He’s one of the minds behind Pitch Perfect. The Sing-Off. In Transit. D Cappella. Deke Sharon, the contemporary a cappella world’s favorite guru, sat down with us for a Facebook Live AMA (ask me anything) on a wide range of a cappella topics, including live questions from viewers! You can watch the full video here. Topics covered include: high school a cappella, booking gigs, choreography, rehearsals, song licensing, in-ear monitors, professionalism and commitment, original songs, and more! Here are some of the highlights from the talk.
What does it take for high school a cappella groups to engage students and forge a strong identity?
“There aren’t any lines or rules around style, approach. The first thing I’m gonna say is that it needs to be special and have some measure of pride. The next thing I’d say is that the group needs to somehow present itself to the school community in a way that furthers that pride. So maybe they sing at all-school assemblies…they become a ‘thing’ on campus…they start becoming identified with the school. And you want the group to sound good coming out of the gate, so don’t try to do the most complex thing you’ve seen performed by some of the greatest high school and college groups right away. I would go with simple four-part arrangements. Most people don’t care if something’s complicated – they just care if they like it…And the next thing I would do is position your group within the greater community as an entity that is on behalf of the school.”
What advice would you give a non-scholastic group who’s looking to book more gigs/their first tour?
“Nowadays, you cannot do this without strong social media. You gotta make sure that you exist on Twitter and Facebook, and make sure you’ve hung a shield up and you’ve got a website. Number two: video, video, video, video, video. So you can get really good, but if people don’t KNOW that you’re good, you’re not gonna get out there….What you need is online video…and don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re gonna to shoot one video and it’s just gonna take off, and it’s gonna become a huge hit. The groups that shoot and post 25 videos have 25 chances of hitting a home run. Number three, I’d say make sure that you’re a part of the a cappella community. The Facebook group for the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America is a fantastic watering hole. Read it like it’s the daily news, and also, get engaged in the more regional ones…Don’t just show up when you need something. Those are the people who don’t get a lot of responses. But if you’ve made friends in this community, then people will open their doors to you.”
What is a good starting point for a group that wants to begin writing original songs?
“When starting the House Jacks, one of the main things that we did was write original music, and that was always central to the House Jacks’ mission. I would say the most important thing for you to think about is to write the truth. Write what you know. Write songs that mean something to you. When writing, I would not try to write for a cappella. I would just write the song on guitar, on piano, however you write, and THEN arrange it for voices. If you’re thinking too much about what’s gonna work…you’re gonna be thinking about the mechanics of music too much, and you really shouldn’t when you’re writing a song. A song should be a combination of melody and lyrics and harmony that speaks some truth and says something that you really want to say.”
Deke is one of the keynote speakers at this year’s National A Cappella Convention in Memphis, TN on April 27th and 28th. The convention features high school and collegiate a cappella competitions, performances from groups like Cluster and Vocalight, and workshops, discussions, and masterclasses for directors and groups. If you’re in the a cappella world, this is the place to be.
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