You may be the singer with the best voice at an audition, but if you choose the wrong song, all that practice and talent may go to waste. Choosing and cutting your audition song is an art all its own. Choosing the perfect song for your voice is as important as having great technique, because even great singers don’t sound great on every song. Think about the great Julie Andrews auditioning with Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” or Katy Perry popping in with “I Could Have Danced All Night” in its original key. I could be wrong—I haven’t actually heard either of those singers attempt the song I selected for them—but I think it’s very unlikely that a casting director who had never heard of them would be impressed. Here are 8 tips to get you started on your path to choosing and cutting your audition song successfully.
1. Make Sure It’s Genre and Style-Appropriate!
I can’t stress this one enough. Often, audition notices will flat-out request what they want. If you’re auditioning for a classical voice department, don’t show up with a Christina Perri song. If you’re auditioning for American Idol, don’t come in with a song from Fiddler on the Roof, no matter how much you rock it. Bring in a pop or rock song, or at least something that can be tweaked to sound contemporary. If you’re auditioning for a musical, it’s safest to bring in a song from a musical unless otherwise requested. Often, the audition notice will blatantly tell you exactly what type of song to bring, but if it doesn’t, it’s safest to bring something in the genre you’re auditioning for. Sometimes close enough is okay (classic Broadway will sometimes do for classical, and certain pop-rock is acceptable for contemporary Broadway shows), but you’ll want to get as close to the genre as possible.
2. Make Sure It’s Style-Appropriate!
It gets even more specific though! If you’re auditioning for a musical, shoot for a song in the style of the musical you’re auditioning for. If it’s a classic, like Carousel, and you want to play the soprano Julie Jordan, don’t show up with a Broadway belter song like “Defying Gravity.” Choose a classic Broadway song, or at the very least, a song written for sopranos. If you’re auditioning for Elphaba in Wicked, don’t come in with “If I Loved You” from Carousel. Instead, choose something that shows you can belt the stratospheric notes necessary for Elphaba’s songs. If it’s a character role you’re auditioning for, you might want to try a character song that shows of your comedic ability. If you’re auditioning to be in a metal band, show them you have some grit by not bringing in a Hilary Duff song. If you’re auditioning for Disney, well, leave your metal at the door. You get the idea.
3. Try Not To Pick a Song That’s Overdone.
The exception to this is if you think you’re going to be the best singer the audition committee has ever heard on that song (but it’s safest to assume that you won’t be). For musical theatre, you want to avoid songs from Wicked, Les Miserables, Annie, and most of the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The higher the caliber of the show, the more obscure you’ll probably want to go. “Part of Your World,” for example, might be perfect for a junior high school audition but not a strong enough pick to get into a performing arts high school. “Much More” and “My New Philosophy” might be uncommon enough to get you into a performing arts school but way too overdone for a Broadway audition.
4. In General, Pick Something Age Appropriate.
The exception here is if you’re auditioning for children’s theatre where you’ll play adult roles. If you’re 7-years-old and auditioning for young Cosette, don’t come prepared with “I Dreamed a Dream.” You’re too young to understand Fantine’s baggage, and it’ll be distracting for the audition panel.
It’s important, too, that you can find a way to relate to the song you’re singing. If you have no idea what you’re singing about, it’ll show in your performance. The reverse is true, too. If you’re 45-years-old, please don’t show up with a song about what it’s like to be 16. I’ve seen it done, and it’s hard to get past the “Isn’t she around 45?” thing.
5. Unless Requested, It’s Safer To Avoid Songs From the Show You’re Auditioning For.
An audition panel probably has something specific in mind for how they envision a song from the show to be sung. Even if you do a great job with the song, you may get overlooked for not fitting the image they had. It’s safest to sing something in a similar style to the show. If you’re unsure, picking a different show by the same composer is a good rule of thumb to get you started.
6. Choose Something That Suits Your Voice.
Harder does not always mean better. If you’re auditioning for a belting role and know you can only belt up to a B4 without sounding shrill, don’t pick a song in which the climactic belting note is a C#5. If you’re a soprano and sound weak on B4, sing something with a higher climactic note! Within reason, you can also alter the key of your audition material. If you’re asked to bring sheet music to your audition, certain websites, like musicnotes.com, will sell you the same song in different keys. If you have trouble figuring out which parts of your voice are the strongest, hiring a reputable voice teacher is a great way to seek advice. Look for someone in your area, or take some singing lessons online.
7. Cut Your Song Strategically.
Typically, you won’t be asked to sing an entire song for a first musical theatre audition (although this is not true of a classical audition). Often requested lengths include 16 bars, 32 bars, or sometimes “around a minute.” The first and most important tip I can give you is to make sure you sound good on the cut. If you sound phenomenal on the first verse and chorus but struggle with the showy notes at the end, skip the showy notes at the end, no matter how cool it would be if you could hit those notes convincingly! If you’re a powerhouse on the whole song, then by all means, pick the absolute showiest part of the song. If that means skipping the beginning and just singing the last 16 bars with the big note at the end, then that’s what you should go for.
As a general guideline, don’t include too much repetition in your selection. As you’re cutting out parts of the song, you’ll want to avoid two verses in a row or a double chorus that doesn’t change much the second time. You only have a short period of time to show what you can do, so get as much in as possible.
Make sure your cuts in the sheet music are clearly marked for the accompanist. Remember, he or she has to sight-read a lot of different songs from the audition, so make your song easy to read. The last thing you want is for your accompanist to be confused and play the wrong part. You’re the one who’ll look unprepared.
Finally, if you’re choosing the beginning and not the end of the song, consider knowing the whole song and making sure you at least sound okay on the end, showy notes and all. Don’t choose the showy section if it isn’t your best one, but you don’t want to risk picking a song you can’t complete if the audition panel asks you to continue.
8. Build a Repertoire.
Okay, this one isn’t exactly a tip on how to choose a song, but it’ll make choosing a song under pressure oh so much easier. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to learn a whole new song for every audition. The last thing you want is to learn about an audition that would be perfect for you that’s taking place the next day and to have to start from scratch with your preparation. Instead, you should create a repertoire of songs you’re good at that covers as many audition requirements as you think you’ll need. If you’re a pop singer and know you’ll probably never audition for a classical music program, you don’t need to worry about having classical pieces on hand, but you probably will want to have an uptempo, a mid-tempo, and a ballad ready so that you can pull out contrasting pieces when asked. It’s helpful to choose songs from different eras and different contemporary styles as well. As a pop singer, you may want to have other contemporary genres, like country or R&B, ready to go as well.
If you’re a musical theatre singer, you should be prepared with songs from different musical theatre eras, different tempos, and (if possible) different ranges. I say, if possible, because if you’re only a belter and have a very weak head voice, you probably won’t want to audition with a soprano song, and if you can’t belt at all, you may as well skip adding belting songs to your audition repertoire. If you’re only comfortable singing in one range though and are serious about making it in musical theatre, it’s not a bad idea to invest in some vocal technique lessons. For a musical theatre singer, it’s also useful to add a pop/rock song or two to your repertoire in case a contemporary song is a requirement for a rock musical audition.
If you’re a classical singer, you should again choose songs from varying eras. You should also look for songs of differing tempos and even languages. It can be helpful to have a classic Broadway song under your belt too, as these are sometimes acceptable for classical auditions.