How To Get On "The Sing-Off" Next Year

Origin From: Total Vocal
Author: Deke Sharon
Date: 2010-07-01

Although groups may not be announced until October by NBC, groups are just now being decided for season two of The Sing-Off, with taping happening in August. 

Needless to say, for every group that made the show there are something like 20 that didn't. 

This is in no way to slight the efforts of the many great groups who auditioned and aren't on the show; fact is, we easily have another show's worth of amazing groups already. Choosing has been difficult, and it's certainly not a science. 

The question that many keep asking is "What can we do to make the show next year? What didn't we do well?" 

The answer might just be that you're doing everything well and you're still not quite right. That might not make sense, so let me elaborate by suggesting a few key pointers that will help your group's chances of making the show next season (if there is a next season, of course): 

Have An Identity

Most performing artists today are carefully dressed, marketed, positioned and packaged. From Lady Gaga to Jack Johnson, audiences clearly understand who an artist is from a glance or cursory listen. This is important in todays media saturated world, as viewers quickly changing channels want to understand something quickly or they'll likely move on. 

To this end, producers of the show are not only looking for talent (essential!) and presence (essential!) but some kind of identity. Who are you? Southern boys who met at a church function? Music educators who didn't want to let their students have all the fun? It's not enough for you to just be a random assortment of people who happen to get together and sing, because it makes the background story, wardrobe, repertoire selection all difficult and confusing. 

Mind you, it's absolutely fine to have no identity as an a cappella group of people who like to sing together. I'm not suggesting that the a cappella community all immediately define themselves and one another within terms that the popular media can understand. I'm simply suggesting that you must if you're going to be on a network reality show. 

Your identity could be informed by age, race, location, background or culture, but it also can be driven by focus, repertoire, common experiences, and so on. Give the producers something to hang their hat on, some simple way to describe you. I promise once on the show we'll break those boundaries, but they have to exist for you to then impress people when you rise above. 

What you never want said about you: "It looks like someone just picked up a bunch of people at a bus stop. I don't know what we'd do with them." 

Ask The Hard Questions

Fact is, few people are going to go out of their way to tell you about your weaknesses and shortcomings. No one wants to, and unless you're wildly popular, no one is either being paid to or has a financial interest in telling you. Fans will either buy your album or not, stay to hear your set or walk away at intermission. However you need to know if you're going to get better. 

Start by videotaping yourselves and analyzing what you see. Don't think small picture - little hand gestures rarely matter - but think big: How do we look? How do we sound? What would someone who had never seen or heard a cappella think? And if you aren't getting very far, ask a good friend or two to be brutally honest. 

You need to know if someone closes their eyes too often, looks bored, doesn't engage the audience, dresses unflatteringly, because you want to address all of these issues before you get in front of television producers, who see all and are paid to be extremely blunt because millions of dollars ride on every hour of television time. You know you sometimes get catty when flipping channels... well, if the tables are going to be turned, you need to step up your game. 

What you never want said about you: "It's clear they have absolutely no clue that..." 

Engage With The Song And With The Audience 

I've been beating the "presence" drum since the audition process began, and with good reason: the a cappella community appears to spend far more time focusing on tuning than they do on performing. Fact is, most people can't tell if a chord's in perfect tune, but they sure can tell if your group looks bored, disengaged, distant. 

Someone somewhere could stand to make a lot of money teaching stage presence and group performing... if only groups realized they had this problem! Alas, I don't think they do. I'm on a mission to tell them. 

For now, let's start with this: If your group does not get frequent standing ovations, it's likely you're not really performing. I don't mean choreography, I don't mean cruise ship banter or vegas smooth. I mean focused, intense, emotionally engaged singing. If you're singing about sorrow, express sorrow. If you're singing about joy, smile! It's obvious, and yet a cappella for many is an offshoot of choir, where the anonymity of the alto section, risers and a distant audience give singers an apparent ability to get lost in the crowd. 

There is no crowd in contemporary a cappella, even in the back row of a fifteen member group. You will be seen. You will be noticed. And your musings about where you'll have dinner while singing "I Can't Make You Love Me" will turn a poignant song into an unpalatable pablum of amateur hour muzak. If you do not care about your music, I guarantee no one else will. 

If you're shy, work on it. Don't like to meet people's eyes? Work on it. Feel uncomfortable moving on stage? Singing a solo? Sharing your feelings? Work on it, or decide that you're not really interested in prime time. It's OK, not every tennis player needs to aspire to the US Open. Those who do, practice, and play with heart. 

What you never want said about you: "They don't care, I don't care." 

Start Now 

We saw some significant talent that was just too new, too unpolished, too rough. 

Have you ever watched an all-star or all-pro game where there are amazing players all lined up on both sides, and the game was rather dull? That's because it doesn't matter how good you are in a team sport if you don't have a group chemistry. You need to know where your teammates will be so you can anticipate their moves, finish their thoughts. Many teams of great players have fallen, and many a Superbowl has been won on the backs of solid yet unremarkable players who understand each other and make each other better. 

Do not procrastinate. You pulled together some great singers for this years auditions but didn't make a callback? Do not despair, do not disband. Keep singing every week, build a repertoire, perform, relax into each other's company and friendship. It is essential to a great group sound and group energy. You will make each other better, and you will all have to be better to rise above so many great groups. 

What you never want said about you: "Great soloists, great look, great talent... but just isn't working together." Perhaps this has all been too negative, so I'll leave you with a positive... 

What you DO want said about you: "I love the look, the sound, the energy, and most of all how much they love singing together."



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