T his time of year has many people looking for alternatives to the music that usually accompanies them while driving, at home, or at work. Since the first Lev Tahor album (An A Cappella Kumzitz) in 2001, a cappella — voice only — albums have begun to sound more and more like “real” music over the years. One reason is that the vocals are almost always recorded to background music even if the music isn’t mixed in to the final product.

“If you sing without music, you won’t get perfect pitch,” explains Doni Gross, producer of several a cappella albums including the Kumzitz in the Rain series. “You will go sharp or flat, sometimes ending up on an entirely different key.” So a simple track of music (sometimes just piano) is created for each song, to keep the singers on perfect pitch, while a click track, or metronome, keeps the timing right.

Today there are generally two forms of a cappella music on the frum Jewish market: One tries to resemble real music, with vocals imitating real drums, bass, and other instrumental elements, while the other just sounds like singing with multiple layers of harmonies.

In the first type, vocal sounds are technologically manipulated to simulate instrumental sounds. “A vocal artist can sing a guitar solo, then that sound can be put through a guitar simulator, equalized and compressed. It will emerge similar to an actual guitar sound,” says Gross. Today’s sound technology can pitch and compress voices to sound like each of the components in a drum set. In the studio, the rhythmic drum and bass patterns will be recorded first, the other instrumental sounds after that, and then the actual vocals added on top.

Some artists can produce instrumental sounds without much technological assistance. (Think Jerusalem weddings, where many baalei simchah have a custom to have only a drummer and vocalists — they provide surprisingly realistic instrumental sounds to replace the sound and energy of a full band.)

The second type doesn’t try to imitate musical accompaniment, but aims instead to stir the listener through the niggun alone, sung with multiple harmonies (up to eight tracks of harmonies for a single line). Piano and click track are used in the studio, but not included in the mix. Layers of harmony are the musicality of the recording.

“There’s something very raw, when all you have is the core of the song,” says Gross. “In our Kumzitz in the Rain series we’ve chosen songs that have powerful appeal and enough raw emotion in the actual words and tune to connect and move the listener without any music.”

Think of “Tov Lehodos,” “Chamol,” Abie Rotenberg’s “Ani Maamin,” and D’veykus’s “V’LiYerushalayim.”

“These are the type of simple, moving songs that you can sing in shul, or in camp, or on Yom Tov, and they have this beauty and musicality that is complete, even with no accompaniment,” says Gross. “When the music is muted, the actual song just shines through.”