Have you seen those multilayered, almost Brady Bunch–looking, videos of people singing and accompanying themselves? That's from an app called Acapella, and its parent company just announced a $1 million round of seed funding today. And if you haven't seen one yet, get ready for a songbook.
Launched just six weeks ago, the app has been an instant hit with young people. It allows you to take several videos of yourself, stacking the first videos over the next so you can sing over your own backing vocals, until you become an a cappella troupe of one.
It's simple to use, but BYO singing skills (I made one that works in the sense of being several voices playing simultaneously, but not in the sense of being identifiable to any living human as "music"). I asked Ethan Clare, who had posted a really good video of himself singing "Wanna Be a Baller" by Lil' Troy, why he likes the app. "Because it's fun, even if you suck!" he told me. (Um. He has not heard my sickly caterwauling in horrifying four-part disharmony.)
The Acapella app taps into a zeitgeist where, thanks to the unlikely hit of the Pitch Perfect movies and a reality singing competition show Sing It On, a cappella singing is no longer just thought of as something for collegiate boys in ill-fitting matching blazers or a cringeworthy hobby of Republican senators.
It also steams along on railway tracks that were only recently laid: Twitter and Instagram are the main ways people are getting exposed to the app, and Twitter only added native video this past January. And that's key to the app's strategy.
Acapella comes from a company called Mixcord, which has made several other popular apps that serve as sort of remora fish to popular social networks like Instagram and Twitter. One of its first popular apps was a collage maker designed for Instagram (eventually, Instagram rolled out collages as a feature of its own). So the app, PicPlayPost, stayed one step ahead by allowing people to include video in collages. That, in turn, led to Acapella.
Daniel Vinh, a Mixcord co-founder, told BuzzFeed News the company had noticed people using PicPlayPost to create a cappella songs, and built off that idea. "We're a very data-driven company. We don't make apps just for the sake of making them."
Mixtape claims it has 7 million monthly active users. But perhaps a better definition of Acapella's popularity is that it's already created a few viral moments, notably a guy using it not for singing but for re-creating the sound (non-diegetic pan flute soundtrack included) of a scene from Titanic. A young white woman doing a freakishly good version of Kayne West's "Mercy" also went viral.
"Mercy" by Kanye West
Another early indicator that the app is blowing up is a new crop of social media accounts dedicated to finding the best videos. Some of these accounts have massive followings: On Twitter, @AcapellaVideos_ has 132K followers and @AcapellaBible has over 200K. On Instagram, @a.c.a.p.e.l.l.a has over 350K followers and @acapella.x has almost 700K followers. That last account used to be a generic funny meme account — it only switched to focusing on Acapella videos about a week ago.
A sign of opportunistic meme-hopping viral aggregation, perhaps, but also a pretty good indication of how the app is reaching mass appeal.