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What word?  What words do you NEVER USE?  Read my other blog post here:


And then come back for the rest of this.

1) It breeds animosity

While working with a college group at an a cappella conference, one of the girls raised her hand and asked ‘Why can’t we say we’re the best group on campus when it’s obvious we are.’  I was very literally speechless.  This was a campus with at least a dozen groups, several others of which were at the conference.  a) this group was absolutely, most definitively, without a doubt NOT the best group on campus.  b) where does she get off thinking they are?  c) the other group on campus hate her group because they’re egotistical blowhards.

You can say things that are true.  You can make advertising claims that are verifiable.  Enter a competition, win an award, and call yourselves award winning.  THAT is a fact.   You’re breeding bad blood by taking on airs.

2) It warps your perspective

The single biggest flaw of the typical new a cappella group is that they think they are the first, best, brightest, most unique… they think they invented sliced bread.  I thought I started the first all-comedy a cappella group!  I really thought that.  I was 22-years old, it was 1999.  I was lucky to have a friend, who coincidentally later joined my group, who was kind enough to say ‘hey!  Have you ever heard of The Bobs, Davinci’s Notebook, Minimum Wage…”  And I went, oh. 

Most groups don’t have any idea what other groups are doing, haven’t seen other groups perform, haven’t listened to other groups’ recordings.   _I_ had never heard another comedy group, so there must not be one!   Yay I’m special and important!  Oh, I’m just one of many.

There is nothing new under the sun.  I guarantee it’s been done before.  If you’re a 21st Century eclectic a cappella group that does pop covers, I could probably find 100 other groups in the world that are doing exactly the same kind of stuff as you RIGHT AT THIS VERY INSTANT.  This does not mean what you’re doing is not worthwhile: you can still be entertaining, and fun, and meaningful to your fans and local audience.  What you’re doing can still be exciting and interesting for you and your singers.  There is absolutely room for middle-of-the-road, mainstream, for lack of a better word ‘generic’ a cappella.  Point of fact, you’ll probably be MORE successful with that formula.  There are plenty of groups who sing professionally doing the stereotypical a cappella thing.  That’s great!  Just don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re breaking new ground.

 This is not just a college thing – I was just looking at a web site of a new British Octet who are advertising themselves as the most amazing HOLY CRAP it’s all vocal can you believe this is all vocal? WOW we’re the most unique thing you’ve ever heard!  Which is a problem because:

3) Short-term gain, long-term loss

The naïve, the uninitiated, the simple-minded, the inexperienced people will marvel at your self-proclaimed grandeur.  THEY have never seen anything better, so they will swoon for you, and great will be the swoon thereof.  This will further warp your perspective (see #2).  It’s the classic local-artist-does-good syndrome.  The star of the High School Musical proclaimed by the parents and other students as the most talented thing they’ve ever seen you should go be on Broadway!  Most of you probably already experience this as the American Idol effect: you go to Mom’s for dinner and you’re bombarded with ‘you’re a better singer than (this season’s Idol frontrunner) you could totally get on the show you should go audition RIGHT NOW.’  If you start to believe them, man, you’re in a world of hurt. 

The long-term loss has two parts: as soon as these people see something else – say, maybe another group on campus? – they will know that your pomp was only sound and fury, signifying nothing.  You will lose fans when they find out they were deceived.  Secondly, when you want to step out into the wide world, perform with other groups, move on to grander stages, the flowery and unjustified language has already tagged you as a local wonder, a hayseed, someone who doesn’t know the rules in the real world.  You’ll be preyed upon by those who know they can prey, and you’ll be condescendingly patted on the head by the people who really know what they are doing.  You’ve already cut yourself off from the opportunity to grow bigger.

Many a group I know, many who have performed professionally for many years, still proclaim themselves best or unique, when they haven’t changed in the five years they’ve been performing, and they weren’t best or unique when they started!  If you are singing the same radio hits as you were five years ago… ummmm….

I’ll end with an anecdote.  I worked with a  group a couple of years ago: college, very good, one of the few college groups that had honest chops, great talent, and were actually doing some unique and interesting things.  They were preparing to go to an ICCA regional.  The very first thing I told them: you are not going to win at your regional.  You are not even going to place.  Why tell them that?  I knew the other groups they were competing against… they happened to be going to a regional against BYU’s Vocal Point and Noteworthy, I think it was the year that BYU won it all… so, come on.  They weren’t going to win.  Secondly, for a group like this, going to win was completely the wrong reason to participate.

The group of course was dumbfounded, and some of them a little put off.  I tried to explain there are reasons to go that are not about winning, grow as a group, see what others are doing, blah blah blah.  Some of them seemed attentive, some of them were offended that I would suggest that THEY, in their own minds defined as the best group on campus, could possibly be vanquished by some other inferior-even-though-we’ve-never-seen-them group.  (I don’t want to paint them as too egotistical: MOST of the singers were very humble).

I talked with one of those singers just a couple of weeks back and he told me that me saying they were not going to win was the best thing that happened to the group, and to him as a singer.  First, most of them really did take to heart that they were preparing and improving for the long term, not just for a short-term competition.  But, more importantly, when they did not win (and they did not, by a long shot), they were then ready to open their eyes to all the other possibilities.  They actually did learn from the other groups.  They did stop whatever budding delusions they had that they were first/best/unique/whatever.  They saw themselves more clearly in the big picture, and began to grow because of it.  And they did!  They became a solid, musical, exciting act.  Several of the singers have moved on to bigger and better things.  And bravo for them! 

But it didn’t come about because they branded themselves as… [insert term here].


Safe to quote others

Quick tip to younger groups:

One easy way to point out how amazing you are without saying it yourself is to just quote other people.  Do everything you can to perform in front of important people (offer free tickest to your show, go participate in competitions, offer free gigs to key people, send your album to pros) and then ask them for a quote on the record about your group.  When you get a quote from someone, or if you ever see something in print about your group, quote it and put it in your press materials.  Put it in your bio.  If you quote OTHER people who are speaking highly of your group, that lets you brag without saying it yourself.

Same goes for awards.  Although some people can give good arguments for why awards are stupid, at the end of the day they give OUTSIDE credit for how good you are.  If you win a few awards, whether for live performing or recorded music, those awards speak _for_ you.

If you let outsiders say how premiere you are, how original you are, how incredible it is that you're only using your mouths, and you can just stand there and smile. :)

--Dave Brown

now: Mouth Off host | ICCA & CARA Judge

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

Can I get a 'what what' for Dave Brown?

 Beautifully phrased; 203% accurate.

So what it means is, if someone _else_ says you are the premier group on campus... then you are perfectly justified to put on your posters: THE UNIVERSITONES!  "The premier co-ed Spanish Disco group on campus." --Professor Mennard, Math Department.

If the Backwater Gazette writes that you are groundbreaking, then you are absolutely allowed to advertise: "Groundbreaking! --Backwater Gazette.

A big reason I enter so many groups into so many competitions is because if we win an award, for example Wonder Voice at the Rocky Mountain Sweeps, didn't place, weren't outstanding, but Kai won the best solois award: now we can, in all honesty, say that Wonder Voice is an AWARD WINNING GROUP.  It makes a difference when marketing a group.  it comes from an outside source = validation!  And it's TRUE.  We did win an award!

weary booking agents

From a publicity and booking perspective, you gotta know that booking agents quickly get to a point where they can immediately spot those bloated claims in a press kit. And those claims have the opposite effect (of their intention), wherein they make (the group) less legitimate in their eyes, before they've even heard your audio.

I know you're talking mostly to collegiate groups here, Tim, but I think this applies to everyone. I've even recently overhauled my own group's EPK to more finely tune these types of things OUT of it. I'm still not happy with it, but it's getting there.

But Dave's point is spot-on - if someone else says it, use it as a quote, absolutely. It's totally legit to ask someone (you respect and who has some name recognition) to give you a quote for your press kit or bio. It's done all the time.


Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.


 Absolutely spot-on, Amy.

Booking Agents are smart, and they see TONS of material.  They know to take quotes as subjective, BUT they also know that they can sell a quote, regardless of who said it.

And I agree - it applies to everyone.

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