HomeBlogsEarl2bad's blogMaking Money As An A Cappella Group

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A group that sings together for fun operates a lot differently than a group that operates for fun AND money. 

I joined an acappella group nearly 4 years ago with the intent to have fun and make money.  I had been in a group before that had the same goal and we actually made a bit of money, but poor leadership coupled with different goals led that group to fold.  7 years later I find myself in a similar situation.  Though leadership is much better and our goals are much more unified than my first group's we face similar obstacles, namely the responsibility that comes with tending to a business.

Money changes things.  A group that sings together for fun operates a lot differently than a group that operates for fun AND money.  My current group didn't do a whole lot for the first year because we just operated like hobbyists: getting together for a few hours each week and performing for whoever would listen hoping further opportunities would come. When we decided we wanted to make money off our talents a few things changed.  Some of these were welcome changes and others not so much, but if we wanted to turn our talents into a paycheck, we needed to change how we operated.  Here are a few ingredients I find ESSENTIAL to running a money-making professional group:

Professionalism - Can't call yourself a pro group without pro conduct.  You more than likely sing with a group of friends.  You like these people and enjoy their company.  They are also your business partners.  They affect your livelihood and you theirs.  Respect each other accordingly: be on time for rehearsals and performances, come prepared to rehearsals and performances, speak in turn, etc.  You live in the real world and a career in music is already impractical as it is.  If simple things like manners, punctuality, and proper time management elude you, a pro group is not for you.

Contract/Membership Agreement - Like was said before, your group is your livelihood.  Hold people accountable for that and be specific in how you expect each other to do so.  Also be clear in the consequences of not abiding by contract terms.  

Business plan/Goal Setting - This should also be as specific as you can make it.  You simply need to define your group's goals and how you plan to reach them so they are clear to the members of your group and also to investors if you plan on having any. Establish a base line of performance expected from the members if the business is to succeed. Make clear who is handling what with regards to public relations, arrangments, getting gigs, managing rehearsals, web administration, etc. Being able to see your plans to reach your goals on paper makes your goals look more attainable while not having them written down can make them seem impossible.  As is written in the good book, "where there is no vision, people perish". Make this plan available to the group members and review it regularly.

Fire on all cylinders - I said earlier to establish a base line of performance expected from the group to be successful.  This is pretty much determining what the least amount of work is that must be put in to get what you want out. While this must be known to the members of your group so there are no surprises, this is not the proper attitude for greatness and in the music world you must be great.  Always think of ways to do more for your business. Have you exhausted your marketing resources? Your social media outlets? Have you called upon all the right promoters? Have you tried every proper venue? Can more be done in any way?  If you have the means and the time then do it for you can't afford to do any less.

Spend money - this is where most people hit a hiccup.  We've all heard the maxim 'it takes money to make money'.  While a lot of things you can do to promote your group won't cost anything, most of what you'll do to promote your group will take money - obtaining mechanical rights to stream your samples, obtaining sync rights to stream your videos, maintaining a website, producing a quality album, producing quality video, paying a promoter, renting venues, renting/buying equipment, etc.  If your group is committed you'll get all this money back.  When?  The timing is up to you and lady luck.  

Online Presence - Depending on who your audience is and how often you can gig this isn't an absolute essential, but I've included it because it's the fastest and potentially cheapest way to promote your group.  If you're a contemporary acappella group performing top 40 hits, your audience will very likely discover you online.  If you upload excellent and relevant content early and often, this will be an indispensible tool. Lacking any of those elements could be your undoing. 

Put your mouth where the money is - What I mean to say is cater to the markets most invested in music.  Most of your local theaters and concert halls already have a steady following of people over the age of 50.  They will be the ones most likely to buy tickets to your shows so cater to them.  Rockapella performed in my town a couple weeks back and as much as I love Rockapella, I was kinda bored out of my mind as they did a lot of songs for older people. I would be impressed with their choreography and arrangements and then I'd lose interest.  My group had the pleasure of opening for them so I got to talk to one of their members while they waited to take the stage.  We asked them about their song choice and they admitted to wanting to cater to the majority of ticket holders because it was just business - you perform what the people who attend your concerts and buy your cds want to hear.

What if your group is more contemporary and you want to focus on top 40 covers?  There's an out for you, too - riskier, but perhaps with a higher payout. The top 40 is the top 40 for a reason.  The majority of the music being listened to and purchased is being done so by teenagers and young adults. The caviat is these people are harder to get to your concerts as they'll more than likely discover you online. These guys will watch your videos a bunch on YouTube, which will generate some ad revenue and they'll download your stuff on iTunes.  If you impress there, then you can get these people to your concerts.

Then there are you guys that do original music.  Not every a cappella group can write a 'Red Dress'.  To you guys I say make your name with covers, then transition slowly to your originals, because unless you're writing the right songs and the right people are hearing them, you are expending a lot of time and energy on something that will take a while to pay off.  

Crack that whip! - With friends especially this will be difficult, but I can't stress enough how you must never let anyone in your group fail the business with impunity.  Any lack of professionalism is a lack of courtesy to the members of the group and lack of committment to your business.  If they don't know that, you do and have a responsibility to take control of such situations.  You can't complain about the group's lack of progress if you don't hold your partners accountable. Be sensitive to people's situations and acknowledge shortcomings accordingly. 

Know when to throw in the towel - If I could go back in time to my first pro-group, I likely would've left sooner because we weren't on track to reaching our goals after the first few months. This should've been enough to tell me that this particular collection of individuals wasn't going to succeed any time soon.  Fact is people take a while to change and if they don't already have good habits, you don't have time to let them develop. No matter how often you reaffirm your goals or recommit yourselves to greatness, it won't likely happen. Save your time, resources, and energy and get out.

Managing a money making group is difficult, but rewarding work. Who doesn't want to get paid to nerd out all day? I'm guessing not anyone reading this right now so go get it! 

-James Jones

James has been singing in a cappella groups for nearly a decade.  Sang in his first semi-pro group at 16  and his first pro group at 17.  He currently sings with pro group Piso Mojado based in Provo, Utah and also operates as an arranger, rehearsal manager, and choreographer for the group.