HomeBlogsdavecharliebrown's blogOfficialhood

davecharliebrown's picture

What does it mean to have your college group be an "official" part of the school?

Recently on the RARB forum, Mike Jankowski of the Buffalo Chips made public his groups financial woes: "We are having a nightmare at our school... after this year they are completely cutting us off."  This got me to thinking... how many groups receive school funding?  What is the official "status" of most college groups in relation to their university?

Not having the time or energy to undertake a 50 state survey (and you too, Oxford), I've been reflecting on the groups I've been a part of, and those I've come into contact with over the past few years.

As an easy first comparison, my own college a cappella experience involved two groups.  They are tremendously similar in style, goals, emphasis, vocal-band-style use of handheld mics, rehearsal time, even group size (both have 9 singers).  But despite their zillions of similarities, behind the scenes is an enormous difference that most people can't see: Vocal Point is an official performing ensemble with the BYU School of Music, while Noteworthy is some sort of roving a cappella garage band gang, with no official status of any kind.

As an aside, I should make it clear that this difference is not gender based, but merely historical circumstance.  I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that there's no discrimination going on.

So back to the difference.  How does it really affect the groups?  What does it mean to be official?  The upside for an "official" group like Vocal Point is tremendous support from the university in the use of facilities, the appointment of a faculty director, support in PR and booking and business management, and even university credit for attending rehearsals.  Downsides (depending on who you ask) are that the group has an upper limit on number of performances per semester, compliance with university policies, university oversight on things like travel distance and song choice.  The group is largely independent, don't get me wrong, but the university has the final say on everything.

Strange enough, Vocal Point receives no cash whatsoever from the school.  Nada.  So financially, the groups are the SAME.

Noteworthy, in contrast, gets to perform wherever and whenever they want, as many times as they want.  They can put whatever songs on their CD they choose.  They are free to develop their identity without any oversight or signatures required.  But they are also relegated to hunting for empty rooms to rehearse in, unable to schedule anything themselves.  Absent a special arrangement, they can't perform in the school's fancy venues, and they certainly get no credit for rehearsing.  As I said, they're pretty much a garage band.

Despite the differences in their petri dishes, both groups survive and even thrive.  They do big gigs, they have loud fans, they win awards.  Fascinating.

There are other places where a cappella groups are truly "official," with faculty directors and school credit (even at small places like Mary Baldwin College in rural Virginia), yet I believe this scenario is relatively rare.  Many groups are roving bands like Noteworthy, especially the newer ones.

Probably the most common scenario I've heard is groups that operate as an official club of the school.  This allows the school some ability to monitor (and occasionally censor) what's going on, and yet there is no need to really manage the group or ensure its ultimate success.  The group gets the benefit of using school venues, having a website on a school server, sometimes an official school mailbox or even office space!  Groups in this situation manage their finances by themselves, but often have to get a part-time faculty person to sign all checks.

Speaking of which, funding also varies significantly from school to school.  Some groups are so used to being financially independent that when they first hear that other groups get school funding, it blows their mind.  But even where funding comes from the school, it's never a zillion dollars.

But we're not in this for the money, right?  We want the glory.  Or at least we want to sing songs with like with people we like (hopefully).  And that's really what it's all about: the music.

When you start seeing that the grass is greener for the other groups at neighboring colleges, remember that there are pluses and minuses for everyone.  Getting credit for attending rehearsals is pretty cool, but it's usually one credit for 6-10 hours of rehearsal, and you don't have the option of missing class -- if you drop out, you get an F on your report card.  Receiving school funds is obviously a huge benefit, but on the other hand, it can come with heavy strings attached.

Whatever your group's officialness (officiality?), your success ultimately depends on more important factors: how many students are at your school? how long has your group been around? how charismatic and organized is your director? how active are your alumni?  Your success depends on song selection, skill level, rehearsal time, arrangement choices, PR skills, and work ethic.

That's why, in the long run, I'm not worried about the Buffalo Chips -- they're a driven group that has a lot going for them.  They'll have to be a little more scrappy about finding dinero, but the extra work will only make their successes taste that much sweeter.

How does your group fit in relation to your school?  Send me a note (dave at casa dot org), or drop a comment below.

featureimage: 

Comments

The Tufts Beelzebubs broke away from Tufts Student Adtivities

... a long time ago (20+ years) as being a part of Student Activities meant giving back all of the money you've earned at the end of the year, and the group works on 2 year album cycles. It's really best to be in control of your own financial destiny!

- Deke Sharon • 800.579.9305 • http://www.dekesharon.com

The Fading Point Advantage

For the last two years Southern Virginia University's a cappella group The Fading Point has been trying to find their fit within the University. Due to the fact that SVU is a small university, very much still in its beginning stages, we have had perks that are almost unbelievable. We are not an official part of the school in any sort, but we have full access to all school facilities (including vans, sound equipment, and reservation power). We are even able to recruit new members through school resources. We have worked our way up, and are now the most prestigious student performance group on campus. Which we used to convince the higher school officials that we are a powerful tool that they could use as they build the school, plus we are easier to transport than the school choirs, etc. We soon began performing at many prestigious functions within the school for free (minus feeding and any needed transportation), acting as student ambassadores for the school. By doing this we caught the eye of several donors (A cappella blew their minds) who wanted to help us build our group, and contributed thousands of dollars of matched funds (meaning that they will double whatever we raise elsewhere up to a specified amount). We still don't charge really, but donations are continually coming in for the group through the schools contacts and other types of fund raising (asking family and friends, etc.). We still have full control over booking, song selection, member selection, and every other aspect of our group. I will admit that I don't think that this kind of a setup will last much more than another year or two before we solidify some kind of position within SVU's infrastructure, but it has been great for us. I know that larger schools, and more established schools have a much more difficult system to work with, but for groups in smaller schools, or schools looking for a new more economical recruitment tool, this may be the direction your group needs to go.

big fish, small pond.

I'm really glad you shared that, Joshua.  I talk regularly with groups at small schools who are frustrated by the relative lack of resources (and let's be honest, fewer people in the singing pool can also mean less talent).  They're often in smaller, remote towns where there aren't big corporate gigs, no great venues, etc.

The Fading Point provides a great example to groups in this situation.  If you look at being the only group in a small area or small college as an advantage rather than a disadvantage, opportunities abound.

--Dave Brown

now: Mouth Off host | ICCA & CARA Judge

then: CASA president, CASAcademy director, CASA Bd of Directors | BYU Vocal Point | Noteworthy co-foun

Nice post Dave, and awesome

Nice post Dave, and awesome post by Joshua, thanks for sharing your experiences. Both posts made for a great read, cheers guys.play roulette poker reviews play blackjack online video poker movie download horse racing betting iphone ringtones

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.