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The following is a love letter - a tough love letter - to professional a cappella groups and musicians.

Everyone in a cappella is so nice, so I'm going to take a minute to hold up a mirror and be "that guy."

By the way, if you're a casual singer, have a CAL group, don't consider yourself professional, this is most certainly not for you. Keep singing, having fun, spreading harmony through harmony. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a cappella as a hobby and avocation. In fact, the world would be a far better place if there were many more people and many more groups like you. Carry on!

As for the rest of you...


How many fans does your group have on Facebook? Take a long look at that number, then go to the Facebook pages of all of your favorite bands. Uh oh.

You performed at an a cappella festival this year, and had some fun doing a couple high school and college gigs last month? Fun, but if your group disappeared next month, how many people would be asking about you?

If you want fans to love you, and you want your music to matter beyond friends and family, you need to step up your game. More gigs, more videos, more tracks. You're not working hard enough. Until you have done over 250 gigs in a calendar year, you're not really hitting the pavement. Yup, it can be done. In fact, I've done it. Exhausting, and in the end you're humbled, but likely have some numbers that will make people in the general music industry begin to take you seriously.

You're not so much about touring, and prefer to make videos? That's fine, but there are fourteen year old kids in the Philippines making music videos with more hits than yours. Step up your game: more heart, more flash, more creativity, more cleverness, more... more. Make a video a week for a year. If Peter Hollens is making more videos than you, then you're not making enough videos.

You're more about recording? I have three words for you: Free, Track, Tuesday. We'll talk in 52 weeks.

That's all there is. Take your pick.


Did you lose sleep over your latest recording? Either by staying up all night working on it, or better yet lying awake at 4am the next night, worried if it's the absolute best it can be? If not, your approaching your job with the same non-challance as a middle manager working at a cardboard box distribution warehouse.

But wait: you're working as hard as you should have to work, as hard as you worked in school, and you're just not getting results, not getting A's like you used to, not at the top like you've always been? That's called grade inflation and entitlement. You might never have really worked hard. You might be a member of the "entitlement generation." Who knows, who cares. Just pick up a shovel and start digging, and don't stop until people start writing newspaper articles about your ditch. Which they may never do. But you keep digging anyway. Every day.

Did you spend more time looking at Facebook or working on your a cappella career today? Yesterday? Did you coach at the local high school for free, send off some arrangements to a group in South America as a gift, and volunteer for CASA, or did you spend another day waiting for the phone to ring and your email box to fill up?

Wanting to be successful and popular is meaningless. Everyone wants that. And a million dollars. Make that a billion. Desire is meaningless, beyond its ability to motivate. That's not caring about your music, that's caring about yourself. Narcissism.

Here's the bottom line: a real, full time job is between 45-80 hours a week. If you are not working that hard at a cappella, day in, day out, for several years, then you have absolutely no right to expect anything. You start at the bottom like everyone, and shed blood, sweat and tears. For years. Then maybe you'll have some real success.

It doesn't work any other way. ESPECIALLY in a cappella.


The statement above should sting immediately. Because it does for every single professional musician. Daily. Constant concern about the nature of art and commerce, and where they/you fit in. Even if your music matters today, tomorrow your music will have mattered yesterday, and you have to start all over again.

The problem for most a cappella musicians is that they're not fundamentally concerned about their musical relevance. I've seen to many people laugh about how there are far too many versions of "Fix You," and then turn around and record "Firework." If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Are you singing songs because you like them or because you're saying something? Are you picking your tunes because they'll help you land a corporate gig or because they'll touch someone's heart? I'm all about people making money, selling albums, cashing checks, but that's commerce, and based on replicating someone else's relevance for people who can't afford the real thing.

Yeah, I said it: you're singing Michael Buble covers of Frank Sinatra tunes to people who can't watch Frank because he's dead and can't afford Michael Buble tickets. Ouch.

Start with one song. One powerful song. Might have been done before, or maybe you have a friend who is a songwriter. One amazing song that doesn't sound like anyone else. It sounds like you.

And then do it again a hundred times, as it might take that many before one clicks. You were kinda hoping that first one would be enough, weren't you?


You will get no brownie points for anything. No one cares how hard you work, or how many hours you log working on an arrangement or a recording. Zero. There's a recession and all pity parties have been cancelled.

You do get karma credit for working with students, and giving away arrangements to new groups. You get credit for volunteering with CASA or another great organization, but I should be clear: you don't get to walk in the door and do the coolest job. But none of this makes you a more popular musician. It just makes you a better person.


Whatever reasonably high goal you set for yourself, you'll probably fail. So, set another. That'll probably not work out as well. Welcome to reality.

I'd venture to guess that 90% of the things I initially set out to do haven't worked out as planned. And I consider myself extremely lucky having had a 10% success rate.

Yeah, I said it: luck. That's the most important thing, after hard work. In order of importance: hard work, luck, talent. Talent on its own is useless.

So you'll spend the next decade busting your ass (if you're doing it right), and maybe, just maybe, have enough to show for it that you felt it was worth it.

Fact is, if you do it right, you will have plenty to show for it, because a cappella is young, and the tree is still ripe with low hanging fruit. But it's only available to people who get up early and stay up late, as the really easy fruit has all been picked. Better yet, plant more trees. Even better yet, teach others to plant trees.

It may not be clear, but I'm saying all of this because I care. I love a cappella, as we all do, and want to see us make gains that make last year look like a quiet prelude. Let's talk again after we're filling stadums and have another string of top ten hits.

How amazing would it be if we had all 5,000 graduating collegiate a cappella singers continue in some way, starting groups, joining groups, singing in retirement homes, filling every farmer's market and local TV station with their song. And the music that would be made by the best of the best?!?

This is nothing, our numbers are miniscule. Imagine if we had 100 times as many pro a cappella musicians. 1,000 times... but only if they really put their back in their work. A bunch of slackers will only water down the impact, filling the bandwidth with self-absorbed mediocrity...

Actually, you know what? I take it back. Go back to Facebook, to YouTube. Get out of the way so that the real musicians don't have to climb over you. Do 10 arrangements a year, and 27 gigs, and make a video, and make sure to check your Facebook profile every day to see how many people liked them! Ooh, you got a new friend! She's kinda cute too! Click on her profile and check out her photos...

Ok, we got rid of those people. You're left. There aren't many of you. That's OK. We only really need a few.

You know what you need to do, and it starts by closing your browser.



Great Article....

ha, love it.   But you WILL need that browser open to share with the world.   Doing this without social media is suicide.


Alright Deke, when we doing our video?

"No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent; work transforms talent into genius."

No doubt.

Peter Hollens is right. Peter Hollens is the Chuck Norris of a cappella social media. Peter Hollens should be speaking in the third person about Peter Hollens by now.

When I say "close your browser" I mean it in the social, not social media sense. If most people put as much time into their music as they do into facebook, we'd have 10 times as many arrangements, 10 times as many albums, 10 times as many groups and gigs. Alas, I wish more people had your vision, work ethic, and followthrough. 

Side note: have you noticed that most of the biggest names in a cappella do not spend a lot of time online? Pick the biggest 3 a cappella groups you can think of, then measure their online presence. Not so much. Too busy making music, and they know the a cappella world will show up. Which we will. 

Video? Immediately. I'll call you today, and we start planning. 

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

and congrats!

...on 20,000 subscribers. That's a significant accomplishment. I don't know if most people realize that Sam Tsui's iTunes profits are a very decent full time salary.

Give away the video for free, people pay to own the song, and in time you buy a house. Sounds like a plan.

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

Just curious, Deke ...

... What made you decide to write this now? Imcurious what brought it on,or was there a tipping point or something. 

-- Mike Meyer

Tar Heel Voices alum 1992-1996

Director, Durham Academy XIV Hours


It's a combination of factors:

1) We have fantastic momentum now. Better than ever before (at least during my lifetime). Iron is hot.

2) I haven't seen a lot of new groups formed with the intention of going pro. I'm thrilled about the new groups the Sing Off has spawned and promoted, but we need more. It takes a spark. Actually it takes months of significant networking... one special person is the spark. I'm hoping to reach that person, push him/her over the edge. 

3) At the same time, I see lots of young hopeful desirous a cappella entrepreneurs. People who want to sing full time, or arrange full time, or produce full time. A great thing. But not without the requsite drive and investment. 

4) Pretty much everyone in a cappella is super nice. A wonderful thing! But sometimes people need to be reminded of the stick along with the carrot.

5) Small victories are lovely, and should be celebrated, but facebook and other social media can make them seem like large victories. Land a record deal, book a national tour, or national commercial, or appearance on a sitcom... huge! Not happening as much as it could, as much as it should, with our recent successes. 

6) Actually, nice as that all sounds, who knows?!? I woke up with it in my head, and started typing. 15 minutes later, emailed it to Amy. Then I made breakfast for the kids as they woke up.

It was delayed a week because of the BOSS posts, and I began to wonder yesterday "did I come on too strong?" Seems like people appreciate the sentiment. Part 2 already written, coming soon.

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


You are spot on....  Def not too strong.

"No one can arrive from being talented alone. God gives talent; work transforms talent into genius."

An Outside Perspective

Hi Deke,

it's been a while since a vocal music blog post made me think so hard. Let me add a few thoughts from an outside perspective. Outside because a) I've been to the US only once (4 days of SoJam 2011), b) I've started my "a cappella career" rather late, i.e. when I was about 35 years old and c) as of today I'm making more than half of my money with events that have nothing to do with a cappella at all.

1) I fully agree to the theory of "1% inspiration, 99% perspiration". Almost all outliers have spent the magic 10.000 hours of work on their very own domain.

2) This means neither becoming a complete nerd (in a negative sense) nor a burnout victim. I haven't met Deke Sharon in person yet, but as far as I have heard he has a family, owns more than one book and is an exquisite chef.

3) Every community needs different types of characters: There are the visionaries, that write "tough" blog posts. There are the dreamers, that inspire people around them with charisma and works of art. There are the busy buddies who can get away with an average of 5 hours sleep. And there are hidden champions who contribute to the growth of "the thing" by an endless number of little steps. You can choose, who you are and find your place.

4) Every art form and genre also needs a foundation of people who just do IT because they love it and others who form a professional elite (and hopefully love it, too). The pros wouldn't be able to survive without the amateurs: They are the activistis who spread the news, buy tickets and download music. The amateurs are happy to have inspiring role models, efficient organizers and reliable managers that get things done.

5) At the center of this discussion lies the Big Q (as mentioned in my blog post only two days ago: http://www.vocal-blog.net/2012/01/6-lessons-from-lacf-2012) Do you want to stay in this "a cappella bubble" with all these "nice people" who create "harmony for harmony" all the time? Or do you feel the urge to step outside, into the real world and connect with it, even if it may disappoint you more than one time?

6) Leaders become leaders mostly because they are able to step out of their comfort zones. Which means to work as hard as Deke described it. And also to look for discomforting evidence all the time, i.e. to not follow the natural impulse to see what's already ingrained in your thinking. It also means to say the things that no one wants to hear. That's why I particularly love Deke's "Tough Love - Tough Market" post: It is provocative without being cynic. (The cynic is a disappointed person, who doesn't want to be disappointed again).

6) We Europeans would wish their iron being nearly as hot as the US one is. We don't have collegiate a cappella, Glee is just one of many tv shows and we don't have The Sing-Off. We don't have a single mass market and as if this wasn't enough, most people are still not able to clap on 2 and 4... So making a professional a cappella career over here seems like a suicide mission. But wasn't that even more futile in the early nineties, when a guy from the West Coast just started it all?

I'm pretty sure that the late 80s Deke Sharon was much too smart and realistic to PLAN his "a cappella career". Nevertheless, he acted stubbornly and worked perpetually on what meant so much to him. If you read the biographies of Gates, Jobs, The Beatles, Einstein as well as those of every top sportsman, scientiest or musician, they have some things in common: They followed the 10.000 hour rule, they were at the right place at the right time (maybe just by keeping to work on their thing for so long?) and they had the necessary talent.

Can we plan these kind of careers? Certainly not. But it's good to have a tough benchmark. And a very nice role model. Thanks, Deke for giving us both.

// FSt - Florian Städtler // www.vocal-blog.net, founder // www.europeanvoices.net , co-founder, Chairman of the Board // www.acappellazone.com, co-founder //

// phone: +49 761 38 94 74  // e-mail: info@vocal-blog.net //


Great Read!!!


Thank you so much for this big stir of the aca-pot: great article!

I have left some jumbled thoughts on the vocal blog!

"Willy"Richard Eteson

Just what we needed!

Thank you for this article, Deke. It was the exact motivation we (Six Appeal) needed to write two new arrangements and get the groundwork laid on a dozen full days of educational clinics. (all in one day - from one article!? At that rate we could arrange 730 songs and schedule 4,380 shows this year... not sure if that'll happen, but 250 gigs seems more attainable when desire becomes motivation)

I'm rather new to CASA and it's wonderful to see such great content!


Jordan Roll • General Manager • Appeal Entertainment LLC

Six Appeal - www.getsixappeal.com

Facebook • @sixappeal • YouTube


I leave you with this:
"Do... or do not. There is no try." - Yoda

Six Appeal - Saint Paul, MN - http://www.getsixappeal.com sixappealmusic@gmail.com

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