All-Female A Cappella in Crisis?

As I write, we are a week away from the final of the Voice Festival UK, and the competitors are four all-male groups and one mixed-voice group. This begs the question: where are all the women? It seems all-female a cappella, both in the UK and the US, is facing a crisis.

Let’s firstly look at the stats (with brand new added COLOUR!):

Number of Collegiate Groups:

ALL-MALE: 8 (Out of the Blue, The Ultrasounds, Fitz Barbershop, The Other Guys, Sons of Pitches, All The King’s Men, The Techtonics, Semi-Toned)

MIXED: 17 (The Oxford Gargoyles, The Oxford Alternotives, Cadenza, The Alleycats, Augmented Seven, Voice Versa, Absolute Harmony, TUBBS, HotTUBBS, Choral Stimulation, 95 Keys, Hoi Rhapsodoi, Madrigals (Exeter), Take Note, Illuminations, Aberpella, Aquapella)

ALL-FEMALE: 12 (The Oxford Belles, In The Pink, The Fitz Sirens, The Accidentals, The Hummingbirds, The Birmingham Songbirds, The Lorelites, The King’s Chix, Harmaphrodite, The Imperielles, The Forget-Me-Nots, The Sweet Nothings)

These figures would suggest that it is actually all-male a cappella that is suffering, with all-female a cappella looking a lot healthier, however, when we delve a little deeper, the reason for the decline of all-female a cappella becomes clearer:

Number of groups competing in Voice Festival UK 2012:

ALL-MALE: 8 (Out of the Blue, The Ultrasounds, Fitz Barbershop, The Other Guys, Sons of Pitches, All The King’s Men, The Techtonics, Semi-Toned)

MIXED: 10 (The Oxford Gargoyles, The Oxford Alternotives, The Alleycats, Voice Versa, TUBBS, HotTUBBS, Choral Stimulation, 95 Keys, Aberpella, Aquapella)

ALL-FEMALE: 8 (The Oxford Belles, In The Pink, The Accidentals, The Hummingbirds, The Birmingham Songbirds, The King’s Chix, The Imperielles, The Sweet Nothings)

While this at first seems very balanced, it is important to note that every single all-male group that currently exists in UK University A Cappella is competing. This is one of the key factors in the all-male dominance at the moment, in my opinion – that competitive edge that sees them compete and better themselves every year. In comparison, only two-thirds of the eligible female groups are competing, and even less of the mixed contingent.

Debutants in Voice Festival UK 2012:

ALL-MALE: 2 (The Ultrasounds, Semi-Toned)

MIXED: 5 (Voice Versa, HotTUBBS, 95 Keys, Aberpella, Aquapella)

ALL-FEMALE: 1 (The Imperielles)

This statistic represents the progress of a cappella in the UK. While it’s amazing to see 8 brand new groups in this year’s competition, the fact that over half of them are mixed groups means that progress is being made in some places ahead of others. While there are only two new male groups, more worrying is the lack of all-female groups being created – there is only one all-female debuting group in this years competition.

Number of Awards Recieved at Voice Festival UK 2012:

ALL-MALE: 10 (Outstanding Performance x4 [Techtonics, Sons, Ultrasounds, Other Guys]; Outstanding Vocal Percussion x2 [Ultrasounds, Semi-Toned], Outstanding Choreography x2 [ATKM, Sons]; Outstanding Soloist x1 [Techtonics]; Outstanding Arrangement x1 [Semi-Toned] )

MIXED: 7 (Outstanding Choreography x3 [Alternotives, HotTUBBS, Alleycats]; Outstanding Musicality x2 [Voice Versa, Gargoyles]; Outstanding Arrangement x1 [95 Keys]; Outstanding Vocal Percussion x1 [Alleycats])

ALL-FEMALE: 4 (Outstanding Soloist x2 [Belles, Accidentals]; Outstanding Arrangement by Friend of the Group x1 [In The Pink]; Outstanding Performance x1 [Sweet Nothings])

This shows two things: firstly, the male groups are really dominating this year’s festival award-wise, with almost half of the awards going to all-male groups – in fact, the only all-male group who failed to win an award in the Regional Rounds was Out of the Blue, who made up for it by qualifying for the final. On the other hand, only four awards have been won by all-female groups, one of which for an arrangement done by a man.
Secondly, the performance of the brand new groups has been particularly good – The Ultrasounds picked up two awards, and mixed groups 95 Keys, Voice Versa and HotTUBBS also picked up an award each. Missing? The female debutants The Imperielles, who failed to win an award.

Final Appearances 2009-2012:

ALL-MALE: 10 (Out of the Blue x4, All The King’s Men x2, The Other Guys x2, Fitz Barbershop x1, Sons of Pitches x1)

MIXED: 9 (Cadenza x3, The Alleycats x2, The Oxford Gargoyles x1, The Oxford Alternotives x1, Augmented Seven x1, HotTUBBS x1)

ALL-FEMALE: 4 (The Accidentals x2, The Fitz Sirens x1, The Oxford Belles x1)

Again, this says it all – all-male and mixed groups are a fixture in the final more often and have more representatives on average per year than the all-female groups.

So, what’s the problem?

As I briefly mentioned above, it seems that part of the problem is the lack of competitiveness from the all-female contingent. Although that does partly refer to a couple of groups pulling out of this year’s Voice Festival, it also refers to what each group does outside of VF-UK:

Out of the Blue went on Britain’s Got Talent; The Other Guys recorded the ‘Royal Romance’ video and put it on YouTube; All The King’s Men have just returned from their second East Coast Tour of the US; The Techtonics competed in the Vocal Marathon in Croatia in September; and All The King’s Men, The Techtonics and Cadenza all performed at the London A Cappella Festival. While these kinds of things don’t make you better singers, it does bring vital experience and establishes more of a fanbase, which in turn gets you more gigs and more experience performing under pressure.

The Oxford Belles are one of the all-female exceptions: In recent years, to coincide with Fringe runs, they have been featured on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Three, and, if we go further back, have performed the National Anthem at Madison Square Gardens in 2009. But unfortunately, few other female groups are as active as the Belles: while In The Pink have had recent stints at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and The Fitz Sirens have recently performed at the House of Lords, it has been at least two years since any of the three were involved in the VF-UK Final. Even The Accidentals, who made the final two times in a row in 2010 and 2011, have been sadly inactive outside of St Andrews for the majority of the academic year so far.

Also, only three groups have released an album since last summer: Out of the Blue, The Other Guys and All The King’s Men. All male groups. Recording an album not only allows fans who otherwise can’t see you live to hear your work, but also makes you come up with new tracks, new arrangements, new potential competition songs.

But perhaps that’s not the only problem. Men and mixed-groups have a distinct and perhaps unfair advantage over all-female groups – that of vocal range. Men are blessed with their falsetto, which in some cases allows them to sing almost as high as the best soprano, while being able to hit notes in the very depths of a chord too. Mixed-groups have a mixture of voices, which allows them to achieve similar ranges. However, all-female groups don’t really have a real “cheat”, like men do, to reach those very low notes. Do these limitations make all-male and mixed-voice a cappella automatically “better” or “fuller” than all-female a cappella? Do all-female groups therefore have to work harder to produce a broader sound than other groups? Is it significant that the highest placed all-female group in this year’s The Sing-Off were 6th placed Delilah, with 3 mixed and 2 all-male groups ahead of them?

The problems don’t stop there: Mouth Off maestros Christopher Diaz and Dave Brown conducted an interview with CASA [Contemporary A Cappella Society of America] President Julia Hoffman in one of their more recent podcasts, and Hoffman commented on the stark difference in quality between all-male and all-female submissions for the latest CASA award nominations:

In [the] female collegiate category, there are so few to pick from, because […] comparatively few songs are arranged by people who are actually in the group, which is super lame and unacceptable, from my perspective. […] I’m calling them out, and I’m saying get better, do different. […] These girls need to step it up. There is no barrier that keeps women from arranging, it’s just crazy to me. And then the arrangements that get nominations, if you put them up against the male or the mixed arrangements, it’s like ‘Meh’. I mean, it’s embarrassing. […] Get it together ladies.

Is this another problem – are the arrangements in general sub-par? It is worth noting that the award that In The Pink won for ‘Outstanding Arrangement by a Friend of the Group’ was arranged by a man. Is this significant? Do our female groups also need to ‘step it up’?

I’m not an expert, and as such cannot say conclusively why the all-female groups have been so poor competitively for the last couple of years, but I do urge them to be more entrepreneurial, to reach out to the public more, and to organise more gigs and tours outside of their university and the surrounding area. Experience is key, and it’s no coincidence that we now see three of the most active groups in the country – Out of the Blue, The Other Guys and All The King’s Men – now facing off in the final of the Voice Festival.

I understand that some groups sing a cappella for pleasure rather than to perform in front of large crowds and win competitions. To those groups I say keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy it, and you can largely ignore this article. But for those who want to win competitions and sing in front of large crowds, then its about more than just singing good music.

It’s time for the girls to step it up.

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33 thoughts on “All-Female A Cappella in Crisis?

  1. One of my big criticisms as an Edinburgh regular and fan of acappella is that not enough is done in regards promotions outside of the uni campus. I think that developing a fanbase outside of the campus would spur on groups to do more and push themselves each year.

    If I go on twitter right now I can guarantee that Out of the Blue and All the Kings men have posted something within the last couple of days. Outside of that, I suspect that apart from those competiting this weekend, I will find out very little about the other groups.

    Surely if the groups spent time developing a fanbase (outside of campus) it would push them to be stronger and stronger each year. This year looks set to be dominated by Out of the Blue who have been on a rollarcoaster ride that can only have spurred them on to evolve and get stronger.

    Female groups aren’t alone although I do agree that it would be great to actually see some in the final. (I’ll just have to wait until the Edinburgh Festival!)

    It is true that the Belles were in Edinburgh but I heard quite a few comments about the size of the group that went and the venue, which was a great space but too far out to be a Fringe success unless a promotion machine was being used. In The Pink put in a stella effort trying to drum up audience support and put on a good quality set and benefitted by being in a more central location.

    When not enough female groups are making it through it does also beg the question if the format of the competition is working as well as it should?

    I’m not saying that I think there should be separate categories but it’s an idea. Each round could have a winner for best male group, best female group and best mixed group. These three winners could also them compete in a sing-off to find the regional/final winner?

    Perhaps we could take a leaf from our American friends and progress two groups from each region to a semi-final?

    Another question is that perhaps the competition is too early in the year? With a lot of lineups changing at the start of term there isn’t much time to develop and settle in as a group. Perhaps the competition should be later in the year?

    I also think that song selection needs to be looked at. One of the debates that came from the London Acappella festival was about groups in general writing their own songs and setting themselves apart from their peers. It would break away from the pop cover/mashup fest that forms the bulk of songs. Don’t get me wrong, some of the arrangements are stunnings and show some real craft, I just wish that groups took themselves to the next level.

    My final point is that as with selling anything, it helps to have a USP. If I think back quite a few years now to the first performance by the Oxford Gargoyles and they were on top of the scene. Perhaps it’s was being influenced by the lovely Swingles but I like to think it was due to setting themselves out as Jazz a cappella.

    What female groups (or any group in fact) could do is find away to set themselves out from every other group. Would it be good to have some rock chicks? Perhaps a blues group? My point is that there are so many genres of music out there that an escape from the pop/mashup combo would be refreshing and would turn heads.

    Girl groups look stunning and sound great but perhaps they need to set themselves out as something that no one else is?

  2. Scott – thanks a lot for your input!

    I agree that groups should be doing more to increase their fanbase off-campus. That’s why the year has been so successful for OOTB, ATKM and TOG, because they took things to the next level, went out there and purposefully did something that would increase their fanbase. The number of Facebook fans of Out of the Blue more than doubled thanks to BGT, and similarly for The Other Guys after Royal Romance.

    As for Edinburgh venues, I know from experience that you’re usually allocated venues – you don’t get to pick them. The Belles being far away from Central Edinburgh was not their fault, and the day I went to see them there was a pretty large crowd there to watch, but obviously it varies from day to day. In The Pink were lucky but made the most of it.

    I completely agree about original songs! Covers are great, but if a group did a completely original song at VF-UK next year, it would be something never seen before and, in my opinion, give them a huge advantage over the other groups – providing the song was good enough, that is. I know a lot of groups try to do crowd-pleasers, and as such are reluctant to do a song that no-one will have heard before, and this could be part of the problem. Do groups try to please the crowd or the judges?

    Regarding the structure of VF-UK – obviously I have nothing to do with that. I am, however, not sure if there are enough groups to split the competition into more rounds or have separate categories for each type of group – yet. A cappella is on the rise however, and I do see Semi-Finals being introduced in the next couple of years if this growth is maintained. I do think having the Festival any later in the year would begin to clash with exams, and I’m not sure it would be a very popular decision in that respect.

    Mark

  3. I feel like this article is missing out a few key points and making some unvalidated claims.
    I would like to point out, for example, that the local radio station Jack FM offered all the groups performing in the Oxford Regional round the chance to perform on-air in the week leading up to the Festival – and only the two all-female groups, In the Pink and The Oxford Belles, took the time to do so. Similarly, you claim that the female groups are not as effective at self-promotion, when in fact, in the week since the Oxford regional round only The Oxford Belles and In The Pink have made the effort to put videos of their performances on YouTube. I would also like to point out that The Oxford Belles did an extensive tour of the US 2 years ago, and have collaborated in performances with two US a-cappella groups over the past year.
    Secondly, while it is a valid point to make that female a-cappella may lack the vocal range of mixed or male groups, I feel that it undermines the point you made earlier in the article about the limited rate of growth of female groups. Isn’t it logical to conclude that people who potentially want to form an all female a-cappella group will be put off by articles such as this which perpetuate this image of such groups lacking the range and quality of (e.g.) all male groups? Similarly, why should this lack of range affect all-female groups’ performances in VFUK? Surely the judges, on the premise that female groups might lack range, should then go on to make their decisions based on their talent? Perhaps there is a bias towards male voices within a-cappella – certainly not something that can be blamed on all-female groups.
    Finally, I hardly think you can claim that all-female a-cappella arrangements may be ‘sub-par’ simply based on the fact that the one female group who was awarded the prize for best arrangement had it arranged by a male friend. Both The Oxford Belles and In The Pink were commended and praised by the judges in many of the musical categories, even if they didn’t win in them.
    I do feel like this article demeans both the hard work and extremely high level of performance all-female groups bring to VFUK.

    • Thanks for your comments. I found the original article slightly depressing but Mark makes some fair points and criticism is useful for us to improve! I’m a member of ITP- I agree that it is rather unfortunate that the one award we won was for an arrangement we were given by a male friend, but would like to point out that this is the only time in recent years someone outside the group has done an arrangement for us. The arrangement was also changed by another member of the group after we were given it to make it suit our voices better.
      Another few things I would like to point out- firstly, ITP are going to Berlin in June to perform in a music festival and do a joint concert with the German acapella group ‘Popkon’, so we are making an effort to extend our fanbase! We are also currently in the process of recording a 10-track CD which will be ready in time for our run at Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Furthermore, we have done many, many more gigs than we did last year, set up a youtube channel which we are ceaselessly trying to promote, and have a page on Facebook which I update about twice a week.
      I think we would find a review of the Oxford round very useful (there has been one on the London round) in order to receive some feedback and perhaps encouragement!

      • Miranda – this is awesome news! Great to hear you’re going to Germany – I’d love to have a chat about that sometime in the future and do a feature on it. I’ll shimmy over an email shortly.

        I’ve noticed your recent Facebook activity has got better, and this has also been very encouraging. I urge other groups to do the same.

        As for a review of the Oxford Round, that will be forthcoming as soon as I’ve seen all the videos. I wish I could have been there in person, but I’m in touch with a couple of people who were, so I’ll hope to get that done as soon as I can.

        Keep up the hard work!

      • Wasn’t Rose by an OOTB member? I actually loved the Duffy/Adele song you performed at the Oxford round the most, really interesting use of percussion, a shame that wasn’t recognised by this article.

      • Oh actually now you come to mention it, I think Rose was arranged by a boyfriend (?) of one of the girls a few years ago. I loved the arrangement but we’ve stopped doing it know as it’s been to Edinburgh at least twice…

  4. Hi NR,

    Firstly, thank you for your input. Part of the aim of the article was to try and spark some sort of debate, and I’m really glad you’ve had your say.

    I understand where you’re coming from. The fact that ITP and the Belles took up the offer to be on Jack FM before the Regional last weekend is great, but like you say, it was a local station – I’ll bet that a lot of people around Oxford already know about the two groups, as they’ve been around for a long time, and I know the Belles at least have done a lot of busking in and around Oxford in the last year. Apart from the Fringe, when was the last time either group really reached out into completely unfamiliar territory? That’s what I’d love to see in the near future – groups such as yourselves performing all over the country and in other countries. Yes, you mentioned the Belles tour of the US, but that was two years ago, and the way of collecting a fanbase has vastly changed since then – the emergence of Twitter and Facebook Groups since then has made it a lot easier for people who see your show to instantly go online and like the page or follow the group on Twitter. That wasn’t available to such an extent when the Belles went on tour, which meant that people may well have enjoyed the show, but had no way of keeping in touch with what the group did afterwards. A shame, and unavoidable, but groups have to move with the times.

    I know money can be an issue, but if so, think outside the box – like a YouTube video or applying for a national TV show… It might not pay off, but if it does, it could help a lot in the long run, both reputation-wise and financially.

    I think you’re right when you say there is a bias towards male voices in a cappella – and I think that’s partly because men have falsetto and therefore a better range than women, which is unfair. But there are all-female groups who have proved they can produce stunningly good music – The Boxettes, for example, are emerging as the hottest new a cappella group in the UK, and while there is clearly a difference between professional and collegiate a cappella, they are proving that it is possible to make awesome music.

    I didn’t wish to demean the efforts of the girl groups in this year’s competition – I know from experience and how much hard work goes into preparing for the Voice Festival, and it’s clear that all-female groups do bring a high level of performance to the competition. But as we have seen in the competition this year, that level isn’t as high as it could be – not specifically with the Belles and In The Pink, who should be commended for the awards that they won, but with the other all-female groups too – and that’s why I wanted to encourage these groups to reach out more to the wider public.

  5. I’d further like to add that several alumni of the Oxford Belles are active members of the music industry worldwide. To claim that all female arrangements are sub-par, presumably based on the assumption that females are not as talented at composition, is ridiculous. Lauren Bensted went on to compose a musical, Swing!, which featured in the 2010 Fringe Festival with one reviewer saying she had a ‘bright future’ ahead of her. Daena Jay Wienard’s songs have been featured on General Hospital and other US television shows, and in 2011 one of her songs was nominated for an Emmy. As we speak, Jasmine Chin is composing songs with a member of Imperial’s The Techtonics, whom the Belles have now sung with in London on two occasions, not only promoting inter-acappella relations (which, if you hadn’t realised, is the focal purpose of VFUK, not unhealthy rivalry and competition, as you seem to be suggesting). In last year’s Fringe, the Belles were featured on a programme on BBC Radio Scotland with actor Julian Sands (I’m afraid the podcast no longer exists but you will see a clip here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00jw4vx), and were also televised on BBC Three in a 90 minute broadcast presented by Scott Mills (http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/edinburgh/2011/photosfri19/).

    As for Scott’s suggestion that ITP put on a ‘stella effort trying to drum up audience support,’ perhaps you ought to have seen BOTH the girls groups out on the Royal Mile, busking several times a day for several hours at a time. A lack of effort simply isn’t a valid comment.

    I am unable to speak for other groups since the Belles is where my knowledge lies, but as you can see, all this activity I have highlighted rather negates your unsubstantiated conclusion that female groups are comparatively inactive.

  6. Sorry to continue, but I just remembered some additional points of interest… in 2010, the Belles recorded a radio programme (Cactus County Round Up) with Will Ryan, an extremely successful voice actor who is best known for his roles in Winnie the Pooh, The Little Mermaid and The Land Before Time. In 2009 they sung the National Anthem at Madison Square Gardens. Both sterling efforts to gain recognition across the pond, and no doubt successful- subscribers to my Belles blog that I maintained last year came from not only the US, but also much of Europe, Australia and Hong Kong.

  7. Hi BW,

    Firstly, I’d like to point out that I didn’t claim that the arrangements being done by our all-female groups were sub-par – I was merely responding to the comments made by Julia Hoffmann that a lot of the submissions to CASA by the all-female groups were sub-par. If you re-read, I merely ask IF the all-female arrangements over here are similarly below-par – I made no comment claiming that they were.

    While I understand that the main aim of the Voice Festival is to promote a cappella relations, without the competition side of it the quality of a cappella wouldn’t be as good and therefore the audience wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I have written more on the topic here: http://universityacappellauk.com/2012/01/17/a-cappella-competition-vs-collaboration/

    I apologise for the oversight with regard to the work the Belles have done recently to increase their reputation – I will edit the article accordingly to incorporate this. However, while this proves that The Belles are one of the more active groups around, all-female groups in general are still less active than their all-male counterparts.

    I understand that some groups sing a cappella for pleasure rather than to perform in front of large crowds and win competitions. To those groups I say keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy it, and you can largely ignore this article. But for those who want to win competitions and sing in front of large crowds, then its about more than just singing good music.

  8. Until VF-UK gets to a stage where there’s a decent tech budget, all female groups will struggle. Hell, the Boxettes would struggle without amplification in Oxford Town Hall. You go to an ICCA quarterfinal in the States and there’s usually a nice condenser/dynamic split. By the semi-finals you might even have somebody who knows what (s)he’s doing on the sound-desk. At the finals, you often get the Liquid5th guys helping with the desk – a cappella specialists who know what they are doing.

    This isn’t such an issue in ballads etc, but I can count the really good all-female upbeat numbers from ICCA UK or VFUK sets over the last 7 years on one hand.

    I’m not talking octave pedals or anything fancy – but even a female group with an impressive low-alto section will not have the sound grounded in a way that other groups have – which means they’re competing with their hands tied behind their back.

    Of course, groups would have to learn how to use microphones too, but that’s another comment for another time.

  9. Thanks for your response, Mark. I think this is a wider argument than just VFUK, but I do believe that the judging can be extremely short-sighted, and that if there is a lack of female representation in the finals it is more to do with certain prejudices than any necessary lack of talent/range/performance etc. For me, the Alternotives were the outstanding group at the Oxford round. They performed a memorable and unique set, and given VFUK’s push for originality, I thought that would give them the extra mileage when it came to the overall winner (Belles also performed a TV Medley completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the a cappella world). I would be keen to attend the final, as I did last year, but to be perfectly honest I’m uninterested in seeing OOTB and ATKM playing to the same formula of boyish charm which the judges have fallen head-over-heels for last year and this. This is merely speculation, but perhaps VFUK are keen to promote and publicise their competition by sending to the final groups that have a wider fan base? Is this to say that one can guarantee a win founded substantially upon popularity? I understand that the all-male formula works well and I remain entirely in support of both of the groups I have mentioned, but if we’re criticising a lack of ‘thinking outside the box’ then I think this criticism definitely falls on the side of all-male, rather than all-female, a cappella.

  10. You make an interesting point, and I would like to think that groups go through based on performance, rather than how many fans they might necessarily attract to the final. But that’s not for me to say.

    I will remind you that Cadenza won last year, ahead of OOTB and ATKM, so we can’t really claim that the judges have ‘fallen for the boyish charm’ of the two groups, BUT it does appear that a similar thing has happened this year, especially with four all-male groups in the final.

    How do you suggest the judging can be made less “short-sighted”? Do you like the idea of separate categories for female, mixed and male groups?

    I think it’s extremely difficult to determine which group is “better” out of, say, The Oxford Gargoyles and Out of the Blue, because the style of music they sing is completely different. I wouldn’t like to judge between them.

  11. ‘I think it’s extremely difficult to determine which group is “better” out of, say, The Oxford Gargoyles and Out of the Blue, because the style of music they sing is completely different. I wouldn’t like to judge between them’ – well surely that is what the voice festival judges have to do?

    I think the main problem is that the voice festival hasn’t got a clear aim. Is it a competition or is it a festival? The bias mentioned in previous comments is not helped by the fact that many of the main organisers of the festivals are OOTB alums. In fact I was horrified at the Oxford round that each group were introduced simply by saying ‘please welcome on stage the gargoyles, alternotives, ultrasounds etc’ apart from Out of the Blue who were introduced along with a list of their achievements from the last year. This fits into BW’s comments about whether the groups are more favourable if they have a larger fan base.

    As well as the omissions from your article about work that Oxford’s all female a cappella groups have done (in fact I believe the Belles recorded a CD a year ago, there seems to be some delay in getting it out there?) I find the focus of this article to be split. Is this article about the vocal quality and talent in all female a cappella or the amount of effort made by them to publicise themselves? Putting these two issues together with half the facts needed has led to a badly written piece. Perhaps more research should be done?

  12. Hi,

    Thanks for your input! I agree that the Voice Festival’s aim can seem unclear. Perhaps a separate body needs to be put in place to deal with the competition, with the existing Voice Festival dealing with organising a LACF-esque Festival for university groups to come together, with no pressure of competition, and have a massive a cappella party. That would be pretty awesome. But, I think we have to give credit to the guys at VF-UK, who are volunteering and putting a lot of time and effort in behind the scenes with no financial gain.

    As for this article being about talent vs self-publicising, I believe one affects the other. Let me explain:

    Say Group X decides to do a tour of Europe. They book 10 dates, flights and accommodation, and organise and rehearse a set to perform every night. For 10 nights, they sing to the best of their ability in front of huge crowds, and learn which songs go down well and which ones don’t, as well as gaining vital stage experience and experience in performing under pressure in front of a large audience, which will be extremely beneficial to them come competition time, when they have to do a very similar thing. They will have been there, done it and know what works, and have a large advantage.

    Say Group Y fails to organise a single gig before the competition. They rehearse often, in private, and maybe join in with the university Christmas Concert, singing songs that are usually only sung at Christmas and therefore not really testing out potential competition material. Their arrangements and voices may not be any worse than those of Group X, but their lack of stage experience and performing under pressure leads to nervousness, which in turn can lead to shaky voices, lack of blend and less self-confidence. While the music itself might be equally good, the set seems weaker because the performance just isn’t as powerful and confident.

    This is the point I was trying to make in the article – that experience is crucial. It’s the same with any line of work – companies are often more likely to hire an above average candidate with 30 years of experience than an above average candidate with zero experience. It’s completely different, I know, but the same principle applies.

    And in my opinion, I believe this lack of experience (comparatively) is the reason the all-female groups didn’t do as well as in previous years. Of course, I might be wrong, and this is why this debate is so encouraging, because it’s allowing people to analyse whether or not they have been doing enough (and some cases have been overlooked, I admit), but I hope this article does encourage all-female groups to maybe be a little more entrepreneurial with their future projects.

    I do agree that more research needs to be done, and I will strive to do this in the future and share my findings.

    Until then, thank you for all your responses. I look forward to seeing you all perform in the near future.

  13. Okay, discussion has moved along since my first post and I feel the need to chime in again.

    (Disclaimer: OOTB alum, but left YEARS ago, well before VFUK had started and “took over” from ICCAUK. I’ve got no formal connection with VFUK, though do chat with the movers & shakers a lot about expansion plans and so on).
    BW’s “speculation” that the results are somehow fixed by the VFUK team is, quite frankly, libellous. It’s pretty lucky that Simon and Alex are such lovely people and will probably let such a comment slide. Do you think they are telling the (entirely independent) judges whom to send through to the final? Do you think such eminent people (Swingles, Magnets etc) would risk their sparkling reputations to do that? What would the judges be gaining from it? BW has accused a registered charity of corruption – which is the sort of thing that needs either corroborating or retracting pretty swiftly.

    Acappellalover notes that the shows are often staffed by OOTB alums. Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that the main VFUK “team” is 1xOOTB, 1xITP and 1xOther Guys alum, so hardly a monopoly. Secondly, the VFUK team are always looking for volunteers to staff shows (without payment, naturally). I’m sure they’d love to hear from anyone else willing to help. That OOTB alums continue to show such an interest in A Cappella that they are willing to give up their time to check tickets and man doors is something that OOTB should be proud of.

    The aim of VFUK is perfectly clear from its registration on the Charity Commission website:

    TO PROMOTE, IMPROVE, DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN PUBLIC EDUCATION IN AND APPRECIATION OF CAPPELLA MUSIC IN ALL ITS ASPECTS BY THE PRESENTATION OF PUBLIC CONCERTS, PERFORMANCES, COMPETITIONS, WORKSHOPS, MASTER CLASSES AND NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES FOR CAPPELLA SINGERS AND THE GENERAL PUBLIC.

    I’d say they are doing a pretty fine job at that. Hiving off the competition aspect would be, to my view, completely counter-productive. It would be great if the competition can be integrated into a far wider “festival” type programme (I’ve love the final to part of a big weekend festival akin to LACF), but that will come with time.
    The competition is still in its infancy. The Americans had a 15 year head-start, and about 50 times the number of active collegiate groups.

    Quick note on the timing of the competition. The invitation for the winning UK group to go to New York for the ICCA World Finals is the single best opportunity that exists for a UK A Cappella Group, whether student or professional. Competing in that competition remains the best evening of my whole life. The World Final is held towards the end of April, so it’s vital that the UK final is timed to allow arrangements to be made for the UK group to get there and compete with the world’s best.

    It may be that you have to be as old as I am to fully appreciate the role VFUK has played in the development of UK Collegiate A Cappella. In 2005, you might see an occasional shared concert with (say) the Belles and Fitz Barbershop. OOTB might perform at a Cambridge Ball. There was an annual charity fundraiser for the Oxford Institute for the Blind in the Town Hall. That was it. No structure, no learning from one another, no socialising. And then groups would tour the USA and wonder why the good American groups were so much better (particularly on CD).

    VFUK has been the major thing that’s helped begin to change all that. The difference in standard between the 2006 ICCAUK competition and the 2012 VFUK competition is simply huge. This is particularly so in the ‘visual’ sphere, but also in quality of arrangements and sound. This is almost entirely due to the dedication of a tiny group of A Cappella fans who work damn hard (on top of their “real jobs”.

    Music is subjective. Some people will like what you do. Some people won’t. Unfortunately, on some days those people who don’t will be judging your show. If you want to see how harsh this can be, I’m sure you can find out all about Divisi in the 2005 ICCA World Finals with a little googling. Otherwise, I think we should all thank Simon, Alex and Tyler for the massive (and clearly often unappreciated…) work that they do.

    Matt

    • Matt, I definitely need to clarify your interpretation because you’ve completely misunderstood what I’ve said – I absolutely do not believe that results are in any way fixed, or that anyone is corruptly sending groups through to the final. I have a number of friends who are heavily involved in the Voice Festival and I don’t for one second believe that any of them would be capable of that, nor was I meaning to insult all Simon and Alex’s hard work. I have loved being involved in the Voice Festival and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities it has given me and extremely impressed by the work it has done in making a cappella more widespread in the UK.

      What I was trying to say (maybe in too strong terms, I’ll admit) is that all-male a cappella (especially Out of the Blue and All the King’s Men because they are so successful) has a ‘charm’ to it which, I believe, makes it immediately more likeable, in the same way that boybands do. Sending these groups through to the final on the premise of their likeability, charm, crowd-drawing and awe-inspiring performances, etc, which I believe are their main strengths, makes perfect sense – the judges like them, and audiences will like them too. It is natural for those in the a cappella world to have their favourite groups, and for good reason. As Mark has picked up on from what I was saying, I just think that judging should allow a whole variety of groups to have the opportunity to sing in the final. As you have identified, the Voice Festival is for an ‘appreciation of a cappella in all its aspects’ and for me, that means having a broad range of groups, not the same or similar groups in the final each year. How this would be achieved, I don’t know, but I do believe that variety is key, and that was where my argument was coming from.

      My apologies if you (or anyone else) took offence at my comments, they were completely unintended to come across in such a way.

  14. Thanks for your input Matt.

    Like I said above, I think the guys at VF-UK need to be really appreciated for the hard work that they have done since the Festival’s inception, because, like you say, they have made a huge difference in not only the amount of a cappella that is going out to the masses, but also, and consequently, the quality of a cappella in the UK. And all on top of a day job, like you say. They work very hard.

    Having only really entered the a cappella scene in the time of VF-UK, I can’t really comment on the quality changes since ICCA, so I’ll take your word for it.

    I agree the Festival is still in its infancy – in a way it would be great for the organisers to read this debate and pick out some ideas to expand the Festival in the future. I for one would love to help out in some capacity one I have graduated and am no longer affiliated with my group.

    You make some excellent points, particularly that music is a matter of opinion. I think a couple of the girls were slightly disillusioned that those opinions SEEM to favour all-male a cappella, but, like I said above, it’s not for me to comment on the judges or the judging criteria of the Festival. You’re right, though, the judges are independent and it would be harmful to their own reputations if they “fixed” the result, and they would gain nothing from it.

  15. Hi Mark!

    As you know, I am an ex-Belles member, and as such I know first-hand and acknowledge that all-female groups are at a disadvantage musically, due to their smaller range in the bass department, which can also make it harder to beatbox bass drum sounds etc effectively. However, I believe that in no way does this hinder their musicality: indeed, all-female groups that can acknowledge their difference and thus work with what they have to the best of their abilities should be highly praised for doing so. Of course I am biased, but I believe the Belles’ version of Run succeeded in doing so last year, and ITP’s award-winning arrangement this year showed that for the correct song choice, the higher vocal range can be extremely effective. Often I see a cappella groups attempting to create a loyal rendition of the song they are covering, when in actual fact I believe it is most important to adapt every song to each individual group, and this should be no different for any type of group.

    Furthermore, I found the suggestion in the comments that perhaps girls should specialise in order to create a more specific USP quite strange, as it is obvious that the boys are not having to do this in any way. If the boys can get away with singing good tunes and (occasionally!) looking good, it doesn’t make sense to ask the girls to do any differenly, if they are enjoying themselves! I love pretty much everything that OOTB, ATKM and TOG do, but they are all doing very similar things, and have been for a while, especially in the case of OOTB. If the girls were to specialise any further, they could only further alienate their audiences, which can often be limited to old ladies and leery men (where are the equivalent of screaming teenage girls for all-girl groups!!??). The fact that other groups were willing to experiment with genre made the competitions more exciting, and the fact that groups weren’t always rewarded for it only saddens me: for example, The Alternotives’ fantastic boogie/funk-based medley based around Jamiroquai, as well as a Gargoyles-like jazz inflection at the end of their Say My Name arrangement; The Accidentals’ fantastic choreo incorporating clapping and stamping (which ITP also utilised this year, often to great effect), as well as their hilarious mash-up of Ride Wit Me and Year 3000 (which showed that girls can indeed be humorous!), The Ultrasounds’ deliberate subversion of the standard slow number which has by most groups come to mean the song in the middle where everyone stands still – The Ultrasounds made theirs humorous whilst still being musical. These examples are not just all-female groups of course – I think that it is important to look at all groups on an equal footing, in the realms in which they can be judged equally.

    I do not believe that BW was in any way being libelous, or meaning any disrespect to those who run VFUK or indeed judge it, but I do think there is indeed perhaps a cultural bias towards the boys’ groups, partly because they are in the public eye, mainly thanks to OOTB’s Britain’s Got Talent appearance (although I believe that Cadenza also took part in a TV talent competition a few years ago?), but also because people (myself included) are predisposed to liking a group that can be attractive to girls, and seem like mates to any guys (bringing me back to my previous point about there being a limited audience for all-girl groups). There is no doubt that all the groups that have made the final this year are worthy of the final, it just seems a shame that they are all so similar, and that if the criteria for getting into the final is to be more like groups such as OOTB and ATKM, it would be welcome if that were more clear – other groups may be pursuing different ideas, and this may be proving unfruitful if the judges have a more specific idea of what good a cappella is.

    I welcome your suggestion that groups should try to explore getting a wider fan-base, although the idea that groups should go on TV shows seems unfair – not only are many people against appearing on these shows, they also have a tendency to be needlessly brutal (having auditioned for the X Factor myself!) which can be damaging to groups’ morale, and do not seem to do a cappella any justice – the vitality of OOTB’s performances needs to be experienced live, I feel, and I think that as a result the TV recording did not do them justice. What’s more, as these shows are constantly searching for something new, now that OOTB have been so successful on the show, it is unlikely that a cappella will be welcome on shows such as BGT, as groups shall be accused of being copycats. However, I believe that many of the groups are indeed finding innovative ways to find a wider audience, and therefore it is important that they remain true to what brought them to a cappella in the first place. The wealth of girl groups shows, to me, that a lot of girls are valuing friendship and togetherness over competitiveness (and I know that a lot of girls feel more comfortable around other girls), which can only be a good thing, whilst not being mutually exclusive. My suggestion for VFUK is that groups are judged on musicality and originality (which can incorporate choreo as well), two things that should not be in any way harder for one group or another, and are two things that should constantly help a cappella to push new boundaries and reach greater heights.

  16. Hi Carys,

    Thanks so much for your views! I think you’re right in the majority of the points you make. I do lament the fact that there does seem to be a higher audience for all-male groups than for their female equivalent, and I personally think it’s a shame that its socially frowned upon for boys to go to a Girls Aloud concert and stand at the front screaming “OMG UR LIKE SOOO HOT! #havemybabies” (forgive me, I am not, nor was I ever, a teenage girl so I’m not entirely sure what is it they scream at One Direction these days…) And it’s also a shame that there seems to be a magic ‘formula’ that works for all-male groups that doesn’t necessarily translate to the all-female style of a cappella – a fact which instantly, and unfairly, puts all-female groups on the back foot.

    You mention that your “suggestion for VFUK is that groups are judged on musicality and originality” – this is supposed to already happen. There are awards for Outstanding Musicality and the rarely (in fact, once) dished out Ward Swingle Award for Originality. I praise groups for attempting this, and am also intrigued as to why this has gone unrewarded, considering VF-UK’s use of such an award and their encouragement of groups to be original. The first time I watched VF-UK in St Andrews, I always thought it made the most sense that the group that gains the most awards should go through to the final, but that’s evidently not the case. While we’re on the subject of that, you can read about what VF-UK said about the judging criteria here:

    http://universityacappellauk.com/2011/11/29/exclusive-interview-with-the-voice-festival-uk-part-1/

    (It’s near the bottom of the article)

    As for going on TV, I wasn’t suggesting every group should do it. I was merely using it as an example. I take your point that if someone tried to follow Out of the Blue on Britain’s Got Talent they might be seen as unoriginal or ‘copycats’, but I bet they’d still do well and still gain a fair few fans out of the experience. But I take your point that it’s not for some people. That Simon Cowell can be a brute.

  17. I’d like to clarify that I have never been to a Girls Aloud concert and been on the front row and screamed that I thought they were really hot.

    There’s still time, though.

  18. Hello again Mark!

    I have been to both JLS concerts and One Direction concerts, and I can confirm that the things that the teenage girls shout out are pretty disgusting.

    I know that I said that originality and musicality should be rewarded – and of course they are in the separate categories, but like you said, it seems that the awards do not seem to correlate to the overall winners, and this is what perhaps needs greater clarification. Although I think it’s good to have separate categories, to me it seems that the groups that would have the most to offer in the finals would be those with great musicality and originality – but as the interview with Tyler shows, it is a fledgling competition that still hasn’t quite pinpointed the judging criteria. I hope that in future finals perhaps musicality and originality will be showcased once again – as I believe was the case last year, with The Accidentals being highly original, and Cadenza being both original and intensely musical.

  19. As a long-gone member of the Belles (I was in the group in the days of Lauren Benstead, Daena Wienand and Jasmine Chin, when we were in both the ICCA and VFUK final, so perhaps I am biased as to the success of female a cappella given the subsequent successes of my fellow alum), I thought I’d throw my two cents, for what it’s worth:

    I agree that female a cappella seems in crisis. I also don’t think that this is a new phenomenon – the vocal range of female a cappella groups has always been a problem, as has the dominance of the “boyband charm” which is so much fun and so widely accepted by the a cappella world. Also, I think that VFUK is a fantastic initiative and that the team does an incredible job, so I don’t want my comments to be perceived as a negative criticism of the festival; these are simply my impressions as to things that VFUK as a body could do to promote all-female a cappella.

    What I think female a cappella groups need, from VFUK in particular, is encouragement. Framing a festival in the terms of a competition made VFUK in keeping with ICCAs, which it replaced and which we all enjoyed competing in. However, while some elements of a competition may be helpful as part of the festival, I think that more focus should be on showcasing the variety of a cappella out there. Instead of the final round being predominantly a competition with workshops preceding it, it might be nice if the competition began with a showcasing of some of the talent that didn’t make it through to the final, but which the audience might enjoy, with some comments from the judges about how what they did was different from what we’re about to see, how it works, etc. One of the down sides of a competition is that a number of groups go away disappointed, feeling that the feedback they received didn’t recognise the hard work and originality that they threw into their performance. In the regional rounds, more encouragement of all-female groups would definitely be appreciated, from what I remember as an audience-member. Ultimately, VFUK is a festival, not a competition, so there could be more focus on the celebratory element rather than the competitive. Who knows, maybe then audience members might be inclined to audition for an all-female group rather than a mixed one…

    One of the problems, I think, (which has been touched on in other people’s comments about boy bands) is that we don’t have a dominant all-female a cappella group out there (we didn’t have a girl group out there, either, until the Spice Girls…). All the more reason for VFUK judges to encourage creativity and difference in the groups – instead of a slick, well-rehearsed, immobile competition set and dance routine, why not more of a “try this” — for all of the groups. Get the boy groups out of their comfort zone; get the girl groups doing vocal percussion in a way they never thought possible. Change their sets – get them to run it backwards – put different chords into their arrangements – I don’t know – something to get people out of their comfort zones of mash-ups and charming smiles and into something edgier which challenges their preconceptions of what “good” a cappella should be. I’m sure we’d get something interesting out of it, and I’m also sure that all-female a cappella could only benefit rather than always feeling like they are merely a response to OOTB and the like.

  20. Hi CRK,

    Thanks for your two cents. All opinions are valid and very much appreciated.

    I think you’re right that this isn’t a new phenomenon, and perhaps it has only really come to light because this is the first blog (in the UK at least) that specifically deals with collegiate a cappella. One of the reasons I set up this blog was to not only bring together all the UK a cappella news so that all members of all groups could see what everyone else was getting up to, but also to increase the reputation of collegiate a cappella in the UK somewhat. I’m not sure how successful I have been with that so far, but I’d like to think I’m making some progress.

    I agree all girl groups need encouragement, and I was trying to do that with this article. Unfortunately, and the blame lies entirely on me, I did end up writing more of a critical article than an encouraging one. However, it has made people stop and think about what they have been doing (which in most cases is a lot more than I previously knew about) and the discussion has got to the stage where we are throwing out ideas as to what can be improved, what can help these all-female groups, and the best way to move on from this point. Which is an entirely positive outcome, and what I had hoped for.

    Your ideas for VF-UK are good, and I hope the opinions here are taken into account for next year, or at least thought through thoroughly. What we mustn’t forget (and has been mentioned before) is that VF-UK is a relatively new endeavour, and so problems are still being ironed out here and there.

    I particularly like your idea of showcasing several other groups at the final – perhaps during the judging period, as it could lead to a rather long night otherwise!

  21. I’m going to do what, according to a lot of this thread, seems to be the unthinkable, and stick up for ‘Out of the Blue’. At no point do they pretend to be the progenitors of the a cappella genre – named as they are after a Yale group, I believe – but British student a cappella owes them a lot, both in terms of publicity and in terms of creativity. I absolutely adore TOG’s ‘Royal Romance’ and the choreo in the new ATKM GaGa arrangement is just stunning – but fundamentally, OOTB got there first with their incredibly witty ‘Poker Face’, which predates the ‘On the Rocks’ arrangement in the USA which they have so often been criticised for ‘copying’.
    I would never go so far as to accuse other groups of copying OOTB, but certainly they seem to have built upon the Oxford boys’ trailblaizing. Take their 2007 arrangement of ‘Mustang Sally’. Although in a totally different context, and used less for illustrative purposes than spectacular ones, there is a hint of this in ‘It’s Reigning Men’. That particular arrangment is still totally fresh, too. Similarly, TOG’s VFUK promotional video features moves which seem pretty much identical to OOTB’s now iconic (perhaps unfairly so, given their BGT exposure) ‘Poker Face’ entry.

    I also think it’s hard not to describe them as original either today. I admit, it would have been nice to see any of the Oxford groups break out of the Fast-slow-fast formula of VFUK set arrangement, but OOTB came closest. Their stripped back middle number is unlike anything seen at VFUK before, and to perform it is both brave and extremely touching, and kudos to them for doing it. Similarly, they’re reguarly producing up to 20 new arrangements a year. That is one hell of an output, and demonstrative of incredible originality and flair.

    At the end of the day, all a cappella in this country is to some extent mimetic. There are very few professionals who don’t also specialise in covers. However, sometimes a cover can unleash the true potential of a song, and this type of singing can really do that – you need only look at the Gargoyles in 2010 to see what I mean.
    Of course, this makes OOTB mimetic too, but in a sense, they were the first to do it, and the creative side of UK a cappella ever since has essentially been led and formed by them. Regardless of whether they are competing with OOTB or performing alongside them in Edinburgh, the other UK A Cappella groups, even if they are arguably as good, must surely recognise that they owe quite a lot to OOTB’s constant efforts to sustain the a cappella scene and take it to new places creatively and commercially.

    As for OOTB alums running VFUK, so do lots of other alums from other groups, and as more groups compete, so more alumni will help out. This will only get broader, more involving, and better.

  22. Hi,

    Thanks for your input!

    I think you make a good point, and OOTB are making the biggest strides in the world of a cappella at the moment, but I think that’s partly because they’re also (one of) the oldest groups.

    Without trying to sound biased, I’d like to think TOG are trying to branch out – while ‘Royal Romance’ could be accused of copying OOTB, I think efforts with the lyrics in particular were what really made the video what it was, and as far as I know OOTB haven’t made a music video specifically for something like YouTube, so they were trying something new, even if it wasn’t necessarily musically fresh.

    In defence of All The King’s Men, they are only a couple of years old, and as such are really finding their own feet in the a cappella world too, and will have almost certainly taken some inspiration from peers – i.e. Out of the Blue. In a few years I’d like to think that they too will have their own identity.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of differences between the three (and Sons of Pitches too) will be seen at the final at the weekend.

    However, I will agree that British a cappella has a lot to owe Out of the Blue. They have, like you say, blazed the way forward, and I think a lot of groups are following in their footsteps rather than creating their own. I’d like to think that will change in the next few years, but with four all-male groups in the final of VF-UK, it’s not exactly encouraging them to change a winning formula, is it?

  23. Here follows another essay on the subject. Sorry, particularly for the history lesson!

    I’ve now seen 8 incarnations of OOTB in the flesh. I think I’ve seen all the other 4 either in video footage or reunion performances. When compared to other groups, with a couple of very notable exceptions, I don’t think they’ve had the best singers. They’ve rarely had the best arrangers.

    However, they have been, every single year, probably the hardest-working and certainly the best-travelled group. Three weeks in the USA pretty much every year, often with three gigs a day, doesn’t just hone your stamina and your group performance. It also means that year on year they see more a cappella than anybody else, whether that be High School, College or Professional.

    At least in my day, OOTB rehearsed far more than any other group, at least three and usually 4 times a week during term-time for 2-3 hours. I’ve never worked as hard in my life than my year on the Committee. This may have changed – though looking at their recent timetable, with a full-length London show, VF-UK and 2 nights of Childish Things in 5 days, I doubt it!! More rehearsals, more busking, more shows, more tours means more experience and more corporate knowledge. No magic formula, just the good-old 10,000 hour rule. It’s no real surprise that Vocal Point and Pitch Slapped are, to my mind, the best American College groups at the moment. Their rehearsal schedules are insane (Vocal Point rehearses every day…) and they enter every competition going.

    99.9% of a cappella is mimetic. Hell, 99.9% of music is mimetic. On that basis it’s hardly a surprise that the Ward Swingle Award is so rarely awarded. OOTB have never made any great claims to originality. It has always been a British group in the mould of an American all-male group. We always very much wore our influences on our sleeves, whether that be the UC Men’s Octet, the Bubs, Vocal Point or whoever. We’d go to great lengths to make sure we played with them on tour, to get DVDs sent over (before Youtube, kids…) and so forth. We even (spoiler alert) ‘borrowed’ a couple of arrangements from US groups. I make no apology for it; we were introducing things to an entirely new audience, who hear something new and enjoy it. That’s what music is about. You should be proud to copy and equally proud when people copy you. But don’t confuse novelty with originality!

    If I were, reluctantly, to make a criticism of the UK scene in general, it would be what I see as a hesitancy to leave a comfort zone and seek external feedback, however brutal. Yes, Youtube now allows music to ‘get out there’ in ways previously impossible. But the Recorded A Cappella Review Board has been around online since 1994. A free service, offering album reviews from three different A Cappella experts, reviewing against a global yardstick and not just your small circle of friends. It should be a no-brainer. But it clearly isn’t. Take a look down the full list of reviews and look for UK groups. http://rarb.org/reviews/ (honourable exception for In the Pink here in 2009 – I remember long conversations with Suzy about it at the time).

    I still remember the feeling I’d been kicked in the guts when RARB reviewed OOTB’s first submission in 2005. “Freefall is not a good album, just barely hanging onto the mediocre label”. But so many problems pointed out, tips to work on. Next year’s album was better; one track got a CARA nomination. More problems pointed out, more things to specifically work on. The one after that was one of RARB’s Picks of 2007. That’s what good feedback does. We should all be feedback junkies (including, of course, VF-UK itself). I really hope that, even if you disagree with some of the specifics in this article, you consider each one carefully before you dismiss it as not applying to you.

    And this is why competition is SO IMPORTANT for groups who really want to improve. I’m entirely convinced that the remarkable emergence of In the Pink at ICCAUK in 2006 (I had them down as winning that show, as it happens) led to the Belles upping their game, and they were absolutely brilliant in 2007 and 2008. Whether or not you agree with the judges, or with Mark, consider the feedback in detail – don’t just dismiss it out of hand.

    Put the hours in. Book the tours. Book the gigs. Learn from other groups. Get feedback from anywhere and everywhere you can. Take it seriously. In VF-UK we now have a brilliant opportunity to get that valuable feedback. Support it!

    • Well put Matt.

      One thing, having followed all the comments is that we all have an appetite for MORE acappella and would love it to flourish and become bigger and better!

      Everyone has a lot of passion for the subject which is great to see. Hopefully this will fuel more discussions going forward and will give help and ideas to the existing groups out there.

      It would be great to have a ‘support network’ for groups to bounce ideas off and might even help other groups get started! There certainly is a lot of knowledge and experience out there, as demonstrated from everyone that has contributed here.. And Matt is correct, criticism has a place too and a lot of groups would benefit from an outside eye helping them.

  24. Hi Mark,

    Just to comment on your original article, I feel that there is a crucial point that you have missed that must be taken into account when considering that these a cappella groups are university based, and not professional. That is, that they are constantly evolving. Take, for example, The Accidentals in St. Andrews, where I attend university. Having qualified for the VF-UK final two years in a row in 2010 and 11, they were invited to be flown to LA to compete in The Sing Off for the 2011/12 competition and to perform on Sky1’s Don’t Stop me Now, both amazing opportunities for the group and female a cappella. However, due to the fact that half of their group was graduating that year, these opportunities could not be taken up as they did not have enough members to go forward. By the time of VF-UK 2012, they had just finalised their last few new members and so were still considering themselves a very new group. However, out of the 6 groups that competed in St Andrews this year, they were still only 1 of 3 to receive an award. They stepped up in terms of adding complex key changes and choreography to their routines, and pushed the boundaries of what other girl groups had done in the past and really held their own against the other mixed and all-male groups. They also have recorded an EP to be released in the next few months and are considering a fringe show. I agree with Matt that the only way to move forward is by gigging and touring, but sometimes it may seem like a group has stepped back when it is simply reforming.

    It IS a fact that female a cappella is at a disadvantage, not only in terms of range and vocal percussion ability (definitely in most cases it has to be said – boys are able to provide the bass so much better) but also it seems from talking to other audience members, comedy value (it is seen as much easier for a boy to prance around on stage and get a laugh immediately!). However I am so proud of all the girl groups who want to take on the challenge!

    To say there is a crisis for all-female a cappella simply based on one VF-UK final seems to be extremely short sighted, and I hope that other all-female groups see this article as a challenge to prove that wrong, rather than a discouragement.

  25. Hi acappellafan,

    While you make a good point, I dispute your logic.

    Yes, so The Accidentals lost half of their group – which would have been, say 5/6 members. I agree that this instantly makes it more difficult to search for that blend and sound that you guys had last year, and also makes it difficult to take part in offers of shows in Los Angeles and London, and I appreciate that. However, let me give you two counter examples.

    All The King’s Men, who ended up winning the competition this year, lost 8 members out of 12, and recruited 9 – see the following link for details: http://universityacappellauk.com/2011/10/21/all-the-kings-men-the-end-of-an-era/ – and were still able to put together a set and a sound that won them the competition. The boys also managed to put together a successful Fringe run and have already toured the East Coast of the US this year.

    Similarly, The Other Guys lost 7 members out of 11, leaving them with just 4 in September. Despite that, those who had graduated stuck around to record a 10-track album and perform at various events over the summer – in fact, I’m pretty sure we didn’t turn any of them down. They then recruited 6 members, and the new group had already performed at the Dunhill Links Golf Championship in September after just one week of rehearsals. They also made it to the final of VF-UK, despite this large turnover.

    I understand the point you’re making, and I agree it is difficult for all groups to keep producing the same quality of music year after year, but I don’t think your point about the reformation of groups having set all-female groups back this year is valid, because, as you can see, two of the finalists had similar, if not worse problems.

    I do agree with your last sentiments though, and I think signs are already appearing – that this article should encourage all-female groups to rise to the challenge, not discourage them, and I think I have already apologised for the harshness of the article. I also want the all-female group to step up to the challenge as, in the end, it will lead to a better standard of music from everyone, which is what we’re all striving for.

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