Andrew Adams

The Art of Communication – A Reflection On SoJam 2012

Greetings, everybody!  For those of you reading this that were at SoJam this past weekend, you’ll understand when I say that my brain still can’t comprehend what I heard at the Professional Showcase on Saturday night.  There were a couple of times where I honestly thought that I had bought tickets to a rock concert, only to have to remind myself that I am actually watching Pentatonix, The Edge Effect, and Fork.  For those of you who weren’t there – you missed arguably the a cappella concert of the year.  But don’t worry, there are plenty of more opportunities for you to see and hear some amazing a cappella! (Anyone interested in going to Los Angeles with me in February for LAAF?  Check it out at their website!)

Jonte of the Finnish group, FORK, rocks out on stage at the Professional Showcase. Kasper backs him up on bass.

I also want to congratulate all of the collegiate groups that performed on Friday night.  I couldn’t believe the amount of talent and originality that the groups had in this year’s competition – there was actually a last minute award given to the “Most Original” group, which was won by the University of Colorado Denver’s co-ed group, Mix!  How cool is that?!  Shout out to the Northeastern University Nor’easters for their win in the collegiate competition – they were amazing!!  As a fellow Bostonian, I couldn’t help but feel an immense amount of pride that the SoJam title is returning to Boston after Berklee’s Pitch Slapped win at last year’s SoJam…sorry, I just had to say it.

Ok….now that I have gotten THAT out of my system, I noticed a loose theme around some of the sessions I attended throughout the day on Saturday.  For those who are unfamiliar with the SoJam/CASA festival format, there is the collegiate competition on Friday night and a professional showcase on Saturday night, which I mentioned above.  All day on Saturday, there are workshops held that cover a wide array of topics – recording, arranging & songwriting, vocal percussion, group dynamics…pretty much any topic that you could think of.  As I went to more and more sessions, a theme started to emerge.  Communication.

Now, communication can mean a variety of different things.  First, it can relate to how you communicate within your group.  Do all the members have similar goals for the group that they want to achieve, whether you just “sing for fun” or want to be more serious?  Are group bylaws/policies being agreed upon by all members and being followed by all?  Do all of the members hang out outside of rehearsal?  In a session titled “Going the Distance” (sing Hercules song now) with Alli Brooks, Brian Watts, and Matt Emery, they talked about how groups need to sit down at the beginning of every semester or every year (whenever new members are added to the group) and decide “Who is [insert your group name here]?”  Make sure that all group members are on board with what the goals are, how those goals will be achieved, and what you as a group needs to do in order to be successful, no matter what your definition of that word is.

A huge crowd gathers to listen to the high school a cappella group, Forte, from Centerville, Ohio. These kids are the future of a cappella, and are talented beyond belief!

But, communication isn’t just internal – it’s external as well.  As performers, we need opportunities to perform – that’s a very obvious statement.  The question then becomes “How do we get those opportunities.”  This takes a little bit of work, but is definitely achievable if you put in the time.  First, as was mentioned not only by Alli, Matt, and Brian, but also in another session called “Standing Room Only”, which focused on public relations and marketing (presented by Mallory Zuckerman and Andrea Asuaje), the importance of a website cannot be stressed enough!  If outside groups, whether it be an outside business or student organizations on your campus, decide that they want to look for a performance group, the first place that they are going to look at is your website – as Andrea Asuaje stressed, your website is your “home base” and you have a lot of freedom in what you put on the site.  It is important that your website is always up to date with the latest news (stories, videos, and audio files) and that your website is easy to use and professional looking.  This will encourage potential clients to stay on your website and learn more about you, which will increase your performance opportunities!

If you are unfamiliar with creating your own website or don’t know HTML code, you don’t have to worry – there are a couple of options that you can take.  First, there are web hosting sites where you can create your own website without the use of HTML code.  These sites include Wix.com and Weebly.com, among others.  From personal experience, I have found this to be very straightforward and fun to do – I created a new website for my college group that launched this year using Weebly.com, and it is much easier to navigate and offers more than our old website ever did.   It’s also very easy to add new content or edit information when you need to.

The second option that you have is to use outside resources.  As Matt Emery explained, most computer engineers or graphic design students need pieces to put into their portfolios for their professional careers.  If your school has a graphic design program or a computer engineering/computer science program, talk to some of the students in those programs and offer them the opportunity to design your website.  Most likely, you will get someone that is interested in helping you out and you’ll probably get a killer website out of it for not that much money.

Samantha Creighton from the Nor’easters wails away during an open-masterclass with Pentatonix. That’s the back of Mitch’s head!

It’s also important to connect with your fans often – YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are great ways to keep in touch.  Post updates on if you are learning new songs, funny moments in rehearsal, or impromptu concerts to get your fan base involved and interested in your group and keep them engaged.  If you are trying to reach out to fans, the best way to do this is to create some sort of buzz.  One of the main points that Andrea and Mallory talked about to accomplish this is to reach out to the media and get them to cover your group for a story.  That doesn’t mean you have to go to the Washington Post – you can go to your school’s newspaper and talk to the arts editor to see if they can do a story.  Any upcoming concerts or tours, performances at a high-profile events, or recent awards are great topics that your school’s newspaper could grab onto.  Supply them with a press kit (bio, videos/photos, logo, press releases) and invite them to as many events as you can.  This way, you’ll be in the public eye and your fan base at your school should jump because of it.

Finally, make sure that you stay in touch with your alumni!  Many alumni want to feel like they are engaged with their former groups, and they can be great resources if you need a place to stay while on tour, providing arrangements if you need some new songs, or offering financial assistance for a project that you are working on.  A simple way to communicate with them is to send updates a couple of times a semester as part of a newsletter – you can take a couple of hours to create it on Microsoft Publisher – and include new members, updates on concerts and gigs, and even new arrangements.  Another way that they can get involved – invite your alumni back for a rehearsal and let the offer critiques and ways to improve, and then go out to dinner with them and share stories!

Well, that’s all for now.  I can’t wait to attend all of your upcoming fall semester concerts!  Please shoot me an e-mail at andrew@acaembassy.org with your concert dates, and I will put them on our calendar.  Good luck, and I’ll see you soon.

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