This is it. Well, was it. The big year many of us had been waiting for since... forever. We've come a long way since the era of worrying that when a cappella was mentioned, most people would think choral music, doo wop or barbershop (a decade ago) or worrying that a cappella would always be a punchline (five years ago).
We had a two hour prime time network television show devoted to contemporary a cappella (Sing Off), and it spread overseas (Holland, France). The first feature film (Pitch Perfect). The Bubs (with a little help from Glee) have a gold record (albeit under the name "The Warblers"). Straight No Chaser is selling out countless 3,000 seat theaters. And so on. Even Monday Night Football jumped on the bandwagon.
In 2012 the world will see the first major motion picture about collegiate a cappella. We might have another US SIng Off, or maybe not (won't know 'til March), and likely more international versions. But at some point things will quiet down; It's not like Hollywood is going to make an a cappella movie every year, and network television will eventually move on.
What do we do then?
• Make Music That Matters
Much as I want to say "write original music," that's not exactly correct. It is correct to say "stop just doing covers of other people's songs because you want to and you're hoping people will notice you." Clever and cute can be compelling, but if you want to draw long term fans, you have to make music that no one else can make, and ideally do it more than once. Through repetition, an audience begins to connect to an artist, and then a deeper level of communication can occur over time.
I have a hunch that the Mike Thompkins/Sam Tsui/Peter Hollens style faces-in-windows multitracked videos have peaked. For one of those to go bonkers viral again will take something special. What's next? Rather than starting with the technology, I think we as a community need to start with something that we need to say. Just as songwriters are told "write what you know" I think singers need to sing what they know. Don't just jump on the latest bandwagon, covering top 10 hits. That's commerce.
Dig down deep and make me care. That's art.
• Go, Go, Go
10,000 hours. 10 years. There are various lengths of time considered necessary to achieve mastery, but there's only one way to get there: repetition. If you want to be great - really great - you need to arrange/record/produce/perform every day. You might think "practice, practice, practice" is more appropriate than "go, go, go" but I'm not talking about practicing. I'm talking about doing. Make music every day, and don't be afraid of failure, of being mediocre, of having bad days or middling reviews or some audience members who don't love what you do.
Yes, you'll get there, if you have the stamina. No, you're not great yet, even if you happened upon greatness once or twice.
If you don't know if I'm talking to you, I'm talking to you.
• Hit The Road
A Cappella always has been and always will be live. Moreover, 99% of all a cappella income comes from ticket sales. If you want to make a career as a performer, get on the road. It appears some of our great young talent is staying home, focusing on videos. I think that's a shame, as they can make videos from the road, and the albums and videos will be worlds better with the experience they have sharing and testing their material live.
Learn how to rock a house, and you'll never go hungry.
• Start a Festival
Almost everyone who attends SoJam drove there, and slept in their own bed. Same with every other a cappella festival. Sure, a few diehard fans fly to see friends and great groups, but the vast majority are locals.
What does this tell us? That people everywhere want to hear a cappella in their area. The Yellowjackets hosted Delilah and Pentatonix, and sold out 3,000 seats so quickly that they set up a second show. And sold that out too.
You might not be able to start with nationally known names, but if you put on an a cappella concert you'll get there. You know your region, you know where you can get an inexpensive venue (maybe the local college group can provide one for free), you know which local groups would be happy to perform for a cut of the door and a few slices of pizza, you know where you can publicize for next to nothing. Start small, minimal risk, and build.
Don't get me wrong - you should still attend SoJam. That's the mothership. Learn from Dio and crew, and then make it happen in your neck of the woods. LA-AF had 900 people at their first show. Acappellastock draws 5,000 people each year. And we now have 3 years of the Sing Off, which has created 5-10 million new a cappella fans.
Until there's an annual festival a 2 hour drive from every US citizen, we're not done.
• Take A Stab At Radio
It's interesting that the big a cappella swell from '87-'96 was almost entirely driven by radio. Boyz II Men, Huey Lewis, The Nylons, Bobby McFerrin, Az Yet et al had top 40 hits, but that lead to little else (The Spike Lee "Do It A Cappella" PBS special was about it). Now we have TV shows, movies, viral videos, significant album sales, exposure... but no radio.
I'm not sure what can/will punch through the glass ceiling this time, but we shouldn't give up.
• Teach The World To Sing
Is there a teen afterschool a cappella group in your area? Is there an a cappella class alongside other adult education in your area? Is there a monthly casual community sing-along in your area? I'm guessing no.
People want to sing together, but don't know how and/or need someone to get the ball rolling. You're that person. If you're reading this, I can almost guarantee you have the requisite skills as well as desire. Not sure? Can you rent a space? Make a couple phone calls? Plunk parts on a portable keyboard? Yup, you're ready.
There are many fantastic adult pop choirs across Europe... pretty much none here. There are a cappella groups at many colleges... but almost no contemporary a cappella experiences for eager teenagers. Might take a little time to get things started, but there's help from experienced folks here at casa.org.
You'll look back a year from now, watching your singer's faces, and realize you've done something important.
Looking back on this list, you might be thinking "Wait - there's nothing new here!"
A cappella wasn't an overnight success and isn't going to be a flash in the pan.
Make music, share music. Same as it ever was.