How To Organize Your A Cappella Group Towards Perfection
by Kim Clark - Washington, DC
A normal singer is not equivalent to an a cappella singer. They are different formats of the same art, which scientifically defined, is the combination of air and muscles. A cappella groups have to be perfect…your alto can’t be flat, the “jin boo-boo bops” can’t lag behind the beat and your breath support can’t be flakey… Everything about an a cappella song is focused perfection at its finest. I call it, “OCD Singing” because nothing can ever be off. All your ducks need to be in a row…Pitch, dynamics, layering, choreography, instrument emulations, rhythm, tone, blend, riffs, improv, image, branding, marketing and online presence must be spot on. Vocal agility and muscle memory are huge elements with an a cappella voice. These skills are perfected by melisma warm ups, ear training, perfect pitch exercises, stretching vocal range and heavy memorization. A cappella is an art form for perfectionists…if you aren’t seeking perfection, then you’ll get the unfortunate label of being just another karaoke-wannabe-vocal band that only sings to get away from their spouses for a few hours.
As a child I always took control of a cluttered scenario. At a friend’s birthday party, I wasn’t eating cake or playing games…I was the bossy girl who snuck away to organize my friends moms kitchen pantry or shoe closet. Controlling a messy condition was my forte. My adolescent neat-freak habits are what drove me to start my own organization company, Vanchic LLC…I see a disarranged mess and my passion is to systemizing a space so the people living in it can function effectively. I approach a cappella with the same attitude. We are manipulating our voices to align around each other for the purpose of organically shaping a song.
My home and office organization tips help me in my a cappella world. As a music director I master, dictate, design, manage, edit and nit-pick each song. It is no different than sprucing up a messy closet; be detail-oriented, put type with type, like with like, color coordinate, add dimensional layers and plan feng shui. Establishing a tidy orderly room involves the same energy flow that crafting a song entails. Everything has to have a place. If you use shampoo, put it back where you found it. All must have a proper dwelling zone. It is my job to hear a singer, track their range, define their strengths, find a secret weapon and place their vocals into a role. An a cappella group’s identity and blend is important, but the contrary is even more crucial; if each member of your group does not have a special place or they don’t feel esteemed, their value goes down. Just like the Armani shirt I bought 3 years ago and still haven’t worn, the value depreciates as it sits untouched in my closet. I unfortunately spent time and money purchasing a shirt I never used the full worth of. Utilize the potential of each singer!
Being a control-freak or perfectionist will lead to your a cappella group’s sweet-spot. If everyone is on top of their game- rehearsals and gigs run smoothly. Running through a song with 7 members memorized and 2 other members fudging their way through it tortures me. Mediocrity in a cappella is unacceptable. Do you think Pentatonix practices with mediocre preparedness, focus and energy? No. If you have a straggler member that can never seem to get their shit together, ditch em.
How To Get To The Aca-Sweet-Spot?
- Tackle the hard stuff first. Practice with efficiency and set standards. If your soprano sings measure 27 incorrectly, make her sing it again until it is perfect. Once it’s completed three times seamlessly, move on. Have impeccable vocal memory, if I ask you what your starting note is for the 2nd verse of a song is, you better know it. If you’re unsure, then you do not know the song as well as you thought. Have an emotional and musical understanding of each song; be aware of the storytelling. What’s the beginning, middle, climax and ending? Define it or else the audience won’t latch on to your greatness.
- Pre-plan and delegate! This control allows you to handle positive growth, sudden change or negative drama. Set a business plan, create a group schedule, file important documents, categorize arrangements, budget, create policies, formulate group structure, communicate, rehearse at full potential, analyze and correct. Running an a cappella group is the same procedure as starting a small business.
- Reality check! If my client is a hoarder, I’m not going to give them super OCD neat tips to clean up their life. It is unrealistic to ask them to change drastically. Baby steps! If you are asking too much from your a cappella members, learn when to back off.
- Teach your group members about the 6 vocal resonators, proper breath support, vocal pedagogy and Alexander technique. Look at any art form like skating, dancing, water coloring…if the technique is not there, you’ll never score big. Make every singer in your group understand vocal placement so they’re constantly resonating from a healthy place. Take interest in the science of singing; if you’re too lazy to invest time into your voice outside of rehearsal…then you’re not a true professional singer. Learn your craft and never rest on your laurels. It will give a singer much more purpose and passion if they can visualize and dissect the methods of vocalization. Go the extra mile: Sleep with a humidifier to keep your vocal folds hydrated, avoid caffeine, hyper hydrate the night before a gig, do ear-candling therapy to clear up ears and sinus, get colonics because it will open up pelvic floor and stomach so you can take deeper breaths, sleep with a mouth guard so your jaw is always loose and never clenched.
- Organize your image. If you cannot afford a manager or talent agent, pretend like you have one. Managers force performers to work with stylists and a glam squad (even if you’re a guy.) Be presentable and stop shopping at crappyass stores like H&M where the threading on your shirt is spiraling off as you dance around the stage…faded t-shirts, old draggy jeans, frizzy hair, chipped nail polish, acne, uneven eyebrows, dresses that aren’t tailored to your body…I could go on and on with these major issues. Think of the little things- be an image perfectionist. For example: Girls, if you put loose powder down your facial t-zone, be careful around the mouth area because the stage lights will pick up your peach fuzz mustache hairs. Also, please wear false lashes or get eyelash extensions. It is extremely important for your eyes to frame your face because the stage lights will shadow out lash hairs. Learn how to properly present yourself on a stage. Posture, spanx, baby oil, static guard, iron your clothes, laser hair removal, fashion tape, fillers and botox on your feet so you can comfortable dance in heels…the glamour list goes on and on. Professional singers do it all, trust me. The worst image fail pet peeve of mine is watching a lead singer with yellow teeth and a white scummy tongue. Brush your tongue people…wtf, come on! Looks are everything in the music business and if you’d like to disagree…you’ll lose this argument.
It is not necessary to be organized and unflawed in your home, personal or professional life. Nobody is perfect; everyone makes mistakes and needs to let loose and forget about rules- but in a cappella, the objective is to be immaculate vocally, technically and visually.
Kim Clark is a 22 year old DC resident who is obsessed with all things a cappella. She recently started a coed post-collegiate a cappella group in DC, Keyvibe. Kim has 8 years of a cappella experience, studied 11 years private voice lessons, recent college Theatre graduate, taught private vocal coaching for 2+ years and trained from CUA/NYU Tisch Cap 21/UCLA Musical Theatre Summer Program/The Studio. Kim, a young CEO, now runs her own a closet organization and fashion styling business, Vanchic.