I need an audition song!

(Joshua McKerrow)

(Joshua McKerrow)

Matt Whalen

We’ve all had that thought come in our head, right? An audition comes up and our standard “go-to” songs aren’t going to work, or they’re asking for something specific that you just don’t have. Time to freak out and cancel your audition...just kidding.

Hopefully this blog will help. As I’m thinking about auditioning for a few things and trying to figure out audition material, I thought I would jot down some of my thoughts.  These are things I’ve learned over the years through success and more importantly, failure in picking songs. Hope it helps!

A piece of general advice: make sure your first step is to make sure you've practiced it with an accompanist/voice teacher etc. You need to know if it’s really difficult to play, if what you have in your mind as the intro actually matches what’s on the page, how to explain the tempo to the accompanist so you sound like you know what you’re talking about. If you don’t know, ask someone who accompanies auditions, and ask them if anything needs to be written on the page that would be helpful for a sight reader. Preparation is the key to doing well and not sweating the small details.

Show what you do

First and foremost, an audition is about showing who you are and what you do. Take some time to reflect on what you excel at as a performer. Find material that give you the opportunity to show off those attributes. Also, pick material that you can sing..

-in your sleep

-if you’re sick

-if you’re nervous

-something that shows you at your best and what you can do without added anxiety.

Let’s face it: you’re going to get thrown off in the moment, and you don’t need that extra stress of a high note that you don’t know if you have that day or not.

Again, do what you excel at. An audition song is great if it’s a reflection on who you are, especially if you’re being seen for the first time.

Who are you? Not, who do you want your type to be, or who you think yousound like, or look like, or what parts you think you’d be good at, but who are YOU? Are you funny? Reserved? Out there? Sensitive? What can you do to have an opportunity to sing your truth? What is your “personal brand” as a performer? What are the strong attributes that you have that are in demand? (maybe more on this later)

What category would you classify the show?

A good place to start is looking at the show and what category it falls under. When was it written? Who wrote it? What’s their style of music? If you’re auditioning for Ragtime or Secret Garden, even though they were written in the 90’s, you’re going to need something on the more “legit” side of things. If you’re auditioning for something more pop/rock/folk etc, you may be asked to not even sing from a musical, so you will want to have some things from the radio that you can pull together or refine and have ready to go. Another tip would be have a popular song from each decade on hand, just in case that would be the thing to sing.

How does it feel?

Something I do is sing through some of the songs from the show for which I’m auditioning, and pay attention to how it feels to sing that song. How am I singing it? Where does it sit in my voice? What color would I name this song? Is more “talky”, or very legato? What’s the high/low note? How would I describe it stylistically? Then when I’ve thought of that, it’s time to reflect: what songs do I know that match these things? They could be from completely different genres, time periods, characters, but if they feel similar, it may be a good choice. If you can have the character they’re casting ringing in their ears when you are singing, all the better. If it’s not what they’re looking for, at least you’re confidently bringing to the table your stamp on how you could perform it.

Words, Words, Words

Think about the character(s) you’re auditioning for, and what they are going through. What other characters have had similar issues/problems/goals in life? This could also include listening to the words of a song, and if it’s completely a different character, even a different gender than who you’re going for, and the words fit, go ahead and use it. Also, make sure the song is active, and you’re trying to do something with your words. Something you can do is assign verbs to each phrase or verse. What are you trying to accomplish? (ex: Charm, intimidate, inspire, comfort etc) Focusing on those and the why these words need to be sung is another way to get yourself out of your head when the moment to sing comes.

One Last Time

A good way to get a gut reaction from yourself would be to ask “If today was my last day on Earth, and I had 1 more song to sing? What would it be?” It’s kind of a downer question, but if you have seen the movie “Walk the Line”, and that scene where Johnny Cash goes into sing for Sam Phillips, he asks him the same question…and it’s a valid one! What song is very important to you? Whatever it is, it warrants being heard. The people sitting behind the table deserve to hear YOU sing it. So, if you find yourself stuck, and don’t know how to best represent yourself, that song might be it.

I hope my ramblings are helpful. After reading some of these tips, were any of them things you haven’t thought of? What’s something that you do that has worked out well? Let me know!