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Directing Collegiate Acappella: Performance

This is the fourth in a collection of articles, putting together the knowledge I gained while directing the UC San Diego Tritones acappella group. This article describes what I believe is a director's role when it comes to performances.

tl;dr

  • Show Prep
    • Plan for Song Transitions
    • Make sure you have a setlist copy for your sound engineer
  • Don't cup the mic, Try your darndest to make VP not muddy
  • Gameday Rehearsals
  • Expectations

Show Prep

During show prep, you will also be making a setlist.

Please Please PLEASE plan out transitions between songs.

Sets become infinitely more interesting with short vamp sections behind speaking points, and smooth entrances and exits between songs. Keep silence for when it matters.

For your sound engineer, it will make it much easier if you have a setlist including who is soloing, who is vp, who is bass for every song. This should be by mic, so if doing any mic swaps or anything, be aware and speak with them beforehand.

Expectations

I feel like collegiate groups can sometimes weird expectations. Especially, I feel this during ICCA and "competitions". Competitive art is really weird, and you should not approach these kinds of shows any differently. Make sure that you don't prioritize any one audience member over another. Really, your mindset should really just focus on two things:

  1. Make your set fun and engaging for you.
  2. Make your set fun and engaging for your audience.

If you can do these two things, then you are successful!

Technology

Microphone Technique

Basically:

  • Always prefer individual mics; if none are available, try to crowd as many faces into any available mic.
  • Keep any individual mic two fists away from your face.
  • Pull the mic away if you need to be quieter for a short spurt (unless your sound guy is a god and handles everything). If you are primary soloist for a song, probably avoid singing any non-solo parts, since your mic will be hotter.
  • Vocal percussion and bass should have the same mic technique, but if your mixing is... suboptimal... sometimes it helps to bring those mics closer, and work with proximity effect to fill out the mix.

EQ, Compression, and Reverb

If your sound engineer has experience and confidence with vocal percussion and acappella, then you are chilling. Just listen to what they prefer.

If they do not, I'd tell them to start with:

  1. Shelve/limit highs from bass microphone, and boost the mic in general.
  2. Do some kind of smile curve with the vocal percussion microphone. Treat it less like a vocal mic, and more like a drum overhead w/o individual mics. Accentuate the kicks and highs, and have liberal compression.

Adjust from there as necessary. I generally try to avoid artificial reverb wherever I can, just cuz it tends to muddy things up; bad mixing generally ends up with a very midrange-y-sounding experience.