I want to start this off by anticipating some responses, and getting them out of the way before we get going….
“We are the best group on campus, so clearly there is nothing wrong with how we are running our group.”
“These things would never help our group, we aren’t trying to take over the a cappella world!”
“Who does this guy think he is? Deke?”
The answers are:
1) If your group is running perfectly, then why are you reading an article about what your group is doing wrong? And why aren’t you writing this article to share your wisdom with the rest of us?
2) Nobody is asking you to take over the world, but the worst thing you can allow your group to do is peak. You know what comes after your peak? Decline.
3) No, I am not an all-knowing a cappella entity. I am simply a lowly producer who works with plenty of groups who in some way, shape, or form are making these mistakes that I will cover in my next few articles.
This will be written in installments, because my other option was to use the new app that publishes iBooks. Yes, the topic of mistakes that amateur and some professional groups make can be quite lengthy. Let’s start with one thing that you are already addressing: getting involved in the a cappella community.
You are on the CASA website, which means you have just gained access to an enormous amount of information that can help your group learn more about the artform. A membership will take you even further! You are not alone in the a cappella universe. There are countless people out there asking the same questions and facing the same issues that you are. Join this community, and you will find even more people that have overcome these obstacles. Too many groups limit themselves to what they can find within their circle, and on their campus or area. If this same concept was historically popular, I might be singing a cappella with a British accent.
I have found numerous groups that believe that being “the premier _____ group on campus” is exactly where they want to be. If that is the case, then that is a fantastic goal that you should be able to reach very quickly. My question is what then? Where do you go after you become the best group in your city or at your school? This is the dangerous plateau that destroys groups every year. A male group on a campus that I may or may not have attended school at had a huge following. Every concert sold out, turnouts for auditions were huge, and other groups cowered at their every demand. One day, something funny happened: they disappeared. Concerts were being held, and this group was nowhere to be found.
How could a group that is so popular die so quickly? That was the exact question that was posed by the remainder of the singers. The answer is that they became stagnant. Everybody was having plenty of fun and they sounded great, but there was nowhere else to go. The arrangements all sounded so similar, some of them used year after year. If you blurred the faces of the singers, you wouldn’t notice a huge difference from year to year in their performances. Choreography, or the lack thereof, was used year after year with no adjustments. The formula that made them a powerhouse on campus caused their demise. Scary, right? Not if you have the solution. Stay involved and grow your reach every day. I am not claiming that everybody in the group is going to join in and be as excited as you, but if you can get even half of them committed, you will notice immediate improvements. Species die out when they don’t evolve, and your group is no exception.
Here is your chance to allow your group to branch out! Tell every group member to tweet and post as much as possible to other groups and get your name out there. When another local school wants somebody to open for their spring show, your name will come up. BOOM! Five songs later you have two hundred more fans. Social networking has allowed a cappella groups to spread their names quickly, and without extra cost. The community that we have developed is incredibly supportive, so utilize it. Find your local CASA ambassador and let them know you are out there. Trust me if they are anything like our NC reps, then they will do everything in their power to make sure people are at your next show or audition.
Online, watch all of the performances that you can get your hands on. Every YouTube video of an a cappella group is a learning experience, whether it is good or bad. You might see some choreography that would fit a song you sing, or a syllable that you have never thought to use. A group might be using techniques similar to yours, and it looks HORRIBLE. Either way, soak it all up! Be the sponge for all of the knowledge that is out there. The best way to learn is to try new things and find what works and what doesn’t. All of the most successful groups have fallen on their faces numerous times, but getting up can be A LOT of fun.
Didn’t catch last season of “The Sing-Off”? Shame on you! Get online right now and find all of the performances that you can find. Haven’t been to a festival yet? Rally your group and tell them all to use one month’s party money and go to the closest one. These are invaluable experiences that will not only strengthen your skills as a group, but also your bond. And I hear you, those who don’t think that spending the weekend with your group would be that much fun. There are plenty of distractions to keep you from wanting to push that new freshman out of the window of the hotel. The competitions, workshops, parties, and people you will meet will change your life. Do it. All of the cool kids are. I cannot apply any more peer pressure through writing than I am right now.
There will be plenty more of these articles, as I find new issues every day that groups are encountering. This is your starting point. Get out there and GET INVOLVED! I hope to see more and more new group names popping up in the next few months. There is plenty of room for you, and we look forward to seeing you out there.
About the author:
Eric Talley fell in love with a cappella music the very first time that he heard it. He is the founder of Appalachian State University's only co-ed a cappella group, Lost In Sound. He served as their President for three years. During that time, a cappella brought him not only musical joy, but love as well. He met his fiancé Nicki - who was the music director - while in the group, and the two married in August 09. A background in a cappella music and sound engineering led Eric to become involved in professional album production, where he continues his work today and as a contributor to CASA.