We got a Mention a couple of days ago on Twitter from @alleycatalto asking: “how did you start up your group? I'd love to form an a capella group but have no idea where to start!?”

Obviously an answer to those questions can’t fit into 140 characters so we’re putting our response here!

We thought about what we did and came up with this 3 Step process.  We don’t know if this is the best way or if it will help at all, but you never know.

Step 1 - Begin with the end in mind

Step 2 - Self-assess and find partners with different skills than yours

Step 3 - Network & audition / jam

STEP 1 – BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND

So yeah, begin with the end in mind, but leave things as open as you can.

That means that you should first figure out, in general terms, what kind of acappella group you want to be a part of.

Don’t go in with a strict viewpoint on anything, like for example, “we must have an awesome beatboxer or it’s a no-go”, because something like that can be learned or one might show up down the road, and there’s no point in hinging your future on any single aspect of the group.

So, here are some things to think about…

Musical Style / Genre? Saying you’re an “acappella band” usually isn’t enough to explain what you want to do.  So, you could want to be a “folk acappella” group, or a “jazz acappella” group.

Figuring out the genre of your future group doesn’t mean that you can’t change or sing other types of songs in the future, but it will help dictate the people you want to work with.

For example, if someone LOVES hip-hop music and doesn’t want to sing any other type, and you LOVE choral music and don’t want to sing any other type, then that probably won’t be a good fit.  It’s an obvious and exaggerated example meant to illustrate a point, but basically, you need to find like-minded people musically.

So……. Folk?  Jazz?  Rock?  Reggae? Pop? Hip-Hop? Doowop? Glee-Inspired?  Gospel?  Choral?  Blues?  Dubstep?  Yankovic-esque Comedy? Barbershop / Sweet Adelines?  Here’s more:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_popular_music_genres

It is possible to be a group that is a de facto acappella group and does a bit of everything, but that’s actually more difficult to pull off than picking an angle or two that you’re comfortable with and that your voices suit.

No group likes pigeon-holing themselves but it’s a good place to start.  Again, you can always change or branch out later.

Image? Are you looking for guys, girls, or opening your group up to both?  Will you have a beatboxer?  Beatboxers traditionally have been male, but that’s changing.  The Boxettes from the U.K. are all-female and their beatboxer is really good ( http://www.theboxettes.co.uk/ ).  Are you going to wear crazy costumes on stage or be a casually dressed act?

Image may not seem that important to you now but having a bit of an idea of where you’d like to see things go will help you articulate more clearly what you’re trying to accomplish to prospective bandmates.

Level? Pro? Semi-pro? Hobby?  Whatever it is, your potential bandmates will want to all know what they’re getting into.

Song Source: Covers or writing your own tunes or a mix of both?

$$$: Have you thought about the costs of having a website designed and hosted, maybe doing a photoshoot, or some recording?  If you have these skills or have talented friends that can help, great, but if future bandmates are going to have to kick-in $5K each because you absolutely need to make a full-length CD on Day 1, they are going to want to know.

It’s great to have paid gigs to pay for everything but at the beginning, gigs tend to be sparse.


STEP 2 – SELF-ASSESS AND FIND PARTNERS WITH DIFFERENT SKILLS

It’s tough to look at your musical skills (and organizational/business skills) from the outside but you have to.

A bass singer probably doesn’t need another bass singer in the group, unless one or both of them are comfortable also singing other parts.

If you’re going to write your own tunes and never have, you may want to consider people with songwriting experience.

Not everyone in the band has to have a lot of music theory knowledge, but someone in the group should have a good understanding of chord structure and chord progressions.

It’s honestly not that difficult for most people to learn music theory if they are patient and put some time in.  You can even find some resources online ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gHEIF0rT2w ) to start you off.  If you don’t have a musical theory background, then you may want to consider that in potential bandmates.

STEP 3 – NETWORK & JAM

So, once you’re at this point, it’s just a matter of filling in the pieces of the puzzle, and this means networking!

Eh440 was built on networking.  The networking actually started over a decade and a half ago!

The first relationship between eventual Eh440 bandmates was between Janet and Stacey.  They used to compete against each other in Country singing contests around our home province of Ontario.  Stacey was just 8 years old and Janet was 12.  They became friends and kept in touch over the years.

You can network though the largest acappella networking organization in the world at http://www.casa.org.  They have Ambassadors all over the world, and a local one, may know people in your area that like this type of music and are looking for a group.

Also, contact your local chapter of http://www.barbershop.org/ .  Even if barbershop isn’t your thing, what’s the harm in calling and asking if they know of anyone in their choir, or an ex-member, that might like to join a different type of acappella group?

Check out local choirs, both collegiate and community.  Even if you’re looking for post-collegiate people, the director may know of recent graduates in your area who might still like to sing.

Back to our story - also through networking, Jo3 met Janet over 3 years ago, and the two of them met Luke about 2 years ago.  Both Luke and Mike were winners of Toronto Independent Music Awards and Jo3 has judged some of the awards, so everyone kinda-sorta knew some of the others.

But this wasn’t the only line-up of singers we considered.  We literally scoured the internet for singers in Toronto.  We looked at over 300 youtube/websites of local Toronto-area singers.

We narrowed our list down to about 40 people and then looked at those people even more closely and ranked them.

We went out to clubs to hear dozens of candidates sing, sometimes unbeknownst to them.

We put ads on craigslist and kijiji and in local music magazines and held open auditions.

We told our colleagues in the music industry what we were looking for, and some suggestions rolled in that way too.

Then we jammed.  We jammed with different singers.  Some of them brought an instrument and played songs they wrote.  Others sang their favourite cover songs acappella.  We jammed with boys.  We jammed with girls.  We jammed with people with a lot of harmony experience, and some with none-at-all but had the potential.

One day, we were having one of our jam sessions and the configuration that day was Mike, Janet, Stacey, Luke, & Jo3.  In record time, we knocked out a song and liked how it sounded.  Also, the personalities in the room mixed well and we laughed like long-time friends.  So, that was the line-up.  Jams turned into rehearsals, and we started learning more tunes and went from there.

It was an exhausting process but it’s important to leave no stone unturned when choosing people you’re going to spend a lot of time with.

Of course, that is just the beginning.  Getting rehearsals and shows together is no easy task too!

Good luck to you @alleycatalto and to anyone else looking to start something up!

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