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Home > Main > From Europe with (Tough) Love

From Europe with (Tough) Love

Deke Sharon



This post is a spontaneous response by Vocal Blog founder Florian Städtler to an outstanding article written by CASA founder Deke Sharon at yesterday. You can read the original post here and will find my reply. Comments would be very much appreciated.



Hi Deke,

it’s been a while since a vocal music blog post made me think so hard. Let me add a few thoughts from an outside perspective. Outside because a) I’ve been to the US only once (4 days of SoJam 2011), b) I’ve started my “a cappella career” rather late, i.e. when I was about 35 years old and c) as of today I’m making more than half of my money with events that have nothing to do with a cappella at all.

1) I fully agree to the theory of “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. Almost all outliers have spent the magic 10.000 hours of work on their very own domain.

2) This means neither becoming a complete nerd (in a negative sense) nor a burnout victim. I haven’t met Deke Sharon in person yet, but as far as I have heard he has a family, owns more than one book and is an exquisite chef.

3) Every community needs different types of members: There are the visionaries, that write “tough” blog posts. There are the dreamers, that inspire people around them with charisma and works of art. There are the busy buddies who can get away with an average of 5 hours sleep. And there are hidden champions who contribute to the growth of “the thing” by an endless number of little steps. You can choose, who you are and find your place.

4) Every art form and genre also needs a foundation of people who just do IT because they love it and others who form a professional elite (and hopefully love it, too). The pros wouldn’t be able to survive without the amateurs: They are the activistis who spread the news, buy tickets and download music. The amateurs are happy to have inspiring role models, efficient organizers and reliable managers that get things done.

5) At the center of this discussion lies the Big Q (as mentioned in my blog post only two days ago: Do you want to stay in this “a cappella bubble” with all these “nice people” who create “harmony for harmony” all the time? Or do you feel the urge to step outside, into the real world and connect with it, even if it may disappoint you more than one time?

Florian Städtler

6) Leaders become leaders mostly because they are able to step out of their comfort zones. Which means to work as hard as Deke described it. And also to look for discomforting evidence all the time, i.e. to not follow the natural impulse to see what’s already ingrained in your thinking. It also means to say the things that no one wants to hear. That’s why I particularly love Deke’s “Tough Love – Tough Market” post: It is provocative without being cynic. (The cynic is a disappointed person, who doesn’t want to be disappointed again).

7) We Europeans would wish their iron being nearly as hot as the US one is. We don’t have collegiate a cappella, Glee is just one of many tv shows and we don’t have The Sing-Off. We don’t have a single mass market and as if this wasn’t enough, most people are still not able to clap on 2 and 4… So making a professional a cappella career over here seems like a suicide mission. But wasn’t that even more futile in the early nineties, when a guy from the West Coast just started it all?

I’m pretty sure that the late 80s Deke Sharon was much too smart and realistic to PLAN his “a cappella career”. Nevertheless, he acted stubbornly and worked perpetually on what meant so much to him. If you read the biographies of Gates, Jobs, The Beatles, Einstein as well as those of every top sportsman, scientiest or musician, they have some things in common: They followed the 10.000 hour rule, they were at the right place at the right time (maybe just by keeping to work on their thing for so long?) and they had the necessary talent.

Can we plan these kind of careers? Certainly not. But it’s good to have a tough benchmark. And a very nice role model. Thanks, Deke for giving us both.

// FSt – Florian Städtler //, founder // , co-founder, Chairman of the Board //, co-founder //

// phone: +49 761 38 94 74  // e-mail: //

Deke’s “Tough Love” post has led to some interesting replies by peer bloggers, find the links to related articles here:

Jan 15 Vocal Blog – Florian Städtler „6 Lessons from LACF 2012“

Jan 16 CASA – Deke Sharon „Tough Love – Tough Market“ including comments by Peter Hollens, Willy Eteson, Florian Städtler

Jan 17 Vocal Blog – Florian Städtler “From Europe with (Tough) Love”  including comments by Mark Gregory, RJ Eckhart, Deke Sharon, Willy Etson

Jan 17 Acatribe – David Bernstein „Calling Out ‚Professional‘ Groups“

Jan 17 RJ A Cappella – Robert-Jon Eckhart „The Big Q“

Jan 19 CASA – Deke Sharon „So What Can I Do?“

Florian Städtler is founder Vocal Blog and Chairman of the European Voices Association. He can’t believe how quickly this blog has developed a following of wonderful, intelligent and nicely-smelling people. Thanks for sharing the greatest ideas and the latest aca-gossip with a growing number of vocal music enthusiasts. If you can’t get enough of this stuff and/or want to get in touch with almost 1000 a cappella buddies like Vocal Blog on Facebook. If you want to make us of Vocal Blog as a filter and aggregator of a cappella news, links, tipps and hilarious tweets, follow Vocal Blog on Twitter.

If you want to sell and/or buy stuff online, go to Acappellazone or write to If you think there is a video of high quality of exceptional artistry, let us know so that we can post it on the Acappellazone YouTube channel.

If you like face-to-face communication (like 4-hour candle light dinners or after party allnighters), I agree: This is the best way to communicate. So let’s stay in touch via social media and meet in person when Vocal Blog goes on tour: See you in Stockholm!

KategorienMain Tags: ,
  1. 17. Januar 2012, 14:35 | #1

    Du hast völlig Recht – inspirierend!

    It appears several revelations have come from the weekend at LACF, and a lot of progress was made. I’m all for it! Stop procrastinating and start working towards your so called dream job, if you want it that bad.

    Great post!

  2. 17. Januar 2012, 14:37 | #2

    I also agree that it is far more difficult to forge an a cappella career in Europe, but it only takes one, right?

  3. 17. Januar 2012, 14:50 | #3

    Hi Mark.
    Europe is quite diverse. Just compare Sweden and Portugal. Poland and Italy. Or Luxemburg and Greece. In some European countries – despite of the economic crisis – we are talking about luxury problems rather than real problems. There is a great variety and also still some funding for cultural and educational projects.

    Like in all other parts of the world, millions of people are singing together. And making one’s living by facilitating this basic human need, making people aware of each other, making them open up for new influences and mindsets and finally bringing out the best in everybody involved – this is a dream worth investing the magic 10K hours.

    Best, FSt/Florian

  4. 17. Januar 2012, 16:19 | #4

    Hi Florian,

    Deke obviously made some strong points and what struck me most is how it is even more relevant for us in Europe. And even though the tonality of your reaction might be more likable, I think you’re robbing some of the power from Deke’s words.

    Before getting into the topics, I’d like to restate (as Deke did) that we absolutely need amateurs to keep a cappella alive, but this article (and the points I’m gonna make) are not meant for them. They are meant for the people who consider themselves professionals.

    I’ll get into the points that stood out most for me:

    3) By talking about different kinds of people, you are right but missing the point. The point is: we have professionals, the leaders of our pack and music genre, covering frigging Firework… again (yawn). Why are we as a community so used to covering the same songs over and over again, instead of creating new music with actual significance? We’re *musicians* right?

    Why don’t we write about politics, the destruction of our planet, life, death and = hell yeah = love? Why don’t we challenge ourselves to have as much significance in creating new music as Coldplay and U2?

    So the point is: If we want to be taken seriously by the mainstream music-world, we’d better start pumping out some relevant music.

    5) I’ll be writing about the Big Q in a different post.

    6) I realize I’m going to focus on a single word in this point, but it’s a word that’s (mis)used on a very frequent basis around me. You say: “Leaders become leaders mostly because they are able to step out of their comfort zones.”

    Now here’s the thing: we all have comfort zones and we are all “able” to step out of them. We are physically able to pick up the phone and make that call. We are physically able to put that big goal in our calendars. It may be a different thing for different people, but it is as uncomfortable for all of us.

    Leaders are not created when special people are able to step out of their comfort zones, but when ordinary people DO.

    (We probably agree on this one, but I wanted to clarify this as I can see a lot of people reading this and thinking to themselves they are not able to step out of their comfort zones. You are, and it’s your choice whether you do or not.)

    7) I completely disagree Deke’s piece is American, or focused on the American market. I think we should stop talking & complaining about how the US has an easier market than Europe. The reason we have no market is because we haven’t created one. But it is still 1.000 times easier to reach my entire nation (The Netherlands) than to reach the entire U.S. We do have an annual a cappella festival within a 2 hours drive from everyone in my country. And if I were in a vocal group, I could easily attend ALL of them. Imagine how easy it is for me, from a US stand point, to make a splash on a national level and actually make the national charts.

    Yes, our market is fundamentally different from the US’s. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harder to create a great market for a cappella. We have to take advantage of being small and move swiftly. We are organizing like crazy (EVA, aca-festivals all over Europe). All we have to do now, exactly like the US, is GET OUT THERE. Be known, participate in contests, talk to radio stations, perform in every possible venue and stop being so scared that people won’t like you!

    Just as the Beatles were at the right place and time because sexy pop music didn’t exist yet when they started, we are at the right place and time because authentic vocal music doesn’t exist yet. But people are yearning for it. Make it, and they will come.

    Peace out,

  5. 17. Januar 2012, 17:22 | #5

    YES, RJ!!! Yes, yes, yes – especially #7. It is indeed 1,000 times easier to reach the entire Netherlands. And Germany’s a cappella market dwarfs the US. Germany has more full time professional a cappella groups than the US, more festivals (yup!) and all told more concerts (I’m not completely sure, but that’s my sense). Scandinavia has many excellent groups and a fantastic rotating festival. England was a vast wasteland a decade ago with only a few groups, and now has a growing collegiate scene, a couple festivals… It can be done. Americans are more used to just jumping in the deep end then learning to swim, and sometimes that’s what it takes. I just responded to someone from the Philippines wishing he could start a community there, and I told him that it’s 100 times easier now there than it was in the US 20 years ago. Festivals around the world, books, lots of sheet music, albums, youtube, web sites, advice… and people love to sing harmony in the Philippines. Get a bag of seeds and start planting!

  6. 17. Januar 2012, 18:01 | #6

    Hi Deke & RJ,

    one thing we realized at the conversations at LACF 2012 (with CASA’s Danny Ozment, Amanda Aldag et al) that there is way too little mutual understanding of the “state of affairs”/markets in foreign countries.

    It actually turned out that everybody complained about the difficulties on his home turf and marvelled about the wonderful opportunities in other countries and regions. (“We don’t have any a cappella groups at our universities” … “there’s absolutely no funding over here!”) And there was a strange kind of relief at the end of some talks, that the situation in e.g. the UK is just as difficult as in the US”.

    This is the time for my favourite quote by Peder Karlsson. When we discussed the purpose of the now founded European Voices Association, he was the first one to make clear that it will NOT be finding gigs for singers, arrangers and producers. “Let’s make people aware of each other”, Peder said.

    The upcoming Real Vocal Festival in Stockholm (August 16-19) would be a great opportunity to start an ongoing dialogue between CASA, EVA and Vocalasia with the goal of mutual exchange and learning from each other. And also the occasional kick-in-the-ass like the one that started this conversation.

  7. 17. Januar 2012, 18:31 | #7

    The US has an easier market than Europe? Really? How many professional groups are in Europe? We have … perhaps … 15? From here, it _seems_ like you have hordes of them!

    All goes to show that perspective is key! Great post tho, Uncle Flo :)

  8. 17. Januar 2012, 19:01 | #8

    Hey Sir, what a pleasure you are joining us.

    I didn’t mean to say that the EU market is easier than Europe. Actually, it’s hard for anybody to tell. It just struck me when Deke wrote that Germany has more “full time pro groups than the US”. All people and so-called experts (like the people who comment here) are terrible at estimating. And even if you have reliable statistics, you know the old saying: “Don’t trust statistics, that you haven’t faked yourself.”

    I would rather look at the wonderful things that all countries and regions offer and help people importing and exporting the best ideas and concepts.

    Now, dear Dio and dear readers, how are we going to start this process?

  9. 17. Januar 2012, 21:42 | #9

    Great conversation everyone. Deke, if you get a chance, make sure you get your contact in touch with Oscar Pantaleon, Jr.

    One thing that I’ve heard recently when in discussions about change is the paraphrased: “before you determine that the grass is always greener somewhere else, determine what you’d need to take care of and fertilize your own lawn.”

  10. Willy Eteson
    17. Januar 2012, 23:00 | #10

    Loving these threads everyone – time for my own oar:

    “It’s all about the numbers”
    Should it be, really?
    To “the general music industry” there seems to be nothing else that matters.
    To musicians, artists and creative people the numbers don’t necessarily matter if your creation (composition, arrangement, sound world, performance) contains intrinsic worth: if it’s about the message, the innovation, the technical mastery or the inspiration your creation evokes in others.
    The classic excuse of an unknown musician then… the art should speak for itself, and popularity be damned.
    Providing you can still pay the rent/mortgage of course.

    If you’re running a concert series, it will probably be balanced with “bums on seats” gigs (full house) alongside less well known but still “worthy” works. Put in the Beethoven Symphony gigs so you can also put on Berio’s sinfonia?
    For a professional a cappella group this may translate to taking on a corporate gig in the same month to enable you do a 3 week promo tour that nets you NO MONEY! [my record btw is 1 month on the road for £45!!

    More, More, More, More, More – or “quality versus quantity”
    1 certified origin organic Wagyu Beef rib-eye steak, or 10 rump steaks from the supermarket meat lane?
    What happens if in trying to meet your deadline of a video a week, or a free download a week, the overall quality of your work takes a nosedive? Will the most complimentary adjectives about you be “prolific”, or “punctual”?

    1 quality video that took 10 weeks to make, or 10 average videos during the same time? Targets and aspirations are great for motivation but should never compromise quality.

    The funny thing is, the more I practise, the Luckier I get
    Gary Player was right, and so is Deke!
    Work hard, never stop, give your life to it and you may just have a shot.

    Rule of Journalism/Entertainment – “give them what they want”
    A Cappella in the mainstream! The iron is hot – Glee, the Sing-Off, Naturally 7 warming up for Michael Buble: but there are compromises contained herein: Glee is highly manufactured and in a lot of senses not real, the Sing Off focuses on collegiate/amateur a cappella groups (see previous threads on vocal blog) and N7 are the warm-up playing to big numbers, not the main bill. But this is progress – celebrate!! (at least a little!).
    The best singers/musicians in the world are not necessarily on TV: many are overlooked because they don’t have an interesting story behind them, or they don’t look pretty enough. This is just the way TV and mass marketing works, but TV leads to record deals as we all know.
    So “Zero to Hero” and maybe good hair is the only way to hitting those numbers that Deke mentions at the moment, but the tide may yet turn:

    Rob Brydon (Welsh comic & actor) recently got his own TV show in the UK – he wrote:
    I wanted it to be all about talent – talented people doing good things. I find more and more that I want nourishment [on television], if that’s not too grand a term. Not some cheeky chappie plasterer who’s captured the nation’s heart with his honesty and by dealing with his issues. I’m not interested in that. I don’t want to see the boy next door. I want talented people.”

    Florian is right about the a cappella bubble – it is a lovely little world filled with amazing people [yeah – aca-love to you all!], but not real, and Deke is right that it is not big enough. Although growing and supporting itself it will not breach through to the mainstream without more meaningful activity from the pro groups!

    Greater communication between us from region to region, aca-organisations, and Peder’s making people aware of each other will galvanise the acappella world and continue the growth, but not achieve the mainstream target alone.

    The real question I think the aca-blogs should focus on is How can we get there?

    It can’t be the TV model “zero to hero” for existing groups, that just doesn’t make sense.
    Robert-Jon I think has it in “pumping out more relevant music”.
    When we do so, let’s also make it the highest quality it can be, just to show what the voice really can achieve and why the pro a cappella groups deserve to be called pro!

  11. 18. Januar 2012, 00:29 | #11

    So much to discuss! If we’re going to calculate what “full time professional” means, we’ll need a yardstick. I’m not considering Rockapella to be full time pro (with a total of 3 gigs in January, 2 in March and 5 in May), or Take 6 (5 gigs in February, one in April and one in June). This is not in any way to belittle the monumental achievements of either of these groups, or anyone else who is not gigging full time (it may well be by choice – it is for the House Jacks), but rather to dispel the myth of America as the chosen land for a cappella. Indeed every place has its benefits and detractions, and these discussions benefit us all… except that I long for the days of (or even more recently the RARB forum) when they all happened in one reliable place. This discussion is scattered between the CASA web site, here, and facebook… how can bring everyone to one single, great, reliable watercooler for discussions (and subsequent discussion archives)?

  12. 18. Januar 2012, 07:03 | #12

    Willy – you bring up some excellent points: quality vs quantity. Either way, if you want your quantity to have quality or your quality to have quantity, it takes significant time and commitment. Same goes for a huge casual fanbase or smaller deeply devoted fanbase: neither will happen without drive, care, and commitment. Which I know you know first hand!

  13. Willy Eteson
    18. Januar 2012, 13:56 | #13

    Deke – absolutely! For the pro groups (however you define it) it must be a matter of being challenged to achieve more, and kudos to you for igniting this thread, even if at the moment all we see are words. I am a year and a few months out of the Swingles and it instantly engaged my brain (some habits will die hard) from the point of view of a group balancing the need to survive financially and investing time and money in creation/innovation/being the best. Never easy to get it right, and the balance will be different depending on the particular group and which route they have chosen. It’s also very easy to be sucked into the micro concerns of running a group whilst ignoring the bigger picture!

    I’d be particularly interested to know your thoughts specifically on how you think pro a cappella groups can get more TV airtime though. For now all I can think of is to fit within what exists on TV at the moment, rather than my more grandiose notion that quality and message (plus of course hard work & luck) will eventually out and earn TV slots (for the time being we have the vicious circle of record companies and TV researchers/producers deciding this – no coincidence there as it’s a fix, being all about the numbers).

    So in my mind we have arrived at a couple of basic equations unless you can add more to it:

    Talent + Hard work + (quality/quantity) = Luck
    Luck + contacts = big break into the mainstream!

  14. 24. Januar 2012, 23:39 | #14

    A couple of points:

    “The reason we have no market is because we haven’t created one.” – RJ.

    I completely agree! And this is vitally important in my opinion. Though it does only take one group to break through that mould and bring a cappella to the masses (Out of the Blue almost did it last year with their appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, but unfortunately they got beaten to the final by a dancing grandpa – that’s the British public for you…), hard work is needed.

    And not just by professional groups. To continue using the UK as my example, yes, The Swingle Singers and The Boxettes are making good progress, but I think collegiate groups should be more daring with their sets, gigs and ways of getting their music to the public – just look at The Other Guys’ Royal Romance video last April which was moderately successful and managed to bring a cappella to a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily have heard it before.

    While I agree with this:

    “England was a vast wasteland a decade ago with only a few groups, and now has a growing collegiate scene, a couple festivals… It can be done.” – Deke Sharon

    There is still a HELL of a lot of work to do in the UK. Yes, the Voice Festival UK has a record number of participants, but the Voice Festival is EXTREMELY exclusive and mostly the only people who go to watch it are those who are in groups, used to be in groups or know people in the groups. There needs to be something done by the groups to get the music into the mainstream, like OOTB on Britain’s Got Talent, like TOG and Royal Romance – it’s progress, but right now it’s not good enough and it’s all gone a little quiet since the earlier half of last year.

    While I understand that collegiate groups have other things to do, namely getting their degrees, but in Britain that’s where it all starts at the moment, and thus it’s vital that we have strong foundations in that area.

    On a similar subject and on the subject of TV exposure, I’ve recently written a blog about the viability of The Sing-Off in the UK, and I’d love to hear your comments:

    Great chat though, some really top ideas!


  1. 18. Januar 2012, 03:43 | #1
  2. 19. Januar 2012, 22:10 | #2
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