A simple principle applies to how people work, and more specifically to how people work in groups. If people are motivated—if they actively want to do a good job, then they will, in general, work harder, longer, and/or smarter to get the job done well.
In terms of a cappella, think about when your group was most successful over the course of the last year. For most groups, this will probably be a time when the group most enjoyed one another’s company, and most enjoyed making music—and, not so coincidentally, it probably overlapped with a time of great success for the group.
Think about it—is anyone in your group happy when you aren’t working hard? You might say that you have lazy members who would far rather socialize than re-work a section of a song. But laziness generally comes from a lack of motivation and investment. While some people will always have a propensity for socializing, you may be surprised that the same group members will actually be happier when they’re working harder under terms that they enjoy and consider to be worthwhile.
And so, if you want for you group to want to work harder, you need to think about what gets them motivated.
Lots of people draw motivation from competition. I’m not just talking about competing against other groups, but more so about competing among themselves (in a good-natured way) amidst the group. Consider throwing out the challenge of who can come up with the best choreography. Give a set of choreographers, or potential choreographers, each a song and give them a week to work out the moves. If the parties involved are, indeed, motivated by competition, they just might come up with some truly original ideas, and, regardless of which is actually best, you’ll walk away with multiple songs with great choreography schemes in place. If the end results aren’t as strong, you may still be able to cull the best ideas from individual efforts and mash them together for a fun set of moves to apply elsewhere.
Other folks are motivated by notoriety. Consider assigning a particular segment of your membership the task of getting your group’s name out by any means necessary. You may be surprised that efforts will start to exceed simple Facebook posts and flyers into people working their connections to draw bigger crowds, sending press releases or organizing flash mobs.
If all else fails, there’s also the simplest method of all for motivating musicians—making great music. As fundamental as this idea should be for an a cappella group, it can also be a tricky one to focus on as group members get tired and a lose focus. Think about where you’re rehearsing and performing these purposes—perhaps keeping a certain spot with phenomenal acoustics on reserve for times when you need for the music to reenergize the group. You may also consider inviting a music expert—a professor or a local professional to come in and here the group at intervals to help push the group further in this area.
As groups are made up of a number of individuals, the approach to motivating your group will most likely need to be multifaceted and to vary over time. Think about what will most make your group want to work in stages and set to. The reward will be a happier, harder working ensemble.