Meet Christopher Diaz. Hailing from Newport News, Virginia, Diaz is a singer, songwriter, actor, arranger, and vocal coach for thousands of performers across the world. From humble beginnings at Florida State University, Diaz earned his Bachelor's degree in Vocal Performance and led a cappella powerhouse group, All-Night Yahtzee to ICCA Finals from 2006 - 2008. If you've ever listened to any a cappella compilation albums, then you're probably more than familiar with his work, with his arrangements featured on every major compilation album in the biz. Diaz is a regular at festivals across the world, and served as a vocal coach and arranger for NBC's The Sing-Off. After The Sing-Off, Diaz co-founded a cappella pop sensation, The Exchange, touring in over 25 countries and six different continents, including touring with The Backstreet Boys during their In A World Like This tour. The Exchange went on to become the runners-up of Season 5 of The Sing-Off, culminating in headlining The Sing-Off Live Tour in 2015. Now, post-The Exchange, Diaz continues to perform with Freedom's Boombox, a trio consisting of Diaz and former Exchange members Alfredo Austin and Richard Steighner. We got a chance to talk with Chris about his journey from collegiate a cappella to being a leading a cappella educator today.
How would you describe your transition from collegiate a cappella to being a professional in this community? What skills that you learned in college helped you in your professional career?
My transition from college singing to professional singing was…..frightening, and it was rough, and it was...it didn’t have a shape. It didn’t follow specific path. I had to be creative and open minded and I had to make my own career opportunities. When I was in All Night Yahtzee in college, I couldn’t imagine a world where I didn’t have rehearsal every week, didn’t have the chance to see everyone and sing together. When I graduated, I my exact fear was realized and I had no idea what to do next.
To make my own way, I threw myself into the vocal music aspect. I volunteered for CASA, for SoJam, for Varsity Vocals. I produced events, I judged events, I tried to get my name out there and just tried to be known as having a helpful presence. I made the right impression for the right people and, it worked. I was offered a job on The Sing Off as a third arranger on a team with Ben Bram and Rob Dietz under Deke Sharon. And when I got that call, I mean, I took that without hesitation!
For things with The Exchange, that took a lot of elbow grease, a lot of sleeping on the floor, a lot of doing gigs for “exposure.” To be successful, you have to be willing to sacrifice, and understand that, especially when you start out, people don’t know who you are. You have to be willing to help and to show them what you’re capable of.
To answer your question, the skills you need in a professional setting are the same ones you learn in college anyway - time management, learning to deal with disappointment, learning to be okay with hearing the word no, learning how to work with others. I’d say the biggest difference in the transition is that your skills have to become specialized when you are an artist. The music industry is a big world and you need to be able to find your niche and figure out what makes your sound unique.
How is the transition now from professional vocalist to educator?
I don’t really think of it as a transition, because I’ve always wanted to do all of it. I don’t buy that , in this day and age, in 2017, you can only do one thing, I don’t think we’re only good at one thing. I have a passion and a skill for working with students and young vocalists. They’re smaller and they haven’t had as much time to full their brains with knowledge, but they have all the potential in the world. I’ve always felt an inclination towards teaching, I music directed Yahtzee in college and did the same for the exchange. When I’m asked why I chose music as a vehicle..it’s because music isn’t just a universal language, it’s a universal tool. People will say, well, how does art teach you to balance a checkbook or grow food and survive?
Music illuminates the human condition. It allows me to break down barriers with people where there would be self-doubt, or insecurity, and opens them up to new things they’ve never experienced before.
The Exchange, after all of our touring around the world, decided we needed time to continue to create and grow as artists, but we needed something that was a different pace. When Miami Valley called me and offered me this new role as an educator, it just seemed like a natural fit. With The Exchange, we always preached that It can all be wrapped in together. We don’t just perform, we educate, we empower, we want to make an impact.
What was the inspiration for your interest in vocal music?
I didn’t grow up as a studied musician, I played trumpet when I was younger and tried to learn french horn, but at that time, that was way too hard. I told myself “enough with the brass, you need to find something different.”. In high school I taught myself to play baritone horn because I wanted to hang out with my friend in the marching band. Honestly, I never considered myself a singer - I stumbled upon vocal music when my choir teacher said “hey that sounds nice, come join us.”
It was really in college that I became enamored with the power of the voice. I felt a direct connection to the human element of singing. When you get to share a musical space, it’s vulnerable, it’s spontaneous, it has a unique spark and an energy to it.
I’m a big adrenaline junkie, I love roller coasters and scary movies, and I was junkie for that feeling. I felt it after my first rehearsal with Yahtzee, and I became enamored with that feeling of chords locking and creating something purely human. Making something out of nothing. I guess this is all a long-winded way to say that, I really like people, and music is a really quick and great way to connect with people.
If you wanna see more of Christopher's work, come to SoJam XV! Freedom's Boombox will be performing on October 27th at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, North Carolina, along with the six Scholastic Competition competitors, followed by Take 6 and ARORA on Saturday the 28th. You don't wanna miss out on one of the hottest weekends in a cappella. For more information and tickets, head over to http://sojam.net/. Check back in a couple weeks for the next installment of Humans of A Cappella.
Interview provided by AJ Marino of The Vocal Company. Biographical information sourced from http://www.heychristopher.com/.