Category: Running an A Cappella Group

So we’re smack dab in the middle of audition season right now. I was looking at some of the stats on the blog the other day and noticed a couple of searches surrounding how to recruit for a cappella groups. Hence a post on recruiting talent.

Here’s my top tips for recruiting to auditions:

1) Scout the Local Talent:

Karaoke Event put on by the freshman orientation counsel? You better be there to see what could be walking into your auditions. What’s more, if you hear something you want in your group, extend a personal invitation. No karaoke event? Host one. I hope I just changed a group’s recruiting forever. (If you do this, let me know how it goes.)

2) Advertise Everywhere:

Plaster your campus with posters and flyers, but make sure they have two things – A memorable graphic or phrase and the audition information. Sounds simple, but I once had an assistant director bring me a wonderfully eye-catching poster that did not have the audition date and time on it. Also, make sure you’re postering during daytime hours. Give people a chance to see you posting and ask you questions. My college group made a mistake of posting after rehearsals on Sunday nights. 9pm on Sunday is not exactly a high traffic time at most Universities.

Don’t underestimate Facebook events, but don’t count on them either. Make sure you get the word out on social media sites and invite you friends. Even that friend who you know can’t sing. They may have friends who can and could pass along the information about your auditions.

3) Personal Invitations and Follow-Up:

The power of a personal invitation cannot be truly measured. As I mentioned in #1, if you hear somebody you like, ask them to come to auditions. Same goes for friends of yours or that person you sing with in University Choir. And once you’ve asked them, follow-up with them before auditions. The saying  “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is especially true about auditioning for a cappella. I’ve known many people who have said they wanted to be a part of a singing group but in the final weeks decided they might be too busy, not good enough, or they just forget about auditions because they didn’t write it down. A simple email, text message, wall post, or even *gasp* conversation in person can be what it takes to guarantee that next great soloist shows up at your auditions. I really can’t over state this point: Extended personal invitations and follow-up before auditions.

I hope these tips help your group find the talent you’re looking for. I’m definitely using the ones that apply to my post-collegiate efforts right now. If you have more tips, post them in the comments. I and my readers always appreciate additional insight.



So since I last posted information about auditions, some things have changed. First, the date and time. The new audition date and time is:

Saturday, September 15th at 2pm

Additionally, the location has been moved. Some of you who have inquired were told that we would be hosting auditions at one of our member’s homes in Andersonville. Now auditions will be held at Vocomotion Studios in Skokie. What’s more, this will be where a majority of our rehearsals will be held.

I will follow up by email with those of you who have already contacted me about auditioning. If you’re interested in being part of the group, please email us at

Finally, we settled into a musical direction last night. Our goal is to sing more indie style/lesser covered music as well as different takes on more popular songs. An imperfect simile is to think Sonos with 10 people or so. We’ve got a bit of talent in our founding members including a cappella producer Freddie Feldman on vocal percussion.

Hey Everybody,

First, thank you for reading this blog. Second, thank you for all of the support I’ve already received about the news that I will be starting a new coed a cappella group in Chicago, IL. While I don’t have many specific details about auditions and such just yet, I can assure you I’ll be keeping you all up to date once the information is decided.

As of right now, it looks like auditions will be around the first week of September.

We are still writing a charter, but the intention of this group is to produce quality music and be active in the a cappella sphere. Performances, competitions, showcases, and recording an album (funded by gigs) are all part of the plan.

Stylistically, the group intends to work to push the bounds of the contemporary a cappella genre (wide as that already is) and to perform music from a wide variety of genres from classical to classic rock, punk to pop.

Ok, that’s some information, mostly generic. Point is,

1) We’re going to sing a lot of different stuff.

2) We’re going to sing it well.

3) We’re going to sing it in a lot of different places for hopefully many different people.

If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, and you live in or around the general Chicago area, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me about being a part of this adventure. Comment on this post, DM me on twitter. Once we decide on a name (still accepting ideas), I’ll have an email address for you to send information too, as well as new social media accounts. I like to be on top of my emarketing game, what can I say.

Until then, thanks again for all your support. I truly appreciate it.



There are many questions you must ask yourself (and your fellow founders) before you start an a cappella group. In this series, we will explore some of those questions.

What is the charter of this group? (Why am I starting an a cappella group?)

In the spring of 2008, I was finishing freshman year of college and had decided to start the first a cappella group at my school. After quickly deciding that I had no idea what I was doing, I decided to reach out to a couple of groups who had had a great deal of success after being around just a short while. At the top of that list was BYU Noteworthy who, after just a couple years of existence, had recently won the ICCA Championship.

The director of Noteworthy at the time forwarded my email to Dave Brown, then President of CASA, now one of the brilliant voices of the Mouth Off podcast. Dave’s formula for perfect auditions is to date one of the most brilliant pieces of a cappella knowledge I’ve ever heard.

Brian, get to the point already. Alright. Here it is.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but most of what Dave told me was centered around one question that I answered at the beginning of the conversation:

Why are you starting an a cappella group?

This question may seem like an inconsequential one, but it is more important that many questions you’ll ask and be asked. This question will determine the direction your group takes for the foreseeable future and starting with the wrong charter is something that many groups never recover from.

This is not to say that there is a wrong answer to this question. The answer to this question can only be wrong if it is not what you truly want.

Are you starting a group for the camaraderie and the friendships? A cappella people are a lot of fun to hang out with (especially if you like drunkenly singing showtunes.) If you are, be prepared to start rehearsals late and for learning music to at times be slow and unfocused. These are generalizations, but it is harder to keep discipline amongst friends and people who come to rehearsal to hang out with friends.

Are you starting a group because you want to express yourself as a musician? Better make sure that you find other people that are there for the music first. Rehearsals will be tense when you’re prepping for competitions or big shows, but you’ll sound good. Perhaps you’ll record a CD that gets nominated for a CARA and is purchased by more than just your family.

Undoubtedly there are pieces of each that sound good. Everyone wants to have a group of friends who they cannot only hang out with but also produce amazing music with. Most college groups start out attempting to walk this line – few succeeding in producing amazing music. The post-collegiate world is most likely a similar case, although the intention to hang out and sing tends to be the prevailing feeling that I’ve seen.

So again I ask, why are you starting an a cappella group? This question can very well change the path you take and the success you have. Once you know what you’re looking for in your new group, you’ll have to make sure you follow through, but knowing is half the battle. We’ll discuss that and other questions later in this series.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. Groups are all having their end of the fall semester type concerts, releasing new albums, and posting new YouTube videos from said concerts. I find out what songs have become the ones everybody is covering this year, what songs I think groups missed out on, and all of the best and worst arrangements. Looks like Shark in the Water could be a winner this semester.

Either way, in watching hundreds of YouTube videos I see and hear different styles of performance. Today I’m going to talk about finding the meaning in a song. It seems obvious that if a song has sad lyrics that you would sing that emotion into it, or alternatively, joyful lyrics that you lead would fill the song with joy. However, I know far too well that when a group gets caught up in learning a new song or trying to finish many songs for a final concert, that this gets forgotten.

Talking about the meaning of a song doesn’t have to take an hour out of rehearsal time. Sometimes you just need five minutes to talk to your full group about the individual meaning of a song. It’ll help to remind them that they swell on a “no” syllable because that’s when the lead is recounting how her lover has left her or how she doesn’t need his help anymore. Both have a different dramatic feel that can be felt in the cry of the backing vocals.

I have two examples from songs Harmonic is doing this semester. First, a classic, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. In my arrangement of the song, several parts sing the “ba ba ba” (you know what I’m talking about) in the chorus. When we first sang it, the girls were perfectly in tune and one pitch and really really boring sounding. That’s a fun part that everybody knows and audience members are going to sing along with. I simply told them to have fun first, sing second. See the result:

Another song we’re singing this semester is Whataya Want from Me by Adam Lambert. My assistant director, Jessica Luckett, has the solo for this one. One day she walked into rehearsal about to break down into tears because she had a long day. Jess is involved in no fewer than 8 student organizations on campus, most of them in a leadership capacity. Here feeling after the day was that she was doing everything she could and people just weren’t appreciating her enough. She was literally asking, “What do you want from me?” Let’s just say that when she sang the song that night in rehearsal, it had a more real feel to it than the original.

Sometimes the fix is as simple as taking how you’re feeling at the moment and plugging it into the song. Sometimes it takes a full group discussion about what the verse actually means and what the main character is feeling. Either way, finding the meaning in the song you sing will help to draw out the full emotion of the song and engage your audience.

This week we’re going to talk about some different rehearsal techniques that my group, Harmonic Uprising, has been trying out. From time to time we’ll talk about different things that have been effective, some that haven’t, and figure out new ways to grow as a group. This week we talk about Singing in the Dark.

Stephen Harrison is an alum of Washington University is St. Louis’ After Dark, and the author of the online serial novel AcaPolitics. I started reading the work about a month ago and instantly became hooked. Maybe I’ll write a review on it at a later date, but for now here’s where I’m going. In Chapter 12, entitled “Songbuilding,” Harrison describes a rehearsal of the fictional co-ed group “The Chorderoys.” It’s a pretty standard rehearsal until their director decides the group isn’t meshing and makes a somewhat unorthodox move — he turns off the lights and has the group sing in the dark.

In one of our rehearsals this week, we were struggling with some of the syncopation on an arrangement of King of Anything by Sara Bareilles. (This song will undoubtedly be covered hundreds of times in the coming year.) As you may be aware, the song is driven by a piano line that contains many jumps which make it essentially impossible for a single voice to sing. In order to combat this I split up the parts to have different section take different sequences within the overall piano part. Easily arranged, less easily sung. We had the song mostly memorized, but it was still sounding muddy so I decided to try out the approach I had read about in Harrison’s novel a couple weeks prior.

I gathered the group in a circle, and then walked across the room and turned out the lights. As college kids do, they immediately reacted to the darkness with noise but when they settled down I gave the pitch and counted off a relaxed 1-2-3-4. I wish I had before and after recordings so that you all could hear the remarkable difference it made not being able to see the other members. It was the cleanest and most crisp we’ve ever performed it and subsequent run-throughs with the lights on followed suit as the group now understood that they need to listen to, not watch, the other parts.

This technique may be standard for some of you and completely unheard of for others, but it worked extremely well for Harmonic Uprising. I encourage every group to try this out, especially on songs where you struggle to sync up.

Several times each week, A Cappella Midwest will be blogging about different topics surrounding College A Cappella focusing in the Midwest. In our topic Audition Season, we’ll talk about one of the most important things your group can do: Recruit.

For some, Audition Season is the most fun time of the year; time to grow as a group, find new members, new talent, and help to carry on the legacy laid down by your founding members. For others, this is the most stressful part of being in an a cappella group; battling with other groups to find the best, mixed groups trying to find men, the constant grind of recruiting. Whichever camp you find yourself in, I’m sure we can all agree on the importance of recruiting.

The Collegiate A Cappella world is wide and varied due to some obvious reasons. Perhaps the most influential on the recruiting process is the size of the school. I come from a smaller school background and having started the group at my school, I faced different issues from larger schools with double digit ensembles.

So what are the most effective ways to recruit new members? We’ll explore these across this semester in most of our audition posts, but let me tackle what I feel is the most important.

Get Your Group Out There.

Whether you’re constantly singing in various parts of campus, performing at your schools freshman orientations, or singing at family day, it’s important to get your group out in front of the student body, especially the incoming freshman. This year one of the best recruiting tools for our ensemble was simply having a member sit at a table at the student organization fair. This year: Make the Glee Connection. Most people by now have heard about the show, and while most of what they do isn’t expressly a cappella, people will still connect it to your group. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of how “cool” Glee has become.

Getting your group out in the public sphere will help improve potential auditionee interest, but will also help to bolster your concert attendance. I can’t tell you how many times people have said “That’s so cool, I didn’t know we had a group like that!” The more opportunities you give yourself to gain fans, the more it will help your institutional support and longevity as an ensemble.

Finally, if your group hasn’t made it to the digital era yet, get there soon. I’ll be covering some news was to digitally market your group in the coming posts.

Good luck with those of you who are completing your fall auditions and congratulations to those of you who are being accepted into the college a cappella group at your school. I’ll be posting results from various auditions on the AcaMidwest twitter account as I become aware of them. Follow @AcaMidwest.