The Competitor's Edge

In this edition, the focus is soloists.

Go with your best.

It sounds intuitive for a group to put its best soloists forth in competition, but you may be surprised with how many groups talk themselves out of that very scenario. They think that they need to show more range, or that they need to highlight equal number of male and female leads, or that they need to reward long-time group members with the opportunity to have a solo in competition. These ideas are all well and noble, but groups shouldn’t lose sight of the inescapable fact that judges and objective audience members simply do not care.

In competition a group gets twelve minutes to prove itself. Most of the audience won’t have the context of the group’s larger story and if the judges are doing their job, they’ll be judging based on what they hear and see—nothing more. The soloist is aurally and visually the most noticeable piece of most any performance, and thus a group needs to prioritize putting its best possible leads forward.

Think about fit.

While it’s important to put your best soloists forward, it’s equally important to find the appropriate vehicles to showcase why they’re the best your group has to offer. Giving your animated showman a soft ballad will squander the gifts that make him stand out; similarly, assigning your most gifted soprano a largely spoken-word or rap lead fails to show off what makes her special in the first place.

Think about your soloists’ signature sounds—the music that they sound at home with, that they seem to have a connection to, and let the group build around that lead.

Aim for unique.

With the exception of a very small handful of groups in the world, you cannot count on your soloists being flat-out better than the soloists from any other group. But you can make strides toward making your soloists unique. Whether it’s the timbre of their voices, a cool audio effect they’re capable of, or something as seemingly negligible as their hair or the way they dress, unique soloists are memorable and that can make all the difference when judges are making their subjective placements and when audience members are talking after the show.

What have you found to be the best practices for a cappella soloists? What are the best solos you’ve heard? Let us know in the comments.