I just got off the phone with a friend who has a well known a cappella group (which shall remain nameless) that just got new management. Great new management.
However, like many managers, this person doesn't really know what to do with a cappella. "What can an a cappella group do?"
What can we do?!? What CAN'T we do?
Opening For Other Acts
There is no better opening act than an a cappella group. Why? No instruments means no load in and no space needed on stage. Just float out in front of the band's set up, do your thing, and the headliner doesn't have to worry about your production value or sound upstaging their set, and yet they know the audience will love it. Comedians are risky (too racy? too corny?), a cappella is perfect. Doesn't usually pay that well, but you make lots of new fans, sell albums in the lobby at intermission, and see the world. A great way to fill in off days in your home town (establish a relationship with local theaters, stadiums and promoters), and a great way to get you on a plane to new regions, where you can make...
Television or Radio Appearances
Slip on stage and slip off stage. A love song for Valentine's Day, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" on opening day, "When The Saints go Marching In" for Mardi Gras. There's a song for almost every holiday, and a pre-exisiting arrangement if you don't have time to pull one together yourselves. And while you're there, giving the morning show or cable access arts program a nice five minute segment, you're also promoting the rest of your gigs. No pay, but excellent audio and video promotion you can cut into your promo video and splash all over our social media sites. Along the same lines, there are always...
There's no national anthem like a well arranged a cappella national anthem. Plus you can perform in the sky box at the quarter, before the game for the tailgaters, or for the crowd during the seventh inning stretch. Amplified or unamplified, as appropriate. NFL games are rare (because there are so few), but major league baseball is usually begging for anthem singers. Get a free hat, see a game, and make new fans while you're in town about to do a...
Meat and potatoes. If you don't know what NACA is, look it up. Launched many an a cappella group's career for the past 25 years, including my own. Colleges are always looking for entertainment, and have been staunch supporters of contemporary a cappella since its inception. I'm not talking about shows put on by collegiate a cappella groups (although those are great, and sometimes easy to set up with a phone call), but rather shows through the concert board. They have money, and there are thousands of colleges and universities scattered around the US, not to mention the rest of the world. A cappella is popular, yet clever, relevant, accessible, interesting. Perfect for college or...
High School Gigs
Even with budget cutbacks, choral departments have a budget, and sometimes are looking for a professional ensemble to anchor a big choral night or benefit concert. Their singers will revere you and give you the biggest ovations of your career, and you'll have a great time while inspiring young singers, especially if you organize...
Workshops and Seminars
It's the rare high school gig that doesn't include some kind of workshop with the singers during the afternoon before hand. Perhaps they'll perform for you casually in the choral room while you offer pointers, or maybe they'll organize a day where you'll adjudicate several choirs from the region. You'll be heros forever if you teach them a little arranging, a little performing swagger, a little vocal percussion. Especially vocal percussion. Which brings to mind...
A Cappella Festival Gigs
The number of a cappella festivals around the world is exploding. There are at least a dozen in the US, and another dozen in Germany, and that's just the beginning. Some are huge and public, like Acappellastock, with over 5,000 attendees, and others are a cappella family reunions with the highest level of education and information sharing, like SoJam. Perform for money, perform for free. Make new friends, contacts and fans. They'll change your life, recharge your batteries, and get you ready for full 90 minute...
Eventually, when your group has enough material and enough poise, you're ready to put on a full concert in a theatrical setting. Maybe you'll have a theme (like songs of the 50a and 60s, or a holiday show) and fancy lighting to justify the higher ticket price, but even if you just go in and do your thing, you'll have made the big time. Start in your own area where perhaps you rent out your own theater for your fans, eventually word will spread and you can start booking performing arts centers regionally then nationally. But sometimes you want to let your hair down, throw on some jeans, relax and just rock, which means playing...
The sound system might not be great, the stage might be sticky from beer and the green room might smell... organic, but you don't care. The audience is electric, the overdriven amps make you feel like a rock star.The downside is that clubs don't often pay that well. But that's OK, because on the other end of the spectrum there are...
Sometimes stodgy, sometimes not entirely artistically fulfilling, but if you can sing the Lion Sleeps Tonight without throwing up in the back of your mouth you can make an easy four or five figures for 40 minutes. Or 20 minutes. Or even 3 minutes. No, I'm not kidding. How do you get these gigs? You start with...
If you haven't performed at a private party, you're not even trying. It starts out with friends birthday parties, and before long you're doing weddings, barmitzvas, handing out business cards, and then a private party becomes a company party, and you've made your way into the corporate circuit, where you'll start meeting corporate planners and bookers who will definitely want an a cappella group in their back pocket. When you get tired of convention centers and hotel ballrooms and need a little sunshine, look into...
Fairs and Festivals
State fairs usually have several stages, some large and some small. A few headlining acts that have been on the radio, plus a local community group or two, and... something that a crowd will love, something with minimal setup and breakdown, something universal. A cappella. Concert in the park gigs during the summer are similar low hanging fruit. Sell CDs, make new fans, pass out business cards, and you might find yourself at a...
Commercials. TV Theme songs. Movie soundtracks. Choral tracks on a rock band album. Video Game Sound effects. Who knows. As much as modern producers can use synthesizers to create almost any sound, the human voice is still too complex to be digitally replicated. You might get hired as standard singers, or, if your group has a recognizable sound and style, you'll start getting booked to provide your on sonic character.
You take a combination of everything above, and you have yourself a tour. Perhaps several tours. Perhaps a full year's worth of bookings. It takes time, takes persistence, takes someone with a good phone manner and responsible detail-oriented followthrough, but booking an a cappella group is something that every single person reading this blog could do.
One caveat: it is much better to have someone else say "these guys are great" instead of "we're great." so you could go by a different name when booking yourself. Yes, it happens. I know, it's a little shady, but if you kick ass and take names, you're doing them a favor, right?
So, what are you waiting for? Pull together the video and audio you have, create a good promo page on your web site, and get on the phone. A cappella has never been more popular and technology has made doing business remotely easier than ever, making this the single best, easiest time in the history of mankind to book a cappella. Seriously. Never been easier.
And the market is far from flooded; I'll bet most of the people you contact will have either hired zero or one other a cappella group. Almost no one has booked many groups. Meaning we're not in competition with each other. In fact, once a theater has booked one a cappella group and seen how much the audience likes it, they'll book another.
Yes, this means you can look on other a cappella groups websites and try to book gigs at those venues... but PLEASE make this a rarity once you have another gig in that area. Let's not inundate our tried-and-true contacts with a bunch of cold calling. How about this: you don't call a venue on someone else's website until you have an anchor gig in the area that will justify your going there, and you're "looking for something else in the region."
Let's call it the Mamet rule: you don't get the Glengarry leads until you close other deals, ok? It's only fair.
If I hear from pissed off promoters about a bunch of new a cappella groups trying to book 3,000 seat Straight No Chaser venues with no track record and no other local gigs, I'm gonna have Alec Baldwin yell at you:
People want a cappella. 5-10 million people watched contemporary a cappella on TV for the past 3 years. They love it. They're mad the season's finished, wonder where they'll be able to see live a cappella near them.
"They're sitting out there waiting to give you their money! Are you gonna take it?"