college vs. semipro

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Postby jduchan » Fri May 18, 2007 2:45 pm

billhare wrote:Well, at least we didn't cite or copy it....


If only dissertations had some DRM built-in, there'd be no need for such stern warnings! Anyway, my apologies if the capital, red, bold type came off as scary! I guess I'm just a little protective of the work since it's not 100% mixed and, spell-checked and copy-edited yet! ;)

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Postby seth » Sat May 19, 2007 11:13 am

I can't help but notice that the semipro groups mentioned here seem to be relying on pre-internet methods of building a fan base and making money. It's great that you send out your tour schedules by email, but there's a lot more that could be done to cultivate a community of dedicated word-of-mouthing fans.

Deke, where's the weekly House Jacks clip of things you never thought you'd hear in six-part harmony, and where's the web-based discussion forum that goes with it? Where's the contest I can enter to win a ring tone that sings "Hey, Seth! This is the sound of your phone. Somebody wants to talk to you."?

Sure, some people are getting your music for free, and some of those people might have paid for it if they had to, but you're also competing much more these days just for people's attention. For every person who copied your album there are a million who never heard of you. Tim O'Reilly (book publisher) wrote, "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy." Cory Doctorow, who gives away his novels on his web site says, "All the people out there who didn't buy my books mainly did so because they hadn't heard of me, not because they could get it for free."
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Postby elocomotive » Sun May 20, 2007 7:59 am

Wow, really good discussion. Just a few thoughts I wanted to add...

Pendulum, not a trend.
I don't think the fact that there seem to be fewer pro/semi-pro groups right now is a trend in the sense that we will continue to see fewer groups. I think that in a very small community of music, there are naturally going to be ups and downs. A few groups retiring/calling it quits has a big effect. So, I think over time it will come back up, go down again, etc. CD sales for most groups are not a huge source of income (the performances generate most of the revenue), so changes in that area should not have a huge impact in that area.

A cappella will never "break through"
We are a format, not a genre. We have not created something new like rap or jazz, which are distinct forms of artistic expression. While I think from time to time an acappella group or artist will have a hit, it is not something that will sustain.

Technology is a double-edged sword
While there certainly is greater concern about people stealing music online, the "means of production" are cheaper than ever. I agree with some of the comments that you don't need to spend money to make a great album. Sure, pro bands spend hundreds of thousands through their record labels, but those lables value largely lies in their ability to advertise nationally, promote the bands through radio play, etc. It just makes the stakes higher, it does not mean you need that kind of dough to make a great album. And for groups not on labels, it is mostly performances that sells albums and builds buzz. So, the quality of the CD is not necessarily even a huge factor to album sales in the first place. Sure, a great RARB review might get you 100 sales to people that might never have the opportunity to see you live, but those live sales are the vast majority of sales for the vast majority of groups.

Hope everyone is well. My studies have made it tough for me to contribute much lately.
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Postby dekesharon » Sun May 20, 2007 1:57 pm

Seth wrote:It's great that you send out your tour schedules by email, but there's a lot more that could be done to cultivate a community of dedicated word-of-mouthing fans.



You're talking to the guy who decided to make a career of a cappella out of college in 1991 when EVERYONE told him he was insane, and to do so required building an a cappella community where one didn't exist... ;)

So, yes, the value of building community is very most certainly not lost on me (although I prefer doing it more as a good thing to do than specifically to drive House Jacks CD sales, or the like).

But, consider this (and I'm not sure this will come out right):

I read a fascinating scathing review of the movie "Freedom Writers" (that Hillary Swank film about being an inner city teacher).

It lambasted the movie, but not for being yet another movie about a life-changing teacher (ugh!) but rather for perpetuating the stereotype that all you have to do is X to be a hero and change kids lives as a teacher.

I didn't get it initially, and then it sunk in: we have a number of popular myths in America, and this is one of them. The myth of "X did Y - so all you have to do is Z and then you'll be as popular/successful as X"

Give me a break.

There's an article in the NY times this past week about Jonathan Coulton (sp?) and his success writing songs like Code Monkey and posting them every week on his web site. Excellent! Good for him!

But if someone tells me that "all I need to do is something like him and then I'll have 100,000 listeners," I'll scream.

Don't you think musicians are all trying their best to break through all the time?

The House Jacks have:

Performed as many as 250 shows in a year
Sung the crap out of the college market
Landed a major label record deal (but never made radio)
Performed on 3 continents in something like 12 countries
Released 6 (+) albums, and won a bunch of awards
Been on over 200 radio stations
Been bundled with an operating system (Be, back in the 1990s)
Performed at just about every a cappella festival around the US (and many world wide)
Are on perhaps more a cappella compilations than any other group (never said no)
Have members who frequently educate (myself, Wes, Austin) in addition to band activities (to reach more people and help create a "next generation" of singers/groups)
Have performed with something like 50 "big name" acts
Have a presence on the web, and myspace, and facebook
Meticulously send our album to radio stations (a cappella and other).
Have been in movie soundtracks (and are hopefully working on another)
Have focused on _original_ a cappella music
Heck - we even pioneered the vocal band sound!

And yet none of this resulted in us busting through into our 15 minutes of fame. 99.999% of the world has never heard of us!

Maybe one day we'll be in Time Magazine, maybe not.

I'm not saying we're the be-all-end-all of a cappella or of bands. Only that we're hardly sitting on our asses doing nothing (I write this in the middle of an 18 day/18 city/18 gig tour in Europe - where towns are plastered with posters, and we have postcards on every seat for people to hand or mail back with their email addresses or keep and have us sign...).

Alas, there's no "all you have to do is..." out there, be it a ring tone, a free track (we have plenty) or a blog (I have one and Wes has one - perhaps that makes us more bloggy than any other a cappella group in the world).

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Postby whataboutrob » Sun May 20, 2007 9:19 pm

It's a funny thing. Consider this: who is the most popular a cappella group in the world? Probably Rockapella, right?

Is this because they're the most talented, or best looking, or even most original group out there? Not really (although when they came to Purchase this fall I sat in the 4th row and acted like a total fan-girl. No joke, my friends were actually ashamed to be with me). Most people know Rockapella from Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and that Folgers commercial, not exactly the cover of Time magazine.

Boyz to Men were really popular in the 90's, but I don't think this community would define them as an "a cappella group" (nor, to be fair, would I.)

There was a time when do-wop was really popular in America, but they used bands to back them as well. Vocal music? Sure. A cappella as this community traditionally defines it? Nope.

What's my point? Well, I don't think that vocal bands (or a cappella in general) will ever be really "popular", with singers in vocal bands doing as well financially as "mainstream" pop artists. You know what?

I'm totally ok with that (and I say that as someone who is seriously considering doing this for a living when I graduate in a year).

And you know why? We have something better that DOES work.

I think the best part of a cappella is it's accessibility and the ability to realy educate/engage young people. I think that Deke or anyone else making a living doing this would probably tell you that the best part of their job is turning young people on to the art form (through workshops at schools and the like). In fact, I bet everyone who reads this board probably had some sort of "conversion experience", where they heard a group and realized they wanted to make contemporary a cappella a part of their lives (mine was the Potsdam Pointercounts, Summer of '01)

So maybe that should be the discussion here. How can we use technology (recordings, the internet, etc) to reach out to more young people to get them interested in the form? I think that's the biggest drawback to semi-pro groups: the limited size forces you to be really selective with gigs and how you manage your time that there isn't as much time to educate. So how do we do that? How can we get semi-pro a cappella more involved in education of the larger community without part time singers having to quit their "day jobs"?[/i]
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Postby sahjahpah » Sun May 20, 2007 9:47 pm

pick five guys from every school, and hand them a pitchpipe and an arrangement of "for the longest time." works like a charm. spreads like the flu, except ten times as deadly.

(this is part joking. please nobody get offended)
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Postby dekesharon » Sun May 20, 2007 11:00 pm

whataboutrob wrote:It's a funny thing. Consider this: who is the most popular a cappella group in the world? Probably Rockapella, right?

Good points, but for the record as popular as Rockapella is, they're certainly not well known world wide, or even the best known in the US:

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
King's Singers
Take 6
Singers Unlimited

and then there's the fact that no group is reliably well known across the board. Some people have heard of Toxic Audio or InPulse but not heard of most/any of the groups above, etc.

But a single standout group isn't necessarily the key to the success of our form. Most people can't name a single barbershop quartet, but they know what one is.

So my hope is that through the publication of more songbooks, holding more seminars and other a cappella events, starting the league, and other things CASA and many others are doing, we'll get a marked percentage of our population singing. And that will make sure that contemporary a cappella reaches everywhere and is known by everyone.

Step by step!

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money and money

Postby mister tim » Mon May 21, 2007 4:28 am

Groovy topic!

Few thoughts:

Bill said yes, twice the price will get twice the product (and theoretically twice the sales)... but he also said in a column a while back that twice the price frequently means twice the inefficiency (paraphrasing). I don't think it's a contradiction - amateur to semi-pro groups don't need to drop $30,000.

However, as I've been listening to a bunch of original a cappella lately, I've noticed a distinct difference between top teir groups and not. There is a differnece in talent level, usually manifested in the quality of writing and in vocal interpretation, but that's not the major difference. The major difference is _production_. And anyone who's spent time in a studio knows that good production costs, and is worth every penny. So yes, when Rockapella drops however many tens of thousands of dollars extra into their studio recording, it does sound better. Good producers, good engineers, good equipment costs, and pays off.

I think there are, however, plenty of groups pulling off great stuff for much less expensive, but frequently, like Transit, it's because they've got 2-3 engineers in the group. I'm not sure they could even give a dollar estimate of their album because so much of the time was done by guys in the group off the clock (maybe I'm wrong? I'd be interested to get an estimate either way).

Jonathan Coulton article: people refer me to this guy all the time - 'he's funny and he's FAMOUS because he gives his music away! You should do that to!' I see plenty of value in what he does... to me, it's like OK GO's amazing videos... it reaches a specific audience. That doesn't work for everyone. The article also talks about how much time the dude spends answering emails, building fan base, etc. - I certainly don't have the time or will to do that. Won't work for me. Not to mention that his paradigm - build a fan base, show up in a town and pocket make $1000 for the show - works with a solo act (he's probably pocketing $200 - $300 of that as actual profit per show, factoring advertising, travel, overhead...). That's an average wage for a working class guy. But, cut that same amount into a quartet, or trio... or seven-tet... and you're not making squat. It simply doesn't work for a larger scale (moral: go solo! Solo a cappella...)

CDs as business cards? I had always been told that for major artists, live concerts were the loss leaders: *NSync actually lost money on their tours, but made so much from merchandise that who cares? It's advertising. Not sure about the truth of that, but I know that many small-market independent artists function on exactly the opposite premise: if I can get people to hear my music, they'll book me at their theater, and _that_ is where I'll make money. It can work either way, depending on the product. Fans buy CDs because they want what they experienced live; fans go to shows because they want what they experienced on a CD (or internet download). It can, and should, work both ways.

Can an artist make money from CDs if they are not on a label? With moosebutter, we spend what amounts to about $2 per CD factoring in recording, replication, marketing, etc. Whereas Dave Matthews gets $1 per CD, moosebutter gets $13 (or $10 if they are on sale). We don't sell nearly as many as DM, and we don't make a living off of sales, but because it was done in house, we make a bit. Simple math - 10,000 CDs at $1, or 1000 at $10 - same amount of money. So who needs major labels? Oh, ya, people who want to sell 10,000 CDs... but why? To be famous? To do bigger shows and make more money _that_ way?

Ramble! Ramble! Ramble! Keep this discussion going.

And, for the record, I think there hasn't been a breakthrough because there simply hasn't been the right confluence of events... remember, Rockapella is what it is _because_ of Carmen San Diego. Big music video, house band for a talk show, major Viral Video exposure... something will happen, but it's got to happen to the right group in the right place at the right time... mpact hasn't broken through, and they are wicked talented. I don't think they're hurting for making a living, though... you can be plenty happy and plenty successful while remaining relatively obscure.
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Postby Jesus » Mon May 21, 2007 6:53 am

I would say people want to sell 10,000 CDs for the satisfaction of it. That's 10,000 people who saw what you did and liked it enough to spend more of their own money to keep something to remember you by.

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Re: money and money

Postby sahjahpah » Mon May 21, 2007 8:05 am

Mr. Tim wrote:major Viral Video exposure...

Naturally 7...*crosses fingers*
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Postby Chris » Tue May 22, 2007 9:03 am

whataboutrob wrote:In fact, I bet everyone who reads this board probably had some sort of "conversion experience", where they heard a group and realized they wanted to make contemporary a cappella a part of their lives.

So maybe that should be the discussion here. How can we use technology (recordings, the internet, etc) to reach out to more young people to get them interested in the form?

The two that I've come up with are projects I started for CASA:

CDs: Tunes To Teens -
Podcast: A Cappella Originals -

I'd love help in spreading the word of these- tell your local junior high and high school choral director about them, and tell the kids in the neighborhood about them. Also- donate CDs to TTT and let CASA use your original tracks for the podcast. We'd love to spread the artform further and further.

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European a cappella... wow

Postby dgooding » Tue May 22, 2007 11:10 am

DekeSharon wrote: And this list is very "US centric"; the number of high-quality, buzy pro a cappella groups has actually grown in the past decade in Germany, Japan and other parts of the world. And it's also pop-driven.

Some of the best, most exciting pro groups I've seen have been in Europe and Brazil. Some of my recent favorites: Cluster (Italy), Club For Five (Finland), baSix (Denmark), Fork (Finland), Rajaton (Finland), Viisi (Finland again), Stouxingers (Germany), Fool Moon (Hungary), Jukebox Trio (Russia) just to mention a few. Yeah, Finland is REALLY happening right now. And Brazil: Banda de Boca, Barbatuques and BR6 (the letter "B" is really happening there now).

I should note that Deke's bitching is echoed here in Maine. I'm trying to sustain jobs that pay health care for three heads-of-household (not including me), and the decline of CD sales in most categories has reached a scary level. That's why I've been cranking up sheet music sales and building a Learning CD business, and thankfully Amanda is going great guns with ICCA/ICHSA. To put this in perspective... in the first three months of 2007, my sales from Learning CDs was within a hair of equaling sales of all contemporary a cappella CDs.

Sure, MP3 sales are rising but it's nowhere near big enough to offset CD sales declines... which is also true for the rest of the music business. While Deke calls the AcaTunes folks "heroes" for the musicians (and, btw, we do a similar deal on our MP3 sales), the parameters for retail margin are generally set by Apple, and other retailers have fallen in line. In turn, Apple set those parameters because its profit is in selling iPods. They've set the stage for most digital music retailers to be marginally profitable, if at all. So it's good that I can call this a labor of love!

Back to 50,000 feet, I think the music industry is in a seismic change as big as when cylinders were invented to help promote sales of sheet music a hundred or so years ago. All of us who participate in music commerce have to change our ways of making money, or perish. It keeps me awake at night, trying to figure out what acafolks will pay money for, but necessity is the mother of invention!
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Re: European a cappella... wow

Postby dekesharon » Tue May 22, 2007 1:31 pm

acafella58 wrote:While Deke calls the AcaTunes folks "heroes" for the musicians (and, btw, we do a similar deal on our MP3 sales)

Indeed. Don's a hero for, well, about 1,000 reasons, including digital downloads!

And iTunes' artists/label margins suck.

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Postby jared allen » Tue May 22, 2007 11:16 pm

I know of two Utah based Acappella groups that when they release a new CD they sell over 50,000 copies within a 3 month period. Ya, do the math! Most of their CD’s are sold the old fashion way…remember the day when if you wanted a CD you had to go down to your local music/Ma and Pa store to purchase it?

These two groups I don't think are ever discussed in this forum. These groups maybe do 5 shows per year is all (if they are lucky). No online mp3 sales to my knowledge. And I would say their arranging/recordings are average. So why does their music sell? What is their secret? They know their market and what people want within their market…and Yes, Utah is its own little bubble.

I once read an article about Louis Armstrong. He said, and I am paraphrasing, I play what the people want to hear…it is after the show I play the music that I like. Why are groups like Rockapella and The Nylons doing so well? They sing what people want to hear. They were also one of the first groups to the industry with contemporary acappella. Remember 90% of the world still thinks that Vocal Percussion is a new thing. While in the acappella community this is old news. It takes a long time for the industry to catch onto a new style of music.

Where does that leave groups like the House Jacks and the “newer” generation of contemporary acappella/Vocal Bands? They are creating their own market. This is AWESOME! Do I think Vocal Bands will some day be in mainstream, Yes! And it will be because of groups like the House Jacks who are blazing the trails.

However, these groups will not survive if we “the acappella Junkies” are always swapping music and never paying for it. We should be the biggest supporters/advocates for this music and stop cutting our own throats…wow that came off harsh…can’t we all just get along?

I will also say how do we stop technology? It will just become easier and easier to download music for free. So, we “as artist” need to adapt. ANY IDEAS???
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Postby carlyonders » Wed May 23, 2007 4:07 am

jaredlallen wrote:I know of two Utah based Acappella groups that when they release a new CD they sell over 50,000 copies within a 3 month period...

…and Yes, Utah is its own little bubble.

Wow...if this is indeed true (no offense meant, it's just pretty difficult to believe..perhaps you meant collectively they sell over 50,000 in 3 months, but even that would be a major feat), it has to be chalked up pretty much summarily to the "Utah factor", much like A Cappellastock's huge crowd. That stuff just doesn't happen anywhere else in the USA. What do you put in the water out there? Can we have some? :)
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