Establishing a Nation

Absurdist A Cappella

This time we discuss how to establish a nation.

Setting the Stage: There was a stretch of decades for which The Boston Red Sox could not win a championships. It’s hard to be a once-great team in big sports city that can’t deliver in the present day. It’s hard to rebuild, hard to pick a direction, hard to retain a fanbase. And yet, somewhere amidst the championship drought, The Red Sox managed to assemble a group of fans of unparalleled loyalty, and that grew in number with each passing year. In 1986 , Boston Globe sports writer Nathan Cobb introduced the world to the term “Red Sox Nation,” and by the time the team was ready to win again in the early 2000s, the team itself had espoused the name, and the fan nation had swelled well beyond the city limits of Boston or the state limits of Massachussettes or even the region of New England.

A cappella groups, too, can develop interstate and even international followings. A cappella groups, too, can establish nations.

Song Selection: A group is mostly likely to attract casual fans through the performance of a combination of mainstream songs and songs good enough that they should be mainstream, but that they can espouse as their own (sort of like what everyone tried to do with Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” in 2007-2008—until everyone did it to the point they rendered each other moot). There are two keys that follow: get there first, and there best.

In 2011 it became the thing to do for all-male groups to cover Lady Gaga. Sure it’s funny and entertaining, but it became a cliché. Just about the only all-male group that people decisively remember for going Gaga is On the Rocks. Why? Because they did so early—kicking off the trend. Why else? Because they had solid enough musical chops that it’s quite arguable none of their successors ever touched what they accomplished in the first place.
Be relevant, be cutting edge, and also be good. The fans will follow.

Setting: There are two main platforms through which to build a fanbase without geographic boundaries. The first is the old school method of touring. Nothing sells fans on an act like getting to see it live—getting the full thrust of your personality, the full boom of your sound, the full visual of your choreography. It’s the kind of thing that sends fans rushing out to the lobby to buy your CD and/or rushing home to check out more of your stuff on YouTube.

And therein lies the second platform—the Internet. As On the Rocks, The Maccabeats, and others have proven, if you put out an entertaining enough video, the masses will follow you.

Choreography: Forget what you’ve heard about focusing on musicality, or what The ACB has written about not over-choreographing. Choreography is fan-friendly. If you can make it simple but distinctive, and unique to your group, you’ll have your fans repeating it long after the show. When their friends ask them where they got those sick moves, they’ll be sure to talk all about your show, and in turn, a new fan will be born.

Other Notes: There are plenty of ways to cultivate a fanbase. Start keeping a blog on your website or Facebook page, and be sure to create a mailing list (though don’t spam people—just report real news). Organize fan appreciation shows on campus, and stream them live through your website. Above all else, hang around after shows and talk to people. In short, love your fans, and they will love you back.