How to win at singing auditions

How to win at singing auditions


Well it’s that time again! X-factor, The Voice… talent shows galore, not to mention the rounds of theatre and music school auditions that have just taken place.

Did you do any?
How did you get on?

Well, if you didn’t do so great, I have some very good news for you. You can improve – and sometimes very quickly – if you know the game you are about to play and stay focused on what needs to be done at each round of an audition process.

Just in case you are wondering if I failed any auditions (answer: yes) and how I coped with the disappointment and rejection (to be honest, not well at times…), I have most assuredly bought the t-shirt on failed auditions.

In fact I won a book for the most embarrassing audition story in a competition run by some teachers I know!

I have made all the mistakes so you don’t have to (if you listen up and get wise to the process). I have walked singers through the preparation required to get through auditions and had some stellar results. My singers have won major UK competitions, entered theatre schools and won scholarships as well as got through rounds of the TV competitions with only a few lessons.

So I am going to save you the heartache of rejection, but you must follow the rules if you want to play the game.

1) First things first

Your goal is not to visualize yourself winning the trophy at this stage (or at any). Your first priority is to get through the first round of auditions if there are several rounds. Be the best you can be at each stage in any competition or audition. Too many either fail at the gate because they over-think even attempting and then their nerves kick in because they made they whole thing so big in their mind that they fall apart as they walk in.

That’s no good at all, nerves are always going be around and you have to find a way to chunk down the goals into manageable pieces that you can mentally handle. That’s why when a young 16 yr old girl came to me because she had entered for the X-factor, I told her our only goal was round 1. That piece of information alone, helped her to focus her attention on what she needed to get better at right now. The upshot of it was that after just 3 sessions and a small performance class she passed round 1 after never having had a vocal lesson in her life, and walking in with a whispy voice and with no confidence and frankly no chance.

Focus on the task at hand which is doing the work to deal with just the round that you are faced with. Avoid future planning or overwhelming yourself with imaginings that haven’t happened yet!

2) Choose your songs wisely

Here is where many make a big mistake. They believe in picking either an iconic song recorded by an iconic artist that is generally too big for their voices or experience in the hope that the judges will see their potential. They hope that if they can get through a big song then it will show they are a really good singer. Mostly the answer to this is NO! It won’t show you can – it is more likely to reveal what you can’t do yet. If you pick a song by Whitney, Mariah or Beyonce or Ed Sheeran etc etc as well as the big opera tracks too and obvious Wicked and Les Mis numbers (I heard 5 versions of Beyonce’s “Halo” in one series of auditions I sat on!) you will be immediately compared to the icon, which is a tall order to deliver. Don’t do it unless you can walk it.

Instead, pick songs you can make your own, or that are a male song and you are a female covering it  – I call these clever covers because you are not simply trotting out the same things as everyone else. Look for similar voice types to you or out of the box songs that you can be remembered for doing. Your goal is to stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons. Above all, make sure you can sing the song on a good voice day and on a not so good day and when you are tired and grumpy too. Can you raise the bar and turn on the lights? If you can only sing the song when you are at your best, then its not a safe choice and you many find nerves sabotage your moment.

3) Over-prepare

The one most singers miss out. I have known singers who apply and then don’t do the work. It’s a kind of reverse psychology that goes like this “If I don’t get in at least I can say I wasn’t prepared”. Go figure! How crazy we get when we are trying to avoid feeling rejected and disappointed. We are so scared of putting the effort in and then not feeling ‘good enough’ that we will avoid feeling bad at all costs. Even the cost of succeeding. We are indeed complex at times. Sometimes you will put the work in and you won’t be good enough at that stage or that year. Don’t get down at this point. Go back, do more work, follow through, see how much you can improve. Push the bar a bit more, you must stretch yourself if you are going to grow.

Make sure you know what the meaning of the song is, pretty and vacant is not a strategy! Give it thought, work out what you are going to say, how you are going to walk in and out, leave nothing to chance. Think of answers to some of the questions you may be asked. Be prepared – no be over-prepared. You may not be able to control the outcome, but you can control the output!

4) Get feedback

Get in front of others and run the audition songs through. Be humble and learn to take the constructive help. You may be able to change a few elements that make all the difference. Never shy away from singing to professional people in the industry who can be honest and truthful as to what you need to do to improve. That being said, pick these people carefully, you don’t want a bitter and twisted opinion that is designed to erode your self-belief. But if you get it, use it as fuel to your fire and come back stronger. You need to be mentally tough if you are going to be a good performer. I didn’t say be defensive, but be able to take some criticism as it really is character building if given by someone who can see your potential to improve.

If you cannot get in front of a group before your audition, get in front of the mirror! It can’t lie to you. If your eyes are wondering everywhere or you seemed bored even to yourself (or desperate) then just know that is what your audience is seeing. I know many performers who always watch videos back so they can see what needs correcting from an audience perspective. After all these are the people who we are meant to be entertaining. Yes even judges want to be entertained!

5) Be a people person – at all costs

There is no room in the modern age for diva like behavior. Let’s face it there are thousands of people auditioning for what are in reality only a handful of places and judges will always favor someone they know they can work with and who gets along with others. Have manners and say please and thank you to the stage crew and the receptionist. People talk a lot! Don’t reserve your best behavior for those you feel have the decision making power. Treat everyone as you wish to be treated.

If your audition goes well, great, thank them. Hugs and kisses may not be needed at this point and this is not yet the greatest day of your life! But if it doesn’t or you get criticism, thank them for that too. Smile, and take the feedback. Then perhaps go and have a good cry, but only allow yourself a set time, say 30 minutes max, then wipe it away and get back to work. No wallowing and wailing how you were robbed. You have no idea why someone was chosen over you. Don’t get bitter, get better.

You may find this little test of character comes out in your favor when you next audition and they see the improvements and new maturity. It will only be a matter of time then that you be be hearing more yeses than no’s.