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My last blog was a little harsh. Intentionally so. Everyone in a cappella is nice, which is wonderful, but not always effective.

So, you want to be full-time, you want to do more... but what can you do?

1) Start A Group

I can think of exactly 2 people who have full time careers in a cappella who did not start out singing... and neither of them are exclusive to a cappella. Everyone else came up through the collegiate (or other) ranks, and is at heart a singer. And yet less than 1% of college grads keep singing a cappella. Why be one of them?

Moreoever, a group is an income source, once you get it going. You'll meet people, show off your arranging skills, have someone to record, and so on. It all works together.

Yes, it's a lot of work to start a group. No, you won't start out great. Yes, you need to wallow in mediocrity for a while. Makes you a better coach, better arranger, better producer. Armchair quarterbacks are cheap. Show me, and everyone else, what you can do, blending passion and technique.

The good news is that the world, especially America, is in need of more great, young professional groups. Entire states have almost no a cappella representation, and few areas with groups have more than one or two. Plus, there are many great singers out there, bored and frustrated. They're never going to start a group on their own. They need a leader.

2) Schoolhouse: Rock!

Unless you're living in Boston or New York City, chances are there is a great need in your area for a cappella knowledge and opportunities. Local schools, especially high schools, are likely in desperate need of vocal opportunities for students. So, start an after school group, either at a single school, or at a central location that draws from many schools, ala Til Dawn.

You might not make any money at all at first, but eventually paid gigs will come, and parents will likely pay for an after school program once they see how great it can be. Moreover, you'll have just created another income source for yourself: one that will continue as long as you want it to.

The local college doesn't have an a cappella group? Help them get one started. The junior high wants to do a couple pop songs? Help them out for a day or two. Sometimes you'll get paid, sometimes you won't... but until you're working 50 hours a week on paid projects, pro bono is better than becoming a pro at Halo.

3) Build A Local Network

Maybe there is a private school with a proto-collegiate style group, and a barbershop chorus, and a classical ensemble that flirts with King's Singers pop charts, and so on. They all want gigs, they all want a community, but they're largely on their own. You can change that.

Be the nexus of all things a cappella in your area. Volunteer to be a CASA ambassador for your region, or if that's too much of a commitment right away, start by creating an informal Saturday or Sunday afternoon gathering where the groups meet and sing for each other. Maybe offer a free workshop, or free arrangement that you'll teach. Bring cookies. People like cookies. Be friendly, call groups, see what they need, find a way to get them together, and before you know it you'll find yourself working with one, promoting another, and the person that outsiders call when they want to know about a cappella in your area. You want to be that person.

4) Create Casual Singing Opportunities

Everyone wants to sing, or at least almost everyone, yet few people have an outlet.

Perhaps start a CAL group that meets regularly once a week. Kinda casual, kinda pro. Immediate circle of friends, some income from gigs, and a good time in general.

Perhaps start a casual singing opportunity on the weekends. "Sunday Sing" once a month. Two hours, provide sheet music, give people a chance to show up and sing some a cappella. Promote it in local community calendars (newspaper, web sites, radio, tv), and people will definitely come. Maybe after a time or two you can put out a hat for donations, and within a couple months there's a small fee to participate to cover costs and your time. If people will pay $12 to see a mediocre movie, they'll gladly pay $5 each to spend the afternoon singing.

5) Record Regional Groups

The business model for professional a cappella engineers has shifted over the years from "one stop shop" to more of a pyramid, where the top tier folks are spending most of their time mixing, and another group of young eager future producers spend most of their time editing (a polite way of saying "fixing the rhythm and tuning") in their own homes.

What is left is a need for tracking engineers: folks who know how to operate a pro-tools (or other) rig, and get great performances out of amateur singers. You can't just walk in the door and do this without experience, but learning how isn't too difficult and can be done in a week (Bill Hare and I teach "Soup to Nuts," Freddie Feldman and Dave Brown teach "A Cappella Boot Camp") and provide a source of income with minimal expense.

Upside: the more groups you have coached, networked with and founded, the more work you'll have. You're beginning to see a trend, right?

6) The More You Do, The More You'll Be Able To Do.

When people ask me how I made a career of a cappella happen, especially in the early days, I came upon an analogy: the water skeeter. They can do the impossible: the somehow stand on water:

http://www.naturefootage.com/video_clips/DZ23_178

They're able to support themselves on water by never putting too much weight on any leg. Is this making sense? Do a little arranging, a little performing, a little production, a little recording, a little coaching... you get the idea. One month it'll be one thing, another month another. Do it for twenty years, and perhaps you'll find yourself making a television show one month, writing a book the next, making a movie the next, on an international concert tour the next. Stranger things have happened (but not much stranger).

By the way, you might think I'm stupid for explaining all of this. Why would I want to motivate and train my competition?

Answer: You're absolutely right! What was I thinking?!? So stupid. Enough of the free advice. Go away, kids! Shoo! Get off my lawn! Grandpa's tired of your broken pitchpipes and discarded chloroseptic bottles...

Real answer: we're all in this together, and there's plenty of room at the salad bar for everyone. Moreover, until we have too many amazing a cappella groups glutting the airwaves and media, our work is not done.

I still provide free advice, send arrangements for free from time to time (especially in "a cappella developing" areas, like South America and Africa), and generally spend time doing things that create community but have little or no direct benefit to my pocketbook. Like writing this blog for instance. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention writing a blog. Or making a podcast. Or recording videos. And so on. You get the idea. Do something, and then when you're tired or frustrated or demotivated, do something else. Sometimes alone, sometimes with others.

You absolutely can make a full time career of a cappella, but it won't be traditional, and it won't be the same every month. Or day. Or hour. But it will be fun. Exhausting, and fulfilling, and frustrating, and fun.

Comments

Amen!

Apple for teacher - (do you have that in the USA too?)!

"Willy"Richard Eteson

Yup!

And I do like apples. The digital as well as organic ones. I'll take either.

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

BHS CEO

You've hit some many nails on the head that you could have built a house, Jack.  (Okay, that was pretty lame, but sincere.)

I hope we can fill our vacant CEO position at the Barbershop Harmony Society with someone that is as visionary and brutally honest as you, Deke.  Need a new gig? 

Cheers!

Paul Agnew

The PURSUIT (Barbershop/Barberjazz)

Barber Polers class of '83

Paul,

Alas, the Kibbers would probably have me shot before I got off the plane. But the sentiment is deeply appreciated, as a barberpole cat circa 1983. In fact my great grandfather was a barbershop singer. Sounds like a good topic for my next blog...

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

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