Award Hunting

Recording Recommendations

In this edition, our focus is on award hunting.

A cappella groups perform in a competitive world. The idealist in me would like to suggest that groups co-exist in harmony, collaborate and share resources, and I don’t mean to imply that that’s untrue. Just the same, at this point there are only so many truly high profile spots for a cappella groups to perform in, only so much money to go around and, yes, only so many awards to garner.

In the recorded a cappella world, a handful of acts like Pentatonix may broach the Grammys stage. More often, though, groups vie for the top a cappella specific prizes—most prominently, the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Awards (CARAs), and also superlatives from sites like The Recorded A Cappella Review Board and The A Cappella Blog, or placement on prestigious compilations like Varsity Vocals’ Best of albums, Sing!, or Voices Only.

Awards and recognition are cool. They make us feel good, and recognition can even drive greater album sales and increase a group’s national (or international) reputation. Moreover, a cappella has become an increasingly business-oriented enterprise, with a bevy of professional arrangers, sound engineers, and more offering their services, and often promoting their own legitimacy based upon awards won. Not so surprisingly, a large number of groups have put teamed up with pros in a push to produce the most successful recordings possible.

But what if you do everything right—sign on with top professionals and work your tail off—and still don’t win anything?

Here, we arrive at the cardinal flaw of the competitive mindset when it comes to a work of art. You can produce your masterpiece, but there’s no guarantee that your best work won’t get trumped by someone else’s that was just a nudge better than yours, or that converted greater notoriety into greater acclaim, or that, as a matter of a single judge’s whim, came up short for a particular honor.

It may be Chris Rishel, an alum of University of Chicago Voices in Your Head, who said it best at a CASA festival once—that groups should strive to create art for art’s sake. They should seek to fulfill their own vision and to serve their own aesthetics. Groups that create with an ear toward creating the best art they can have a chance of achieving success on their own merits. Such groups may still enjoy the added benefit of awards, but when they refuse to let other people determine their level of success, they’re setting themselves up to make art more as a process of self-fulfillment than a gamble that depends on someone else’s subjective opinion.

Awards are fine. Aspire to them. Work toward them. But don’t let them be the be-all end-all for your a cappella group. Create something amazing for yourself.