Proverbappella

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Proverbappella

Proverb: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Power. Control. Influence. On some level, most people crave these things. To have them bestowed upon you demonstrates your talent, intelligence, and ambition, not to mention the trust that others have in you.

But how do you use your power?

In the context of a collegiate a cappella group, a leader may, at first, feel unsure of himself in a position of power. He questions whether he deserves the position and feels the weight of the group’s long-term success on his shoulders.

For some leaders, confidence comes quickly; for others, it develops over time. But as a student leader accumulates power and begins to wield it, interesting things to happen.

In some cases, a particularly hard working, talented, or organized leader can vault a group to a new level of success by getting the group’s name out, demanding perfection in rehearsals, or steering the group in an innovative direction.

But more often than not, when one group member controls aspect of a group, it leads to problems. One voice cannot represent all of the thoughts, opinions, and insights of four people—much less twelve or twenty. With just one person at the helm, the group will find the range of its repertoire limited and unrepresentative of what the full group wants to sing. The same goes for elements of visual performance like choreography and stage attire. And then there’s the use of social networking, and creative decisions around recording, all of which benefit from group input and may get short shrift if one person manages all of these processes and emphasizes some over others.

The proverb at hand applies to a cappella groups because one person with too much control is liable to lead to a variety of problems for a group. While the leader herself may not be absolutely corrupted as the adage says, she may unwittingly wander down a path of putting herself ahead of the group and hurt not only herself, but the entire group in the process.

So appoint a music director, a president, a business manager, and a PR representative. There’s certainly value in having point people and leaders. But spread out the power to maintain a balanced, sensible approach to your group’s leadership.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Proverbappella

Proverb: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Each year, a cappella critics (myself included) and experienced audience members alike roll their eyes the same old song choices, choreography, and solos we’ve seen dozens of times over. We crave innovation, new interpretations, outright invention.

And, every now and again, we crave nostalgia.

Certain songs dominate particular years, whether it’s every group covering “Clocks,” “Viva La Vida,” or “Hide and Seek” in the late-mid-2000s, guys covering Lady Gaga at the turn of the decade, the nation’s brief love affair with “Firework,” or “Some Nights” and “Gangnam Style” getting sung to death in 2013. The cream rises to the top, and a handful of really strong groups will own these songs in their own era, while the rest simply drive the songs into the ground.

But then, something interesting can happen.

Take The Edge Effect singing its Jackson 5 medley at SingStrong 2012. We’ve all heard each component piece of the song a cappella. But we hadn’t heard it for a while, and rarely had we heard it sung that well.

There’s no secret formula for how long to wait before revisiting a once popular song choice, but there is the principle that if you wait for the wave to pass, then look through your group’s repertoire from five-to-ten years ago, you just might find some material that you can reinvent and make fresh—that the audience will welcome simply because that song choice has been missing for so long.

Want proof that this can work? Pay close attention at your next alumni show. See which songs really pop the audience, and study why. Take advantage of what your audience has been waiting to hear again.

A Watched Pot Never Boils

Proverbappella

Proverb: A watched pot never boils.

It’s hard to wait for big things to happen.

Particularly in this age of social media, many a cappella groups find themselves driven by statistics, whether it’s album sales, Facebook likes, Twitter followers, or YouTube views. Groups are well-advised to monitor their numbers—but not at the expense of driving themselves or the rest of their group crazy and certainly not at the expense of doing more productive things.

To take a popular example, it’s fine to set a goal of amassing 1,000 Facebook likes (this number might seem modest to some, but depending on your school or market, it can be a number to strive toward). Building a Facebook audience is important—it allows your group to keep in touch with its fans, to spread media and news quickly, and to further develop your fanbase as the people who like share your statuses, photos, and videos with their friends and indirectly recruit new fans to your cause.

But staring at your Facebook page and clicking reload every five minutes does nothing to help your group. You’re setting yourself up for likely disappointment as likes don’t roll in as quickly as you would like, and are probably putting too much emphasis on an artificial measure of popularity. Focus on the quality of your product and the quality of your connections with your listeners, rather than the sheer quantity of people who visit your page. Redirect your energy to practicing your music or arranging something new. Tend to your a cappella group itself, take reasonable measures to promote your work, and the fans will follow. Take your eye off the pot, and before you know it, you’ll achieve a nice, steady rolling boil.

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Proverbappella

Proverb: A stitch in time saves nine.

Today’s adage is about far more than protecting the sweet duds your a cappella group wears on stage. For the purposes of this column, we’ll consider the proverb in the context of a cappella group dynamics.

Particularly on the collegiate scene, the experience of singing in an a cappella group may be members’ first time operating without adult supervision—without a faculty director, without mom and dad ready at hand to give advice. These conditions provide plenty of potential for members to grow and develop as individuals and leaders, but they also create the potential for some serious rifts.

Someone doesn’t get a solo. Someone’s song suggestion (or even arrangement) gets rejected by the group. There’s dissent over who the next director should be or whether a particular auditionee should make it in the group. The director sees Bob as undedicated because he’s always late to rehearsal. Bob sees the director as a control freak because he makes such a big deal when someone is two minutes late to practice.

A certain degree of disagreement and friction is natural in any group of people. While common values and building relationships outside the rehearsal room can go a long way toward making a group function more effectively, there’s also a point at which groups are best served when they communicate directly and do so before problems blow out of proportion.

Let’s revisit Bob and the director. While these two may never see eye to eye on the importance of punctuality, if the two can meet and discuss their perspectives they’re likely to avoid deeper issues in the future. Maybe Bob doesn’t realize that not only the director, but the whole group is annoyed with his behavior. Maybe the director doesn’t realize that Bob is hustling across campus to make it to rehearsal because he has a class that lets out just ten minutes before rehearsal starts. Talking and setting appropriate expectations early on can head off longer term resentment that will lead to bigger issues down the road.

Seriously, it may not be fun, but put in the one stitch now to seal the little hole. You’ll spare yourself wider tear a couple months down the road.

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

Proverbappella

Proverb: A rolling stone gathers no moss.

This is an interesting proverb because many folks don’t realize its double meaning.

On one hand, there’s the idea that if you stay in motion, you’ll never grow stagnant. For a cappella groups, this can be read as a lesson not to rest on one’s laurels. Some groups compete in the ICCAs every year. Some groups release CDs with startling regularity. Some remain insular to their own school or local community. There’s very little wrong with any one of these paths, but if a group relegates itself to only one type of pursuit year after year, it may be missing out on plenty of other exciting opportunities—the chance to tour rather than compete, or to invest in a professionally produced music video rather than a CD this year. Groups that do the same things over and over run the risk of limiting their own potential and also boring their membership.

On the other hand, there’s the idea that wanderers who are too fickle or unfocused to stay in one place never accrue meaningful identities, reputations, or responsibilities. This message goes out to those a cappella groups that hop between different endeavors every single year. The jack-of-all-trades groups that don’t do anything particularly well but sure have tried out plenty of different avenues. While there’s plenty of merit—particularly in a group’s formative years—to trying new things, there is also a critical point at which a group is best served to settle down and commit. ICCA champions are rarely born in one year, but rather through sustained experience to cultivate a set befitting the competition. Similarly, the first time a group ever steps in a studio is unlikely to result in the strongest album that group will ever put together. Once groups have tried different things and determined what’s most important to them, there is an appropriate point for the group to buckle down and focus on what it cares about most.

A Man Who is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client

Proverbappella

Proverb: A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.

By the time life’s difficulties reach the courtroom, the stakes are usually pretty high and it’s time to lawyer up. But for the purposes of this post, we’re not focusing on legal matters so much as the core message of this proverb: that there are times when people need objective professionals to take care of their business rather than trying to do so themselves.

Consider recording, mixing, and mastering a CD. The equipment and software exists and is available at affordable enough rates nowadays that an amateur can try to be a jack of all trades for her a cappella group and handle every stage of the production process. And the end result may well be far better than it would have been had a person of similar talents and experience attempted to do so five or ten years ago.

In today’s recorded a cappella market, standards and expectations have risen steeply. Today, there are professionals with a wealth of experience modifying your raw material to get the most out of your sound, and with the number of professional and semi-professional outlets available today, prices among those outlets are increasingly competitive, which means groups need not necessarily break the bank to produce an album of professional quality. What’s more, as the Vocal Mastering website is shrewd to point out, objectivity is key to putting the finishing touches on recordings. Regardless of how talented anyone within your group may be in the mixing or mastering process, there is no substitute for the guidance of an unbiased professional in helping a recording reach its full potential.

Looking beyond just recording, a cappella groups take on a number of endeavors, from booking tours, to building websites, to raising money for good causes. Some groups will have all of the expertise they need within the group membership, but when they don’t, there is no shame in calling on a professional to help guide the way. Indeed, if you try to manage every process yourself, you’re sure to have a fool for a client at one stage or another.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
A Watched Pot Never Boils
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine
A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss
A Man Who is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client
A Leopard Cannot Change his Spots
A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing
A Fool and His Money Are Soon Parted
A Chain Is Only As Strong As Its Weakest Link