When you receive a lead, the way you communicate with a potential client can mean landing the gig or not. By including the right information and responding quickly, you can greatly increase your chances of being booked.
Some guidelines that have proven helpful for other quartets are:
- Respond as soon as possible- Responding as soon as you can shows the potential client that you’re interested and quick to communicate.
- Send photos and clips – If you receive a request and it’s not clear that the prospective customer is familiar with your group, include links to promo photos, songs or videos which display the capability of your group.
- Ask the right questions- When you receive a lead, ask questions about the audience, the venue, their organization, and what they are hoping to accomplish through the event. If the client does not include a phone number, send a message asking to hear more about what they’re looking for and ask to speak to them directly. The important thing is to start the conversation however possible. After communicating with them or receiving more information, take the time to evaluate what was said to make sure you’re a good fit for their event. With this information in hand, check with the other three members of the quartet and make a decision whether or not to accept the engagement. The quartet contact man may then inform the event of your availability.
- Know your target audience – You won’t always take every lead that comes your way, even if you are all available. It’s important to you that the client gets the outcome he/she is looking for. You may not always be the best fit, and that’s okay! Don’t ignore those leads when they come in, but if after a conversation you realize that you’re not really what they’re looking for, recommend another group if applicable. Work with integrity and the rewards will come. Think long term and not short term. Clients appreciate your honesty. That client will remember you later when they (or a friend) have a gig that is more appropriate for you.
- What to charge – It’s difficult to know how much money your group is worth if you’ve never performed before. However, you’ll be called upon to quote a price at times, so it’s good to gather the following information:
– How much money are similar groups in your area receiving? If there aren’t any, ask a group who used to be at your level, (who is now defunct or commanding higher fees) or a group in another similar region (cities will offer higher paying gigs than rural areas, for example).
– What is their budget? Corporations will usually have more money than non-profit organizations. Individual budgets (weddings, parties) will vary.
– Your best bet, until you get the hang of it, is to ask them to make an offer. If it’s too low, you can easily tell them that you will need more, but if it’s higher than your unspoken asking price, you’ve just saved yourself a bunch of negotiation, and you’re getting a better fee than you intended.
- Stay connected after being booked – After booking an event, stay connected. Set calendar alerts to remind you to reach out to the client a month, a week, and a day prior to the event. Clients want their event to be a huge success so that they look good and this gives them a warm and comfy feeling when you keep in touch! Keeping the communication flowing is part of building a relationship of trust so that clients know they are being heard and can count on you.
- Make sure you say thank you – whether you book the gig or not. When a client has taken the time to reach out to you and engage with you, say thank you. If it’s a gig you wanted but didn’t get, keep the door open by appreciating the fact that they even reached out to you in the first place. Be sure they know that you would love to partner with them or their organization and you hope they’ll consider you for future events. Again, keep thinking long term!
- Coordination and communication – Once the gig is booked you need to keep all members of the quartet aware of the date, time, place, set list, uniform, etc. Use online calendars such as Google Calendar, or develop/customize your own.
Once you receive the order, you need to prepare for the performance. The following checklist is helpful in making sure that all the pertinent information is captured and communicated.
- Point of Contact:
- Performance Date:
- Meeting time for group:
- Departure time for group:
- Setup deadline:
- Performance time:
- Warmup room location:
- Length of set:
- Fee: Invoice needed Payment at gig Pre payment
- Gear needed:
– Mics/wireless mics
– Other Equipment
Building a Set List
A set list is the list of songs in the order that you will be singing them for the performance, plus any planned comments. The goal is to create a set list that has flow—one that takes the audience on a journey. The quickest way to visualize this flow is to picture an hourglass. Trace it from the top down. It starts at the top at its widest point, then narrows gradually to the middle, then expands again to the bottom. Your set list should do the same. It should start with immense energy and presence, then transition to a slower, more subdued pace. After that, it should ramp up to a big finish.
Song selection is a critical element in structuring your performance. Variety and pacing are key elements to the development of a successful performance. The act should develop a sense of dramatic tension and release which leads to a logical climax. When constructing your set, start with a song that defines who you are— one of your best— then slowly increase the variety after establishing your core. Vary tempos and songs with different melody singers, as juxtaposition creates energy and keeps the audience’s attention. And save your best song for last, with one more great song up your sleeve if you get an encore. An example 7 song set might be constructed as follows:
- The opener should be an up-tune that is short, familiar and has a “hello” feeling to it. This will help to establish a good rapport with the audience.
- Another up-tune may be in order to keep the pace lively. Be sure that the second up-tune has a different key and different topic, to provide some variety.
- An easy-beat or swing number provides a change of pace, but be sure that you do not interrupt the toe tapping rhythm that songs such as this provide. A brisk waltz tempo also works well in this spot.
- A solid barbershop ballad helps to change the pace, again, but don’t present too many ballads in your performance.
- A novelty song can be used effectively here. It might be a song with comic lyrics, a parody, or comic actions. It could also be a song that features a voice, a patriotic number, a hymn or gospel tune, or a dance number.
- A medley or another easy-beat song is appropriate here. The medley should have a key change and at least one up-tune as part of it in order to provide variety and interest.
- A closer should be the best up-tune that you have in the repertoire. It should include a rousing tag and some believable staging. Sometimes a strong anthem such as “God Bless America” makes a fitting closer.
Additional guidelines in developing the set list would include:
- Place newer songs that are being performed for the first time in the middle of the set. Always open and close with confidence.
- Don’t forget the venue. If you’re singing for a church event or a retirement home, you’ll want to alter your set to include more songs that are appropriate for that audience.
- Think about programming your music to meet the needs of the people in the audience. Have variety, and see if you can program music that is at least 50% recognizable to your core audience, including some people under 30.
- A variety of music genres including contemporary songs interspersed with gospel, barbershop and parodies – also a mix of ballad and up-tunes. You need to know your audience in order to select the best mix of music. Audiences like to listen to songs they recognize so can hum along or mouth the words.
- Different audiences require different song sets, e.g., church congregations and groups, schools, senior groups, restaurants, etc.
- Leave them wanting more! If your act is too long or poorly paced, your audience will become restless and inattentive. Strive for comments such as, “I wish you could have done one more song!”
Tips for singing to the non-vulgar public – Harmonizer July/August 2016, p 7
Put some Mo in that Show – Harmonizer May/June 2003, pp. 42-46
Successful performance for the Quartet and Chorus
The Art of Performance – Harmonizer March/April 2016, pp 10-15
You’ve spent time rehearsing songs, marketing and networking, responding to leads and developing the set list for that performance. Now it’s important to look at some guidelines that will help make your performance the best it can be from an entertainment value while you are on the stage.
- Audience rapport – It’s important that you have a rapport with your audience. Singing any number of songs back-to-back-to-back without the acknowledgement that there are real people in the audience is going to dampen enthusiasm. For most gigs you should have a few talking points in your show.
- Welcome and/or Introductions – Because you don’t want the energy to die at the start of a show, it’s a good idea to make this quick and possibly do it over a musical vamp.
- Song Introductions – Never just say the song title. Even something as simple as “This next song was the first single from the new Hot Artist album” feels better than “The next song we are going to sing is New Song by Hot Artist.” Another angle on this is to announce more than one song at once: “Our next two songs have something in common. They were both #1 singles in their time, and have appeared on movie soundtracks. The first topped the charts in 1965 and the second in 1995.”
- Thank You – Thank yous are great right before the last song. Each venue has different people that could be thanked – whomever hired you, the sound technician, other groups on the program, the audience, etc.
- Set List – You’ll need a copy of the set list for your performance on stage for the singers to reference. Make sure the paper is large enough to be easily seen and use a Sharpie® or other fat marker to write the titles in large, clear lettering. It could be helpful to write the key of each song next to the title so the pitch-blower has a reference.
- Introduction to the act – Have a short, prepared, written introduction ready for the person who will introduce you. Many times, the host or emcee means well, but is inaccurate or misinformed in the introduction. This eventually reflects on your act in some way. If the introduction is prepared in advance, such problems can be avoided.
- Pitch-taking technique – Taking pitch is necessary for singing, but is not necessarily entertaining. It, too, needs to be rehearsed. The pitch can be taken at a cue word in the spokesman’s introduction or during the applause. In either case, it is not creating a white spot in the performance and the pacing is not interrupted. Pitch-taking should be as unobtrusive as possible.
- Speaker – The role of the speaker is extremely important. The speaker can provide a bit of a breather for the other three singers. There’s no need to be a stand-up comedian to be effective. Humor is good to have, but a steady stream of jokes does not provide variety. Telling a joke just before a ballad can be disastrous to the mood. Like the act itself, the speaker’s material needs to be prepared and rehearsed. The timing of the act depends on smooth transitions between singing and non-singing time. The speaker does not need to introduce every song. Sometimes it is better just to sing. There’s also not necessarily a need to introduce the other members of the quartet, unless there is a good reason to do so. Try to write out everything that will be said and rehearse it so that it becomes natural and believable. Speaking duties might rotate among members of the quartet, which can add variety to the presentation. Of course, you should only place a willing and capable person in the speaking role. Do not force an unwilling or ill-prepared speaker upon your audience just for the sake of having all four speak.
- Variety – Incorporate as much variety as possible into your act. Simple things such as props, a quick costume change, adding a hat or coat, a change of level, choreography, or a change of singing position, can create ample visual variety for the audience. The order of songs, the introductions, the bits that are used, and other shtick can provide forms of variety. Whatever you choose to do, give the audience an act that holds their interest.
- Back-up plan – In every act, something can go wrong. Good entertainers prepare for the unexpected as much as possible. Determine as many things that could go wrong with your act as possible and prepare an alternate plan.
- Encore – Perhaps an encore is not the very best way to finish your act. If you have finished with your best number, how can you top it? Try taking a bow or working in a reprise. A reprise is simply the repeating of a few measures of a song, either the last one or one that was sung earlier in the program. The reprise should be rehearsed and ready if necessary. It should start before the applause dies down completely, in order to preserve the momentum.
The Visual Image
In order for your performance to have maximum impact, all movement should reflect the music. Audiences like confident singers more than perfection, although we strive to provide them with both. The best compliment you can get is, “We loved watching you sing.” This doesn’t mean elaborate choreography or cruise ship banter or Vegas smooth production – it means focused, intense, emotionally engaged singing. If you’re singing about sorrow, express sorrow. If you’re singing about joy, smile! It should be obvious.
Only in a cappella do you have the most expressive human feature— the face— engaged directly with the audience, with each person expressing as themselves. This makes a cappella potentially the most compelling performing art, but only if it is done with a clarity of emotional expression.
In order for every member of the group to project a uniform visual image, they must all support the capsule concept. The capsule concept refers to the underlying message of a given song. When considering the capsule concept, start by trying to complete this sentence: “This song is about ____.” Then try to take the song and distill it down to one emotional keyword. By doing this, you can become truly unified as a group. Perhaps your one-sentence summary is: “This song is about someone who lost a love to another person.” Some of the singers might assume the emotional keyword is sad. Still others might think regret. Others might think jealousy. Maybe someone even thinks rage. There is a difference between sad and regret, just as there is a difference between happiness and anticipation. This might seem like an exercise in subtlety, but the capsule concept will influence every decision in a song. It will most directly affect your visual plan, because the cornerstone of every performance is what is projected on your faces.
Every part of your visual plan should be created with the capsule concept in mind. In addition, every move must have a purpose that is motivated by that concept. If your quartet is merely executing choreography because “Barbershoppers are supposed to do that,” it will always look stilted and flat. Singers who move with purpose in order to express an emotion will always thrill an audience, even when their execution is not perfect. Remember, “ya gotta have heart!” Audiences do not want to be impressed by perfection. They want to be moved. If they get both, then so much the better.
Your song will have accents, echoes, group rests, and other places of brief unity within an otherwise complex texture. A brief hand gesture, body angle change, or movement freeze on such accents can provide extra pop to your performance. In addition to changing body angles, you can sometimes change body levels such as go down on one knee, putting one foot up on a stool or monitor. You will, of course, need wireless microphones to be able to make these types of movements. See the Live Sound section following for more information.
Your performance clothes are also part of your visual image. Have clothes that are just for performance and vary from your street clothes. Use color. People are visual and your show is visual as well as musical. It’s not “vain” or optional. It’s a part of the performance. It shows respect to the audience, and they are, when it comes down to it, your boss for that gig. If you need help with style or fashion or what looks good on you, get an outside opinion from someone you trust. Once you have selected your performance “look”, there are a number of online retailers of performance clothing advertising in The Harmonizer.
In some venues a sound system is critical, and in others it is not needed at all. The checklist in “Getting Gigs” section will help to ask the right questions to understand the audience, room size, and need for a sound system. A quartet just starting out may not be able to justify owning its own live sound system, but having the equipment will help in getting gigs when all the venue has to offer is a podium microphone for a room of 200 people.
Live sound equipment for a quartet typically consists of microphones, mixer, amplifier, speakers, and monitors.
- Microphones – The industry standard, the Shure SM-58, has been used for decades in all genres of music. It is known for its durability and consistency. The Shure SM-58 microphone is certainly a cost-effective place to start. One step above that would be a Shure Beta-58. It will have a better tone and give you a stronger sound than the standard SM- 58. Equivalents of these models in a different brand would be the Sennheiser 835 and 845 respectively. There are also wireless counterparts to these same microphone models that will allow you to have freedom to have staging interest (see The Visual Image section above).
- Mixer – Also called a mixing board or sound board, this equipment is the centerpiece of the sound system. Every microphone on the stage will be connected into this unit and subsequently connected to the amplifiers and speakers as well. The mixing console controls everything from the volume of each individual microphone to the tone of the voice coming through that microphone.
- Amplifier/Speakers/Stands – The speakers are the end of the equipment chain. Generally speaking, there are two classifications of speakers: powered and unpowered. Any speaker has to be powered by an amplifier in order to produce sound. Powered speakers will have the amplifier built-in, which means everything is packed into the same cabinet. Unpowered speakers do not have the amplifier built-in and therefore a separate amplifier must be purchased. The speakers are mounted on stands to provide better sound volume to an audience and connected with cables to the mixer. Speakers must be matched to the power output or the amplifier.
- Monitors – These are speakers that are on stage facing the quartet so they can hear themselves. It’s surprising how little you can hear on stage behind the main speakers if there are no stage monitors. Therefore, monitors are crucial to good blend and tuning. As with main speakers, powered and unpowered models are available for stage monitors. The monitors will be controlled separately from the main speakers so the singers are able to hear their own mix without being affected by the adjustments being made for the audience.
Microphone technique – The positioning of a dynamic microphone such as the Shure SM-58, is important. Position the mic so the head is below but close to the bottom lip (about 1 inch) and the mic is extended up toward your mouth at an angle. This will allow the percussive consonants to pass over the top of the microphone and still allow the microphone to be placed close to the mouth for most benefit.
Purchasing wireless microphones initially will also allow for situation where a venue may have the mixer, amplifier, and speakers, and the quartet just has to plug the wireless microphones into the venue system. This allows for flexibility for different situations as well as an interim solution to a complete sound system. Wireless microphones also make it easier to check out the room during a sound check without having a separate sound person in the audience.
Guidance on live sound equipment can be obtained from other quartets, your church A/V person, and even local colleges with performing arts groups that use live sound systems. Two online retailers that offer advice and equipment are Sweetwater and Musicians Friend.
It is helpful to have a sound person to run the sound system during your performance. Some quartets have been able to teach a trusted individual the fundamentals as an easy way to obtain this expertise without being worried or distracted with sound system issues during the performance.
Recommendations and Lessons Learned
“Play to your specific audience. Entertainment is usually more enjoyable for the audience than singing a terrific performance of unfamiliar songs.” – Habitat 4 Harmony
“Most audiences really appreciate comedy and variety in performances.” – Habitat 4 Harmony
“Mix comedic songs and parodies along with straight up barbershop tunes. Have a ‘theme’ with one song leading to another but don’t be a slave to it.” – The Chordmasters
“Our opinion is that the most important thing for the quartet is to have a good, entertaining product. Each member of the quartet should have an established character that is maintained and portrayed with each performance. Having a theme or a style to follow is a big help!” – Boardwalk
“Start with a toe tapper or two. Get the audience on board then go to the swing tunes and ballads. You have to get their attention and impress them to get them to stay to hear you. Our first set at Vive last year started with traditional barbershop and our wives said the audience wasn’t impressed. The next day, we sang three of those songs in the middle and the audience loved it. Of course, save two or three of your best songs till the end. In a longer show, tell some jokes and interact with each other and the audience. The audience will have fun if you look like you’re having fun.” – 3 Handsome Gentlemen
“We have learned that for most performances singing too many ballads (as fun as they may be to sing) is the kiss of death and you risk rapidly losing a non-barbershop audience. So we follow the rule of several uptunes or novelty tunes for each ballad performed.”- Under the Radar
“We learned a long time ago that performing songs that people recognized went a long way to getting us invited back for subsequent performances.” – Under the Radar
“Audiences want more than just music. One quartet member should come prepared for each performance to speak between songs and build a rapport with the audience. We’ve moved away from telling jokes – we find casual conversational style to work best, and often try to involve other quartet members.” – Sing-Capella
“Do whatever you can to put on the most entertaining show you can; it’s not about what you can do, it’s what you can do for the audience!” – The Newfangled Four
“Make certain that there is adequate sound provided for the size of the audience. Practice every detail including the speaking. Know who is going to do what. Warm up for whatever time fits the quartet. Pay attention to your visual image.” – C Nile Sound
“Be yourselves, maintain a consistent quartet personality, and select music and jokes that work for your quartet personality and are what the audience expects. Leave them wanting more. If we are not physically tired at the end of a performance, we probably haven’t done our best job. Leave it all on stage, have fun, and show it. Enjoy each other, like each other, and show that too.” – Razzmatazz
“Dress better than your audience. Warm up before you get there. Get there early and be flexible. Smile, relax, have fun, and be friendly. Keep your program 40 minutes or less if you can. Put variety in your songs and show. Add what works for you. In our case it’s a fun bass with a great humor. Leave them wanting more, not tired of you.” – Bay Bridge Connection
“Play to your audience. Don’t sing songs that just make you as a singer feel good (i.e. don’t just ‘chord-worship,’) but sing songs that you are able to make your audience understand and allows you to get a message to them.” – Trade Secret
“Sing right through performance errors. The audience very seldom seems to notice.” – Boomerang
“Never ever cancel a performance if at all possible. In 10 years, we have never had to cancel a performance, although we have come close once due to a last minute illness. Canceling a performance will generate an unfavorable review that the whole world can see on GigMasters or GigSalad.” – Smooth Brew
“DO NOT ONLY FOCUS ON CONTEST! Focus on entertainment while continuing to hone your vocal and visual skills. Contest has turned out to be the deal-breaker for most quartets we’ve all participated in over the years. Very few quartets get it.” – Boardwalk
“ENTERTAIN! Keep the audience needs first. Don’t overstay your welcome. Have something to say. Editing and pacing are paramount. Spend as much or more time figuring out your pacing as you do on your singing – understand what you are ‘selling.’ It doesn’t matter how wonderful YOU think you are – it’s always about THEM. Less is more. Be yourself. Be willing to open yourself up to your audience. SHARE.” – Up All Night
“Have a program and manage customer expectations. Know if you will need a sound system or not, and know the area where you will sing to that you can plan the set up and know the acoustics. Know the audience and how that will impact song selection.” – Men in Stripes
“Have plenty of business cards. Have the mobile phone number of the event contact/sponsor for any last minute changes. Arrive 30 minutes before gig … and sometimes you will be just in time.” – Men in Stripes
“Sing to the audience. Bring a smile of recognition, a tear of joy, lips singing along with us, etc. Most of our audiences are not barbershop ’enthusiasts.’ They don’t understand ’ringing‘ the notes or overtones. They just want an entertaining show.” – Summer Time
“Be clear on timing, sound checks, desired length of performance, etc. Meet with the other performers and thank them for the opportunity to be on their show. Stick around after the show to mingle with the audience. Be very clear about sound system requirements/checks. Connecting with audiences in a genuine manner leads to great performances.” – Vocality
“Communicate with the customer often and keep them informed, especially the day before and the day of as you are on your way. The most embarrassing thing that can happen for them is to book you and then have you not show up.” – Smooth Brew
“Always leave your audience wanting more and don’t overstay your welcome. Include your audience in your performance wherever possible. Keep it light and lively, nothing off-color. OBVIOUSLY: it’s absolutely imperative that you KNOW your music and that your repertoire is audience specific – different notes for different folks.” – Reveliers
“Our job is to entertain. The audiences aren’t judges. They always think we’re fantastic and say that they’ve never heard anything like our sound, even though we’re a 70-level quartet and not even the best in our district.” – Fireside
“Have a written plan of which songs, the key, the first word(s) for each performance, and who will speak between songs. Rehearse the entire performance, including the emcee portions and banter.” – Stay Tuned
“As much as we enjoy performing ballads, up-tempo songs work much better in a show. More than two ballads in a 20 – 30 minute package risks putting your audience to sleep.” – Vocal Point
“The main lesson we’ve learned is to have a plan and stick to it. It’s very hard to ad lib successfully unless you’re really experienced.” – Fireside
“Always try to have more uptunes than ballads. Inject humor with tasteful jokes.” – 5th Avenue Quartet
“We have structured our shows in part after a Harmonizer article entitled “Put some MO in that show from the git go” (May/June 2003.) It outlines how to pace a show to ensure that the audience is entertained and rapport building is achieved.” – ‘Round Midnight
“We learned that a great way to connect with an audience is to pace the show well and include some sort of audience participation at some point in the show.” – ‘Round Midnight
“Listen to the audience! If they like what you’re doing they’ll let you know. Keep it moving. Don’t talk between each song. They want you to sing not talk. Comedy/novelty numbers always go over well. Just keep it clean! Everything we do is rated ‘G’!” – Four in Accord
“We have one person who responds to quote requests and then follows through after we get the business to keep the customer informed of our status. Our contact person helps the client select songs and our uniform, and they talk about any particulars of the venue that we need to know. We have a section of our website that documents each upcoming performance with song list, uniform requirements, and logistics.” – Smooth Brew
“When the wheels get shaky and everyone in the quartet can feel the nervousness, you need to trust in the work you’ve put in, trust that the guys will all be there, and crush the gig even if there were a couple misses. Shake off any mistakes. Deliver your songs like they’re brand new, exciting, and scare you a little bit.” – The Regulars Quartet