Deke’s Corner: It’s the Most Lucrative Time of the Year!

Seasons come and go, fads fall out of favor, but there’s one thing that never changes in vocal music: December is the month in which groups make the most money.

Everyone wants to hear vocal music over the holidays. As a result, pretty much every professional a cappella group’s most successful album is their holiday album, and groups make a significant percentage of their annual income performing right up to Christmas. For a group like Straight No Chaser, they start performing in the fall and go right up to New Years with very few days off. Chanticleer blankets the California coast like a summer fog. Symphony choruses and community choirs find their concert seats filled with people they only see once a year. Even individual singers who aren’t in a specific group can book caroling gigs right up through the 24th and make good money (warning: Dickens costume may be a prerequisite).

Yes, they grow tired of Jingle Bells, but the loud jingling of cash in their pocket on January 1 keeps them coming back year after year without fail.

So, if this is the case for so many groups, why not collegiate a cappella? Well, the school year is very inconveniently aligned, with reading period then exams eating up the first couple weeks of the month, and then students eagerly fly home to fill their bellies and empty their laundry baskets til the new year. However, this doesn’t mean there’s no way a collegiate a cappella ensemble can capitalize on this annual cash bonanza:

Know your market: some regions want religious music, others will find you more bookable if you sing either a range of traditions of keep the music non-religious.

  • Make sure your group has enough holiday music to fill a set (30-45 minutes), and remember that holiday songs tend to be short. Upside: so many carolers hold music folders that memory isn’t usually required (although any soloists should be out of sheet music and interacting with the crowd)
  • Contact as many venues as possible, from your college’s events department to the local mall. It will take a little effort initially as they don’t think of your group as a holiday option, but once they do you’ll get offers annually.
  • Make sure you set aside the right time windows. Most gigs will happen in the evenings and weekends, so you should be able to work around classes and exams.
  • Consider breaking into smaller ensembles (quartets are the most popular configuration) so that you can divide and conquer, and perhaps continue performing right up to the holidays (some students are local, so if you can field enough singers, you can keep singing even after the campus is closed).

And lest you think this effort is short-lived, let me remind you that Straight No Chaser was signed to Atlantic Records a decade after they all graduated, thanks to a performance video that was uploaded to YouTube. No one can possibly guarantee that kind of success, but there are benefits far beyond the gig fees you make, as you can make a holiday album that becomes an annual income source, and your reputation will spread throughout the region, garnering new fans for your concerts during the rest of the year.

– Deke