How To: Start an A Cappella Group, by Chase DeLuca of Acasola

Chase DeLuca was a co-founder of California State University Northridge Acasola. This week, he shares his unique insights on how to start an a cappella group.

So, you want to start an a cappella group. Maybe you’re not sure where to start. Maybe you already have lots of ideas, and are just looking for some tips.

I co-founded Acasola, the first a cappella group at California State University Northridge. The group had a really strong and fast start, and so the guys at The A Cappella Blog asked if I’d do a little post about starting a cappella groups.

Of course, it’s a huge topic. But what I think made the biggest difference for us was doing some research before getting started. By reading this blog post, it looks like you're doing the same thing; good job!

A big part of my research was simply going to lots of a cappella shows, and getting really involved in the whole world of a cappella. If you’re thinking of starting an a cappella group, you probably have already done this. But you can never have enough a cappella music on your iPod, and you can never go to enough a cappella shows. Keep it up!

The other big part of my research was conducting interviews with the founders of a cappella groups I admired, asking them to tell me the stories of how they created their groups. By asking them to tell me their stories, rather than asking them to answer specific questions, I found out about things I’d never even thought of.

Deke Sharon (commonly referred to as “the father of contemporary a cappella”) has already written a fairly extensive how-to document that goes into all sorts of details about creating an a cappella group. This document is available to all members of the Contemporary A Cappella Society.

Rather than recreate his work, I thought what would be most useful to you as a group founder, is a list of things that we did that I think helped Acasola get such a strong-start. I could (and possibly will) write entire blog posts on each of these points… but for now, just the list:

  1. Developed a strong understanding of the already-established a cappella community by attending events, listening to online music, and making one-on-one contact with members of other groups.
  2. Held interviews with founders of other a cappella groups.
  3. Physically posted flyers all around my campus.
  4. Found a partner! Things are always easier/more fun with someone else!
  5. Encouraged word-of-mouth to spread on campus.
  6. Advertised auditions with flyers, posters, Facebook, and word-of-mouth.
  7. Conducted auditions in a carefully-structured manner, as discovered in our research: held three days of open auditions, an evening “callback mixer,” for people being called back (to get to know them personally), then held callbacks the very next morning.
  8. Set the dues high to start with (it’s very difficult to raise them later). Acasola dues are $200 per member, per year. With 11 founding members this meant $2200 to start with. This is partly how we…
  9. Developed a “juggernaut” mentality. We accepted “problems” as part of the fun, and tackled them without fear. We willingly spent money wherever it would help us get ahead.
  10. Held a successful, well-planned and executed retreat exactly one week after callbacks. This facilitated bonding and…
  11. Clarified our vision, both for what the group would accomplish in year 1 and year 25. A crystal-clear long-range view put our immediate tasks in proper context.
  12. Started establishing ourselves as members of the broader a cappella community by inviting other a cappella groups to our school for a master-class with a cappella coaches.
  13. Established a weekly performance on campus (Fridays at noon) to increase university-wide support and awareness of our group.
  14. Made overt and repeated requests to be of-service to the university until university officials began initiating the requests themselves. (We performed at sporting events, and official school functions like commencement). This…
  15. Made it clear to university officials and students that we were here to stay; that we intended to become a service to the campus that would endure for years.
  16. Read about and implemented best business practices (I was, myself, a Business Management major). “Best practices” is about more than money. It’s also about social interaction and creating a productive culture.
  17. Fostered a culture of honesty and candor. We regularly checked our egos at the door, and aimed to eliminate any fear members might have of voicing their opinions. We aggressively eliminated judgment or retribution, and rewarded creativity and new ideas.
  18. Initiated an annual budgeting process that looked 18 months into the future.
  19. Wrote-out specific short-term and long-term goals. This had us, among other things, audition for and eventually perform in the ICCAs at only 3 months old.
  20. Constructed a written roadmap of the next 25 years of Acasola. Setting sights 25 years out opened the members’ minds to wild and crazy goals that they didn’t necessarily need to know how to achieve. Some goals, like getting our own house or producing an album, have already come to pass. Others, like buying “Acasola Island,” might take some time.
  21. Deliberately constructed effective leadership transition into our governing documents, so that each year’s leadership team would build off the success of the year before it.
  22. Declared that our success as founding members would be measured in the number of years the group existed without us.
  23. Never forgot that the whole thing—the songs, the performances, the friendships, and even the organization itself—was created for fun, much like a child makes up rules to a game of tag. To take anything too seriously would be to forget the truth: it’s all a game, and we made it all up!

Wow, you made it all the way through! I tried to keep the list in chronological order, but it’s certainly not an exhaustive checklist of steps to creating an a cappella group. For that, see Deke’s tome. But if my list tips you off to some things you hadn’t thought about before, then I think I’ll have succeeded in my aim.

Now, how would you like some one-on-one coaching? Since my graduation from CalState Northridge, I’ve had the great pleasure of advising several other founders during the creation of their cappella groups. Two are even competing in this year’s ICCAs (CSUN Vocal Percussion Radio, and Northern Arizona University Elevation).

Nothing would give me greater joy than to help some other leaders get their groups off the ground. Please feel welcome to call me at 818-588-6314 and we can chat about your particular situation!

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Mike Chin

Mike Chin co-founded The A Cappella Blog in 2007. He continues to share leadership responsibility for the site, overseeing columns, reviews and features as the content manager. He currently lives in Baltimore, MD.