Picking a song for an audition can be the most difficult step of your preparation, and since you can’t do much until you have one you can lose a lot of time trying to decide. Ultimately, this song choice can be a huge part of how you are viewed in the room so you want to make sure you make a good decision. This choice should be about displaying your ability and that you can do the job you are applying for. Choosing an audition song is a different game to choosing a performance song for a concert or cabaret. So for me, I like to check that the song I am choosing will give me the best shot at showing what I’ve got to offer. I’ve picked up some tips over the years from experience in auditioning and from courses and workshops I’ve been involved with and I’ve compiled them below into a checklist of things I look for in a song before taking it to an audition.
For a more in depth breakdown of selection from an audition brief feel free to check out my previous post on Choosing An Audition Song.
Okay here we go:
- Does this song fit the audition brief? If the answer is no already then start again before going any further. Make sure you read your audition brief and see what they want. It can be hard sometimes to know if something completely fits but you will certainly know if it doesn’t. If you are auditioning for a musical and they want something “in the style of the show” the top 40 countdown is probably off limits. At the very least follow all your descriptors and song lengths etc. If they want under 2 minutes be under 2 minutes. If they want a ballad give them a ballad. This isn’t the place to surprise the panel. If you are having some difficulty figuring out the style of the show some research and questions to peers and teachers is usually a big help. I would also check here if they ask for a song FROM the show. If they do not then probably best to pick something NOT from the show as it tends to either make assumption of their casting or make you fall into the crowd along with everyone else (and drive the panel crazy from repetition of music). This said I would always be at least familiar with the songs of the show (personally I will learn the songs of the character I am applying for in case I get a call back or am asked to cold read on the day).
- Does this song display what I can do? The first part of this of course is knowing what you can do and what you want to show. What makes you special and most importantly right for this role/show? Do you have a great range? Are you an excellent character performer? Are you brilliant at telling a story through song? If this song does not show off what makes you perfect for this then how will they see it? Have a look at your song choice and see how many things it displays and whether it shows off enough of what you can do. If it doesn’t then keep looking.
- Could this song choice distract from my performance? We’ve all heard the “no-no” choices such as the big headliners and the overused songs. What this is really about is avoiding songs that will be more present in the panels head than your performance of them on the day. That means avoiding the huge well known numbers that they hear a thousand of and are tired of hearing. It also means avoiding the song that is so obscure they will be discovering the song rather than listening to you. It also means avoiding songs where the orchestration features or there are huge breaks in the music. Even little things such as avoiding the favourites or well known productions of the company can be a choice. This may also mean avoiding songs that are particularly linked to an artist or well known cover of a song. A general rule for me would be to pick the lesser known numbers from the more known shows (avoiding the big headliners entirely) or the more known songs from less known shows or compilations: this seems to be a good middle ground. Now I’m not saying I would never do a song that falls in this category of being “distracting” entirely but I would have to be pretty sure I could sell it enough to overcome the potential risk.
- Can this piece be easily played by the accompanist? If the piece is riddled with time signature changes and key changes its probably a risky choice. This is because if the pianist is having trouble it will disrupt the flow of the songs making everything more difficult. It could increase your tension trying to recover which will also affect your singing sound as well as in some cases making it very difficult to sing your song at all particularly if the pianist has to repeatedly stop. Songs that have very difficult accompaniment in general and are not very well known can be hard to play. It is not always easy to know this if you don’t play piano yourself. I try to avoid difficult keys (many sharps or flats) and songs with lots of notes too far either side of the staff (any notes I have to think twice about before naming off the top of my head). If it looks visually like a lot of strange rhythms and many notes it is probably slightly difficult for a cold read. It may be worth showing it to a friend who plays. Some examples of composers who normally have difficult music to sightread are Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown.
- Will I be able to sing this song well on the day? This can come down to a lot of factors. Maybe even though a song has the potential to demonstrate my ability I will not have enough time to work on the song before the day. If I am recovering from something or fatigued I may not be at my best. Maybe the audition will be in conditions where I won’t be able to safely demonstrate certain skills (ie belt or certain parts of my range). Even looking at whether or not you have sung this song in front of a group before can be a factor – is it something you can nail under pressure? A good test is to try it out in similar conditions and see how you go. And as a general rule if you’ve never been fully happy with it in rehearsing it most likely is the wrong choice. As much as we try to give the absolute best, auditions will always test our ability to perform and we need to be prepared for things to go wrong. Have back up plans to push through or make changes if things don’t go as intended. But the worst thing you can do is set yourself up for failure from get go with something you haven’t got down in the rehearsal room.
- Can I connect to this song and act through it? At the end of the day there are a lot of people who can sing. If you don’t have any feeling or story in your song and you cannot create that journey yourself then most likely your audition will not be particularly memorable. This can be a very hard thing to do if you aren’t used to it or if you get too focused on demonstrating your technique. Research of the source and analysis of the song is always a good start. Another good trick is to try and sing it different ways with different emotions and find what sits right. If you still find it very difficult to find a connection to your song perhaps it is best to look for another one.
If all those things get a tick then I’ve got my song. Usually, I will also have at least one back up song in my folder (contrasting to my main song) and as I said be familiar with the songs from the show. As a rule I try to retain songs I’ve chosen in my repertoire for use again in the future. Once you find songs that fit all the above it becomes less about finding fresh material and more about finding what fits the brief from what you already have to display your ability. Listen to lots of songs. Become aware of what you are good at. You will find some great stuff along the way and it will get much easier to know what is a good choice instinctively. And remember, as much as this is a set of rules I like to follow, there are always reasons to break them. The important thing is remembering and asking yourself what you are there for – and there is more than one right answer to that question. Best of luck!