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[Spoiler alert: if you haven't watched the finale of The Sing-Off Season Four, turn back now! Avert your eyes! Here, there be dragons!]

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Allow me to offer a hearty public congratulations to Home Free, winners of The Sing-Off Season 4!

They're great guys, multi-talented, flexible, a pleasure to work with. But it's not their talent or work ethic that impresses me most about these guys. It's their determination.

How determined are they? Here's the big reveal: Home Free auditioned for The Sing-Off every single year. That's right, they are one of the very few groups who has not missed a Sing-Off audition. No matter what, even if they didn't get a callback, they came back the next year, bright eyed and eager.

The a cappella community is, on average, highly educated, with a preponderance of college degrees. This has many advantages, but one possible disadvantage is that people too often calculate their odds and give up. It's the rare professional a cappella group that sticks it out through the tough years and lasts a decade. People don't like rejection, and perhaps their education tells them that if one path isn't working, find another. This is a good strategy many places, but not in the music industry.

Home Free wouldn't take no for an answer. Every year Chris Rupp would eagerly text me with questions about audition times and expectations. His focus was singular. And when at auditions, Michelle McNulty heard the twang in Austin and Tim's voice, wondering if they knew any country songs, the guys responded "no, but we'll learn one and come back tomorrow." Which they did. And the rest is history: we now have our first high-profile country a cappella group.

Let this be a lesson to you all: success doesn't come right away, and in the rare case when it does, you're likely only to expect more. There is no even, downhill path to your goal. If you're going to make a career in a cappella, it will be a challenging one that will demand your patience and fortitude.

Easy for me to say, right? What do I know about rejection? Setting aside the long early years of the 90s during which the word "a cappella" was either a punchline or unknown, when my cohorts and former teachers all snickered at my non-existant career choice, perhaps the biggest rejection of my life came when I wasn't accepted into the Tufts Beelzebubs. Twice.

This has already been written about in the book Pitch Perfect, which then became the scene in the movie where the incredibly eager Benji is rejected while his roommate Jesse is accepted to the Treblemakers. Of course, Benji is later invited to join the group and has his big moment in the finale, which sparked the obvious question from my then Tufts roommate Eric Valliere: "wait, is that us?" to which I could only smile. Making the situation more poignant and painful at the time, Eric didn't want to audition for the Bubs, but I convinced him, telling him how much fun we'd have together, and when he made it and I didn't, he wanted to quit. Luckily, I was accepted during my third audition (at which I finally learned to act like I didn't care if I got in or not, which appeared to be the secret), and you know the rest.

When asked if this bothers me in hindsight, I answer honestly that it doesn't. I wouldn't have been happy my first year - the focus of that year's group would have frustrated me, and it was best for me to learn to be patient for a year, which likely served to coil my spring even tighter. I honestly don't know if I would have made a career and community of contemporary a cappella if I'd made it in the Bubs that first year.

Moreover, I'll bet if Home Free had made it on an earlier season of The Sing-Off, they would likely not have done as well as they did this year. It all clicked: the new members, the new sound, the new style, the new excitement around a cappella post-Pentatonix and post-Pitch Perfect. Their stars are aligned perfectly.

And as the year draws to a close, with the holidays upon us, perhaps this is a time for you to realign your goals to point you toward your favored stars. Rejection, failure, hurdles: all inevitable, all necessary.

I can't guarantee you'll win a Grammy for your a cappella album next year, I can't guarantee your group will become a household name, I can't guarantee you'll meet the love of your life while performing on a festival stage under the stars halfway around the world... but I can guarantee you won't if you don't try.


Deke Sharon founded CASA (and other stuff), makes TV shows ("The Sing-Off"), movies ("Pitch Perfect"), sings (The House Jacks), produces albums (Straight No Chaser, Street Corner Symphony, Committed, Nota, Bubs), wrote a book (A Cappella Arranging), publishes sheet music (Hal Leonard), and custom arranges music (over 2,000 songs). You can find him at www.dekesharon.com