Rock the Performance: Taking Audition Instruction to the Next Level

Chris Peterson

Every performer will tell you the same thing about the audition process, it's hard. So help of any kind is always needed. 

With this type of demand, there is no shortage of audition classes, programs and websites that will not only provide sheet music but also audition technique instruction. However many of these types of services come at a high cost and don't have customized sheet music you might need for your specific type of audition.

Thankfully, Sheri Sanders has created a site where you can get it all, with Rock the Performance. The only site with sheet music custom cut and arranged specifically to sound fantastic on a piano for a Rock Audition or Performance.  Everything from the 1950s, 60s,70s folk/rock, Disco. 80s, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Hip Hop, Faeries, Country/ Bluegrass are all currently represented on this site. Additionally, you can become a member and receive access to training videos hosted by Sheri herself. 

Sheri Sanders

When providing services like these, you definitely want to learn from someone who has "walked the walk" and Sheri definitely has. She's played roles from Kitty Genovese in The Screams Of Kitty Genovese (NYMF), to Little Becky Two Shoes on the National Tour of Urinetown. Since then she's become the first person to write a book for auditioning for rock musicals. And her students have gone on to great successes in Broadway, touring and regional productions of Rock Of Ages, Wonderland, Sister Act, Mamma Mia!, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, American Idiot, Spring Awakening, Wicked, The Wedding Singer, Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Rent, Shout, Fat Camp, Kinky Boots, Sting's The Last Ship and Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark. 

I had a chance to talk to Sheri about her experiences, inspirations and what Rock the Performance is all about. 

Where did the inspiration for Rock the Performance come from?

"In 2004, I noticed that the climate of Musical Theatre was changing and creative teams were asking people to sing popular music for auditions.  So many singers get this UNBELIEVABLE training in legit Musical Theatre at all these great programs, and they weren’t giving the sound or the “ vibe" they were being asked for.  I sang popular music REALLY well because I am an actor who was raised on radio. So I “put" all the music I had in my ear on some of my legit- trained actor friends, named my class Rock The Audition,  became a Popular Music Repertoire Coach, got a book deal with Hal Leonard, and began introducing popular music into legit Musical Theatre programs all over the country. I reached out to Tony Winning Broadway Producer Hunter Arnold, pitched the idea for a “Rock Web Universe” and Rock The Performance was born!"

How did you get started in this industry?

"I am a legit Musical Theatre performer, I always have been and always will be.  I’m actually a character actress. Thats the funniest part- I am a character actress who also sings and teaches popular music. I dropped out of school and moved to the city when I was 19, joined 2 theatre companies and did about 18 plays and musicals in the dingiest east village theaters. I got my training on the job. I started auditioning professionally and got on the A list VERY quickly. Since college hadn’t "shaped me” in any way- I was pretty appealing- Very free, raw and wild creatively. I also was not “groomed” for the professional world at college- which was tricky to say the least."

What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve seen for someone to overcome in preparing for auditions?

"If you grow up listening to show tunes, that’s how you sing! Many of the Musical Theatre performers I get to work with will first approach a rock song with a legit sensibility. The obstacle that most singers are having to overcome, is that they have to SOUND and FEEL like they listen to popular music. We have to hear popular music on their voices.  And the only way to overcome that obstacle, is to listen to ALL styles of popular music.

 In college, and this is for good reason, actors are put into “types", vocally and physically, and their “track” is identified. They are an “ingenue”, or they are “quirky". Then the roles they could play are identified, the songs they should sing to book those roles are picked and they are beautifully shaped to book lots of work! There is no character "type” in Rock musicals. The character is YOU. So performers who want to succeed in this genre have to interpret this music through their imagination, understand their OWN point of view on the world, and know popular music's place in society."

With the emergence of more popular music styles coming to Broadway, what genres have become the most in demand?

"Well, there’s two. Because of Hamilton, EVERYBODY wants to sing Hip-hop now. So I am in a very serious zone with my arrangers to shape 16 and 32 bar cuts of GREAT Hip-Hop/R&B tunes to audition with for the Rock The Performance Site. 

Also, so many musicals are now asking for popular music, because they ride this very fine line- they are legit musicals with popular music in their language.  For example, The “country/bluegrass” module in my training program covers everything from Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical to The Bridges Of Madison County and Floyd Collins and MANY musicals in between. Floyd Collins and Bridges aren’t  “rock musicals”- but they do have folk, and bluegrass - country influence- in their music. I just saw the Sara Bareilles musical Waitress- and I’d call it  “country/crossover pop/folk”! These musicals all live on the same palette (Even though they are all wildly different!)" 

What are your biggest "No-Nos" when it comes to the audition process?

"It’s very funny, because everyone wants to know what NOT to sing, what songs are overdone. And I have a list like that, you know, "Somebody to Love”,  "Call Me”,  “Gravity". But the biggest No- No... is NOT listening to popular music. The biggest No-No is only listening to Sam Smith, and copying Sam Smith. You think you can hide that you don’t listen to popular music by singing the music of Sara Bareillis,  Adele. etc., But I can hear you honey! I can hear that you don’t have your OWN voice! If you listen to Motown, and Disco, you get soul on your voice. That’s where these singers get their soul from. You can learn to straight tone by listening to 80s Pop/Rock.  All of our favorite Pop artists have their amazing voices BECAUSE they grew up listening to all types of popular music. And we can hear it. And we love it."

Rock The Performance Launches Oct 12 what can we expect to see next?

"My brand new On-Line training program which covers 8 styles: Motown, 70s folk/rock, Disco, 80s pop/rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Hip Hop, Faeries and Country/ Bluegrass. Our pilot class has 7 actors, 6 WHOLE Musical Theatre programs and a private voice studio- all launching our pilot class with me. It’s totally incredible.

We constantly will be adding new content-cut and arranged music, instrumental rehearsal tracks, instructional videos in EVERY style (well be adding Gospel, Jazz and Latin Music as WELL as Hip Hop and Country!)  and exclusive interviews with all of the top industry professionals in the world  discussing Popular music- so you get to hear from the source what it takes to master this most challenging and in-demand genre of Musical Theatre."

I want to thank Sheri for taking some time to talk to me. I've checked out the site myself and I have to say, this is something I really wish was around when I was schlepping it from audition to audition. And for the price, $9.99 a month, you really can't beat that. Definitely worth checking out. 

For more information about Rock the Performance and how to join, visit