HomeBlogsMister Tim's blogWhy You Should Audition for The Sing Off

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Do yourself a favor: DON'T audition with the delusion that you are going to get on the show.  Statistically, realistically, just assume it ain't gonna happen.  But there are so many reasons to audition anyway!

-There is no downside.  There is no negative thing that could happen to you that would outweigh the good that will come from auditioning for The Sing Off.  Only good, for you, and for a cappella at large.

-The audition process is an education in itself.  Your group will become better for going through the process: preparation, seeing the system from the inside, meeting other groups.  Singing under that kind of pressure.  You want your group to get better, right?

-Any air time = money for you.  Even if they show just a snippet of your audition: you were on NBC!  You can advertise that ("Featured on NBC's The Sing Off!").  That's better promo material than anything else you're going to produce in September.

-What happens if you're horrible and they make you look bad on TV?  The good still outweighs the bad: two weeks after they show you on TV, no one remembers who you are... you improve, you can still advertise that you were on The Sing Off; who is going to remember that you were bad?  You still come out on top!

-We want the producers of the show to see, and to see clearly, how many talented groups there are in this country.  How much variety.  They should be overwhelmed because they are swimming in a wealth of a cappella talent.

-There are fears about the way producers will portray a cappella on television.  You, that's right YOU can influence their perception of a cappella, and this influence the way a cappella is portrayed on television.  The more genuinely good groups they see, the more respect they are going to have for a cappella, and the more inclined they are going to be to do right by us.

-The more respect the producers have for a cappella, the better they will portray it on television.

-The better the portrayal of a cappella on the show, the better the public's perception of a cappella.

-The better the public's perception of a cappella, the more gigs YOU will get.  If the show is popular and people are genuinely amazed / delighted by what they see, then the next time you go to a booking conference showcase / contact a potential gig / talk to potential clients, you just mention the show, say 'Yup.  We're like that."  And they are excited to hire you!  They're not going to be able to hire the groups from the show, but you're the same thing!  You're rolling in the gigs!

* * * * * * * * * * *

What if you get on the show?  I've heard so many groups waffle on this, "but we already have gigs in December, and we don't want to cancel those PAYING gigs for the chance to be on TV."


First, again, I can't emphasize this enough: 8 groups from the whole country.  The chances that you are going to get on are so slim... DON'T DELUDE YOURSELF.  That's not why you do it.

Second, you will have plenty of warning if you are going to be on the show.  If you've drafted your contracts well they have a clause that you can cancel a show for TV appearances.  You don't have to cancel them unless you get on the show... and you're not under the delusion that you're going to get on the show, are you?  If they offer you a spot on the show, you can deal with logistical issues then.

Third, you're really going to pass up the chance for TENS OF MILLIONS OF AMERICANS to see you on television so you can do a few gigs in December?  REALLY?  You're going to pass up the golden goose, the national (international?) exposure that most acts would KILL for because you've got a few pre-existing gigs in December?  You're going to pass up the chance for a long, possibly permanent career?  


Two names for you: Rockapella and Terry Fator.  What do they have that you don't?  a) international television exposure;  b) a lot more gigs than you;  c) much higher pay than you.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Scenario 1 (likely):

you don't get on the show, but the producers see a ton of good groups  >> producers have a higher esteem of a cappella >> show is better >> audience perception of a cappella is better >> promoters book more a cappella shows >> YOU get more gigs.

Scenario 2 (not likely):

you get on the show >> TENS OF MILLIONS of people see you >> you get A LOT more gigs.

So book your "priority" audition already!


I wonder...

At this point, several a cappella groups have landed themselves on national talent search shows like this. I wonder if any of these appearances have led to more gigs, or incredible opportunities. Ooo, article topic!

And though I agree with you MOSTLY, I guess I'm more cynical than you. Because I think the producer's ultimate goal, which you call "good tv", will always be to make people look as ridiculous as possible, with the occasional feel-good story thrown in. I think your chances of being made a fool of are much higher than coming out looking cool, such that viewers get to see ACTUAL talent. I think it's much more about the humilitation factor. I think that anyone who thinks this is about MUSIC should reassess.

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

Leave it to Kai

...To beat me to some of my points.  :)

I'm with Tim

Were my group able to do anything more than a possibly reasonable copy of "Don't Speak" by the audition, I would be there.  Unfortunately, we'd not be representing the AcaWorld very well (see Tim's clause about "genuinely good groups"; we're not ready yet to represent).

But I think the experience would be invaluable.

Call me an optimist (some have), but I think this show could end up being less like "America's Got Talent" and a little more like "You're the One That I Want".  In the latter case, the genuine talent was generally treated with respect.

Look at it another way; as Tim so adroitly pointed out regarding AGT, their job on TV is to sell advertising.  To do that, they need viewers.  Who is realistically going to watch this show?  (I'll give you 3 seconds to consi...TIME).  Answer: US ...AKA - The Legion of A Cappellaheads that they are hoping exists out there (mostly collegiate, I'm guessing; that coveted 18-25 range.  Ads during that slot should be interesting!).  They could piss us off at the risk of us tuning out and their ratings plummeting.  Will they play with the story lines?  Of course they will.  Which they coach for drama?  Sure.  Will they benefit by having one or two of the 8 groups being complete train-wrecks (having to turn away dozens of groups that should have been there instead)?  Not likely.

But what about the "audition shows" (assuming they show any?).  Well let's all be candid; you could have a bad day, and look bad...but I tend to agree with Tim that unless you're a human side-show act, that will be forgotten.  And if you ARE a human side-show act, better to find out sooner-than-later, right?  Because who among us hasn't watched those people and thought to ourselves "maybe just alone in the shower, buddy".

And remember what the 2-year-olds teach us (fortunately my youngest is twice that age so he's twice as good at it); NEGATIVE ATTENTION IS BETTER THAN NO ATTENTION AT ALL.

The Loomings of Fame...

Personally, I am inclined to side with Amy: interestingly, regardless of where in the Western world you live, a grand majority of talent shows (perhaps with the exception for "So You Think You Can Dance) seem to be oriented toward the promotion of the celebrities on the panel rather than participating artists' genuine talent. We have had this conversation within my group as well -- and we univocally decided that performing between the Man-Who-Can-Iron-His-Shirt-While-Wearing-It and the Woman-Who-Can-Bite-Through-A-Steel-Anvil is not exactly the kind of exposure we would desperately wish to gain, even if we qualified for the show.

The above notwithstanding, it goes without saying that television exposure is certainly important for all of us; perhaps even more important than radioplays. Even so, I remain an advocate of professional productions: a professionally done videoclip or a whole DVD of a live gig WILL attract attention of talent hunters anyway. Even if it takes a lot more work to get your professional videoclip on air, even if such a formula promises no jump-start to your career, the name of your band will be safe: we would hate for our group to become an object of idiotic jokes or allegedly "brilliant" comebacks. Needless to say, we would rather not be perceived as a part of a curiosity shop, or, in some cases, a postmodern variety of a freak-show, whose central goal is to make money for the TV station and to further boost the usually already overgrown egos of the jurors.

There is no doubt: a success grants you recognition all over the country and may be a golden pass to a world-wide career. Yet a failure, which may very well result from a juror's sudden craving to dazzle the audience with their "wit" or to heat up the atmosphere, may earn you a ridiculous label, one very hard to shake off. We have to realize that the bored television audiences LOVE scandals. Ourselves, we simply refuse to cater to such needs. We have seen groups torpedoed before they could show what they were really worth.

For the past 15 years we have been working really hard, no shortcuts taken, no easy solutions. This, perhaps, is one of the reasons why we still exist as a group and enjoy the prospect of getting old together. This does not mean that we do not seek exposure: as a rule, we submit our material to the ruthless scrutiny or the RARB critics and are glad when the Board publishes favorable reviews. We compete for the CARAs. We accept criticism. We learn. We collaborate with other artists. We make friends. We do not rush things. Slowly, but surely - some recognition is earned with each such step. Today, we give sixty gigs a year - in Poland and abroad. Today our song has made it to a prestigious hitlist. This makes us happy, as simple as that. 

My personal suggestions for those who wish to gain both exposure and high reputation would be the following:

1) do not be greedy or fame-hungry: enjoy what you do without looking for gains; 2) work hard; 3) work hard; 4) work hard; 5) write and compose original songs; 6) make sure that your covers are at least as good as the originals, and certainly more intriguing; 7) be self-critical: invest your time in recording SELECTED material to ensure coherence of your albums; 8) respect your audiences; 9) respect yourself; 10) employ a talented manager; 11) never be sloppy, even it the CD you produce is "just a demo"; 12) most importantly, however, make sure that the quality what you do matches that which your PR sells.

On a brighter note, most of the American a cappella groups following similar paths will certainly earn recognition far faster and far greater than we could ever dream of. As a Polish group singing modern and traditional seasongs, we will never be as interesting to broader audiences as groups representing less hermetic genres. Cheer up there, American friends!

Work hard and see for yourselves: at some ppoint you will be ASKED to perform on television, you will be OFFERED gigs in Carnegie Hall, you will certainly get exposure without allowing anyone to tarnish your name before it even seriously emerges in the musical world.

Harmoniously yours,

Paweł Jędrzejko

(Banana Boat)


The Humiliation Factor

I think very few of the people/acts who appear on these national talent shows go on to HUGE success, statistically, though that's not surprising. You always hear people giving crap to someone like, say, Taylor Hicks, for doing the low-rent gigs that are now his bread and butter, because that's where his level of AI exposure has landed him. But the fact is that he probably does have some momentum that will keep him working as a musician for years, if not for his life, though he may never be playing stadiums, or even close to it. So in that sense it's very valuable. A little bit of exposure = a lot of momentum = gigs that you don't have to beg for (which most of the rest of us do). So in that sense I think it's great, as long as (those auditioning/appearing) don't have delusions of being the next Kelly Clarkson, because out of all the people who actually appear on these shows (let alone those who audition), only a tiny fraction will ever become that successful. But I consider consistent paying gigs "successful", so my measure may be different from others.

My issue really is with the Humilation Factor, which is now part and parcel of these types of shows. Bring out the weirdos and make them look as ridiculous as possible, and if that doesn't work, make perfectly NON-weird people look weird via careful and manipulative editing. That kind of sleazy deceptiveness is what I object to. And they all do it now. Whether audiences really desire this, or the producers assume it's necessary, it is now part of the DNA of these types of shows, and it's too bad. As Pawel so wisely points out, it's often more about the celebrity judges and their antics than any real talent competition (I really wonder who thinks David Hasselhof is entertaining - I am apparently SO not their target audience!). With a few exceptions (So You Think You Can Dance).

I also disagree that negative attention is better than no attention at all. How much of your credibility are you willing to sell? Because once you sign those papers, they own you, and how you are portrayed has little or nothing to do with how you actually ARE.

Despite all this, I still do think people should audition, and hope for the best.

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

Hard work = joy

I respect Pawel's perspective completely: For most groups, even ones that go out for the Sing Off, his is the road to AcaHappiness.  IMO, Only a handfull of groups (or even one) will get any serious attention from this show.  The rest can use it as marketing fodder as Tim mentioned (I've seen "These Guys" carry their AGT banner around with them where they go...rightly so), and more importantly...experience...as they go back to working hard, step-by-step.  This is just another step for many of them.

"Experience" to me is that same hard road Pawel's paving.  There's a value to knowing what your group performs like under a higher level of pressure.  There's a value to knowing about how other aspects of the entertainment business fuction.  There's a value to competition at any level.  And yes, there's a value to being publicly humiliated (even if only by manipulation) and getting back up again afterward.  I can't imagine anyone's group would be destroyed publicly (unable to book gigs) after a show like this...?

You can't tell me Mosaic has been hurt by their two doses of mass media exposure (MTV and AGT).  (I guess they could, if any of them are around to comment)

We keep talking about the TV audiences like they're from another planet.  Admittedly some of the may be, but for the most part we can see what the shows are doing to manipulate the situation.  The tear-jerker music is a dead giveaway.  I submit that real people will see what we're doing and we'll come away with more fans than when the show started.  American Idol huge?  Of course not.  Incrementalism rules.  One person at a time.  This just has the potential to speed that up a bit maybe a dozen.  ;)

Maybe I'm looking at it differently since I'm not in the ring performing.  I'm looking at the overall benefit for CAP, not necessarily the individual groups that win.  If people who run performance spaces think we're now a hotter commodity and they'll sell more (tickets, coffee, bobbleheads), they'll be quicker to bring us in.

For the record Amy, I have credibility to sell, but no one's buying it.  :)

witness Susan Boyle

We keep talking about the TV audiences like they're from another planet.  Admittedly some of the may be, but for the most part we can see what the shows are doing to manipulate the situation.>>

I could not disagree with this more. How many people who you consider savvy and smart thought Susan Boyle's story was "inspiring", and that she really is an INCREDIBLE singer? I know a bunch. A good friend of mine just told me so just last week - how incredible she thought her voice was. And this friend is a singer. It's not, she's not, but they think so. And these are smart people, duped by the swelling music and the careful, manipulative editing. I never would have believed it until I saw it for myself...several times. Ug.


Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

Good point

But honestly, none of the people who I consider to be singers thought that.  Or smart and savvy either for that matter.  And I acknowledged that some may be aliens.  :)

Again I'm assuming WE (the AcaCommunity) are the general audience in this case.  Perhaps I'm giving us too much credit?

Alas, the ACA Community is NOT the general audience...

Alas, alas... The prime time shows target as broad an audience as possible - and I presume that the ACA community members would only represent a fraction of it. Moreover, a substantial percentage of the viewers may be presumed to watch the show in search of entertainment unrelated to the quality of the music itself: watching discussion threads in open fora dedicated to the various talent shows is a grand eye opener. If cruel or humilitating jokes are not at play, well, there is little to get excited about, at least this is the conclusion I have formed on the basis of forum posts.

Statistically speaking: how many of those millions of viewers may be reconed to actually be ready to appreciate the subtleties of, say, an a cappella arrangement and not to other aspect of a commercially perfected entertainment product that the show itself must be to survive? Its producers will not, ultimately, be interested whether the verdicts were just or whether someone's good name was slandered; they'll watch charts and count the income the SHOW itself yields. And if media analytics demonstrate that there has been too little blood on the show -  they'll not hesitate to invite a juror who'll gladly give them the much needed slaughter. Statistics translate into millions of dollars.

The Polish version of America's Got Talent proved to be a commercial a megahit,  yet the judgments passed by the jurors were (and still are) severely affected by their obvious preferences for certain musical styles and dislike for others. Some of the participating artists were labeled as "boring" or "uninspired", even though the quality of what they presented certainly merited appreciation.

Imagine, that someone labeled "boring" or "uninspired" attempts to contact event organizers to present a concert proposal. Imagine that these event organizers, who also watch television in search of acts that would make them money, receive such a proposal. The most likely reaction, in all probability, would be:  "Ahhh... these were the boring and uninspired guys, forget them. Mr. XYZ was reduced to a VERY PRONOUNCED yawn when they performed. Let's get the guys with the drums instead." In other words, I KNOW THEM - AND, along with me,  ALL AMERICANS KNOW THEY ARE NO GOOD. This is how a good group may get "torpedoed." And sometimes the shame and thereto related trauma may lead to a genuinely talented individual's withdrawal from the musical world, or to a break-up of what could be a most promissing group.

Now the alternative: imagine that the same event producer receives word from someone who has never participated in AGT, but who has released a few albums, had a number of radio shows, their songs received awards in a variety of professional competitions and made it to the charts, they managed to get a video or two on the television. OK, he does not KNOW the act from the popular television show. But the materials submitted by a professional manager speak for themselves. In other words, the reaction is HEY, I DIDN'T KNOW THEM, BUT THEY SEEM LIKE A HIT.

How about the third opton? The act is wonderfully edited for the purpose of the show. The group hits the jackpot. And then it turns out that apart from the winning song - they represent nothing of value. How long will they last before the music critics tear them into pieces?

Personally, I'd recommend the second path. I do not think that the experience of public humiliation helps one develop. Especially at the onset of one's career. Luckily, performers who have made their names already neither get invited, nor wish to receive invitations to such shows because they respect themselves. That, to me, seems to be the perfect measure of experience.

With all my best regards,

Paweł Jędrzejko

I understand the pessimism...

I get that people are paranoid about looking bad on television.  If you're going to look bad, it's better to do it in mediocrity, in front of the five family members who usually come to see your shows!

I just don't get how this show would possibly be anything to fear.  Variety talent shows always pick on certain areas, anything the judges think they can make easy jokes about.  

This show is about  A CAPPELLA.  They are not going to make fun of A CAPPELLA.  Yes, they will probably have a montage of terrible groups.  That's because there are TERRIBLE GROUPS.  That's not making fun of a cappella.  That's making fun of delusional singers who think they are rock stars.  Any show is going to do that: it's ratings gold!

This show is about a cappella.  They want to make a cappella look good.  Last Choir Standing wanted the choirs to look good.  So you think you can dance wants dancing to come out looking good.  Best Dance Crew is not making fun of dancing, even if they pick on incompetent dancers.

They won't spend 6-8 weeks making fun of a cappella.  The good groups that get on are going to look GOOD.

The groups that don't look good?  Call it the law of the jungle; if they aren't able to bounce back from the negative portrayal, maybe it's better they stay down.  I've never heard of anyone's career being destroyed because of how they were shown on a reality show.  But if that happened... well, did they really have that much of a career to begin with?


Actually, I guess the truth is probably somewhere in between the two polar positions: I trust that the exchange above may prove valuable precisely owing to the fact that the enthusiastic posts have been counterbalanced by the less-than-enthusiastic posts. And, Mr Tim, you are probably right about the slightly paranoid tinge to the pessimistic statements as much as I am probably right about the risks involved in becoming a part of a massive production.

The above notwithstanding, I still believe that banking on good management and hard work does produce desired results - and sooner or later the bookings will come. And, of course, the harder you have worked and the more extensive your experience with live audiences and television productions is, the greater chance you stand of not only making it to the finals of the talent show, but also of getting to the top of it. My doubt is that in a television show whose objective is to make a cappella look good, the "look" might be more important than the sound: after all, vision is the CENTRAL medium there and thus a successful show must, above all, be SPECTAcular. But, at the same time, you will be right if you stress that a perfect a cappella act involves both: the quality of music and the quality of the show.

All in all, the thread presents both the ups and the downs of the involvement with productions such as AGT and all its multinational versions. The choice, as it has always been, is the artist's.


Paweł Jędrzejko

(Banana Boat)

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