8 Tips To Find Great Songs for Your Audition Book

If you've ever gone on an audition, I'm sure you've had that moment of flipping through your repertoire book and wondering, "What the heck am I going to sing?"  You want a song that shows off your voice, shows your personality, fits the character you're auditioning for, fits the style of music of the show, and isn't totally overdone by other girls with your voice type.    Oh, and you'd like to have some sort of personal connection to the song so that you feel really good when you sing it.  This can seem like an impossible task, I know.  

If you don't have something in your book, then you need to start looking for new songs.  But, there are so many songs, where do you start?!  Well, my friend, I'm here to tell you it's NOT impossible.  Keep reading for 8 ways to find songs you'll LOVE to sing while showing off your voice in your audition.

#1 Identify Your Dream Roles 

The first thing I like to encourage singers to do is to identify their dream roles.  What are the characters you are dying to play?  Even more specifically, what are the roles you're dying to play that are appropriate for you within the next 5 years?  This is a great place to start finding songs you love to sing and that are immediately useable in your audition book.   

Once you have 4-5 roles in mind, list out the songs that these characters sing.  Most roles will have one or two songs that are their big hits.  Could you add these to your book?  If you think they're overdone, then move on to the character's second tier songs in the show. Are there lesser done solos that are hidden gems in the show?  Is there a 16-32 bar section of a duet that you could create an audition cut from? 

Singing the songs of your dream roles is such a great way to fill your audition book with songs you'll be thrilled to share with an audition panel.  Plus, you get the added benefit of learning the songs of a role long in advance of playing the role.  That means you get to work out the kinks and get to the level of performance where you're not thinking about how to sing the song anymore.  You're just living in it.

#2 Audition For Your Dream Roles

This second method is related to the first.  Again, identify 4-5 dream roles that you could play within the next 5 years.  Now, treat those shows as your upcoming auditions, and look for songs you would sing for those auditions.  This will fill your book with songs that you'll actually want to use when your favorite shows come up on audition boards.  

Here are some examples...

If your dream role is Natalie in Next to Normal, you'll need to look for an angsty, emotional pop or pop theatre song that shows a high belt.  (This is also good for Veronica in Heathers.)  This would go in your Contemporary Theatre category in your book.

If your dream role is Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady, you'll want an optimistic, legit, up tempo song that features a fierce high head voice note at least once.  This would probably go in your Golden Age category, or it might go in your Contemporary Theatre category if you're drawing from modern legit shows like Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder or Light in the Piazza

A lot of times, I work with singers that are just trying find songs that fit the genres they know should go in their book.  But, wouldn't it be way more useful if the songs in each genre specifically fit a show you were dying to be in?  When you imagine auditioning for your dream role, it totally changes how you go about selecting your songs.  You'll be more invested in finding a song you LOVE and will look forward to getting to share it in the audition room.

You get the picture.  Use your dream roles as your inspiration for selecting very specific, very usable songs for your audition book that you will LOVE to sing.

#3 Stalk your Favorite Singers

This one is super fun and yields songs from all different genres.  Chances are you have one or two fave singers that you love to listen to no matter what show they're in or what song they're singing.  More than just a beautiful voice, these singers have something special that you connect with on a deeper level.  Their voices draw you in; their storytelling moves you to tears; and their vocal ability inspires you to keep on practicing and chasing the dream.  These singers are a great place to look for songs that you'll love to sing in auditions.

This how-to is a simple one.  Pick one of your favorite singers and stalk them.  Seriously.  Look up all the shows they've been in and the roles they've played.  Make a list of songs from those shows/roles.  Look them up on youtube and go down the rabbit hole of 'related videos' to find cabaret songs, pop and rock covers, duets and collabs they've done with other artists.  Make a list of these songs as well.  You should now have a hefty list of diverse songs from a singer that inspires your soul.  What a great list of songs to think about using in your audition book!

Of course, the normal guidelines apply.  Weed out overdone tunes.  Find 16-32 bar cuts from duets or small group numbers.  AND don't forget, you CAN sing songs by a favorite singer of the opposite sex.  Plenty of songs work for all genders to sing, and you can always switch pronouns if needed.  This can lead to a fresh take on an overdone song that will surprise and delight auditors.

#4 Research Your Favorite Composer/Lyricist's Other Shows

When I was in high school, our drama department put on Into the Woods, and I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever heard.  I didn't know who Stephen Sondheim was.  I had never heard his genius lyrics and sardonic humor.  I didn't know Bernadette Peters from Bernie Sanders.  I just knew I loved what I was hearing and I wanted more.  It wasn't until college that I finally heard Sunday in the Park with George (immediately hooked) and then moved on to Sweeney ToddCompany, and the rest of the Sondheim catalogue.  Many of his songs are theatre classics and I've heard them many many times.  I often think, wouldn't it be neat to hear a NEW Sondheim song?  Unfortunately, I don't think that's in the books.

Do you have a show that you especially love listening to or singing along with?  Chances are you know the songs inside and out.  Maybe there's even a tune that you could put in your audition book.  But, if those songs are feeling a little stale or there aren't any roles that would be good for you, start exploring the rest of that composer/lyricist's catalogue.  There will usually be a unifying, identifiable style to their compositions that will yield new songs you'll love to listen to and sing along with.  And these songs might just be great songs to consider adding to your audition book!

#5 Look At Other Shows from the Same Decade

Let's say you have an especially steamy love affair with Chicago.  You totally go for the merry murderesses, the dance-heavy score, and the sex appeal.  And your personal idol is Bebe Neuwirth, who has played every major female role in the show on Broadway.  That's right.  You.  Dig.  Chicago.  Well after you've done your homework on Tip #4 and checked out other shows by composer and lyricist team, Kander and Ebb, I suggest you try another tip: Look at other shows from the same decade.

Chicago debuted on Broadway in 1975, right in the middle of a decade when the entertainment industry was embracing darker and more real-life subject matter on stage, in film, and on TV.  Gone were the idealistic days of post-war 1940's and 50's where the American Dream reigned supreme.  The Vietnam War had happened.  Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated.  The Watergate scandal had destroyed people's faith in the government.  People were looking for material that reflected the real life misery, doubt, and turmoil they saw around them everyday. 

If you look at other shows of the 1970's, you'll start to see some common threads between them.  Disenchantment with the establishment.  Rage.  Sex.  Raw singing and emotion.  And, oh, the DANCING!  Your Chicago love affair might just blossom into a full on love fest with 1970's Broadway musicals.  Here are just a few to check out: Company, A Chorus Line, Pippin, Jesus Christ Superstar, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Sweeney Todd, The Wiz, A Little Night Music, Godspell, Evita.

#6 Same Historical Period or Location

Tip #6 is all about finding other shows that are set in the same historical period or location as a show you already love to sing from.  Let's say you love the 60's rock score of Hairspray and can sing the crap out of all Tracy Turnblad's songs, BUT you're a petite, African American girl who could never play the role because the entire show is based on the subject of race relations in the 60's.  

Well, you might find some other awesome songs that fit your vocal style by looking at other shows set in the 60's.  MemphisVioletMotownDreamgirls, Bye Bye Birdie, Cry Baby, All Shook Up!, Little Shop of Horrors.  You get the idea.  These shows all feature pop music from the 50's and 60's ranging from doowop, to rockabilly, to R&B, to country, and gospel.  

Or, if you love the score of Bright Star, with it's folk instruments and Appalachian sound, you might look at other shows that are set in rural areas of the South and Midwest.   Think Violet, Robber Bridegroom, and The Spitfire Grill.  By zeroing in on those locations, you'll find other songs with a similar feel and vocal style to Bright Star

#7 Same Topic or Theme

Tip #7 is related to #6.  Look for a show that has a similar topic or theme to a song or show you already love.  

Maybe you LOVE the song "I Am What I Am" from La Cage Aux Folles, and you feel deeply connected to the stories of gay men and women finding their way in the world.  Start looking at musicals that tell those stories!  In FalsettosWhen Pigs Fly, RENT, Bare: A Pop Opera, Victor/Victoria, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Fun Home (and so many more!), you'll find a ton of songs that have that similar theme.  Start listening, and I bet you'll find some pieces that resonate with you so much that you'll want to put them in your audition book.   

#8 The Youtube Rabbit Hole

My last tip for finding great audition songs that you'll LOVE to sing is to go down "the Youtube rabbit hole."  Just like Alice, who fell down the rabbit hole to get to Wonderland, you'll find all sorts of wonderful pieces if you let yourself get lost on Youtube.  You just need to determine a starting off point like a favorite song or performer.  

Let's say you type in "I'm Here" from The Color Purple.  You see a bunch of versions by Cynthia Erivo, who originated the role, including one called the "definitive version."  You click.  It's beautiful.  In the "related videos" section you see Cynthia singing "You Will Be Found" from Dear Evan Hansen.  Hmm, not usually sung by a girl.  Cool idea.  Click.  Then you see it's part of a playlist, and there's another Cynthia video where she's singing "Make them Hear You" from Ragtime, also not usually sung by a female.  Click.  You start listening and realize she's reinvented this male legit song into a FEMALE GOSPEL VERSION!  This creative reinvention makes the song fresh and so relevant that you think, "I'm gonna add this to my book."  Yes!

Folks, go down the rabbit hole.  You'll find all sorts of songs and interpretations that will get your creative juices flowing and get some awesome songs into your audition book. 

Final thoughts

There are so many songs out there just waiting to be sung.  Use these 8 tips for finding great songs for your audition book and start making lists of the songs you find.  You're bound to start filling your book with unique and meaningful songs that show off your voice in no time.

And don't forget, think about how you might reinvent the pieces.  Can you gender bend by singing a song traditionally sung by a guy?  Can you change the style from legit to gospel?  Change the feel from an up tempo to a ballad.  These are ways you can get more bang for your buck with each song you put in your book.

Happy song hunting!