As a working actor, I’ve thought about this question off and on for years now. Thankfully, with a little help from my friends, coaches, and my own experience, I’ve learned some insights that I hope will be helpful for you. Let me start by posing some questions to you:
What is your voice type?
What are your strengths?
What do you enjoy singing?
What aspects of yourself do you want to showcase?
In the professional theatre world, we often have the fortune of auditioning for a specific character, so the material is sometimes chosen for us or we have a pretty good idea of what works. For a college audition, picking music can be difficult because your options are so vast. Where do you begin? Let’s start with the basics.
Show your vocal ability and range.
Belter? Legit? Comic/character singer? Pick something that highlights what you do best. They want to be wowed by your ability, but just make sure it’s comfortable for you. If you’re a baritone singing a high tenor song, even if you can hit those notes, you want to accurately depict your natural voice to give your best performance.Try to pick something that shows off your range, but isn’t a vocal acrobatic exercise. When a song is too technically difficult, you may worry more about hitting the right notes rather than telling the story. To that end...
Tell a story.
It’s tough to do with 16-32 bars, but it is possible. If you enjoy the character and/or the conflict they’re going through in the song, the story will come across even if they only hear a piece of it. Cut a piece that tells a story and shows vocal range. Often, it will coalesce naturally since music tends to build when the lyrics do. Make sure you know the context of the song in the musical (and make sure you know the musical!) so they can see your depth of character.
Show them you.
No matter what the context of the song is, they want to see the essence of YOU in it. If you were in those given circumstances as that character, what would they see watching you do it as opposed to watching your best friend? Your life experience makes you and what you do unique. Avoid spending hours listening to your favorite performer sing your audition song. Instead, get a copy of the accompaniment and work on it yourself or with a friend. Try speaking the lyrics without music. You will find your own voice.
Do what you love.
Sometimes you pick music because you think (or a teacher thinks) it will sound good in your voice, but if you don’t connect with it emotionally, your ability to sing it well won’t always be enough to make a lasting impression. Theatre is about telling stories and it’s hard to tell a story that you’re not committed to telling. However, don’t let the reason you’re not connecting to the song be that you haven’t done the homework. Give it a fair shot before searching for a new piece. On the other side of the coin, if you really love something that is not audition appropriate for any reason, keep looking. They don’t want to be distracted by your piece even if you love it because, they WANT TO SEE YOU, not Frank-N-Furter or Norma Desmond.
Don’t pick overdone music.
There is a lot of information out there on overdone songs. Unfortunately, a lot of them tend to be songs from musical theatre collections, new songs from current Broadway shows, and good old classics. So, what do you do? Start with a song you like and find out who the composer is. Look at his/her other music that may be very similar, but lesser-known. Or, see whose music that composer was influenced by or other composers they have influenced. You can also look for musicals from that same time period that aren’t performed often. Look at it from the perspective of the college staff... you can only listen to Gimme, Gimme so many times in a week. Need help finding music? Ask your vocal coach, or come see us at MCA for help!
Help your accompanist help you.
Cut your music so it’s easy for the accompanist to follow. You can use a highlighter for key changes, tempo changes, or cuts. Also make sure it’s in a binder so that the accompanist can easily turn pages. Stay away from picking music that’s too difficult to sight-read and make sure cuts are easy to follow to help everyone! If you need help, ask a pianist or a music teacher.
-Erica Spyres, MCA Vocal Coach
My College Audition
16 Bars and Under Two Minutes