Home“Big Money” is Waking Up to the Profit Potential of A Cappella

jmednikow's picture

Here is my prediction: in the next decade, dozens of a cappella groups will have hits on the U.S. music charts.

I think that there will be a reaction to the overuse of technology in today's music, and listeners will find comfort in the purity of “just voices,” even if those voices are enhanced in much the same way as pop music with instruments.  And as this happens, “big money” will seize the profit opportunities.

If you are graduating college or have recently graduated and want to keep singing a cappella, there will be ample opportunities for you to be discovered by a record label that will help launch you to stardom.

Now, I'm a big believer in post-collegiate singing, and the Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL) was created just for people like me, who want to “sing for their lives.” But I'm talking about something bigger here:  CAL was conceived to include singers of all skill levels, but the best of the best are poised to become national stars in the next decade.

There are a few European vocal bands that earn full time salaries from their a cappella groups, but in the U.S., only Rockappella and perhaps Naturally 7 seem to be earning a full time living from a cappella. (There are undoubtedly some that I've missed, and if you know of one, post a comment.)

Interestingly, one of the newest a cappella acts out there is poised to earn a full-time living from a cappella. Nota has just released their first CD as well as a Christmas EP, and they landed in the #1 AND #2 spots on the Latin charts - even beating out Shakira, whom they've toured with (as a warmup act) to great audience acclaim. Nota is exploding, and I predict that this vocal band will be able to earn a full time living from touring and sales of their music.

What do Rockappella, Naturally 7, and Nota have in common?  They've all been launched to fame by big money and the mass media in some way or another.

  • Rockappella first found fame with the theme song to “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” and the exposure for five years on a national television program made them a household name. Rockappella is probably the best known a cappella group in the country.
  • Naturally 7 worked hard for years and even had a European record contract, but they really shot to fame by touring for over a year with Michael Buble. That national exposure has made them very well known in the U.S. 
  • Nota was launched by winning NBC's “The Sing-Off” competition last year, through which they won a recording contract with SONY Latin, which has brilliantly positioned them as a cappella for the Latin pop market.

The power of big money can create awareness and demand for a cappella music.  There are several other professional a cappella groups who are just as good as the three listed above, but for whatever reason, they haven't been discovered and marketed by a major record label.

Thankfully for our tiny subset of the music world, big money is starting to wake up to the profit possibilities of a cappella music.  It's evident in shows like "The Sing-Off" and "Glee" and the downloadable tracks that are made available on the day of broadcast.  I read recently that "Glee" has now produced more chart hits than any other group in history except the Beatles.  Of course, that's not exactly comparing apples to apples, but still, I was staggered when I read this.

Contemporary a cappella for the past twenty years has focused primarily on college/independent music, because college campuses have been the incubators of contemporary a cappella.

But college/independent music is a limited market, and post-graduate a cappella groups need to recognize that their audience in the "real world" is much different from their audience in college.  "Independent" means "no recording contract," and there's a reason for that: the market for this type of music is relatively small and record companies want acts that can be big.

Record labels are recognizing that a cappella today can produce music in any style, and the groups who are very good and who select their niche carefully and develop a unique sound may well be signed and promoted by these record labels.

There are lots of niches to pursue, and each niche can support several a cappella groups.  Record labels will sign jazz a cappella groups, gospel, hip-hop, Latin (Nota doesn't have a lock on the Latin market), and even country, to name a few.  To be sure, there will be some college/independent style a cappella groups signed too, but there is a much bigger a cappella world waiting for recent college graduates.

So, current students and recent grads, here is my advice:  if you break away from the music you've sung in college and find the right niche, I predict there will be ample opportunities for you in the 2010s, and we may well see your hit on the music charts in the not-too-distant future.

[photo: Naturally7]

About the author:
Jay Mednikow runs his family’s 100-year-old jewelry business in Memphis.  He sang with the Harvard Din & Tonics while in college and with the Duke Pitchforks while in business school.  Then he took a 17-year break from a cappella, because in 1990, there were very few avenues available to continue singing a cappella music after school.  But in 2007, Jay’s desire to do it again led him to found DeltaCappella, a twelve-man contemporary a cappella group that was a charter member of the Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL).  He has become an avid proponent of post-collegiate a cappella music.  Jay’s wife and three children, thankfully, support him in his musical endeavors. DeltaCappella are the winners of the 2010 Stone Awards for Most Outstanding Recording Artist/Group.

Comments

Full-time US groups

Other US groups doing a cappella for a full-time living include, at the very least:

Take 6

Ball in the House

Tonic Sol-Fa

Sonos

InPulse

Mosaic Straight No

Mosaic

Straight No Chaser

Legacy

Problem isn't talent, it's material.  No record company is going to promote a group unless they know they can sell product, and cover bands can only sell so much product.

Originals

So if there's ample opportunity, and new interest in the sound, BUT the problem is limited product...

We need to start writing more original songs for acappella groups!  Better yet, there's an entire industry of songwriters/wannabe songwriters who would probably be extatic at the idea of writing their songs for voices alone.  Why?  Because you can do ANYTHING with human voices.  You can sing chords no pianist or guitarist could ever play.

Imagine you're that creative songwriter, an artist, and you write pop songs, but you're limited to, say, what notes the singer can hit, or what chords the studio musicians can play...you're limited to the conventional pop-music box...but suddenly someone tells you: write whatever you want.  The same with recording producers and engineers.  Unlimited creativity, a blank canvas with no edges.

I think that not only will acappella join the mainstream music world, but the line between arrangers and songwriters will become increasingly blurred.  Also, mashups and medleys will become the new 3-minute up-tempo love song.

The real question is, do we think this is a good thing?

I agree

I agree music is too manufactured and acapella will be more popular.  3 iPhone 4 SIM only

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