Dos and Don'ts

Recording Your Group

Dos and Don'ts

DO: Record Your A Cappella Music
DON'T: Only Perform Live Shows

Whether your group has been around for years or you have a recently formed ensemble, you should record your music and let it be known to the world. There are myriad reasons recording is a good idea, but here are some key ones:

1. With today’s technology, it’s relatively inexpensive. If you keep your track list modest and split the bill amongst the members of the group, or pull from a central fund, it won’t cost you a lot, and you can get a very good return on your investment, both in terms of money and recognition.
2. You can reach audiences you would normally never reach. Why is Facebook so popular? Because it connects people across the world. While recording and selling CDs won't connect you to quite the same extent, it can certainly be a great start. Many of the a cappella groups I’ve grown to like have had their start (for me) in my car’s CD player.
3. It leaves a footprint of memories which your group and fans can be look back on or share. Whether you’re recording an album for mass-consumption, or creating more of a “yearbook” compilation (give every member a solo and record everything you did for the year) a CD creates a unique memento for a unique group of people.

We at ACB are always looking for new recordings to listen to and review. Consider emailing us about your next recording, and we’ll try to include a review of them on the site!

Working With Your College

Dos and Don'ts

DO: Use the facilities and publicity opportunities offered by your college to your group’s advantage.
DON'T: Disengage from your college.

When I think of what characterizes a college, I come up with a laundry list of items including:

-Large facilities
-A dense population of students
-A diverse faculty base
-Drinking (soda, milk, etc.)

Most colleges have at least one or two adequate venues in which your group can perform. At my alma mater, there are at least three very good places to put on a show--and the school itself is relatively small. While I condone venturing out to coffeehouses, bars and restaurants, using your college’s facilities can be a convenient and cost-effective way of drawing attention and giving back to your school.

OK, so you’ve booked a show on campus. But how will you get people there? Word of mouth marketing is one of the most effective ways to get the word out about businesses, news, and events. With such a high concentration of students in one spot, talking your friends, posting flyers, and even e-mailing students and faculty are great ways to increase hype about your group or show.

One of the best ways of all to get the word out about your group is to leverage your faculty and staff connections. Let’s face it, faculty and staff are generally more established at a college than even the most prominent student leader. They are much more likely have more pull in terms of reserving facilities (“sure, I’ll reserve the biggest lecture hall on campus for you”), drawing outside crowds “want extra credit? Support your classmates at their a cappella show!”), and providing necessary equipment (“The school of music won’t loan you their best mics for Saturday night? Let me have a word with them.”). These are good resources to have, and you should recognize and take advantage of that fact.

Your college is there to support you and enhance your experience as a student. Don’t let the opportunities it affords you pass you by.

Learning from a Loss

Dos and Don'ts

DO: Turn a loss in competition into an opportunity to work on your weaknesses.
DON'T: Hem and haw about the judges’ “unfair decision.”

In any competition, there have to be winners and losers. Your group won’t always come out on top, but the key is to see what the winning group is doing in order to succeed. It could be the group’s outstanding vocals, choreography, or vocal percussion. It may very well be a combination of all three. Learn and understand the key factors that turn average groups into winning groups.

In fact, even if you do win a competition, you should still treat it as a learning experience. Dissect your competition experience to learn what you did right, what needs improvement, and how you’re going to become a stronger group in the future. It’s an involved process that may include watching videos, listening to CDs and watching other groups perform.

Those groups that consistently win are often the ones that have studied the field and paid attention to the comments judges provided to them on scoring sheets. They’re the groups that have accepted each competition experience—whether it resulted in a victory or a loss—as an opportunity to learn, and they have emerged all the better for it.

Building Tradition

Dos and Don'ts

DO: Establish traditions by which your group will be known.
DON'T: Shun regular practices.

Dynamic, surprising, and unpredictable a cappella group can be extremely entertaining. However, there are few things that distinguish a group over time more than tradition. Tradition gives groups a path to follow and establishes connections between all members, past and present.

Traditions come in many different flavors. They need not be large-scale, like traveling each year with the group during Spring Break (though some groups do make this a recurring practice). It can be as simple as having alumni come on stage to close your performance with a standard song, or putting on a regular show at a nearby venue. For example, University of Oregon Divisi, which was founded in 2001, performs every Friday at the EMU Amphitheatre in Eugene, Oregon.

The key is to give yourselves and your fans something to know you by, and to attribute to your group. Be consistent and build tradition.

Taking Yourself Too Seriously

Dos and Don'ts

DO: Have fun with your group.
DON'T: Push your group too far.

I really enjoy listening to many of my favorite songs being sung a cappella. In some cases, I prefer the a cappella version to the original. I can only imagine the gratification groups get actually performing the music for an audience. That’s the way that it should be. It’s fun and active, and should be viewed as such.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for being serious, such as in competitions and special performances. But ultimately, you’re in the group because you enjoy singing and get to do something that you love.

There’s also a tremendous community to be found among the members of an a cappella group. Many, many of my friends who are alumni of groups still keep in touch with their old group-mates--inviting them to their weddings, and reconvening to sing over alumni weekends. You don’t want to miss out on these bonds by looking at every performance as a life or death situation.

Every group should strive to excel in performance, but it’s also essential that you take the time to breathe and have fun with what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with.

Seeking Out Criticism

Dos and Don'ts

DO: Take constructive criticism.
DON'T: Take your friends’ opinions as gospel.

When I ask friends or colleagues for their opinion, I have an expectation that they will be completely honest with me. I encourage their honesty because I legitimately care what they have to say and
rarely take criticism personally. Likewise, a cappella groups should seek out people who will not only offer them praise, but also help identify their weaknesses.

Having been to many a cappella competitions, I can say that the groups that continually advance are the ones that are known to seek out criticism--from technical musicians to fans to average people. There is no such thing as bad feedback. If you listen to what others say, in the best case scenario, you will be able to put the objective views of an outsider into play. Even you don’t end up agreeing with an outside voice, though, it could open you up to an entirely new thought that you otherwise never would have come up with.

Recording Your Group
Working With Your College
Learning from a Loss
Building Tradition
Taking Yourself Too Seriously
Seeking Out Criticism
Getting Exposure
Leading Balanced Lives
Keeping in Touch With Your Alumni
Picking a Distinctive Group Name
Performing With Other Groups
The Group Website
The Three Song Set
The Competition
Stage Departure
Stage Entrance
Order of Songs
Song Selection
Talking between songs
Inside Jokes
Dos and Dont's: The use of signs in performances