We’ve all been there: You show up early to the audition. A little nervous, you shake hands with the other people waiting. Some look around the room, but nobody makes much eye contact. Everyone looks tired and a bit anxious. And now it’s your turn.
So you start working through the songs you’ve prepared. But pretty soon, it’s clear the audition is done. And before you know it, you’re out the door wondering what just happened. Finally, about a month later, you find out they went with another singer, and your confidence takes a nosedive.
And I know how much it sucks to not get the gig. Now, having taught over 500 students, I help singers nail their auditions all the time. Some of them are aiming for a role in a musical. Others are auditioning for a lead singer spot in a band. And some are auditioning for The Voice. But no matter what you’re auditioning for, let me say this:
So today, I want to guide you through some steps you can use to master your next audition. And I promise if you master these 10 skills, you’re almost guaranteed to nail your next singing audition. Ready to get started? Here they are…
#1: Sing on Pitch and In Time
The first skill every auditioning singer needs to is being able to sing on pitch and in time. If you can’t sing in tune or in tempo, people will be able to tell in a matter of seconds. And that makes for a pretty short audition!
There are lots of reasons that you may be off pitch or rhythm. But the bottom line is there are lots of singers out there who haven’t gotten the feedback they need to correct their pitch and timing. So whatever the reason you’re off pitch, the best way to improve it is getting good feedback.
Feedback just means getting information about whether you’re on pitch or off pitch. And it usually comes from another person. Getting helpful feedback is the goal behind all ear training, and that’s the best place to start. You could get feedback in singing lessons, for example, or from a pitch app on your phone. But one thing’s for sure:
A voice teacher will also give you exercises to help you train your ear, so you know that you’re always on pitch. The truth is that learning to sing on pitch and in time may take you a while. But it’s absolutely necessary before you walk through those audition room doors.
#2: Sing with Good Vocal Tone
Here’s the bottom line: No one cares if you can sing in tune if your vocal tone doesn’t sound good. That’s because the vocal tone, or the way that your singing voice sounds, is one of the essential singing techniques that makes your voice sound unique. So singing with good vocal tone is a requirement for a successful singing audition.
In most cases, singers struggle with one of two problems with vocal tone:
- Singing too nasally or…
- Singing too breathy.
So if you think you’re singing too nasal, try this:
- Take a phrase from a song that you’re working on.
- For every note of the melody, replace the lyric with the word “Bee.” Notice how the “B” consonant instantly makes your voice sound less nasal.
- Then, once you’ve found the melody with the “Bee” exercise, try to sing the lyrics with the same feeling you got with the “Bee.”
You should notice that your tone is less nasal. That’s because the “B” consonant raises the soft palate and temporarily blocks off the nasal passage. If you’re confused about this exercise, here’s a quick video where I walk you through the exercise.
If you think you’re singing too breathy, try this:
- Select a phrase from a song that you’re working on.
- Speak the words of the phrase out loud like you’re announcing them to a large crowd. You’ll notice that when you project the words, your breathiness disappears.
- Now, sing the melody, but with the same power that you got when you were projecting your speaking voice.
You should notice that this projected tone eliminates all the breathiness, giving you a beautiful vocal tone. If you’re not sure how to do this exercise, don’t worry, here’s a video where I walk you through it:
#3: Learn to Project
It doesn’t matter whether you’re auditioning for a musical or a metal band; every singer needs to be able to project. Learning to project simply means singing with power.
To get started, try this simple exercise:
- Select a phrase from a song that you’re working on.
- Now imagine that you’re on stage in a crowded auditorium.
- Next, take the lyrics from the phrase and speak them out loud at a volume where you would reach the back row. Your volume should be strong but without yelling or whispering.
- Once you’ve found this perfect volume, use the same power and sing the notes of the phrase. You should feel that your notes are incredibly strong and supported.
By the way, if you’re not totally sure how to do this exercise, I’ve made a video to walk you through it:
#4: Learn to Hit High Notes
Here’s the ugly truth: Singing high notes is hard to do. But hitting high notes is something that every auditioning singer needs to do. So before you give up on those glorious high notes, let me say this: Expanding your vocal range just requires practice and the right singing techniques.
It’s called the “Gee” exercise, and it’s an excellent exercise for singing high notes without straining or cracking.
Here’s how you do the “Gee” exercise:
- Select a phrase from a song that you’re working on.
- Next, say the word “Gee” out loud like you’re saying the word “Geese.”
- Now, sing the word “Gee” on each note of the phrase that you’re working on, replacing each note of the melody with the word “Gee.”
- Finally, sing the lyrics of the phrase again, keeping the same powerful feeling you got from singing “Gee.”
If you’re confused about how to do the “Gee” exercise, here’s a cool video to I walk you through it:
#5: Have Your Own Gear
Can I tell you a secret? If you’re a singer that has your own gear, you can probably already get a job as a vocalist. That’s because most vocalists don’t invest in their own singing enough to have their own gear. Too many singers expect to walk in and have a microphone and P.A. waiting for them when they arrive. But I promise you this:
So let’s talk about the gear you need as a singer. The first thing a vocalist needs is a good microphone.
Plus, almost any venue you play at will probably have an SM-58 as part of their equipment. So being comfortable with this microphone will pay off.
As a singer, you’ll also need a speaker or “monitor” for your vocals. These are the big, black square speakers you see on stage at performances.
You’ll also need a mixer to take the signal from your microphone and connect it to your monitor.
This 10-channel mixer has plenty of inputs for your own microphone, plus more for the other band members (always a plus). The last thing you’ll need as a singer is a P.A. to power the sound from the mixer. Your P.A. is probably the most expensive piece of equipment you’ll need, but it’s an important thing to consider.
#6: Memorize Lyrics
Let’s face it: It doesn’t matter how great you sound if you can’t remember your lyrics. The truth is that many auditions happen with only a few days’ notice and you may have to memorize lyrics quickly. But don’t let that scare you!
There are lots of different ways to memorize lyrics quickly, but for today, my favourite memorization trick is to make a story out of the song…
Here’s how you make a story out of the lyrics:
- Print out the lyrics of the song you’re learning.
- Ask yourself what is the story that the lyrics of the song is telling? Remember, most stories are linear; they start in one place and end in another. So looking at your lyrics, can you see a clear beginning and end to the story?
- On your printout, write a simple one sentence phrase describing what’s going on in the margins.
- Finally, use those simple descriptions to remember the order the lyrics need to happen in.
You’ll find that when you break a song down into a line from start to end that the order of lyrics makes it way easier to remember.
After all, if you understand the story the song is telling, you’ll remember the order of the lyrics to tell that story. Here’s a quick video that breaks down this exercise with some examples:
#7: Communicate With the other Musicians
Now that you’ve got a great voice and the right gear let’s talk about some of the intangibles in a great audition. One of the biggest issues I see in auditions is that the singer can’t communicate with the other musicians. But here’s the truth:
It’s so rare that singers can speak about tempo, rhythm, chords and melodies, that if you study a bit, you’re already one step closer to nailing your audition. Not only will you be able to express your ideas better, but you’ll also understand what the other band members or music director are looking for. So if you’re not sure how to communicate about music, take some time to educate yourself about music theory.
And if you can communicate musically with the other band members, you’ll be able to express your musical ideas much more easily.
#8: Connect with Your Audience
Let’s face it: Your primary job as a performer is to connect with your audience. We’ve all seen mediocre singers who were great performers because they were so good at connecting with the audience. So if you can sing well and connect with your audience, people will be fighting to hire you.
There’s an old saying that goes like this: The song is the script. That means to treat the lyrics and melody of the song that you’re singing like an actor treats his script. After all, most great songs already have a deep emotional meaning. So all you have to do as a singer is find that meaning and make it personal to you.
- Print out a copy of the lyrics to the song you’re learning.
- Reading through the lyrics, think of a time in your own life when the lyrics could have applied to you. Even if the lyrics don’t literally apply, see if you can relate to the feeling that the lyrics evoke.
- Now, try to channel the emotion into the song when you sing it.
When you practice this method with your audition songs, you won’t believe how well people respond to you!
#9: Perform Under Pressure
Here’s the hard truth: It doesn’t matter how great your voice is if you can’t perform under pressure. As a vocal coach, I see students deal with performance anxiety all the time. Some singers sound flawless in the practice room, but suddenly turn shaky and timid as soon as they’re in an audition.
Working with a great vocal coach can give you the confidence you need to sound your best. But you can also simulate the nerves you’ll feel on audition day from the security of your practice room. Here’s how:
The next time you’re going to practice a song, do a quick cardio exercise (such as jumping jacks) for about 10 seconds before you begin. The rapid heart rate you feel mimics the effects of the adrenaline rush you’ll get when you audition. You’ll be amazed at how a little practice with this can help you overcome any audition nerves!
#10: Be a Team Player
In the end, it doesn’t matter how well you sing or connect with an audience if people don’t want to work with you. That means every person you audition for needs to feel like they can get along with you. Having a negative attitude or acting like a prima donna is a sure-fire way to kill your audition before you even start. And unfortunately, too many singers fall into this trap.
As a member of a band or theatre company, you may be asked to do things for the team that don’t exactly want to do. That may mean doing an extra rehearsal because the guitarist feels shaky about the new song.
Or it may mean that you need to help the set designers paint the new backdrop the night before opening. And people talk. So if you’re easy to work with, people will be happy to recommend and rehire you. After all, would you rather work with a total jerk who can sing or a great person who can also sing?
By now you should have all the skills you need to nail your next vocal audition. I guarantee that if you take these steps seriously and devote time to mastering them, you’re closer than ever to getting the vocal gig of your dreams.
Matt Ramsey is the head voice teacher and founder of Ramsey Voice Studio, the highest rated vocal studio in Texas.
Having taught over 500 students, Matt feels that the right vocal technique can help anyone become a better singer.
Matt’s complete vocal course is Master Your Voice.
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