If you want to get the lead in a musical or book that weekly paying gig at a local club or make some decent money for a special event, you need to have an impressive audition. The following advice, though mainly focused on musical theatre, offers strategies for preparation and song selection that will help you make a persuasive impression and become a more versatile performer.
Choices + Voices
When auditioning for a musical theatre production, you may be asked to choose songs that are from a specific show or season of shows from the venue. In some cases you may be directed to not choose your songs outside of the show or season you’re auditioning for.
It’s important to be familiar with the show or season of shows for which you’re auditioning. You want the material you choose to showcase your vocal strengths and acting ability so that it lines up with characters that you’re most likely to be in the running for.
Look for songs that reflect key emotions and strengths that are yours as a performer and also happen to reflect strengths and emotions of the character or characters you hope to play.
Generally speaking you will not likely audition for special events or a specific club or venue. It’s usually handled through agencies, word of mouth, or your demo CD. If a live audition is requested or if auditioning for an agent, your material must present themes, emotions, and types of stories that are part of your image and signature sound.
If a potential gig does not line up with what you believe in or stand for, you need to rethink your material or the audition. If it’s a one-time gig, and you need the money and feel you can give an entertaining, rewarding, quality performance; then proceed.
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Fast + Slow
Typically you’ll be asked to prepare one ballad and one up-tempo song. So, it’s wise to create a varied repertoire of audition material that you feel strongly about, provides a good vocal and emotional workout, and gives you options for auditions down the road.
This gives you something to pull from that you’re already familiar and comfortable with. This will help you avoid battles with confidence or being thrown off due to last minute scrambling or rushing to prepare.
The pieces you choose should reflect variety in story or situation, emotional feel, type of character, and vocal range. You don’t want both songs to sound too much alike or have the same feel. Again, you want to show off your strengths, range, and interpretive skills as a singer and actor.
Singer = Storyteller
Your technical skills will fall flat if you don’t know the character that is telling the story through each song. If you don’t know why the song is being sung, the director or casting team will sense that right away.
So, make sure you know as much as possible about the story of the musical from which your piece is chosen. Know the character singing the song and why they’re singing it. Then, sing it from their perspective. Knowing the message behind the song applies to any singer situation in an audition.
In the process of preparing for your audition, read your song and act it out periodically to reinforce your intellectual and emotional understanding of the words. Ask yourself, why is he or she saying this, and who are they saying to you. Then, sing it for those reasons you’ve discovered and for the person or source that is to receive it.
Relate + Connect
If there’s something in the song that you don’t understand, don’t relate well to, or don’t quite connect with, it’s not your best choice for an upcoming audition. So, set that song aside and work on it down the road. You want to choose material that you understand, can relate to, and can sing freely from a knowing heart. This applies to humor, pathos, deep sorrow – whatever the feeling and the reasons behind the feeling – you have to understand and connect, or any lapse or gaps in those areas will be communicated.
Musical theatre tells a story. So you must relate to and connect with the story. Again you can have killer pipes and a staggering, jaw-dropping range, but if you don’t understand what you’re singing or the point of the song in the story of the show, you’ll likely not get the part.
Variety + Range
Finally, when selecting your material, make sure that the songs you choose show variety in your acting ability and personality so that you don’t come off as one dimensional.
If a live audition is required for the venue gig or special event, choose material that reflects a wide range of experiences, stories, tempo, and emotions. Depending on the venue or event, you may need a mix of attention grabbers as well as tunes that play more as backing tracks, like a film score.
So, do not choose a song to sing if you can’t relate to it or simply don’t understand it. It’s not good enough that it shows off your range or is a show-stopper if you stop short of knowing what the song is about.
Also, do not pick songs that you don’t like or they rub you the wrong way. You want to sing with conviction and connection. If you’re fighting through a song you don’t like, that will show.
In some cases it can create a duplicity that can sway some directors because it reads as inner conflict, a character struggling with belief or trying to be convinced of a feeling or cause or motivation. That’s a great discovery moment for rehearsal, but it’s not worth risking in an audition.
Simple Is Strongest
If a song is out of your range or too complex musically, you can keep it in mind to work on, but do not attempt it at an audition until you have fully mastered its complexities and challenges.
Obviously, if it’s a case of the key it’s in, it can be adjusted. But understand that if you want the piece to start off higher, all other parts that might threaten to test your range will also be higher. That sounds obvious, but far too often it’s overlooked or not considered to be a big deal. It is.
Many times a singer will choose a song because of its complexity and how it can showcase their technique as a vocalist. Do not choose songs that shift the attention to technique and pull the focus away from you as a performer and storyteller. Put the story first and use technique for instinctual support.
Avoid songs that may be too tough for an accompanist to follow when sight reading. You don’t want anything that might throw them off tempo or shake the feel of the piece you’re singing. If the accompanist is off, it will likely throw you off.
Your focus needs to be on communicating the heart and purpose of the story of the song you’re singing. You can’t do that if you’re thinking things like, what the heck is he doing, should I stop, am I flat, and so on. Also make sure that the song can readily be cut into eight-bar and 16-bar sections that will allow for a sufficient showcase of your acting and singing.
As a general rule, avoid doing songs that are too recognizable or too overdone. You don’t want to sing something that’s so strongly associated with a specific singer or performance so that those you audition for are thinking about that version. Unless you’re doing a unique spin on that song, look for other pieces from that show that aren’t as well known, as long as the song reflects your singing and acting strengths.
You also want to avoid singing something that is so overdone that a listener tends to tune it out because they’ve heard it so much. However, you can risk it if you’re confident you’re presenting a powerful, unique spin on the song.
Original Material Is A Stretch
If you’re thinking about doing original songs for the audition, check first to make sure that’s allowed. You can then tailor your songs to specific characters or situation in shows that you’re auditioning for. But, it better be amazing, or you’ll be dismissed.
If your audition is for an event or club gig, make sure any original material is in line with their needs and expectations. Many venues will want a mix of cover tunes and originals with an emphasis on covers. But, it depends on the venue or event. So, do your homework.
Evoke Don’t Emote
Here’s one last note that many actors tend to disagree with, but it bears mentioning. You want the songs you sing to convey and hopefully stir emotion, but you don’t want a song to be so emotional for you that you can’t get through it.
Too much anger, angst, or tears can become a distraction and will ultimately work against the meaning of the song and negatively impact the listener’s perception of the quality of your performance.
For singers (and bands) looking for special event and venue gigs, this advice will help you hone your communication skills, connection with the material you sing, and have a greater emotional impact on your audience.
The bottom line is connection – with the song, with its story, and with your audience. That connection is the heart of any successful audition or performance.