For Your Own Good

Listen to New Music

For Your Own Good

One of the coolest parts about being an a cappella fan is getting to hear all sorts of new music through the filter of today’s a cappella groups.  If groups or only singing the same old stuff, though, or sticking to the most mainstream of top 40 music, it’s easy for things to get stale and repetitive. Listening to new music helps spice things up for any group, and by extension its audiences.

Listening to music, like watching a film or reading book is, by many measures, a solitary experience. Two people will hear something different from the same song; they’ll have different gut reactions, notice different favorite pieces. And so, consider listening to music an individual homework assignment to help you, in the long run, work with your group.

Get new song ideas

The most obvious benefit of listening to lots of new music is that you’ll be exposed to new songs you could potentially cover. While most of us love hearing a good a cappella group sing our favorite songs, I’d argue that just as many fans love it when they can hear a sound that is brand new to them.  By being a true student of music, you can identify innovative new pieces to help push your entire group into its next era.

Get new sounds

People who are truly immersed in a cappella  can spend an inordinate amount of time speculating on how they could transform instrumentation into vocals. Consider the case of Northwestern Purple Haze singing Imogen Heap and I Fight Dragons’s “The Process”—the video game-like trill sound is 100 percent electronified. The arranger(s) behind Purple Haze’s version dared to take it on nonetheless and make the sound their own. On a similar note, take BYU Vocal Point’s version of “Meglio Stasera” that they brought to the 2011 ICCA Finals. The rhythms are challenging enough for a capable vocal percussionist—but the masterminds at BYU decided to take the song on fully, tackling vocal maracas, a vocal woodblock, and more.

More and more today, when you listen to new music, you’re opening yourself to fundamentally different instrumentation. These new sounds will allow you to truly create something new for your group.

Reimagine

As time marches on, more and more hit songs are covers of, include samples of, or are heavily influenced by existing classics. On one hand, this might make it seem that music is getting less original and less interesting. On the other hand, for most a cappella groups, covering and reinventing songs is the very essence of what they do. So why not drink in fully instrument-ed versions reimaginings of songs, and take the reinvention that step further with your next a cappella arrangement?

Sing Karaoke

For Your Own Good

Telling someone in an a cappella group to sing karaoke can seem like telling a Major League Baseball player to play a game of kickball, or trying to sell Philip Roth on the idea of guest writing an episode of Gossip Girl. It’s a silly, layperson’s take on something similar to but not quite the same as what the seasoned pro is all about.

The thing is that sometimes simpler is better, and performing under the most lax conditions possible can be remarkably good for you.

Build your confidence. Singing among people who aren’t trained as such, or who don’t look upon singing as a career (or even a serious extracurricular) can help you gain some perspective on just how special your art is and how exceptional your talents are in an everyday setting.

Sing what you want to sing. A cappella groups need to think critically about song selection so they aren’t arranging songs that have been sung to death, performing something that just doesn’t translate well to a cappella, or making choices that will have a negative impact on their larger image as artists. Karaoke strips away everything that’s serious about a cappella and let’s the singer sing whatever he likes, however he likes. While engaging in song should, itself, be a pretty liberating experience, singing karaoke can underscore how often we settle for treating our passion like a job, and don’t get to do what we’d really like with our talents.

Be less careful. Karaoke is all about having fun. In my mind, the people who don’t “get” karaoke aren’t the bad singers, but rather the people who are too careful with their harmonies, diction, and tuning. A karaoke performance is the perfect time to let loose, sing like a star and rediscover what you loved about singing in the first place.

Pitching New Ideas to the Group With Confidence

For Your Own Good

You have an idea for an awesome song for your group to sing. You thought of a way to restructure rehearsals or changing the way the group communicates internally. You have a suggestion for a new venue in which to perform. Any time you’re working with a group and intend to suggest a new idea, there are social and political factors you need to take into account beyond the confines of whether the idea itself is good. So how do you make your best pitch? How do you sway others to your opinion? In the long run, how can you best help your group?

​Make sure you believe in your idea.

There are people who share ideas just for the sake of doing so—because they like the sound of their own voices, or because they’re less invested in the success of the group than they are in being able to claim that they were important to the group. Don’t be “that guy.” Instead, earn the respect of your peers and do what’s actually in the common interest by bringing forth ideas that you yourself believe in, that you can earnestly defend, and that you honestly believe are not only worth the group’s time, but that will help the group better itself in a meaningful way.

​Don’t be scared.

This pointer might seem redundant in a post about pitching ideas with confidence, and yet it’s easy to miss in the midst of planning your proposal. While good ideas can stand on their own, it’s a lot easier for people to poke holes in a suggestion when the presenter himself doesn’t seem sure of it, or even goes so far to bring up his own plan’s shortcomings without addressing how the group will overcome them, or why the pros outweigh the cons. Be bold, be sure of yourself, and you’ll give your idea the best platform to succeed.

​Do your homework.

The difference between brainstorming and making a proposal is all about elbow grease. Spit balling is useful—you come up with a body of ideas and select the best ones from it. But when you can identify those ideas you’re passionate about, it’s time to do the research. Has the idea worked for other a cappella groups? What are its limitations and how will you overcome them? Will it cost money? How will it affect other group members; who can you expect to be your allies or your opponents on this and how can you make the most of each to give your idea the best chance of flying? An idea is only as good as the work behind it.

Things To Do Before You Leave Your A Cappella Group

For Your Own Good

While a cappella is typically a group endeavor amidst a niche, but large community, For Your Own Good focuses on what individuals can do for their own betterment in this realm.

It may take one, two, three, four or many more years, but for just about every a cappella singer there will come the time when she leaves her group. Whether it’s a result of graduation, moving, pursuing different interests, or a conflict of personalities there’s almost always a bittersweet feel to such transitions. So what can you do to leave the group without any regrets and make the most of the time you have left?

Record. The essence of a cappella groups is making music. Don’t leave the group without some sort of aural reminder of what you accomplished. One of the best case scenarios is a full-length CD featuring different periods in the group and different soloists. If you don’t have the time, money or resources to do that, digital cameras make it all the easier these days to at least capture a simple video of your last performance with the group. While you might not care so much now, consider where you’ll be five, ten, or twenty years in the future. Won’t you be interested in hearing one of the songs you drilled today again? Might you be interested in sharing that part of yourself with a spouse or your children or your grandchildren? You’ll need a recording.

Photos. For most of today’s college students, and even folks who are out of college, photos have become second nature, and Facebook serves as a handy place for storage and photo sharing. Nonetheless, if your group hasn’t hopped on that bandwagon yet, don’t forget to capture some images of the whole group together, and preferably some images of you all in action. You may be surprised with how quickly time will move after you’ve left the group—you’ll never be able to capture exactly the same images again after you leave.

Arrange something to leave a legacy. Arranging isn’t for everyone, but if you do have the interest and the ability, you ought to consider creating an arrangement to leave with the group after you’ve gone. It will serve as a way of connecting you to the group of the future, leave you a legacy, and, in a meaningful way, “pay it forward” for everything the group has offered you during your time with it.

Find a Mentor

For Your Own Good

While a cappella is typically a group endeavor amidst a niche, but large community, For Your Own Good focuses on what individuals can do for their own betterment in this realm.

One common trait to most success stories is that the successful party was willing to ask for help. While some of us may be born with talent, intelligence, and other natural advantages, few of us develop wisdom without a breadth of experience, and without the guiding hand of someone with more experience than us. Mentors coach us, advise us, and speak from their own endeavors so that we have the opportunity to achieve similar success, if not surpass it.

Look within your group. If you’re a first-year college student, is there a senior who seems to have it all together? Don’t hesitate to ask him for tips on how to handle a solo, or how to beatbox, or how he achieves such complex arrangements. More often than not, more experienced voices in a group, or even recent alumni, will be all too eager to impart their wisdom in the interest of maintaining the institutional knowledge and ensuring the group stays vital for years to come.

Look outside your group. If you can’t identify a mentor within your group, think about who you admire from other groups, and for what reasons. If you can’t pick out an individual go right to the top—the director, president, and senior-most members tend to steer group culture both through their leadership of the current roster and their hand in selecting members through the audition process. A fun fact about most student leaders—regardless of how busy they may be, or how cool they may seem, is that they’ll probably still be flattered to be asked for advice by someone who looks up to them. It can be more difficult to develop a lasting mentor relationship with someone from a different school or different region of the country, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting what you can out of such interactions.

Look for role models. If, for whatever reason, you’re struggling to develop an interpersonal relationship to guide you in you’re a cappella career, consider looking more generally for paths you can follow and ideals you can emulate. This may come from within the a cappella genre. Study Jerry Lawson’s mannerisms—how does a man his age still control an audience with such ease? Study the way in which Amy Whitcomb builds a solo—how does she make the most of her explosions? You may also look outside a cappella. Consider how Taylor Swift markets herself, how Barack Obama handles the press. Identify what you want out of a cappella, and figure out who does it best and how. While hearing directly from that person will unveil some hidden gems, studying someone else’s journey and approaches to what their best at will teach you a lot about how you can develop yourself.

Take Advantage of a Low Profile

For Your Own Good

While a cappella is typically a group endeavor amidst a niche, but large community, For Your Own Good focuses on what individuals can do for their own betterment in this realm.

After the initial rush of getting hooked on a cappella, it’s not uncommon for a young singer to lose heart at the realization that she’s part of a small group, and one that will probably not (at least in her time with the group) achieve the fame and the sheer reach of groups like On the Rocks, The SoCal VoCals, or Pitch Slapped.

If a group wants to develop a major league reputation, it should, by all means, strive toward that goal. In the meantime, though, there are also some distinct advantages for individuals involved in relatively low-profile groups.

Learn from the ground up. Once a group has established its identity, and especially after it has done so on a national or international level it becomes increasingly difficult to either live up to that reputation or overcome the stigmas that may come with it. As a newer or less-known group there’s all the room in the world to start from the beginning, determine your own priorities, and carve a unique path based on what the group members of the moment would like to do.

Concentrate on music without distractions. Having too many bookings might seem like one of the nicest “problems” in the world, but when a group is constantly performing and traveling, the odds are that group isn’t spending nearly as much time arranging new music or working out the kinks in the rehearsal room. Take advantage of your low profile to hone your craft.

Innovate.Along the lines of learning from the ground up, and operating without expectations hanging over your head, a low profile allows you and your group to try something off the wall and innovate—taking on different artists, original songs, new styles. Worst case scenario, the experiment is a bust and you move on to the next thing. In the best case scenario, truly innovative a cappella has the potential to push the entire genre forward, not to mention catapult your group to niche fame. Too often, unknown groups try to reach the big time by imitating people who are already there. More often than not, it’s the people who think differently who actually make it to the next level.

Listen to New Music
Sing Karaoke
Pitching New Ideas to the Group With Confidence
Things To Do Before You Leave Your A Cappella Group
Find a Mentor
Take Advantage of a Low Profile
Make Other People Look Good
Develop Routines
Don’t Settle for Watching from the Sidelines
Never Show Up To the Party Empty Handed
Stealing Time To Work On Your Group
How To Thrive Under Poor Leadership
Selling Your Personal Brand While Helping the Group
Don’t Get Jealous, Get a Role Model
Making the Most of Your Audition
How to be an Exceptional Group Member in an Unexceptional A Cappella Group