Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Auditions: 5 tips for success

Auditions are never fun. It is fundamentally an unnatural process for any singer to have to go through. We are trained for and thrive most in performance situations, not in an empty room with a table and small panel at one end, and a piano and us at the other. Although auditions do become easier the more you do them, the fact that you are being judged and scrutinised so intensely, that there are only 1-5 people on a panel, and that you are not getting any energy back from an audience make it somewhat fraught.

On top of having done countless auditions in the last 14 years, I have sat on an audition panel before, as well as had audition coaching and advice from the casting department at one of the UK's main opera houses.

Here are 5 tips which I think will benefit most singers:

1. Be prepared
This is the most fundamental thing to bear in mind for any audition. Bring repertoire relevant to the coming seasons or operas of the company you are auditioning for. If you are bringing several arias of your own choice for a general audition make sure you know them inside out. It is not a good idea to bring something you only started looking at a week before the audition. You should have taken the arias to your teacher and to a coach, and ideally to a language coach too, to make sure everything is as finely tuned as possible.

Also make sure you know what you are aiming for interpretatively. What is the 'objective' of the character when they sing that aria. What do they want? What is standing in their way? Where in the aria does that 'objective' change, if at all. What 'actions' can you tie to each line, phrase or verse. Can you internalise these? Connect specific feelings to each line or key words? Use a sequence of images in your mind to evoke the emotions of each section as it comes? If you are unclear on these terms, any book on acting will help you, especially on Method. I recommend Mike Alfreds' "Different Every Night".

Even if you think you can get by, it is very clear to a panel if you don't understand the text you are singing. Be clear and apply the thinking processes the character would going through over and over again in the practice room.

Know the aria so well that you can singing it on autopilot. If you get distracted by something in the audition, you want to be sure that it is so 'in your body' that you will carry on singing it automatically.

If you are auditioning for a specific role, and have had to learn an aria from that role specially, the same applies, although you may have far less time to prepare it. A good method I have found is to go over the words several times in your head as you lie in bed about to go to sleep and as soon as you wake up. Research has shown that the subconscious mind absorbs things more readily at these times.

2. Own the room

When you walk in to do your audition, do so with pride, and expansiveness. Even if you feel you are faking it. The panel want to feel that you are a confident performer. If you walk in and own the space they can relax. They want to feel solidity and trustworthiness, and it gives them confidence in you. If you walk in meekly, apologising for your presence with poor body language and a quiet voice, you may feel you are being authentic to what you feel at that moment, but the panel is hardly going to see you as someone they want to have on stage in front of hundreds of people representing their company.

Before I go in, indeed before any performance I do, I like to do an exercise which I gleaned from the Michael Chekhov acting technique which uses expansion as a physical gesture. This opens your body and 'energy'. Simply expand yourself outward rapidly from a neutral position, arms out wide, head back, chest open, feet apart, standing tall. Like a star shape. Stretch out and up as far as you can in a gesture of total opening, and audibly or silently shout "YES". Imagine your energy or aura expanding outwards too, way beyond the body, filling the room with vitality and life. Then return to neutral. Do this several times. You will feel more relaxed and open, and will communicate more freely when singing.

If you are near the panel when you enter the room, or if one of them signals to shake their hand, then do that with the whole panel, keeping good eye contact with each of them. Make sure to speak with confidence, not quietly or sheepishly. If you are a long way from the panel, just walk in confidently, speak loudly and in a friendly manner. Smile. If this is the first time you meet the pianist, then greet them with a handshake and friendliness too. The panel will pick up on this sort of thing. Even speak loudly to the pianist when informing him of tempos or any cuts in what you are going to sing. You are a professional musician, and an artist who knows what they want!

3. Stand still when singing

Some singers walk around and move a lot in auditions, but one thing I have learnt is that companies like to see a solidity and a rootedness. It is preferable for a singer to be rooted to one spot and to convey interpretation through the music, face, and to a certain extent, gestures, when they are singing in an audition. This also makes it easier for the panel to focus on what you are doing. And, as in point 2, it gives them an impression of solidity, trustworthiness and reliability instead of airiness and insubstantiality.

4. Dress well

Look at your best. By this I don't mean perfect suits or DJs for guys, or concert dress for women. But dress like you would if you were going out for a meal or date. The panel like to feel you have made a bit of an effort, that you are not just treating the whole thing as something you do between hanging out with friends, and a trip to the amusement arcade.

This means go for smart casual. Stylish and classy. A pair of trousers, a smart or fashionable shirt open at the top button, a blazer, and importantly, a good pair of shoes, is a good look for a man auditioning. I can't comment so much on what is right for a woman, but the same thing applies. Look like you've made an effort, but not extremely formal. Use colours which work for you, your eyes, and your complexion.

If you have never looked into this sort of thing, or have no interest in clothes, or are a style disaster, it could be worth booking a session with my friend Sudarshan's company or something similar. It is money well spent, and dressing well can up anyone's attractiveness substantially. All stuff that an audition panel are looking for, whether we like it or not.


Of course, if you are auditioning to play a Witch or a Villain you may want to fine tune your look even more, and aim for a darker look. But I would draw the line at fake warts, eye patches or plastic scars.

5. Hit them with your best shots EARLY

This is one which I'd heard about but never really believed until I sat on an audition panel last year.  Within the first few seconds of you starting to sing most people on an audition panel have decided if they want you or not.

Social and psychological research shows us that we form our opinions of people very quickly, based on the first few seconds of meeting them. This can change if someone is in our circle or we meet them repeatedly, but in an audition we only have the one chance, that five or ten minutes, before we disappear out of their lives again.

As singers we usually get the chance to choose the first aria we want to sing in a general audition.This makes it extremely important that you pick something that shows off the unique selling points of your voice right at the start. If it is power you have in abundance there is little point singing an aria where the only fortissimo is right at the end. Hit them with some big notes immediately. A baritone would be well off picking something such as "Or dove fuggo io mai...Ah per sempre" or a mezzo "Va".

Similarly, it it sweetness and beauty of line pick something where your most radiant singing shines through from the start. Practice the opening over and over so it is technically flawless. With a good opening your own confidence for the rest of the aria grows to. A poor opening can, conversely, be something you never recover fully from.

It is a harsh truth, but if you have an amazing beginning you can be go far, but if you start slowly and build into it, peaking later in an aria you will have already missed your chance nine times out of ten.

An audition panel has sat through countless singers on an audition day. It is not particularly fun. If someone starts in a poor or un-commited, uninteresting manner, they will take that as an excuse to switch off for the rest of the audition and think about what they will have for dinner that evening. This is the simple truth.

Conversely, a brilliant, powerful first few seconds snaps them out of the haze and forces them to take notice. They are waiting for someone to blow them away, to surprise them. If you feel apathetic about it, or do exactly what every other singer of your voice type does then it's not going to be particularly interesting to the panel.

Hit them with your best shot immediately!


So, there you have it. Preparation, Presentation, Rootedness, Style, and Starting Well. Five essentials for good auditions. I hope they prove to be useful for you.

I would love to know if you have any additional ideas around these, or other tips. Please do comment. 


  1. Thanks for the tips ! Although I managed to catch most of them with time, I had no idea to talk to the pianist loud :) it seems to be a great start to show what your aiming for.
    We never say enough how much it counts to be friendly except if you don't want to sing the parti you're auditionning for... :)

  2. Yes. To be friendly to everyone is essential. You never know, the person outside who meets you and is ticking people's names off the list may be an important person in the company who is having a break from the audition room itself.
    The thing with the piano player is you don't have to speak ridiculously loud. It's more a case of not being apologetic and whispering to them as if there is some secret info passing between you. Be clear, be seen to know what you want!

  3. tus consejos están muy buenos, no hablo inglés, lo poco que pude entender fue con la traducción de mala calidad de Google. Mi Audición será en 6 meses, para ingresar al conservatorio... ¿alguna sugerencia para elegir un aria para un bajo joven? muchas gracias.