HomeBlogshyperdel's blogA True Sweepstakes

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There is a very spirited debate going on about the recent regional level of the National Harmony Sweepstakes in Los Angeles. First it was about how poor the sound was for all of the groups. Then it turned into a discussion about whether it was against the rules for the members of King4 to compete a second time that night by adding one person and going under a different name (Throat). It’s a very interesting discussion that is worth a look while you are exploring this site.

The whole thing got me thinking about how it seems like every year there are similar discussions about the Sweeps regarding the rules, the judging and the sound. The producers of the Sweeps seem to have taken the position that if they deem it appropriate they will look into these concerns. But, the thing that is being overlooked is that this is supposed to be a celebration of harmony and a cappella. It’s about community. And then inevitably, nothing gets fixed.

Part of my contribution to the discussion was to suggest that since the rules seem to have clouded and tainted the true intent of the Sweeps, perhaps they should do away with the competition aspect and make it a true “Sweepstakes” that is about community and a celebration of harmony and the many diverse forms of music that comprise modern day a cappella. Since the chances of these changes being made are probably pretty slim, I have come up with my own alternative to the Sweeps. It’s a kind of wish list, “if I had my way” kind of thing.

I am certain that this would be no small undertaking. I’m also pretty confident that with the right planning it would be realistic to do this and still put on a great, entertaining show with a similar excitement surrounding the question of who will have their name drawn and win a chance to be a part of the Nationals showcase in Marin County.

Currently, groups submit materials to the producers of each region to be considered as a participant of the competition. This could basically remain the same but instead of “competition” we use the term “showcase”.

I’m going to pause here for a moment to discuss how the regions are divided up and how it could possibly be affecting the amount of quality submissions each region is submitting. To help to resolve this problem of not having enough submissions or enough quality submissions, I would propose that we have less regions, particularly in the northeast. Right now there is a Mid-Atlantic Region in Washington DC, a New York Region in NYC and a Boston region in Boston.

I’m here to tell you that this is highly unnecessary given the proximity of each region to each other. Besides that, it has never made sense to me to have those three regions so close to each other, but have no southeast region. Given the fact that Orlando, Fl is a veritable breeding ground for quality a cappella, and that there are more and more groups springing up in the Carolinas and Atlanta, I think that there should be two regions in the east. There should be a Northeast Regional showcase in NYC/Boston (alternating every other year) and a Southeast Regional showcase in either Charlotte, NC or Atlanta, GA. (Or alternate every other year)

I would eliminate the Rocky Mountain Region and just have one Midwest Regional Showcase in Chicago. To be fair, you could alternate between Denver and Chicago every other year.

I would combine LA and San Francisco into one Southwest Regional Showcase in Los Angeles (possibly alternating every other year) and then have a Northwest Regional Showcase in Seattle.

So now what you have is 5 regions instead of 7, but you would still have the same amount of submissions. This allows you the ability to assert a little more quality control so you can narrow down your submissions to where only groups who meet the minimum standards of quality will be considered for the drawing at each region. I would also not allow a person to submit in multiple groups. That means that you can only be in one group AT ALL for that year. No duplicate membership will be allowed and each member of each group will be verified nationally. So submitting under fake names will do you no good. Everyone will be verified prior to each regional which ideally, would all be held on the same night. If for some reason scheduling or unforeseen circumstances cause a group to be unable to attend, another name will be drawn to determine the final spot. You can only submit in ONE REGION each year.

Each region would draw only 5 names instead of 7 to allow for longer sets from each group. You could still have the producers determine the order of the show the way they do now, only, the order means nothing to the groups because they aren’t competing, they are simply showing up and giving the audience an outstanding and entertaining set. You could also still have a panel of adjudicators to offer critique and suggestions for each group. That would be a nice educational touch. No need for a rubric any more or scoring sheets. They simply fill out comment sheets throughout the evening for each group.

There could still be awards for prizes at each regional level as well. You could still have “Audience Favorite”, “Best Original Song” and “Best Original Arrangement”. But you could also have the judges pick their top 3 favorite groups as well and have “Best VP” and “Best Soloist”. There could be different prizes for the awards so that all of the winners get something. Then after handing out the awards, there will be a drawing to see who wins a trip to Marin County to represent their region at the National Showcase.

Finally, at the National showcase there would only be 5 groups. Now each group would also be able to do a longer set so they can have more time to really show us what they can do. The awards would be the same but the prizes would be sweeter. There would be a final drawing at Nationals to determine who wins the grand prize. There would be a handpicked panel of elite and/or celebrity judges.

The winners of each region would host the regional showcase the next year as they do now. The winner of nationals would get to host nationals next year like they do now. There would be a recording of the National Showcase and the CD would contain 3 songs from each of the groups and the host group.

There would be a technical rider for each region and for nationals and each showcase would ONLY be engineered by an engineer with adequate experience with a cappella. This would be carefully overseen by a “quality control team” comprised of experts in the field of a cappella engineering. It would no longer be necessary to limit the use of audio effects “to be fair to the other groups” or to simplify the EQ and mixing for each group to “level the playing field”. Special effects welcome (within reason) and throat mics, pedals and etc… but you have to know how to use them and they have to be able to be set up at a sound check in a reasonable amount of time.

So you see, it could be possible to put on a good show, celebrate harmony, community, a cappella, diversity, innovation and originality and also offer prizes and awards as an extra incentive for groups to come out and participate. I think this would also help to bring out more pro groups who would normally shy away from this sort of thing. It all starts with an idea and a collective willingness to make it happen. So, is anyone up for the challenge?


3 reasons:

I'm still thinking about this, because you bring up a lot of great ideas.  My gut instinct says there are 3 reasons why your ideas won't / have not worked:

1) money

2) money

3) money

In more detail, 1) that much oversight over applicants, checking into validity of entrants, seeking out the best groups... it takes time, from people, which means money.  

2) hiring great sound people, great facilities, great staff takes money.  

3) traveling to distant regionals - Chicago to Denver??? - takes money.

The producers don't have money.  Groups don't have money.  

Hmm.  More later.

You're probably right..

You're probably right, Tim. That's why I said it would be a HUGE undertaking. I would probably have to win the lottery and fund it my self to make it happen, right? LOL

I only brought it up because of how every year the same complaints keep coming up either about the sound, the judging or the inconsistencies in the rules from region to region. So I simply made suggestions for how I would maybe resolve some of them.

1.) Oversite - That doesn't necessarily have to mean more money. More work for the producers for sure but not necessarily more money. The groups submitting would simply have to supply a copy of their DL or State ID of each member with their submissions. That doesn't cost more money.

2.) Seeking out the best groups - This doesn't need to cost more money either. Right now the producers go through submissions and make decisions about who is going to compete. Why does my way change that? It doesn't. With my suggestion of having less regions, the talent pool would be the same only there would be less spots. So by proxy, you would get the best of the best instead of first come first serve or whoever submits at all gets in because there are so few submissions. Don't believe that happens? If my memory is correct they barely had enough in LA, right? Same with Boston. They almost didn't have enough submissions there either. I know there's history and tradition at each region but do we really need a Boston, DC AND a NYC region so close to each other but have no south region? How does that make sense especially with regions struggling to fill all of the spots? Either the regions are not getting the word out enough or there simply aren't enough groups that submit every year.

Still not convinced? Okay, let's pretend that this year DC and NYC were combined. So all of the submissions would go into one pot instead of 2. So now you have the best submissions from NYC AND DC to choose from. But, you have half the spots so right there you've almost guaranteed that every slot you fill will be a top quality group. You get the best of the best and now each region becomes more competitive in the process because it would be harder to get in now. So all of the worries about picking groups at random and the quality of the shows being inconsistent really don't apply here because using this newly improved system, any one of the groups in your region would be a fine choice for the national showcase since there are more good groups to choose from.

Don't tell me people won't or don't travel to get to a region. You are proof that's not true. What about NPulse traveling to the Rockies to compete or Home Free doing the same this year? What about groups traveling from Pittsburgh to compete in Boston when NYC and DC are right there? Mike Yanchek did that with his group a few years back. People most certainly do travel and will if it's the only region you can go to. I don't buy that argument for a second.

For producers, you have a producer in Chicago and a producer in Denver, for example. Every other year they get the year off. More money? I'm sorry I guess I don't understand you there. The same goes for NYC/Boston, LA/San Fran and Charlotte/Atlanta. Every other year you switch and the producer of each region gets their year to produce a show. It's less regions now so that actually costs less, not more if you think about it.

Sound guys are expensive - Hey, man. That was your suggestion from the other discussion. Hire a sound guy who knows how to mix live a cappella, right? Why does that have to mean more money necessarily? Why does the venue have to change? If that part isn't broken, why fix or change it? Subs cost money, right? Didn't you say a cappella HAS to have subs? If it did mean more money to get a quality sound guy who could mix a cappella, wouldn't it be worth it? If it's not then why are we complaining about it so passionately every year?

I guess my point overall is that, yes, this could be done. It would be a HUGE project to get started for sure and it would most likely cost more money. But isn't that something we should all keep in mind before we all start bitching and moaning every year? That's what bugs me really. There's always all of this complaining and bitching every year but nobody seems to really understand what it would take to fix it. All I'm doing is pointing it out.

And Tim, you know you smiled when I suggested allowing effects and throat mics and etc...so that groups can actually do what they do normally without having to dumb down their act. Same with the flexibility on the EQ settings. But you see, that could never happen in this competition-based format we have in place now. Too many rules to consider and fairness to worry about. If each region is a showcase of talent and not a competition then you simply DO...WHAT YOU DO. If you are a group that uses effects, then WELCOME. We wanna hear it. If you do barber shop..WELCOME, we wanna hear it. You get what I mean, right? THAT would be a night where many different groups come together to celebrate harmony, a cappella and the community, right? And the kicker is that there are cool prizes you can win. There's helpful feedback from a panel of experts that you could learn from. There's even a chance that you could win a trip to San Francisco to be in the National Showcase and get your group on the Nationals CD. How cool is that?

One final thing....it was brought to my attention that my article offended some people and for that I am truly sorry. To be honest though, I don't see how it could be taken as offensive since I didn't attack anyone or criticize anyone individually. I did say that things aren't fixed each year which for the most part IS true. Regardless, my intent was to offer some ideas to solve problems, not to offend anyone in ANY way.


Tim, I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this. I'm enjoying this discussion and I hope others will chyme in with their ideas and thoughts too. That's what this blog was all about in the first place. Getting ideas on the table with the hopes that some or any of them might be taken into consideration.



 Hyperdel has some

Hyperdel has some interesting ideas.  Some, I am actually in agreement with, while others...???  Unfortunately, in order to strengthen his points, he has painted the organizers of the Los Angeles Regional as some kind of arrogant jerks who really don’t give a damn about anything except filling their own wallets by compromising sound, rules... or anything else which will help add a few bucks to the bottom line.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We are actually princely fellows: equally kind to children & small animals.  And, we much more closely resemble Ebenezer Scrooge AFTER the visitations than before.  

The fact is that out of everyone who was present, working on the event, only two people received any kind of financial compensation for their efforts: the House Manager (assigned by the venue) & the Sound Engineer (also assigned by the venue).  Everyone else (including mois) donated their time.  

Each Regional is different in terms of organization & funding.  I can only speak for the L.A. Regional which is strictly non-profit.  Any excess of income over expenses goes into the South Bay Coastliner Chorus general fund.  I’m not bringing this up to toot my own horn (well, maybe just a bit.  Got to justify my parents’ expenditures for my early trumpet lessons), but simply to point out that our ONLY interest is presenting a quality show which is a pleasant experience for the audience & participants alike.

Mr. Hyper states, “The producers of the Sweeps seem to have taken the position that if they deem it appropriate they will look into these concerns.”  As far as I know, I’ve never had any personal dealings with the fellow, so I have to assume he somehow came up with this statement based upon my replies to Mr. Tim’s blog.  I’ve re-read these comments, several times now, & simply cannot fathom where he came up with this idea.

“And then inevitably, nothing gets fixed.”  Au contraire.  After every Sweeps, I send an email to the participants and ask for their comments on how we can make the event more enjoyable for the performers.  Believe it or not, despite using the same venue & same engineer for the last four years, this is the first time I have received negative comments about the sound.  Will we do something about that next year? YOU BET!!

About four years ago, we received numerous complaints from participants about mics with cords.  These mics came with the venue.  We have subsequently rented cordless mics from Hollywood Sound.  This costs an additional $600+ right off the top (& is something of a logistical nightmare), but we believe it’s been a worthwhile investment.     

Unfortunately, I’m afraid Mr. Tim has hit upon the biggest problem re improving the quality of the event: $money$!   And this problem could be solved if we only could attract more people to the event.  Larger audiences mean better venues with better sound systems & better engineers.  Constructive ideas on this subject will, of course, be gratefully accepted.

Will Hamblet
Los Angeles Regional
Harmony Sweepstakes

Wil Hamblet



You misunderstood what I said about the producers and nothing getting fixed and that's my fault so let me clarify. I was referring the producers at the national level actually who have released statements previously in response to concerns to the tune of "We'll look into it but we think things are fine as is". I was not referring to you specifically AT ALL.

The fact that the rules differ from region to region is not your fault and that was the type of thing that I was referring to. It is my opinion that the National producers should give you more support so that you have all of the tools necessary to succeed. From the outside looking in, it appears as though the regional producers get general guidelines and a "now go do your thing" which is completely unfair to the groups involved who rely on a fair adherence to the rules outlined on the Sweeps website.  It's just too grey which leaves too much room for interpretation and like I said, that has NOTHING to do with you or the other regional producers. I say again, each year it is an issue and each year it doesn't get addressed or fixed by the national producers.

On the contrary, you actually immediately acknowledged the problems with the sound and vowed to make it a goal to improve it for next year. I totally applaud that and hope that you will in fact make the necessary changes.

It is accurate though to say that at most regionals the sound is continually below par and has been a point of concern year after year as is the judging and adherence to the rules. (Unbelieveably, it has even been an issue at the nationals level too.) Each year it is a number one complaint and each year it rarely improves. Sorry, but that part is also true. But again, I'm not sure how much the national producers help you to resolve that each year which, again, is my overall complaint.  Given how much the sound affects the groups, I would think that it be given a higher priority with more of a sense of urgency, but that's just my opinion.

Um, that's all I guess. I just wanted to clear up the misunderstanding so we can move forward with the discussion exchanging ideas and suggestions that might help for next year.


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