HomeBlogsdavecharliebrown's blogA Case for Competing

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As a former competitor, current adjudicator, and current competition producer, I am constantly fascinated by people’s reactions to a cappella competitions. I know some people are strongly against, and most are strongly in favor, and some lie in between. But that’s not what gets me. What astonishes me is the reactions people give at the end of the competition.

Some people lose competitions with unbelievable grace and poise. These people practically deserve an award just for their professionalism. Other people are very sore losers, and immediately begin blaming the lame judges or the mic setup or the crowd or some other reason. And of course their friends aren’t going to tell them how bad they were. Of course some people are bad winners too. And some are very gracious winners.

What it really boils down to is that everyone competes for different reasons. Undoubtedly, those who walk away angry at the results are primarily there for themselves – they came to show off their stuff and receive recognition. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this goal, but it’s not the strongest reason for competing. Of course winning is great, but if you want guaranteed praise and love, just throw your own concert at home. On the other hand, there are a whole variety of reasons that every competitor at least ought to consider before deciding against entering a competition:

  1. Competing makes you strive for excellence. This is the best reason for competing. Practically nothing else in this world will make you take three or four songs and refine them to the point of near perfection. As several ICCA and Harmony Sweeps champs have remarked, you cannot worry about the other groups and how they’re going to beat you. Instead, you must focus on making your own set unbelievably good. If you do, you will be stunned about the kind of product you are able to turn out. Outstanding results are bound to occur.
  2. Getting good feedback from experienced adjudicators is highly desirable. The judges at these competitions almost always know what they’re talking about, provided you’re humble enough to listen. It’s immature to think that you know everything, and that experienced judges don’t know what they’re talking about. At the very least, it’s worth reading to see what they have to say. If you completely disagree, or if they’re just full of bunk, just take it with a grain of salt. Just don’t get so sour that you don’t go back and compete again. You never know what the next year may bring.
  3. Competition exposes you to your own art form. Contemporary a cappella is constantly changing shapes, and being at an event where your peers, your colleagues, are trying to do new things and find new ways to entertain and educate audiences will do nothing but good for you. As you watch others compete, you will be exposed to a lot of greatness, but only if you keep your eyes and ears open.
  4. With the right attitude, competitions can build the community. As you get out and meet other groups, you’ll be delighted to learn how passionate they are about the same thing that excites you – the power of the human voice. Communities and close relationships are built and nourished at these shows. Don’t miss out.
  5. Competition promotes the live form of a cappella performing. In my opinion, there’s simply nothing as good as great live a cappella singing. Competitions urge people to improve their live performing skills as much as possible, and maximize audience entertainment. Although recorded music has taken on a life of its own, and deserves all the praise it gets as its own art form, live music is all about in-person connection, human to human. Competing helps you build that skill.
  6. Live singing is hard. No doubt it takes tremendous work and skill to put together a great recording. However, with the constant advances in technology, great recordings are more and more within the reach of not-so-great singers. However, live a cappella is much harder to do well; it’s hard to fake. If you do well in competition, that shows the world that you’re the real deal.
  7. Competitions bring good crowds. Who doesn’t like tons of cheering fans? With all those audience members, and with other competing groups looking on, competitions provide a venue for you to get your message across to the world. Whatever it is you’re trying to share with your a cappella thang, let’s see it!  This is a great place to show off.
  8. Awards look great in your press kit. If you do well, and the judges agree that you did well, it’s never a bad thing to get an award (provided you don’t turn into a pompous jerk immediately thereafter). Placing in competitions is not easy, and you should be proud of your achievement. If you win a special award for things like audience favorite or best arrangement, those are hard to come by too and well deserved. Mention them in your PR materials and your program bios. Competitions help give you some cred with those that look for that sort of thing.
  9. Have a good time. Dumb that I put this at the bottom of the list because it’s madly important. It’s always a party at these shows, so enjoy yourself. But please don’t make a fool of yourself at the afterparty.

Now give me some comments. Why do you compete? Or why don’t you?