Psyching Out the Competition

Absurdist A Cappella

This time we discuss psyching out the competition.

Setting the Stage: In Catch Me If You Can Christopher Walken poses the question and answer to young Leonardo DiCaprio (paraphraphrased): “Do you know why The Yankees always win? It’s because those the other teams can’t stop staring at the pinstripes.” The message is that the sheer badge of honor represented by that Yankees uniform is so awe-inspiring, so intimidating, that opposing teams are beaten before they so much as set foot on the field.

Musicality, showmanship and playing to your strengths are all great for a cappella groups, but what’s even better is that aura unbeatability that truly great squads bring with them to any form of competition. It’s about psyching out the competition.

Song Selection: If you’re concerned with beating groups before the competition starts you need not focus so much on your actual competition as the media you put online. Putting out great videos a surefire way to get attention, and all the more so if you send the videos of you’re group performing to other schools.

To maximize the effect, consider picking a key song from each group you’re competing against—their shining star songs that there’s no doubt that they’ll bring to competition this year. Invest the money to get it professionally arranged and invest all of your time for a week on learning that song perfectly. Record the video in the studio so you can have the greatest ease in remixing and mastering the audio afterward. Presto—you have a video of your group singing another group’s song better than the original group could ever hope to. That will get them second guessing themselves, and reverting to less stellar songs in their own repertoires for competition. That’s step one toward leading groups to defeat themselves.

Setting: Unless you’re competing at your home school, it can be a real challenge to have the crowd support behind you at a competition. ICCA crowds tend to consist of fans of the host group, fans of the competing groups, and sprinkling of a cappella fans or curious spectators who have come to their first show. So, you can’t really hope for a real advantage in audience support, but you can manufacture the illusion thereof.

Before the show, find the cheapest t-shirt supplier you can, and spend as much of your budget as you can afford printing cheap t-shirts that represent your group. Use any excess funds on poster board with which to make homemade signs. Distribute all of these materials free of charge in the lobby for the show. Everyone loves a free t-shirt, and before you know it, you can have half the crowd sporting your colors. You want to get in the competition’s head? Imagine how they’ll feel when they take the stage, look out into the crowd, and see their mommies and daddies wearing your shirts? Let’s see how they hold their money notes when their throats are all choked up with tears.

Choreography: Hand jives and box steps intimidate no one. Think power choreography—poses, slides, and perfect synchronization. Beyond that, when it comes to the intimidation game, you need not worry about what you’re actually going to do in performance, only what the competition can see you rehearsing. Rather than plotting choreography to match your music, learn your songs and, separately, learn the most impressive dance routine you can. Practice that routine where everyone can see it before the show, and everyone will assume you can pull off those top notch moves with your music and begin flipping out long before they piece things together.

Other Notes: Other modes of intimidation include style of dress (Men in Black style suits and shades don’t scream approachability); claims of celebrity alumni (advertise on your website that Michael Buble and Christina Aguilera found their voices singing with your group—hardly anyone will actually research the point); and general Internet buzz (start spamming the media local to the competing groups; create a bunch of doppelganger Facebook profiles to populate your fan page with thousands of likes). In general, scare groups off from dreaming they can compete with you, and coast your way to the next round of the competition.