What makes a great audition song?
As I work with students on finding great repertoire for their college auditions, it is apparent that there are some criteria by which song selection can be assisted by knowing what makes a great audition song.
Once you know the particular requirements of the programs that you are auditioning for, you need to consider the following things for a successful audition song:
1. Is it short? Can the song be well excerpted in 16 or 32 bars? Some story songs are just too long to make convincing cuts, and some songs don’t musically ‘cook’ for a while. Avoid songs with a lot of exposition and anything that prevents you from getting into the ‘meat’ of the song right away.
2. Does it grab attention from the outset? Have you found the best cutting to get to the heart of the song without fumbling around? Your cutting shouldn’t include a tremendous piano introduction. Some sources prefer a 4-bar intro and others are okay with a ‘bell tone’. Don’t let the audition panel WAIT to hear you sing - get right into it!
3. Is the song in your vocal range? Sad, but true. Some auditioners have delusions of grandeur about their singing and think their high Cs aren’t screechy (they are), or that their belt voice is huge (it isn’t). Don’t be AFRAID to sing something understated if you want - it will take pressure off your singing if you are nervous, and let you ‘settle’ and make strong acting choices. Last year I gave an MCA student a song from a 70s musical that was totally understated and conservative in range, and she sang the pants off of it! It was a total winner for her because she realized her vocal skills and range and auditioned with a song that played to her ability.
4. Does it show off as many of your talents as possible? If you’re funny, is the song you’ve chosen also funny? If you have a great mix/belt/high voice, does the song show that? If you have a unique vocal quality, does the song take that into account. If you are facile with words, do you have a patter song?
5. Does it provide an acting narrative? When I took a Masterclass with David Chase last summer, he mentioned that having a cutting that features an A/B or B/A format is best because it gives the panel a chance to see how you tell the story in musical form. Does the character in the song take a journey, even if its just 32 bars? Where does the character start and where does the character end? What do they know at the end of the song that they don’t at the beginning. The isn’t just about your voice, it’s also about your acting choices! If the song doesn’t have a moderate ‘arc’ then it’s probably not a good selection.
6. Is it appropriate for you as an actor? If you are a gorgeous tall blonde, please don’t sing songs that say “I’m so ugly” - it will stretch the panel’s credulity. Does the song allow you to communicate a part of yourself to the panel? Can you identify with the character you are singing? If not, then you should pass on the song.
7. Does the song show off your inventiveness and imagination? Sometimes making a daring choice can be fun, depending on your skills. Do you have a ‘take’ on the song that is totally personal and unique to you? Does it show your creativity with the music and lyric? Does it feel spontaneous?
8. Does it OBVIOUSLY contrast with another song in your book? Most college auditions require a pre-65 and contemporary song. As you build your book, make sure that there is enough musical and character contrast in your selections.
9. Does it demonstrate your ability as a musician? Are you able to show a strong sense of musicianship in the song? If there are riffs, are they totally clean? Are faster moving passages swift and flexible? Do you understand the musical structure, key, and tempos that the composer has written?
10. Do you LOVE it? If you don’t love it, any song is really worthless. I have to see the ‘light go on’ in your eyes when you are singing it. It will release all your inhibitions and let you ‘go for it’ from a place of love instead of FEAR. Singing out of fear will constrict your voice as well as your emotions, which we want to hear and see. Sometimes a singer can make a song work if they love it - even if they don’t sing it all that well. They understand the song deeply and know what to do with it. If you like singing it, the panel will like listening to it.
Justin Petersen, MCA Vocal Coach
My College Audition
16 Bars and Under Two Minutes