HomeBlogsDekeSharon's blogDon't Be That Guy

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Centuries ago, most people never travelled or lived more than 3 miles from their birthplace. You'd grow up in town, have a crush on the farmer's daughter down the lane, get married, build a barn nearby, and the next generation was born.

Then people started to move to cites, came in contact with many more people, more potential spouses to choose from. People's perception of beauty changed, grew, expanded, perhaps grew more refined. Then came print, then photos, and now the internet, skewing everyone's perception of beauty toward an impossible ideal.

This season it appears Jennifer Lawrence is the standard, but that will change quickly enough. What doesn't change is that the vast majority of the world's males are being raised on and expecting a level of beauty that even the most beautiful people can't maintain. Photos are photoshopped to perfection, videos edited with great care, images carefully managed... all eroding our ability to appreciate the beauty around us.

It's natural to want the best, but we have a problem when our image of beauty is effectively impossible to recreate in reality.

Crazy, right? You know people who are obsessed with celebrities, but you're not. You see lots of beautiful people every day and you appreciate more than a narrow band of socially accepted physical attributes. You have not been ruined. Good.

Except, if you're reading this, I'll bet you do have a strain of elitism that runs deep, and is difficult to shake: you think most a cappella groups suck.

That's right, dear reader. I'm calling you out.

Now, you wouldn't say that most women are ugly... because you don't think so, and you don't expect every woman to grace the cover of a magazine. But you think most a cappella groups are, well, ugly, and you're quick to point out the slightest deficiency, measuring them against an almost impossible ideal in your head that's a combination of the Real Group's effortless tuning, Naturally 7's funkiness, Take 6's harmonic complexity and Pentatonix's effortless video image... and you're just getting started.

Fact is: your ideal group doesn't exist. You can't pick and choose the perfect quarterback based on elements of the greats from the past, so you shouldn't create an ideal standard that's not achievable in vocal music either. Plus considering the amount of careful editing and tuning that goes on behind the scenes, I'd venture to say your expectations have been distilled, via auto-tune, into the impossible.

This incredibly high standard can serve one purpose: to motivate you to achieve it with your own group... but even then I think we can both agree you aren't making music that lives up to your stratospheric expectations, and probably can't.

So all you're doing is making yourself miserable. It's as if you couldn't stand to eat a meal unless it was cooked by Thomas Keller or one of his kin. Otherwise, it's just not worth eating. But you have to eat. And you love a cappella, so you are going to continue to listen to it. And be frequently disappointed.

Truth be told, I'm not that worried about you alone. I'd like your standards to be more aligned with reality, but not specifically for you... for everyone else. For the community. To continue my analogy, you're that guy with impossible standards. Whatever. That's your problem, so long as it doesn't effect the women around you.

And I fear that it does.

Anytime you're picking apart group after group at a festival, you're only undermining other people's enjoyment of them. "Isn't she beautiful?" "Well, actually, her teeth are kinda crooked and she's a bit overweight. Plus I heard that last year..."

If you don't think this has an effect, you're wrong. Our community is small, tight knit, and ripples become waves. You can lift each other up, or bring each other down. Show by show, snarky comment by snarky comment.

Moreover, if you keep this up, you're less likely to continue singing long-term. If you can't meet your own standards, why date? Why sing? Because it's good. And I'll bet you're good, if you love a cappella enough to read this. Groups need you, and you need a group. And people need your music, because unlike you most a cappella makes them smile, even if it's not in perfect tune, even if it's a simple arrangement of an oft-sung song.

And there's little better you can do in this world than make other people smile.

Speaking of groups: remember that community group you turned your nose up at the last festival? They really needed your applause, your smile, your reassuring words. They respect you, and they worked hard for this performance. No, they're not the King's Singers... but I think we've established you're not either. There's plenty to enjoy about them, plenty to admire, if you can listen beyond your melodyne-addled standards. That farmer's daughter is just as cute as she ever was... can you see past Jennifer Lawrence?

It used to be, long ago, that we all sang around the campfire with our village. We all sang around the spinet with our family. We all used to carol in the neighborhood. That's how music worked, how singing worked. Everyone.

What we do is very, very difficult. It requires far more precision, knowledge and nuance than most people have via today's standard music education. People join groups, learn a difficult skill and do their best. Very few of them are genius. The rest are, well, normal. And beautiful, in their own way.

We all want to spread harmony through harmony and the only way that's going to happen is face to face, one by one.

Find that beauty. See that beauty. Support that beauty.

Don't be that guy.


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