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Preparing for an audition

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Felipe Carvalho

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So you are trying out for a band, or whatever it is in which people will evaluate your work. And you want to get the job, I presume.

First thing, technical capability. If you dont have the necessary skill to sing the repertoire comfortabily, dont apply for the test, go study and after you can sing, then you audition. This looks obvious, but its the most common mistake. And this includes plans for being able to sing the song in the future. You cant sing in the future, you sing what you can today or don´t. Pavarotti once said that his agent got him a carreer not by choosing what to sing, but what NOT to sing. Believe me, what you choose not to do is equaly as important, if not more.

Next thing, you will get a list of songs probably, if you are not provided with the mp3 files for each, ASK what version is it, and in which key it is. You dont want to struggle against key changes during the audition, or be surprised by a different structure from a live show.

Having the setlist, its time to learn it. So you just play it on the PC and sing along right, can sing the entire song, its done, next... Well, not really. This would be being familiar with the song, having a vague idea of how it goes like.

You will KNOW the song when you can sing it without the playback, knowing exactly how many bars on the intro, how many repetitions of the chorus in each part, how many bars on the solo, and do so on the metronome. In my opinion you should know the solo, and the overall patterns that the guitars, bass and drums do too, but I reccon this is not necessary.

Now, gear. So its on studio right? You can just walk over there and there will be a working mic, cables, and everything you need. Dont count on it. Prepare a bag, with one mic, a pair of cables, and if you use one, your personal monitoring gear. I guess I dont have to say that cables that are in bad condition and produces cracks and pops shold not even get near this bag.

If you have all this working, meaning you can sing the songs comfortably and with ease, you know them inside and out, you gear will not play tricks on you, then you can do what a band will be interested in hearing. Focus on getting on the same page as the rest of the band, try to blend in, get in the same groove, there is a huge difference from musician to musician and thats the difference between hiring a karaoke singer and a lead singer.

So you play with the band, instead of on top, or against it. And if you are playing with them, chances are the rehearsal will be fun and you will have done your best. This will also give you opportunity to listen well where you are getting into, to know if it is also your interest to play with these people.

This is of course no guarantee that you will be the choice, but your chances will be higher. More than that, lets say that in the case you are not the one to take the job, you want that choice to be a hard one for the band, in such way that in a future oportunity where they need a sub or even need a singer again, they will remember you.

And a word for those who are beginning and are auditioning for their first band. Let them know its your first band beforehand, specially if its a band that has seem some road already, you wont fool experienced musicians. Yes, it will be harder for you, being green to get a job like this, but hey, if you ARE green, dont try to fool them. If you do a good impression and you keep things clear and straight, even if you dont get in you can get some contacts and doors will open.

Yeah, confidence for a lead singer is necessary, but to me thats still up there on the technical part. Confidence comes from capability, not from self-help rituals or supernatural beliefs. IF you are capable of doing the job, even if you are a bit nervous with the situation, you will get through. On the other hand, if you are unsure of your skills and you have the confidence and the guts to go out there and apply, know that its not courage or a quality, this is pure and simply arrogance.

Hope it helps someone, and really, that paragraph about learning the song is not a joke. The number of people that want to play lead, be it vocals or guitar, and simply do not know the material they are playing is huge. If you can get past that, you are already on advantage.

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Good stuff Felipe, it seems dead on to me.

I've done a few vocal auditions since starting college so I'm starting to learn a couple things about it through experience. One can consult the internet all they want, but the experience of doing auditions, failing and succeeding and analyzing what happened means far more IMO.

Some things I learned from my own experiences, two failures (almost identical in nature actually) and one success:

-This ties in with what you said about not auditioning for what you're not ready for. As of now, my voice is not ready to sing in an a capella group, not even right in my comfortable range. Tone/blend seems to be the issue and lack of experience in the specific application certainly doesn't help. Probably not much use to keep auditioning for these kinds of things because I have no idea of knowing exactly what changes to make without just guessing. It would be better to join or form a capella group that doesn't require audition and develop the experience first so I can really experience and discover the difference in values of singing quality in that application, compared to singing lead.

-I've found the amount and quality of practice leading up to the audition is the most important variable as to doing well at the audition. Nothing can adequately substitute that. Like you said, rituals and all that other mental stuff does practically nothing in comparison to having practiced enough. It certainly helps if my mindset is at it's best during the audition, but in the end, it's the muscle memory that will make or break the performance.

-What's maybe equally important and tied in with that is my mindset during that period of practice leading up to the audition. The slightest bit of complacency will compromise the end result. If I treat it like it's a super important audition and assume I have lots of competition and let that assumption guide my practice to be extremely focused toward a high standard, and overall genuinely care a lot about making the cut, I give myself the best chances of doing so.

-Recording and listening back to help guide practice, and consulting a coach for help on the specific audition piece, helps a great deal.

What do you think of those ideas Felipe? Am I on the right track?

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I have some auditioning experience from the late 1980's and early 90's. Although, we didn't have the internet in the state that you have it, today. So, either the audition was going to be cover tunes or the band gave you a scratch tape to practice and learn the songs. I didn't have a mic. So, I usually used what was there, which was usually a mic plugged into an amp.

Probably the most professional experience was an audition for Razin Cain. They gave me a whole week to prepare. The scratch tape was sung by the drummer, Gary, who had a fine voice but would rather concentrate in drums. They had a full-blown pa system that they would even rent out to other bands. I sounded really good on that but I was not quite the sound they were looking for.

Another band, XLR8, gave me three days to learn 5 songs. Considerably less time. And I did it. They ended up going to their old singer, who scored some recording equipment, even though I had the better voice and way better punctuality for showing up for the band. Anyone here heard of XLR8? I thought so.

Another one, kind of calling themselves Parachute, spent as much time smoking weed as they did running through their rambling jam where the only thing you could hear was the lead guitar, not very good, not very fast, but loud to hide that fact.

And a few others of similar situations. Point being, as a singer auditioning for bands, you are going to take some hits. So, grow a tough hide. Accept the failures as part of the course. But don't let it drag you down. As I have said, I have had the worst auditions from no prep (with Parachute) to being used to scare the old singer (XLR8) to a totally pro situation that just doesn't gel (Razin Cain.) And I didn't have the gig bag. I sang with what was there, a la Henry Rollins.

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Great post Felipe.

I would like to add to get a little info about the other band members. See what kind of personalities that they have and if you have other interests in common. If things go well you will be spending a lot of time with these guys on and off stage. IT may not matter but if they find another singer that has a better sound but they like your personality they may pick you instead of the other guy or gal.

Also bring a tape or recording of you singing something that you know that you did a great job on. At least they would hear the potential if you do not know their songs very well.

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Tnx guys.

Owen I think it is a good way to roll. But, instead of taking an audition, you could try finding one of these groups and just ask for some pointers, maybe even to sing with them to get the picture.

Its different than going unprepared to an audition, and this experience woud help you to get to where you want, some orientation by people who do it.

I agree with you that we need to set our parameters high. Just one thing, if you do so, and start to chase for awesome results with a schedule or hurry, you will actually hinder your progress, believe it or not.

Back on the main subject, I recorded a video the other day that shows what not to do, not intended to be a sample, more of a personal reference, but I think it fits the idea:

I was playing with the song, while studying. Notice that Im reading the lyrics, and the overall delivery becomes much better at the last verse where I am more familiar with it. Notice the tensions on the neck that tells me it needs some work on the technique to remove that strain.

Now, it actually sounds acceptable, but if I take that to an audition for a band that wants to cover RHCP, I may very well fail because surely another singer will be more familiar with the song and be more loose. Thats very, very important.

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Did you ever land a new part using the advice given in this thread? :)

I think most of this advice is geared towards a musical group/band (Cover band, Bar Band.....). Auditioning for Stage, Acting or classical or talent shows would be quite different.

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I agree with you Felipe on not overdoing the high standard. Like for that successful audition I had I knew I wasnt going to be able to perfect this falsetto part in time that had slight tensions so it was better to just keep doing it the same way and not chase some new coordination my voice hasn't experienced yet. And i ended up kind of rolling with the tension as an interpretive resource, it worked with the lyric.

But for things like vowel modifications in upper chest voice, there was no limit to how much I could perfect that so I really made an effort to lock in every vowel shade to sound and feel right, and even in the last day or two I made big improvements that were equally present at the audition as they were in practice.

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And I agree,Felipe, in your first post that it is okay to be confident, as long as one is operating from the definition that confidence comes from capability. Too many people misinterpret what I mean about doing what it is your voice can do. This is very important in an audition. Audition is not the time to try out with songs and styles that you don't know. Unless it is a complete lark but the chances of that working out are no better than anything else working out by sheer chance.

But most definitely take whatever scratch tape (in those days, it was a cassette. We were one step above beating sticks on stones to have rock music) And learn it. First thing, learn the lyrics, read it as a story. Once you know the story you are trying to tell, then you can express that story, such as your example of the RHCP song. Then learn the vocal melody. And regardless of whatever master magnum opus it is, vocal lines can follow a basic pattern. Learn that. Then, come up with a few embellishments. These will set you apart, if they are reviewing several applicants. However, from what I have seen, most bands make their decision at the audition of who they like.

And yes, grow a tough hide. You could everything right and still not get the position. And have enough self-respect and knowledge to walk away from something you know will not work out. It is, indeed, okay, for you, the singer, to walk away from a band, even if they are the ones who are auditioning you.

Back when I was really trying out for bands, there was no large internet with samples and videos and forums. Musicians advertised to each other, if they could afford it, with classified ads in local music papers and magazines. And the perpetually broke band (98 % of them) left scrawled notices pinned up on peg boards in local musical instrument stores (Brook-Mays in Dallas was a really good place, for example.)

Sometimes, you encounter people from perspectives that won't gel with yours. I went to one audition and it was not a whole band but one guy with a keyboard and some recording equipment. That's okay, a lot can be done some of those keyboards. I came as a singer but I could pitch-hit on some guitar stuff if he really needed to. His first question was not what kind of music I normally sing or who my favorite bands are. He wanted to know what my stage presence was like. Stage presence? Why don't we at least go through a few songs and see how things fit together?

He had been going to an art institute that teaches the business of making videos for professional release. All the "successful" elements, including stage presence. He was really needing the next Adam Ant. In reality, Adam Ant was an actor that got into music and videos then, later, returned to acting. I did not show up looking like a "rock star." No Busby Berkley dance routine worked out. Just my normal jeans, plain, white t-shirt and some warmed-up pipes. I tend to follow the sage advice of Alice Cooper. The "look" doesn't mean anything if you don't have the song.

I wrote about this stuff in previous threads and posts. Treat the audition as something serious. If you drink, save it for after the audition. They deserve the best you can give.

Make no excuses such as the dog ate your lyric sheets. Or that you have had a cold. Or, how you are not worthy, blah, blah, blah. All that matters is how sing this song right now, right here. When you give them disclaimers, you set them up to expect failure. When you make excuses, that tells them this will not be your best effort. So, how many auditions are they going to give you?

Shut up and sing. Maybe you will have an odd tone from having a cold and they will think it's just dandy. Later, if in conversation, you mention that you had a cold prior to the audition, they can only respect you for the work ethic "the show must go on." I am not saying any person is the greatest singer ever. But quit shooting yourself in the foot. This is in general, not you, Felipe. If the singer decides he is "not worthy," he will believe that and others will join him in that belief.

Instead, just sing and see what happens.

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I had a guy audition for trumpet in a group I was running and he was shaking so badly that his breathing was really badly affected. He was a good player, but he'd have these bursts of fantastic tone and interpretation but then breathe in the wrong place and screw up the phrasing.

In front of 2 people. In a small room that was about as homey as it gets. So I think you need to be realistic about your auditions but never give up hope. Just keep working at it and you will always improve.

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