Ever wonder what makes a great audition song? What are the people behind the table looking for? And how do I show them I can totally rock this role?
Well here are 10 traits of a great audition song to help you find the right song for your next audition. If you select a piece with these key traits in mind, you'll be sure to impress the folks behind the table and show them that you are perfect for the role you are auditioning for. Let's get started!
#1 Similar Musical Style
One of the most obvious traits for a great audition song is that it should be in the same musical style as the show you are auditioning for. This is usually made clear on the audition notice where they'll specify Pop/Rock, Golden Age, etc. But, not all Pop/Rock or Golden Age pieces are created equal. You'll want to do some extra homework to know exactly what kind of rock song will fit the show. Is it 80's Bubblegum Pop like The Wedding Singer or is it moody folk rock like Spring Awakening.
Many audition notices are getting more specific saying something like Motown or 80's Hair Band instead of just pop/rock. If they're generous and give you a very specific style, make sure your piece fits that very specific style!
#2 Similar Character Personality
You'll want your audition song to be sung by a similar character type to the one you're auditioning for. Look beyond the basics of categories like "legit Golden Age songs for females." First, are you an ingenue, soubrette, or broad? Second, if you're you auditioning for a Golden age ingenue, what kind of ingenue is she? Is she traditional, feminine, and romantic like Amalia in She Loves Me and Maria in West Side Story. Or is she an independent spirit that doesn't fit traditional perceptions of femininity like Annie in Annie Get Your Gun or Babe in The Pajama Game?
Or maybe you're auditioning for a more contemporary ingenue who belts. You might need something for a plucky and likable belter ingenue (Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie or Charity in Sweet Charity). Or a sexy belter ingenue (Roxie in Chicago, Queenie in The Wild Party). Or an angsty belter ingenue (Cathy in Last 5 Years, Wednesday from The Addams Family). Or a sad ingenue (Fantine/Eponine in Les Mis, Kim in Miss Saigon)
In short, look at the role's personality and find a song from a role with similar personality.
#3 Similar Emotional Moment
Look at the main songs of the role you're auditioning for. What is the character experiencing during those songs? What does she want? What devastation is she experiencing? What new realization is she having? Look for songs that feature a similar emotional moment to those songs.
In Wicked, when Elphaba sings "Defying Gravity," she is picking herself up and shouting to the rooftops that no one can keep her down anymore. Little Women's Jo March sings a similar emotional moment of allowing herself to soar beyond everyone's expectations in "Astonishing." These work great as audition songs for each other.
When you sing a song with a similar emotional moment, it helps the folks behind the table better imagine you singing the emotional journey of the role you're auditioning for. Make it easy for them!
#4 Similar Musical Energy
If you make sure you follow Trait #3 and have a song with a similar emotional moment, it'll often have Trait #4 - similar musical energy - wrapped up in it as well. Look at the big song of the role you're auditioning. It might be an up tempo angsty song with driving piano eighth notes or an introspective ballad with lots of space in the accompaniment so the singer can move at her own pace. Whatever it is, try to find a similar vibe in your audition piece.
Back to "Defying Gravity." This song has a sound of suspense during the verses, where the character is building herself up and gaining momentum. You can hear this in how the words move in a quick rhythm and pile on top of each other. Then the choruses have soaring, longer notes in a high belt range. The music sounds expansive and triumphant.
In "Astonishing," the verses have a conversational quality with syncopated rhythms in the melody. As the song builds into the bridge, the soaring quality increases, words get longer in duration, and the notes are in a high belt range. The music sounds expansive and triumphant. The musical energy of these two songs has a similar arc.
Just like finding a similar emotional moment, finding a similar musical energy will help the folks behind the table better imagine you singing the musical score of the show you are auditioning for.
#5 Show Range
Ok, this is a tough one, singers. I say this with love, trust me. Yes, you want to show your vocal range, but, NO, YOU DON'T WANT TO BELT YOUR FACE OFF FOR YOUR ENTIRE AUDITION SONG! IT'S LIKE SOMEONE WRITING IN ALL CAPS ALL THE FREAKING TIME.
Plus, auditors have a lot of singers to listen to. They don't want to be shouted at all day along.
So, in addition to high notes, show some other elements of range. Low notes, for example. Or show an intimate moment AND dynamic exclamation. Show seriousness AND a funny moment. Shows us legit AND belt. Show us uncertainty AND determination. Show vulnerability AND strength. You get the idea, yes?
Range is oh so much more than just how high you can sing. Explore a full range of emotions and vocal colors, and your auditors will be blown away.
#6 Be Inventive
Is there a way you can put a new twist on an old song? Can you gender bend and sing a song usually sung by the opposite sex? Can you use a serious song but perform it comedically for a comedic role audition? Can you change the rhythmic groove and make a straight ahead musical theatre piece into a dance-y Latin piece?
Being inventive will perk up the ears of the auditors and get them listening in a new way. Instead of the predictable repertoire, you'll stand out with an unexpected piece or arrangement. Of course, it should still fit the other criteria of a good audition song (similar emotional moment, musical energy, etc.).
I once saw an actor transform Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" by singing it is a gay man looking for a dance partner at a club. It was hilarious, and I still remember the performance to this day. Dare to be inventive, and it just might pay off big time.
#7 Easy Accompaniment
Ok, this is super boring, BUT super important. Make sure the accompaniment to your piece is legible and fairly easy to play. Even with the best accompanists, you'll have a higher success rate if the sheet music is on the straightforward side.
Just think about it from the pianist's point of view. She's sight reading songs for hours on end, receiving instructions from each singer about the cuts, and trying to perform as musically as she can for the auditioner. Don't make things more difficult for her by putting down a page of continuos 16th notes in a thousand key changes or sheet music with pencil marks all over the place, incorrect lyrics for what your cut is, and 3 different highlighter colors. Keep. It. Simple. Please.
#8 Reliable Performance by You
Trait #8 of a great audition song is that you can reliably sing it well under duress. Duress, in this case, means everything from getting super short notice for the audition to singing while you've got a cold or when you're really nervous or you're late because you got stuck in traffic on the 405. (Hey, L.A.)
You don't want to have any question in your mind about whether you can hit the high notes or remember all the words to your song. Part of that is practice and preparation, but the other part is just knowing yourself. Can you predictably and reliably belt that "D" at the end of your song? Maybe it's gorgeous in the rehearsal room with your vocal coach, but what about when nerves hit or you're under the weather? Is it still gorgeous?
Friends, there is no shame in selecting repertoire that is comfortably within your vocal range. If they want to hear you sing higher, they will either vocalize you on some scales or have you sing another selection. Better yet, they'll be enticed by your delicious and comfortable sounding belt, and they'll invite you to callbacks. Win.
#9 No Long Interludes or Bars of Rest
Trait #9 is easy to achieve. Make sure your audition song doesn't have any long instrumental interludes or a bunch of bars of rests. You want to be singing during your audition, not waiting to sing. And before you tell me that you are meaningfully acting during the rests or interludes, let me say that you can and should be acting WHILE you're singing. There's no need to feature acting-during-rests as its own thing in an audition.
You have a finite amount of time to show your abilities and you want to spend those 16-32 bars singing with your beautiful voice. Not staring into middle distance while working up a tear. Come. On.
#10 Be Positive
Whenever you're in doubt about what song to sing, choose something POSITIVE! It is so much more enjoyable to watch a performer sing something uplifting, fun, and positive than something brooding, angry, and depressing. I understand there are many beautiful ballads that explore the depths of despair. Dare to be different and offer the audition panel something lighter.
Of course, you want to show your vocal range and acting range. But, I promise you, you CAN do that while putting a smile on somebody's face.
A great audition song will show the panel you are a thoughtful and generous performer by a) showing you did your homework about the role and the score of the show and b) thinking about the people in the audition room.
Your homework: Take a look at your audition book and start weeding out the pieces that don't work!
Need some new songs? Find some amazing new audition songs by following these 8 Tips to Find Great Songs for Your Audition Book.