HomeA Regular Gig is Important, and Surprisingly Easy to Get

jmednikow's picture

We all got involved with a cappella because we love to sing. In most cases, we love to sing for others. Otherwise, we'd stick to singing in the shower or in the confines of our cars.

In college, it's easy to find opportunities to sing for others.  Informal gigs can be as simple as standing in an archway and starting to sing; the crowds will gather.  If you book the campus auditorium for a concert, it's easy to advertise and fill the place up with all your friends. And there are always local businesses or events that want to hire the local college group.

But once you're out of college, it's very different. None of the collegiate ways work. Informal singing on a street corner doesn't hold nearly the same appeal when it's a small number of random strangers gathering instead of a large group of fellow students.  Booking a concert hall entails real financial risk because you have to pay a booking fee and security deposit, a then advertising to your potential audience members is not nearly so easy, so targeted, or so cheap, so you're not guaranteed a sellout. Private bookings are also harder to come by, because you're no longer "the local college kids who are cute."
 
Still, the more we can perform, the better, and a regular gig really hones our skills as entertainers.  At the first Contemporary A Cappella League Conference in Memphis two years ago, our fellow CAL group Redline from Boston really showed their stuff while singing in B.B. King's Club on Beale Street.  It was clear to everyone that they were very comfortable on stage, and it was clear to me that this was a result of their regular gig in Boston. 

Surprisingly, it's quite easy to get a regular gig, regardless of where you are or how good (or bad) you are. Most DeltaCappella gigs are private affairs, and we eventually got tired of telling people that the next time they could hear us sing was months hence.  Here's what we did:

Any group can easily get a monthly, or even weekly, gig if you just choose the right venue. The secret is to combine the gig with your regular rehearsal time, and not to waste any time dealing with commuting to the gig or with issues caused by microphones, such as sound checks and setup and breakdown of equipment. 

We found that the perfect venue for us was a local restaurant that had private rooms and a piano bar where patrons waited before being seated for dinner.  But it could be any place that meets the following criteria:

• It's small enough that you don't have to deal with mics (or it has a house system that's already in place).
• It's somewhat central to your members and your core audience.
• It has a little bit of a built-in audience.
• It has a private room that you can rehearse in.
• Bonus: It serves cheap enough food that you can afford to stick around for beer and snacks afterward.

Once you've identified an establishment that meets these criteria, approach the management and ask if you can bring your group once a month (or once a week) and rehearse in the private room and then move into the bar to sing a few songs for whoever is there. Ours was a piano bar, so we just sang while the pianist was on break, but most restaurants just have a small lounge with no pianist to work around.  Tell the management that you'll announce it on your Facebook page and bring at least half a dozen fans every time who will buy drinks and food, and then you can hang around after you sing and buy drinks yourselves.

Post-collegiate a cappella groups tend not to rehearse on weekend nights when bars and restaurants are busy.  In fact, I'd venture to say that most post-collegiate a cappella groups rehearse on Monday or Tuesday nights. These are the slowest nights of the week for a restaurant, so they are thrilled to have someone say “I'm bringing in six to twelve customers, and all you have to do is to let us sing three or four songs.”

If you really start attracting a crowd on a regular basis, you might convince the restaurant to give you free beer and/or snacks, or even dinner, in return for singing in the bar.  In our case, even though the restaurant is very upscale and too expensive for our singers in general, the restaurant makes a special, off-the-menu, affordable meal for us.  Sometimes it's hamburgers, sometimes spaghetti, but whatever it is, it's a fun time of camaraderie after the rehearsal.

Deke Sharon once told me that “one performance is equivalent to four rehearsals.” Analyzing that statement is a blog entry in and of itself. Suffice to say, if you get a regular gig as I've described above, your a cappella group will improve by leaps and bounds, and you'll have a lot of fun in the process.

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

I love that quote from Deke!

And if I may be so bold, I would like to add the corollary: "and one Competition is equivalent to four performances."

Great ideas here, Jay!  I will definitely be looking into this.

 

agree

As a member of DeltaCappella...we have an awesome time with this gig. What I'll add is that after the first one, it's very low stress. We use it as a workshop to premiere new songs to find out what's working.

When we've performed in the past, the setlist often followed this pattern:

  • Something energetic or appropriate for the time (we did Too Darn Hot one particularly sweltering day).
  • The song that we've just added to our rep (could be the second or third time we've rehearsed to see where our muscle memory kicks in.
  • Audience favorite/closer.

It's amazing what you are forced to learn in 50 minutes when you know you are about to go "onstage".

[=#8040BF]http://www.rarb.org/people/thomas-king.html http://www.deltacappella.com CASA Dir. of Ambassador Program SoJam Producer & Concert Mgr Sing Producer CAL jd All Things A Cappella FOTS #1 ICCA Producer Emeritus "the

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