The Union Recorder

December 10, 2013

A musical journey

BHS alum Austin Brown and his a capella group hope to break new ground on The Sing-Off

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Matthew “Austin” Brown never imagined his ardor for singing would take him on a journey across the world to one day showcase his talent on national television. His dream of that “one day” has come true as he and his band, Home Free, are ready to debut their vocals on NBC’s The Sing-Off.

“None of us expected to get this. We were going in knowing that we were doing our best. We put our coal in the fire hoping it would catch,” Brown said of the audition earlier this year. “You have to have more than talent to get on the show. There’s got to be something unique about you, and our country aspect provided that something new for [the judges].”

Brown hopes to make his hometown of Milledgeville proud, where his passion for singing, dancing and drama flourished.

“My first real stage time in front of people was at Baldwin High School. It’s where I found myself,” Brown recalled. “When I sing, I find my inner-self that I never knew existed. I lose myself to the audience in front of me.”

The Tifton native’s musical heritage began as a young boy growing up with his father in the southern gospel community along with his mother in church. Brown moved to Milledgeville as a high school freshman, attending Baldwin High. He starred in many roles in various school and community musical productions. Brown secured an overall state championship as a soloist during his senior year in 2004.

“I got into music theater under the direction of [former BHS and current GMC fine arts director] Mark Weaver. The first a capella group was a male quartet that competed in literary state competition in my senior year,” Brown said. “I really grew into the arts community. They really fostered my love and artistry for singing.”

Brown went on to major in music theater on a full-tuition scholarship at Oklahoma City University, where he developed his knowledge and talent as a musician, arranger and director and found his personal niche as a songwriter. His career as a vocalist and entertainer hit the big stage when he traveled the world as a featured singer for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Brown also spent time with The Voices of Liberty, a highly acclaimed group, at Disney World’s Epcot in Orlando, Fla.

“I went back to Royal Caribbean in February 2012, and that’s where I met the Home Free group. We hit it off, and they were actually needing a new tenor, so they decided to bring me in last October to sub-in for some of the shows. Starting in January of this year, I’ve been full-time with them and I’ve been loving it.”

Home Free is a premiere country a capella group made up four other guys from Minnesota.

“The group has been around for 13 years, which was started by a couple of brothers when they were in college. Five years ago, the group became self-sustaining and was able to do it full-time. Now we tour 250 days year,” Brown said. “We’re carving our own scene in the music scene that’s never existed before. We really bring something new to the table.”

The Sing-Off is a unique competition series that showcases the country’s top a capella groups performing popular songs with no lip-syncing, backup bands or safety nets. Multi-platinum recording artist Nick Lachey is host of the NBC show. Judges include Jewel, Ben Folds of Ben Folds Five and Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men.

“We auditioned in May in New York. We sang three songs that we’ve been singing for years. It went really well, and they seemed really excited about us. We filled out the paperwork and they said we were going to make it to the next round,” Brown said. “A week later, they wanted to hear us sing again, so we made YouTube videos for them. A week after that, they said they would love to have us on the show.”

Home Free is competing against nine other groups in Season 4 of The Sing-Off, which will kick off with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9 on NBC. The show will run for seven episodes, with the finale set for telecast from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23.

“There’s so much work that goes into each number each week. There are a lot of late nights, and it’s mind-boggling how much specificity can go into each note and each arrangement,” Brown said. “It’s a delicate process managing the health of our voice in the creation of each new song. We’re looking forward to the show to finally start airing.”

Home Free hopes to walk away with the ultimate prize — $100,000 and a Sony Music recording contract.

“If we win, it would be life-changing. This provides a platform for us to reach a whole new world, to a market of people to share our music with,” Brown said. “Milledgeville is home to me, so I hope everybody ... shows their support. I want to make Milledgeville-Baldwin County proud.”

For more information about Brown and the Home Free band visit www.theaustinbrown.com, www.homefreevocalband.com or like the Home Free Facebook group.

To view or purchase the Neighbors feature page published in the print edition, visit http://unionrecorder.smugmug.com/buy/25684023_DKg5s5/2960840760_d7jTkxf/

VIDEO: Home Free performs "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line on Monday's premiere of The Sing-Off.