HomeAsk Deke: How can my group (1) help bring attention to a cappella and (2) survive over a sustained period of time?

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Q: Hi Deke!

How can groups / people / aca-lovers in countries like Australia and New Zealand help bring acapella more attention, and secondly, what does an acapella group need to do to survive over a sustained period of time?
~ Alexander

A: Thanks, Alexander. It has been a labor of love, even when frustrating, as I’ve always known people would love a cappella if only they really knew. Ah, Down Under! Having been to New Zealand twice last year, and heading to Sydney this fall (I’ve been to Melbourne and Hobart before), I have fallen in love with your corner of the world.

What you see as a challenge - spreading a cappella in a part of the world that doesn’t have as much of it - is seen by others (including me) as a huge opportunity. To you, the grass may be greener in New York City, but those groups have so very many other groups competing for fans’ attention, not to mention every Broadway show and the like.

The key is to establish your group as a local specialty, and eventually you may even become a local treasure. Start by singing every and anywhere you can to build a fan base. Have a steady social media presence and good web site, and don’t falter. This is a marathon, not a sprint: slow and steady wins this race. Contact local theater owners, offering your group as the perfect opening act, as you can slide onto the stage in front of all the gear and entertain any crowd. Contact every sports venue in your area, offer to sing the national anthem before events, as well as perform any other time they’ll have you. Establish a relationship with a morning radio or television show and give them a reason to hire you, be it topical songs on holidays (such as a group would sing Danny Boy on St. Patrick’s Day over here), or timely/topical spoof songs that relate to something funny in the news.

In short, build your audience as anyone else would. Don’t be afraid to use interest in international a cappella (such as Pentatonix and Pitch Perfect) as a launch pad, but that’s only the first sentence. Entertain your crowds, and make sure you have a local component to what you do, be it by performing songs by songwriters known in your area, and remaining connected to your local communities. Finally, to move on an international audience, make sure you’re presenting yourself as having something unique and from your region. As I tell German groups, for instance, no one in America necessarily wants to hear you sing American pop songs (with an accent). Find music that takes what’s special about you and your culture and make that what you present to the world. Chances are, many of the previous steps will already have done that.

And be sure to have a sense of humor about yourselves as well.

To answer your last question, if you do all of the above, you will have sustained your group over a long period of time. People generally become interested in young groups because they’re cute and energetic, and then as they mature and grow and become better performers the audience follows them through their changing repertoire and style(s). Good luck!