HomeBlogsDekeSharon's blogStarting An A Cappella Organization

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Time to answer a reader question, but first a little context: From Argentina to South Africa, new a cappella organizations are forming every month, and although the situation and circumstances differ, for the most part there's a great deal of similarity in the best way to bring together and gain the trust of any existing a cappella community while rapidly expanding on the back of a global groundswell.

To that end, I was just asked: "what was the first thing you did to start CASA, back in your dorm room 'way back then'? Do you remember the first few crucial steps you had to take to ensure that things would fall into place?"

Perhaps one measure of growing old is the frequency with which people ask you "do you remember...", luckily in this case I do, but back then I did it with a newsletter (yes, the paper kind, in the mail) and other now-soon-to-be-antiquated processes. Luckily, the broad strokes remain the same. I recommend you...

* BRING TOGETHER THE EXISTING GROUPS which may be very small. Reach out to any existing professional groups, scholastic ensembles and recreational groups, letting them know your plans, asking them if they have any wishes or would like to help in any way. Ask them for upcoming concert dates so you can begin to put together a calendar of local events (one of your most valuable initial projects), and perhaps invite everyone to meet each other at or around a good high profile event (e.g. a major universally respected touring act coming to town, like Bobby McFerrin or Take 6).

Scour the internet for groups, and be sure to cast a wide net, inviting groups of all styles, and remember that your primary task here is to build relationships and trust. You need to make sure these groups understand what you're doing, know that you don't have any ulterior motives, and hopefully make your job easy (e.g emailing you their upcoming concert schedule periodically). Next, you'll want to...

* CREATE A WEBSITE filled with a list of all local groups, information about them, their upcoming concert schedule, and links to their web sites. In addition, include any information you can find about local and regional a cappella workshops, opportunities, sing-alongs and the like. Don't worry if the site isn't fancy, and don't expect it to be overwhelmingly impressive initially. If there are only a dozen groups, then only list a dozen groups, and know there will be many more to come.

This might seem a daunting task, but there are several ways to make an inexpensive and even free website online nowadays. Don't let perfection slow you down: build what you can with the resources you have, knowing in time you'll be able to improve. Now it's time to...

* GET CONNECTED TO OTHER A CAPPELLA ORGANIZATIONS
around the world, like CASA, Vocal Asia, etc. There are many, and the numbers are growing. Announce yourself, make friends, exchange information, and make sure you're receiving newsletters from other organizations (both so you can read the news and see how it's done) and checking the web periodically for the latest information (news, videos, reviews and the like from web sites, facebook, twitter, etc).

If you're motivated to start an organization, you're likely already doing this to some extent, so the only real effort you need to expend here is to make sure you've found everyone worth following. I'd offer a comprehensive list here, but it's changing weekly, and frankly it's better for you to go through the process of following one lead to another lead, one website to another website, as the process will show you both how to and how not to present yourself online. With all of this information, you should...

* CREATE AN EMAIL NEWSLETTER that you can send out and also perhaps post on your website. In it you should list upcoming local concerts, links to great videos (both local and worldwide), some regional and international festivals that people might be interested in attending, and any other a cappella news you think would be of interest to locals. You'll have plenty of international news that will land in your inbox, but the real value you'll be adding is to go find news of your own in your area. Stay in touch with groups, and if they know about you and trust you they'll likely make sure you know everything there is to know, including auditions, private concerts, insider gossip, and so forth.

Make your newsletter fun and easy to read, yet filled with an impressive amount of quality information and material. Initially you might only have enough information for a few times a year, but in time you'll increase to monthly and perhaps even weekly. You might decide to have periodic features along the lines of "video of the month" that ensure readers will open and read the news, as they know there will be something impressive within. But who will you send this newsletter to, besides the groups themselves? It's time to...

* FIND EXISTING FANS which will be an ongoing process, as there are always new fans being made at every concert and with every new online video. How do you find them? Ask local groups if you can set up a table during intermission and/or after their show(s) and bring with you a pamphlet, business card or handout explaining your organization, and perhaps either a laptop computer showing your website and/or a music player with headphones where you can have people listen to some other local groups.

Ideally, at least initially, you can make your organization free. You won't have much to offer other than the information you gather, and you want to bring together as many fans as possible, so you'll likely get more names and gain more trust if you have people sign up for free and ask for donations for anyone who would like to help cover your costs.

Also, as you meet especially excited and engaged fans, you can invite them to join you and become a part of the organization. Initially you'll be on your own but in time you'll want a board of directors and staff, which will allow you do do much more in your area, like...

* CREATE AN EVENT that will bring together fans to meet each other, perhaps learn from a local group or a touring lecturer, and perhaps get a chance to do some singing. Don't overextend yourself and start with an enormous festival. Instead, keep your costs and risk low, and try a Sunday afternoon sing-along, or a single evening on a topic that locals will find interesting. From there you can build into a day of workshops culminating in a concert, which you can then expand into a full weekend.

Through all of these steps, be careful not to overextend yourself or expect everything to happen all at once. You're not sprinting, you're running a marathon, and for your organization to be truly successful you should plan to be involved for the next decade (yes, decade!) at which time you've hopefully laid a solid foundation and built a strong team that can exist without your direct ongoing involvement. The key is to make sure you don't exhaust yourself and lose focus.

Organizations are easier to keep running than they are to start, so if you do this the right way, you'll have created something important and lasting that will spread harmony through harmony in perpetuity.

I'm sure as you move through these steps you'll have questions, encounter hurdles, and need some advice. Do not hesitate to ask me (email anytime!), and to reach out to other organizations to learn how they have faced similar challenges. Considering the number of organizations that are out there, you know it can be done, and done well.

So, what are you waiting for?!?

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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

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