Picking a song for a vocal audition can be harder than the actual audition itself. After all, most auditions last about five minutes or less. Sometimes you get to sing a whole song, and sometimes you are asked to prepare a measly 16-bar cut. So how do you choose a song that will represent you accurately as a performer in just a few short minutes? It’s not easy, and there are few things you definitely shouldn’t do.
1. Don’t Choose a Really Famous Song
We all know those people who march into auditions with pages of “Defying Gravity” from Wicked flying everywhere. While you might think this piece would be a very impressive demonstration of your skill set, thousands of other performers have already had the thought.
The problem with picking a song like “Defying Gravity” is that the performance standard is set very high. When you choose an extremely well-known song that has already been done by a magnificent performer, you are creating expectations for yourself that weren’t there when you walked into the room. Continuing to use “Defying Gravity” as an example, everyone automatically thinks of Idina Menzel. And since there is only one Idina Menzel, there is a pretty good chance that you are not going to sound like her. And because of that, there is a pretty good chance that the panel watching your performance is going to be disappointed.
As a performer, it’s important that you find your own voice instead of just trying to top what other people have already done. Find a piece that compliments your voice and that will allow you to give the best possible performance you can give.
2. Don’t Choose an Extremely Emotional Song
In every vocal audition, it’s important to bring a strong acting presence as well. Standing very still and picking a point to stare at on the wall will never yield a good outcome. But when it comes to acting, you want to be practical. Like we mentioned earlier, you will most likely have five minutes or less in the audition room.
It’s hard enough to find music that represents your voice accurately in that short time frame without trying to make the panel cry at the same time. So for example, maybe don’t try to evoke two hours worth of depressing plot into a two-minute performance of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Misérables. If you are allowed to sing an entire song and you possess the rare talent of being able to cry on cue (a la Ben Platt from ‘Dear Evan Hansen’), you might be able to give it a shot. But in most cases, choose a song with simpler emotional content that you will be able to deliver very strongly. You can also consider the mood of the show/performance you are auditioning for when you are selecting your piece. If you are auditioning for a comical character, choose a comical song!
3. Don’t Choose a Song With a Small Vocal Range
A great way you can narrow down your search for the perfect song is by looking for a song that allows you to sing across a wide range of notes. You really should shoot for a song that goes beyond an octave. If you’re brave, find a song that reaches two! If you have a smooth transition between your chest voice and head voice you will definitely want to demonstrate that as well, as it is a very hard skill to master.
Basically, you want to be able to show that your voice is capable and versatile. If you limit yourself to a song with a smaller vocal range, it will be hard for the panel you’re auditioning for to get an understanding of your voice and they may assume that you aren’t able to sing in a certain register when that’s not the case!
4. Don’t Choose the “Hit Song” for the Show You’re Auditioning For
After a while, these performances start to run together and it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. Unless the audition packet specifically states that the panel wants to hear you sing a song from the show, choose a song in the style of the show with a similar vocal range, rather than a song from the show. Choose a song that demonstrates you can do everything you would be required to do in the actual show. Be familiar enough with the show/part you’re auditing for to choose a song that is similar, but that won’t make the panel roll their eyes for the 100th time that day.
5. Don’t Only Prepare One Song
If there is one thing you can be sure of, it’s that no two vocal auditions will be the same. Some will be good, some will be bad. Some will be long, some will be over in 30 seconds. Sometimes, you will sing one song and leave, but sometimes the panel you’re auditioning for may ask if you have another piece prepared.
Occasionally, audition packets will ask you to bring a few pieces of contrasting material to your audition. However, they usually don’t. And most of the time, you will only sing one piece. But if by chance you are asked to sing another song and you don’t have one prepared, you may miss out on a really great opportunity. You never know what the directors of the show are looking for, and though you might think you are headed in a certain direction, they may have a completely different vision for you!
It’s always better to be over prepared.
The bottom line is that it’s always better to be over prepared. Who knows, you may be waiting for an audition and hear the person before you singing the exact same piece you prepared. It would definitely be a good thing to have another choice!
6. Don’t ‘Show Off’
There is a fine line between giving an impressive performance and completely overdoing it. Be aware of your skill set and don’t try to go beyond it. People would much rather hear a performance done well than a performance crammed full of embellishments. Many people get in trouble here, specifically with vocal runs. While vocal runs can be impressive, it takes far more to deliver an unforgettable performance.
What you want to do is showcase a wide range of skills in your performance. You can do vocal runs, but make sure you are also demonstrating good pitch, breath control, a smooth transition between your head and chest voice, etc. You will come across as a far stronger performer if you can demonstrate multiple skills and demonstrate them without error. The LAST thing you want to do is put too much on your plate and deliver a performance full of messy and strained vocals.
7. Don’t Play It Safe
Nerves can get the best of all of us at times. And when it comes to singing in front of strangers, it’s not exactly uncommon to be completely terrified. Unfortunately, a lot of times when nerves and singing mix, it isn’t the most beautiful outcome. This can cause us to back off of things we would normally do because we don’t want to mess up. Maybe we shy away from the “high note” or we simplify any movement in the melody. The problem with this is that it tends to take the personality out of the performance. If you want your performance to stand out, you’re going to have to do more than sing a simple melody in an average vocal range.
It’s okay to be nervous, and there are things you can do to relieve some of that tension. You can do practice performances for friends and family, or do a few quick pushups before you enter the audition room! Know that even though your nerves may never completely dissolve, it will get easier with each audition. So don’t be afraid to choose a song that showcases your absolute best. Hit the practice rooms, walk into your audition with confidence, and deliver an extraordinary performance!
Looking for song suggestions? Check out these former Musicnotes Blog entries:
Do you have any additional tips on what NOT to do when choosing a vocal audition piece? Please share your thoughts and expertise with fellow auditioners in the comments section below.