Guest Blogger: Deke Sharon, co-author of A Cappella Arranging, shares some insights on forming a successful a cappella group. Visit his blog for the full list.
Got a note from an ambassador wanting to take his region to the next level. He’s got multiple a cappella festivals, a harmony sweepstakes, ICCAs… but knows that a city’s reputation starts and ends with its local groups.
So, this got me thinking: what elements are needed, and which things don’t matter quite as much? Thinking out loud:
(note: this is not for all a cappella groups, but rather those that have a chance of blowing up in today’s media)
Yes, everyone in your group must be able to sing well, but not all of them need to be amazing soloists. What do I mean by “amazing soloist”? A lead voice so compelling you would buy this person’s solo album: Jeremy Lister. Scott Hoying. Margareta Bengtson/Jalkeus. Jerry Lawson. The group can share solos, but you need at least one person whose voice is world class.
NOT NEEDED: SIMILAR VOICES
You’ll have an easier time building a blend if you create a group around similar voices, but it’s definitely not necessary. You can be Take 6 or you can be Straight No Chaser. Both are winning formulas.
NEEDED: GREAT BASS
After the soloist, the second loudest element in all popular music is the bass. That’s how it should be in your group’s mix as well, and that voice should be as low and as powerful as possible. The octave pedal can work, but if your group name isn’t a palindrome (hello, Sonos!), I don’t like your chances.
NOT NEEDED: GREAT VOCAL PERCUSSIONIST
Not every contemporary group features vocal percussion. If you’ve got one, great. If that’s not part of your sound, not a deal breaker.
NEEDED: ORIGINAL MUSIC
Your ensemble will likely have more success with cover tunes than original tunes early on, but eventually having music that you’re known for will become essential to keep you from simply being a cover band in the eyes of the public. Note that this isn’t always an original song, but it can be: Straight No Chaser has found success with both “The Christmas Can Can” (old music, new lyrics, new concept), and “Who Stole The Egg Nog” (entirely new). An original arrangement can serve this purpose, but it has to be as arresting and memorable as, say, the remake of “Mad World.”
NOT NEEDED: ORIGINAL CONCEPT
Yes, it’s excellent if your group has a new sound or approach, but I have to admit, there are plenty of bios boasting a sound and style unheard ever before in a cappella, and most fall short. Don’t tell the world you’re different. Show them. Don’t focus on being amazingly different. Just be amazing. Not convinced? Nothing about Pentatonix on paper looks much different from many other groups. There’s no huge fundamental concept behind it all, but the way they do what they do has indeed become revolutionary, and inspired millions.
Keep reading on Deke Sharon’s blog!
A Cappella Arranging
The world loves to sing. From barbershop groups to madrigal choirs to vocal rock bands, there are tens of thousands of vocal groups in America. The success of mainstream television programs such as Glee and The Sing-Off not only demonstrates the rising popularity of vocal music; it reflects how current trends inspire others to join in. In addition, through various online and on-the-ground vocal music societies, the “a cappella market” is well defined and well connected. Like singing itself, a cappella is a global phenomenon.
At the heart of every vocal group is the music it performs. This often means writing its own arrangements of popular or traditional songs. This book is the long-awaited definitive work on the subject, wide ranging both in its scope and in its target audience – which spans beginners, music students, and community groups to professional and semi-professional performers, vocal/instrumental songwriters, composers, and producers – providing genre-specific insight on a cappella writing.
The tone of the book is instructive and informative, yet conversational: it is intended to stand alongside any academic publication while remaining interesting and fun. A Cappella Arranging is a good textbook – and a “good read” – for every vocal arranger, whether amateur or professional; every vocal music classroom, and any professional recording studio.