While the different singing groups in "Pitch Perfect" and "Pitch Perfect 2" never fail to impress us, both films are not exactly authentic to the real-life a cappella performance's experiences. Or are they? Well, yes and no, but not necessarily in the way you might think.
To get to the bottom of this idea, MTV News sat down with two members of Empire, an all-female a cappella group based in New York City; Caitlin Nelson, the group's music director, and Keagan Gros, a recent addition to the team as of a few months ago.
Full disclosure: I've also been a member of Empire for about a year now, but both Caitlin and Keagan have performed on the collegiate level at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, also known as the ICCAs, and were happy to share some of their expertise to a discussion of just how accurate "Pitch Perfect 2" really is.
WRONG: The choreography is never THAT intense.Universal
Let's get the really obvious one out of the way -- most the choreography that we see in the movie is not the sort of stuff you'd see in a real a cappella competition, simply because it's hard to sing while also performing cartwheels -- and even harder to integrate props like batons and silk ribbons like the Barden Bellas do.
"It’s not impossible but it’s very improbable," Caitlin said. "There are groups that do a lot of choreography when they are competing and do it well, but it’s a little bit more geared towards staying in one place and moving your arms, not throwing your entire body around stage."
"A lot of their jumping up and down, their lunges, would only affect the sound in a poor way, so that’s just not realistic for an actual competition," Keagan added. However, she also noted that a cappella singers DO have to be mindful of how they're moving, even if they don't have a strictly choreographed routine. "If you give them nothing, everyone just gets into this a cappella 'bop,' which if anything gets distracting."
RIGHT: All-female a cappella groups have a hard time getting ahead.Universal Pictures
Remember that part at the beginning of the first "Pitch Perfect" when announcer John Smith (John Michael Higgins) suggests that female a cappella groups are just not as compelling as all-male groups because they don't have the same level of vocal range? Yeah, that one's unfortunately true.
While it's not unheard for an all-female or co-ed group to win a competition like the ICCAs, most of the time it's the all-male groups who come out on top. "They just have a fuller range," Keagan said. "They have guys that can that falsetto and that strong bass part."
"Their voices just naturally fit together better than women’s do," Caitlin added. "It’s just a harmonics thing."
WRONG: Sound equipment is more important -- and less readily available -- than you'd think.Universal
The Bella sound perfectly blended every time they perform -- and while obviously you can chalk that up to the fact that all the tracks were actually recorded and produced in a studio, it's also worth pointing out that they always seem to have top-of-the-line headpiece microphones and even in-ear monitors, no matter there they're playing.
In reality, unless you're the Pentatonix (who are also in "Pitch Perfect 2," by the way!) and you have thousands of dollars and your own sound equipment to lug everywhere, "it’s totally dependent on the venue," said Caitlin. "It’s like you can be at the top level and still everybody has a wired mic... It is hard to hear on the floor monitor and most places have like, two that are pointed at you. So if you are in the back you are just like, 'Ahhh, I don’t hear anything. Is that me? I think I am singing right now?'"
"Coming into a sound set up that you’ve never been in before and having someone that doesn’t know your sound -- the sound is never as good as it would be as if you had somebody who knew your group and knew what people were singing," she concluded.
WRONG: Das Sound Machine has way too many people in it.Universal
The German techno-centric group is intimidating, that's for sure -- but maybe a little TOO intimidating, because it feels as though there's something like twenty of them on stage at once.
"Most competitions, or any competition past collegiate level, usually have a number of people that you can’t be bigger than," Caitlin said. "They have a cap on the number of people that you have on stage because after a certain point, you’re just a choir. Whether or not you’re singing a cappella or have instrumentation, like, it’s just too many people."
And -- not to spoil the movie -- you also can't have surprise guests in your set, either. "You have to put [the names of the people in your group] on a roster," Keagan said. "They have to be in whatever university [you're from]."
RIGHT: Your group gets better the closer you are to each other.Universal
Most a cappella groups DO try to go on some sort of retreat together as a way to build teamwork, just like the Bellas do in "Pitch Perfect 2" -- and while it's usually not as intense as their experience, it's incredibly helpful. "The more the group is together, the more everyone understands each other, the better you sound," Caitlin noted.
WRONG: Brittany Snow should not be singing high notes anymore.Universal
In "Pitch Perfect," Chloe (Brittany Snow) undergoes surgery to remove her nodes and ends up being able to sing with a resonant bass voice, which was played entirely for laughs. In this movie, she's back to singing higher mezzo soprano notes. If her voice had REALLY gone through such a drastic change, she probably wouldn't be able to do that.
"Nodes are calluses on your vocal chords," Caitlin said, "and they can scrape them off, [but] your vocal chords are such thin little membranes that it changes the way you sing forever -- and if they botch the surgery then you are botched."
One way to keep yourself from getting nodes? Don't chant real loudly backstage before a performance like Das Sound Machine does. "They were pretty much yelling and that’s just not realistic," Keagan said. "You’re not, like, 'Let’s go sing at a competition but before we do, let’s yell!'"
WRONG: Original songs are actually really great.
Incoming freshman Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld) aspires to write her own original song for the Barden Bellas -- "Flashlight," which was actually written by Jessie J for the film. But the first time she attempts to premiere it in public, the entire group gets laughed out of a party by the other a cappella groups in attendence. That distaste for original material isn't true to the real a cappella experience -- and frankly, it kind of pissed Caitlin off.
"So many groups aspire to writing original songs, because all we are is a cover band most of the time. But we don’t even get thought of as cover bands or cover groups, We don’t even get to be in that same genre, which is ridiculous, because that’s what we’re doing," she said, noting the stigma against a cappella groups in popular culture. "Writing original songs is harder. It’s harder than arranging a song that’s already been written. It’s what a lot of groups try to do and fail at."
The annual a cappella festival Harmony Sweepstakes (known as Harmony Sweeps, for short) even gives out an award for best original song. "It’s looked highly upon to write an original song to competition," she said. So while it's true that college-level groups who write their own material admittedly tend to be few and far between, she says -- unless your school has a songwriting program, of course -- it's not something that would cause an audience to boo at you.
WRONG: Overcomplicated arrangements don't sound good live.Universal
You arrange for a cappella a lot differently when you're recording it as opposed to when you're performing it live -- and as impressive as the music in "Pitch Perfect 2' is, it'd be incredibly difficult to perform live.
"It's hard [to blend] when you're not singing vowels," Caitlin noted. "So unless it is for an effect, you do not want to do that in your arrangements, because the point is singing. That has always been the point."
Of course, "Pitch Perfect 2" is pretty guilty of over-exaggerating the abilities musicians have in general -- Riff-Offs, for example, are not a thing. "Most people really can’t pull pitches out of thin air," Caitlin said, noting that most groups use pitch pipes to help them. "Don’t assume that your group can sing these notes all of the time."
RIGHT: The final performance is surprisingly authentic.Universal
Most of the a cappella we hear in "Pitch Perfect 2" is very heavy on mash-ups, the latter of which IS really popular right now. But the climax of the film, when the Barden Bellas perform their set at the World Championships, ends in a really authentic way. "They just sounded like a true a capella group-- that is something that you could hear a collegiate group just singing," Keagan said. "I think it was just refreshing."
Although, there is ONE thing off about the Bella's performance. "That kind of song would be the middle of a set," Caitlin said.
You'll just have to see what song that was when "Pitch Perfect 2" hits theaters on May 15.