Keeping It Together

The Recording Rant

I’m going to take a small hiatus from recording talk and discuss something that is an issue for more groups than they might care to admit. Not everybody sells out eight shows a semester and has fans begging for more at the end. It just isn’t in the cards for younger groups still developing a reputation and finding their sound. These groups are hoping to fill just half of the seats and pray that no technical disasters take place and cause them to lose the four groupies that they barely hold onto. A bigger challenge faces these groups: the challenge to simply Keep It Together.

Are you the leader of one of these groups? You know who you are. You deal with extensive group turnover, people losing interest, lack of motivation, and competition with more popular groups and events around campus. Every time you get a decent show-stopping soloist, they find a reason to not stick it out or find their place in another group. Those in your group that do stay get frustrated by the lack of payoff for the multiple practices every week. Your shows are mediocre and thus the talent entering your group is subpar as well. These groups have a small success rate, and many times they hang it up to end the misery. Here are some other options to save your group and turn yourselves into one of the main events on campus.

1) Group bonding time. My old group’s leader after I left used to set mandatory weekend hangout time. You can understand how this wouldn’t work out with fifteen college kids. They rebelled. BUT, this isn’t to say that the group shouldn’t spend time together outside of practice and concerts. If half of you are hanging out, the others will follow in time. A group of friends has a better connection on stage than a group of singers who hardly know each other. Comfort is big the next time you request that they do some kind of choreography.

2) Highlight the strengths of ALL of the group members. I saw a group a few years ago who had a smaller guy that just wasn’t that great of a singer. Sad, but true. What did they do? They incorporated him into a song using body percussion, which was a crowd pleaser seeing as he was strangely good at it. Not everybody is a great soloist, but if they are in the group they have something to offer, so make use of it. This way, your good soloists don’t feel like they are carrying the group on their back. It can be a heavy burden.

3) ADVERTISE. This cannot be stressed enough to college groups. Get flyers up, talk to your local college radio station, college webmaster, etc. Even better, the week before the show, get outside and sing. For free? YES! Put together three songs and stand where there is the most traffic around campus during the day, and sing the hell out of them. (Side note, avoid slower songs, they tend to grab fewer people on the move.) People will stop, people will listen, and when you stop, people will be disappointed. This is your chance to plug your upcoming show. I promise that your attendance numbers will climb.

4) Make your concerts shows. No, I don’t mean skits between every song, unless that works for you. I mean hire somebody to run sound who knows what they are doing, because a cappella is a different animal altogether and there have been way too many shows ruined by a bad sound engineer who doesn’t understand the genre. Come up with a unique dress code. All of you are wearing ties? Unless you are (insert Clefs, Bubs, etc. here), then it will bore people. It is a tired concept. Lose the ties and go more relaxed. You will feel more comfortable on stage and over time, the crowd will feel more comfortable as well.
There are plenty of us out there who are doing a cappella professionally and hiring a consultant to fix a few issues is always a good idea. You get an unbiased view from somebody who has been around the block. Can’t afford it? Just ask for some help. You might be surprised how many of us would just shoot emails back and forth with you.

In the end, hanging it up is an option that some can’t ignore. Sometimes it is inevitable, but always make it a last resort. Try these tips first, and you will see a turnaround quickly.