albums of music under that name and two years ago, I wanted to do another album. I renamed the group Voices, used a lot of the VOL founder Derric Johnson’s music and added three of my own charts.”
Since then, the group has solidified a group of singers, has released albums, a handful of singles, and has performed with some of the biggest voices in the business. I caught up with Jamey to talk about the past two years, recording new music, and the enduring appeal of auto tune-less acapella music in a radio landscape full of robots.
Since we last talked, you’ve worked with a few gospel music greats. What has writing for and collaborating with some of your musical idols taught you?
On an artist level, it’s given me more of an awareness of the scope of what we’re doing. To see someone like Sandi Patty or Mark Lowry want to work with us, it made me aware of the level of what we’re putting out. We did a concert with Sandi and she talked about me on stage, to my face, and started to tear up. I was ready to turn into a weeping child but I told myself to keep it together because I had to talk next. She’s sung with everyone, she’s done everything, but she talked about how she’d always wanted to work at Disney and had never gotten the chance to do so. She said it was so special to do this song [“Beauty and the Beast”] with us and how this was her chance to sing a Disney song. Looking at Sandi Patty on stage with us, I had to ask myself, “What is my life?”
Let’s talk about what led up to that experience? What did producing three albums in two years teach you?
It was three albums in one year technically. The Spirit of the Season, The Corner of Broadway and Main Street, and Snow all came out within a twelve-month period of time. Really, we needed material to do in concert. This year, we’re going to do new Christmas videos of songs that are on those albums. I’ve learned if there’s not a video attached to it, people don’t know it exists. It doesn’t matter if the album came out a year ago, if there’s not a video on Facebook of us singing, people don’t connect to it. I do have a plan for another album in the spring and I’ve begun collecting ideas for that, but we aren’t in any rush.
Talking about Facebook, over the past few years, you’ve accumulated 100M+ views online. Did you have a game plan to reach that many people when you started?
We didn’t have an endgame when we started. The success accidentally happened. We aren’t focused on an endgame as much as we are on what’s our next goal and our next plan. We signed with an agency and that’s been great. They’ve been wonderful and they’re booking us for a lot more live performances. We have a Christmas tour this year and they’re already booking one for next year as well. I’m just thankful and looking forward to whatever comes next.
Everything is digitized today and most songs on the radio sound like they’re being sung by robots. In an age where everything is fabricated, what’s the continued appeal of acapella music?
I think it’s because it’s not like the other noise. People like the fact that they look at a group of normal-looking people in a studio and they’re hearing what we sound like in that room. I laugh sometimes at the comments on the videos claiming we’re auto-tuned. I don’t even own auto-tune. These singers are simply that good.
You mentioned the songs on the radio. There are good pop singers out there and many of them are good live. But it will never sound exactly like the album because it’s all so produced. Most of them can’t come close to what the people in Voctave can do. When people come to our concerts, they usually tell us we sound the same, if not better than, the recording. It’s such a good energy performing before an audience instead of just being in the studio and it’s nice to have people react that way.
Talk to me about juggling your career as an educator with your role with Voctave? There are so many artists who are pulling double-duty to do the things they love.
I took a job this year as the Choral Editor for Excelcia Music Publishing and I’m singing in Voices of Liberty at Disney part-time, but Voctave has really turned into a full time job. Of course, my job as an educator at Rollins College is more than a full time job. I do like being busy but this year I hired an assistant for the group who helps and handles all of the scheduling. That has made my life a lot easier.
My priority is my work at Rollins just as the priority of the members of Voctave is their full time job, but the people at Rollins couldn’t be more supportive of Voctave. The president is very supportive and my boss is probably my biggest cheerleader. He’s doing anything and everything he can to see how Voctave could benefit from any sort of involvement with Rollins. I’m really lucky to have a supportive group of colleagues who want me to succeed.
With such a full plate, what do you do for yourself to decompress and recharge?
Some of the work I do, the Voctave stuff, is very rewarding to me. I like to doing it. When there’s no timeline involved and I can sit and write an arrangement, I love that. I also record an arrangement myself before I send it to the group so I feed off of hearing that. It’s a way I can learn from myself really. Other than that, I love my the colleagues I work with at Rollins. I actually look forward to coming to work every day. I’m so thankful. When I’m not doing that, I’m watching Snapchats of my nephews or one of the dessert-making shows on Netflix. I will sit in bed and work on projects until I fall asleep and I’m not upset about that at this point.
Years in, how do you keep your work with Voctave from becoming stale?
Without it being a cliché answer, this is a living art. Every time we do something, it’s different. We’re still trying to figure things out within this group. Nothing has settled into an easy groove. We still have a focus and our awareness is still heightened and I’m thankful for that. The fact that we are still pretty new to this, we haven’t had the time for it to get stale yet. I have ridiculously talented performers who realize what this actually is that we’re creating. And I love it.
For tickets to the Voctave Christmas Tour, head over to http://www.voctave.com!