Producer. Musician. Innovator.
When YouTube and Facebook were just ideas and long before Pitch Perfect was a household name, contemporary a cappella was a lot different than we know it today. Until the late 90s or so, a cappella music in the United States was largely created, performed, and consumed on a regional level. Groups were concentrated in a handful of cities and on college campuses nationwide, largely marooned on their own islands.
One such island was the beautiful campus of The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. A school known for its legendary basketball team, it was an unlikely birthplace for a community obsessed with syllabic singing and choreography. The secret ingredient? Dave Sperandio.
Before 'Pitch Perfect' and Pentatonix were household names, contemporary a cappella was a lot different than we know it today.
After spending several years based in Atlanta touring with cappella’s would-be Backstreet Boys, Vocal Tonic, Dio made a move back to Raleigh.
Raised in the Midwest and Northeast, Dave’s first taste of southern charm came during college orientation, and the vocal performance major was quickly scooped up by the singing gentlemen of the famed UNC Clef Hangers. Dave was inspired by the sense of community and the kind of music the group could create with only their voices. He became a quick study, learning how to lead a group, how to grow the business and build an audience on campus, and how to share the group’s music with the world through performances but also through new digital recordings.
Engineers who specialize in vocal music have become commodities of sorts in the a cappella world, but recording “voices only” like a band was initially a real challenge for music producers. Most engineers had no idea what they were doing when it came to creating recorded music with vocal bands, creating an opportunity for early trailblazers like Jeff Thacher, GRAMMY® winner Bill Hare, John Clark, Gabriel Mann, and others to redefine what was possible for the genre, starting in the recording studio.
Dave, or Dio as he came to be known, came up amongst these inspirational figures and studied their work carefully. After working firsthand with early pioneer Jeff Thacher on his own band’s album and spending countless hours listening to Best of College A Cappella compilations and other CDs obsessively obtained via mail-order catalog, Dio decided to try his hand at production, spending many nights hacking away with an early version of Pro Tools and the earliest version of Melodyne.
Dio returned to UNC to act as producer for his alma mater’s first foray into modern a cappella recording ('Elevation'). The album featured a song that was selected for that year’s “Best of” album and was a launching off point for the group. Soon more local groups heard what was happening with the Clefs, and within a few years, Dio was acting as producer and engineer for dozens of groups, quickly becoming one of the most coveted a cappella producers on the Eastern Seaboard.
Dio certainly could have stopped there. But after spending several years based in Atlanta touring with cappella’s would-be Backstreet Boys, Vocal Tonic, Dio quit his day job and made a move back to Raleigh. Armed with a Notebook of ideas and dreams, informed and inspired by what he had learned over the last several years, he began to seek a way to spread information and inspiration, to jump-start the growth of new music and thought leadership in the region.
The Fall of 2003 saw Dio at the head of three major projects: building his a cappella production company Diovoce, creating the first “SING” compilation album, and the launch of the first ever a cappella festival of its kind in the Southeast. SoJam changed everything. Mashing professionals together with collegiate and amateur singers sparked creative fires in singers and groups from around the region, and an inflection point was created which would influence thousands of musicians and listeners.
It was a challenging time for Dave, with a host of changes and not a small amount of turmoil. Working for nearly every waking moment, traveling across the country recording clients only to return to the couch in his studio, spending thousands of dollars of his own money and assembling so many moving parts for one of the most significant events a cappella had ever seen. Dio kept working at what he believed would manifest, persevering and finding time to invest in a host of future leaders and creators during this critical period, many of whom would go on to shape the a cappella community in significant ways.
At each step in his career Dio has continued to foster and empower new and future doers and dreamers. More than anywhere else, this is where Dio’s impact has been felt.
This generosity alone would have been enough to make a difference, but it was the people he met and influenced along the way that revealed just what kind of power Dio’s dedication would have. Whenever someone showed vision, commitment, and the early spark of talent, Dio was right there to cheer them on and help them in whatever way he could.
What started as recording local North Carolina groups including members like Nick Lyons and Mark Hines turned into Dio selling them their first audio software and teaching them the ropes of production. Dio served as a mentor to the two engineers as their skills and ambitions grew, and they later co-founded Liquid 5th Productions as well as The Vocal Company.
When Plaid Production’s Alex Green was looking to grow his skills, Dio gave him his first editing gig, prepping him to edit for the top professional groups in the world. When James Cannon was looking for mix feedback, Dio never failed to respond. When Angela Longo asked to observe Dio’s session with Christopher Diaz and her alma mater’s co-ed group, All Night Yahtzee, he asked to come to her rehearsal and gave her the tools to self-track her first AcaBelles album, ultimately helping to bring the community one its first award-winning female engineers. Mark and Nick were more than happy to hire her soon after for their then-tiny recording company, The Vocal Company. 200+ CARAs later, she’s now the CEO of that company.
"Dio has consistently been not only an advocate of me, where as a result he has furthered my career, skills, and self-confidence, but he has also been an advocate for my ability to grow. I have little to no doubt that without his belief in me, his challenges, his questions, and his willingness to share himself and his knowledge, I just wouldn't be the person I am today."
- Meg Alexander
After seeing Dave Longo buy a full state of the art sound system to reintroduce wireless microphone performances to a cappella, Dio offered Sled Dog Music Group the leading sponsor slot at SoJam, where he set up introductions and ultimately helped negotiate and shake hands at the closing meeting of a cappella’s first corporate merger, Sled Dog Productions, and The Vocal Company.
Booking premier groups for SoJam was no easy feat, nor was it cheap. But as the Director of Events for CASA (and as the head of the Alliance for A Cappella Initiatives before that), Dio booked the best and most inspiring groups he could find. Always trying to provide inspiration for future generations as well as opportunities for the community’s rising stars, Dio gave many successful groups their first gigs ever: Pentatonix, Musae, The Exchange. He and his team first introduced the United States to groups like Fork, The Boxettes, and many more.
When Dr. J.D. Frizzell attended the 10th SoJam at Dio’s urging, he came home with him to work for hours tracking his group OneVoice. Dio saw the potential in one of the country’s first viral high school a cappella groups before anyone else and spotted the vision and drive of the now AEA President from miles away, continuing to partner with J.D. on a host of projects supporting the community and industry.
In addition to SoJam, Dio helped to create and transform the a cappella festivals BOSS (Boston Sings), VoCalNation, LAAF (Los Angeles A Cappella Festival), and the National A Cappella Convention (NACC). He also created the a cappella “best of” compilation album, SING. As a professional performer, Dio co-founded the vocal bands Transit and Vocal Tonic and performed with Almost Recess.
A cappella was alive and well when Dio was coming up, but it was disjointed. The community as we know it today existed only in the isolated ecosystems of different campuses, and there was no real way of connecting with one another. Social media may have changed entirely the way our community operates, but it was people like Dio who wove a web of passionate creators burning to inspire and connect.