Finding and Qualifying Members
Potential members for your quartet can be found in the local barbershop chorus, from Singing Valentines quartets, at novice quartet competitions, and in church or community choirs. Many quartets have been formed by four members getting together and singing tags after chorus practice.
If you want to join or form a quartet, let local chorus directors know what you are doing. Contact other local quartets and let local community choruses or other groups know as well. Talk to district and division officers as they can help you network. Quartet Matchup and Find a Quartet are two online resources for those looking for members and those looking to join a quartet.
If you’re joining a quartet or seeking quartet members, be prepared to thoroughly discuss needs, desires, priorities, direction, and expectations, including quartet vision (social versus performance versus contest, etc.). There is more about this in the Quartet Agreement section below.
Over time, many quartets will find a need to replace a member due to illness, retirement, job relocation, loss of interest, etc. Replacements for these members can be found from these same sources as original members. When replacing a member, all existing members should have veto power in selecting the replacement.
An audition is helpful in determining singing skill for members forming a new group as well as for replacement members. Although most quartets may just focus on blend, other areas will help the quartet identify strengths and weaknesses of each member which are important to the continued growth and capability of the quartet.
- A cappella is demanding, and quartet members need to be able to sing complex passages in tune and stand on their own without being thrown off by other singers. Some good tests for the prospective member are:
- Playing complex patterns or intervals and have the prospect sing them back
- Repeating difficult rhythms
- Matching vowel sounds and vocal patterns
- Singing the same musical phrase starting on different pitches
- Having the ear to effectively listen to other singers or to blend their part in is very important in close-harmony singing. Some good tests are to play three notes on a keyboard (start with simple chords, and work your way to more complex combinations of notes) and have the singer listen and sing the missing one.
- Have the singer do a little sight reading for you by simply looking at the music. If this kind of sight singing doesn’t work, you can move on to see how quickly the person can learn by ear by playing or singing the part once, and then having him sing it back.
- Sing a Barberpolecat or other simple song with the new member singing their part and the other quartet members singing their parts. Listen for the ability to blend in with your voices, compensating pitch, timbre, and volume to match. Also make sure this person can maintain their part and won’t drift onto one of the other parts.
Roles and Relationships
A barbershop group is a combination of three things: a creative ensemble, a business, and a family. There are important things you should take into consideration when forming a quartet to address each of these three areas. Certainly picking members who can sing their parts independently is a priority. However, the two other important things to remember are finding three friends who share similar goals with you, and who enjoy sharing the many hours together of rehearsals and performances throughout your tenure as a quartet.
Because of the intimacy involved in being part of a barbershop quartet, extra tolerance and understanding are often needed. There will be times when nerves become frayed and tempers flare. When this occurs, it should be quickly addressed, resolved, forgotten, apologies made and good relations (and good singing) resumed.
Also consider one more role: the part your family plays in your quartet career. As we all know, your quartet and other barbershop activities require time. If you have a spouse and/or children, they are surely making sacrifices for your quartetting. Be aware of this fact and let them know how much you appreciate what they are doing to support you in your barbershopping. You may wish to include them in barbershop activities that they would enjoy. Family resistance to quartetting can cause complications. These are best dealt with as diplomatically as possible. If your family members do support your quartet involvement, you are doubly blessed.
Celebrate your achievements and successes. Enjoy each other’s company when together. Share your music with those less fortunate than you. A cappella music has a strange, ineffable ability to strike a deep chord within people (those who sing as well as those who listen), and you should never forget how great this feels, and how wonderful it is to share with others.
As your quartet learns and gains experience, its workings will become more complex. There are many duties to be performed in a quartet, which, if sensibly distributed, make the administrative tasks much easier. Every group is different, as the individuals in that group combine to make up a unique dynamic. However, all groups are common in that they need a division of responsibility and leadership. Who runs rehearsals? Who takes calls from interested gig opportunities? Who handles the finances? Whether your group will be run as a democracy with shared responsibility or a benevolent dictatorship with one or two people doing all the work behind the scenes, make sure the responsibilities are clearly spelled out and understood by all.
The following is a list of possible roles to be filled by the quartet personnel: contact person, treasurer, uniform person, music arranger, music librarian, show producer, show spokesperson, marketing person, and live sound/recording person. Be sure to consider what roles your group needs, and even who is appropriate for those roles, before creating and filling those positions. Allow the specific individuals in your group to dictate what roles should exist and who should fill them.
As an example, the quartet Smooth Brew has allocated the following roles in the quartet based on interest as well as ability:
- Website and marketing material – build and maintain the web site and Facebook; develop and print business cards, flyers and posters
- Quotes and performance coordination – respond to all quote requests and coordinate with the patron on performance details
- Music learning tracks – put sheet music into Finale to generate learning tracks when learning tracks are not available
- Recording and Live Sound – record rehearsals; develop song snippets for the web site; set up and run the sound equipment for performances as well as work with onsite sound person for venues that provide sound
- Rehearsal admin – develop agenda for rehearsals and provide notes from rehearsals; maintain music library
- Rehearsal leader – lead the warm-up and the performance rehearsal
- Finance – file for necessary tax ID, set up and maintain a bank account; process patron payment invoices and payments; distribute shared profits; take care of income tax filing issues
Legal Organizational Structures
The type of formal organization will depend on your quartet’s degree of singing activity, among other factors. Types of organizations to consider are sole proprietorship, partnership, or Limited Liability Corporation. Many quartets start out with setting up a sole proprietorship with tax ID number. A tax ID number is helpful as an IRS form W-9 (certification of taxpayer identification number) is required by many institutions in order to process payment. An Assumed Name is required for the tax ID application. You will need to file for an Assumed Name Certificate (also referred to as filing a DBA, i.e., Doing Business As) with the local county clerk at the county courthouse of your quartet mailing address. Call or visit your county clerk for the appropriate forms.
As the quartet grows, a more formal organization can be considered and structured. Should you decide on some form of formal organization, you will need advice from a tax professional.
As a performing quartet, you will be receiving and disbursing monies. These monies are taxable income on your federal income tax return according to Internal Revenue Service regulations. The quartet should set up an appropriate bank account and record keeping system to handle this matter. If an Assumed Name has been filed, the bank account should be opened for the Assumed Name.
The simplest approach is to set up your record-keeping system to handle a cash-basis accounting method. This approach identifies only income and expense items. Income items could include performance fees, travel expense fees, recording income and miscellaneous income. Fixed assets—for example, sound equipment—are considered an expense in the year the disbursement is made. For more specific advice, contact an accountant or local IRS office.
Remember that all monies you receive directly or indirectly are reportable as income to the quartet. Of course, the expenses the quartet incurs are reductions to that income. Any net profit or loss needs to be accounted for through the appropriate income tax channels. For more specific advice, contact an accountant or local IRS office.
In addition to a bank account, a Paypal account in the name of the quartet is also helpful as some customers prefer paying online with a credit card rather than by check.
The quartet can deduct expenses from the income received. Expense items could include:
- Uniforms—both the purchase and maintenance of uniforms
- Music—purchasing sheet music, arranging and coaching fees
- Travel—the cost of arriving at a singing location and returning home, any overnight lodging and meals that are necessary for you to be in this location for the period of time your services are required
- Advertising—any advertising or promotion, whether done through district publications, The Harmonizer or other media. This includes purchase of quartet business cards
- Schools and clinics—the cost of attending clinics or coaching schools either as a quartet or individually
- Office—registration fees, postage, telephone, stationery, mailing or similar expenses
- Props/Scenery—expense for materials associated with the enhancement of the quartet performance
- Recordings—expense incurred in production and sale of recordings
Remember to always consult your tax advisor or accountant on tax or financial matters.
A barbershop a cappella group is a combination of three things: a creative ensemble, a business, and a family. In order to maintain harmony with all three aspects, all quartets should consider some form of agreement that is a consensus between the members.
After a discussion of each individual’s personal views, the quartet should attempt to reach a consensus on each of the following areas in the quartet agreement. Each singer should then set aside individual desires and commit to support the consensus for the specified term of the agreement. This approach will permit a framework for the quartet to operate as a unified group and function with a minimum of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
- Do we all want to sing in a barbershop quartet of some kind?
- If sound were the only consideration, are we satisfied enough to make this group a quartet?
- In what type of quartet are we each interested in singing? Show? Comedy? Fun? Semi-professional? Other, or some combination of the above?
- What are our individual goals for quartetting?
- What kind of quartet image do we want to project?
- How much time do we want to devote to quartetting? Rehearsal? Performance? Combined rehearsal and performance?
- What days and times could we rehearse and/or perform?
- Where can we rehearse that is mutually agreeable?
- How long should our rehearsals be?
- Will our personal commitments (family, church, work, school, social activities, etc.) permit this schedule?
- What level of interest and support do we anticipate and/or desire from our families, spouses and significant others?
- Are we aware of any potential compatibility problems involving quartet members, spouses, families, and significant others?
- Do we want to use a coach (or coaches)? Paid? Unpaid? Reimburse for expenses?
- What kind of coach do we want? Specialist(s)? A single coach?
- How often should we have a coach at rehearsals?
- Should we take individual voice lessons? How long? Reimbursed by quartet or individually financed?
- Can we take constructive criticism?
- What will be our relationship to the Barbershop Harmony Society and to our chapter(s), individually and as a quartet?
- What kind of performances do we want? – Paid, free or expenses only for: Our own chapter show(s)? Other performances of our chapter(s)? Other chapter shows? Charitable organizations / churches? Profit-making organizations?
- How much should we charge for our performances? Flat fee? Expenses plus fee? Expenses only?
- How should we handle our finances? Business Manager? (External or internal?) Quartet checking and/or savings account?
- Financial dissolution – what will the arrangements be if one or more members leave the quartet?
- Who owns the name?
- How are profits paid? (How often and in what format)
- Are departing members responsible for gigs and commitments agreed to before their departure was announced?
- Will everyone be paid equally, or do certain members get more money for executing certain duties?
- How should we select our uniforms/costumes? By mutual consent, or by one individual?
- Uniforms to be used for performance only, or is personal use permitted? Street clothes or stage outfits?
- What should be the split of responsibilities within the quartet? (i.e. contact person, treasurer, uniform person, music arranger, music librarian, show producer, show spokesperson, marketing person, live sound/recording person, and/or others)
- How will disputes within the quartet be settled? One of us? Coach? Another third party? Simple majority?
- Are there any personal traits that may cause problems? Health/drugs? Drinking? Smoking? Profanity/Vulgarity? Religious Beliefs? Temper?
- Do we have any personal hang-ups about the quartet? About each other?
- Can we become friends and show consideration toward one another’s needs and problems?
- Will our spouses, families, or significant others be included in our quartet activities and to what extent?
- What will be the length of our commitment to this Agreement before we reopen the discussion to form a new consensus?
- Is there anything else we should discuss that this Agreement does not cover?
Recommendations and Lessons Learned
“Practice with singers after chorus. Start with chorus songs and get used to holding your own part without a section. Work on locking and ringing, then ask them if they want to be in a quartet with you.” – 3 Handsome Gentlemen
“Find four compatible singers. Be very free with constructive criticism of one another and always accept it in good humor. Don’t take yourselves too seriously…but always strive to sing as well as possible.” – Boomerang
“Stay in the game, come prepared, learn from each other, and be willing to talk openly with each other about group and individual goals as well as issues of frustration.” – Slice
“Our advice would be not to look for ‘gold medalist‘ quality singers right now. Find people you can grow and learn with and the rest will come.” – Gimme Four
“We have had to replace our baritone three times due to a retirement, health issues, and other interests. It has taken six to eight months of no performances until the new person has learned enough of the repertoire to do performances again. This will happen – just deal with it and don’t fold the quartet.” – Smooth Brew
“Do not give up on a quartet too early. It takes about a year for our voices to automatically match well. I have been in quartets where a member quits after less than two months and that is not enough time.” – Sound Encounter
“Two chorus members discussed the desire to put together a ’chorus‘ quartet. Initial discussions centered on personnel personalities, perceived commitment to music, a willingness and commitment to work on quartet music, and availability/flexibility. Several names were discussed and contacted with a couple of individuals declining interest initially. (Vocal and ‘part’ flexibility was considered.) We were familiar with the vocal skills of those who eventually joined the quartet. Obviously, before the “official” assembling and naming of the quartet occurred, and after several meetings identifying quartet vision, quartet hopes and desires were clearly understood. (Vision included individual preferences, music, style, etc.)” – Reveliers
“Just try it and wait for success to come. It probably took The Four Old Parts a year to establish a blend and to acquire enough repertoire to take our show on the road. But from the beginning we’ve had a great time being together and singing together and learning together. The camaraderie is a big part of the whole thing.” – Four Old Parts
“Singing in a quartet greatly enhances choral sound. In a quartet, you learn to listen, blend, and match the remaining components of the group. You tend to learn songs better because you have no others to ‘lean’ on. You not only have to carry your part but you must ‘sell’ the song – you cannot rely on others. Confidence is gained as experiences grow. Individual coaching, primarily with the other quartet members, is given and received. Individual attention can and should be rendered and received. Your ‘tool,’ the voice, improves with practice and frequent singing, helping to improve the chorus experience. Dueting, trioing, individually listening, singing and coaching other members of the quartet all contribute to increased skill sets.” – Reveliers
“Start somewhere and find three singers who can sing their parts and are all willing to work hard and contribute to constant improvement. After that, get along with your members. Things change and roll with it. Keep it moving forward and be willing to accept criticism. In fact, welcome it.” – Stay Tuned
“Sing with people you enjoy singing with. Sing with your friends and it will always be fun. DO NOT let contest score and placement define you or threaten to break you up. Be open to criticism and implement the advice you can use. Sing wherever you get invited. The weirder it is, the more memorable it is! Attend local and national Harmony College/University events to learn how to keep improving. Don’t be afraid to take a chance if you have a vision.” – ‘Round Midnight