We’ve seen and heard a lot of auditions over the past few years and would like to pass on some of the wisdom we’ve gleaned along the way. We offer this list of audition DOs and DON’Ts for singers who wish to step up their audition game – and who doesn’t want to do that?
DO choose an earlier time. We know singers always sing better later in the day, once our voices have had a chance to warm up, but agents are tired by the afternoon after listening to 15-25 singers already. Their nerves are a bit fried and it’s more difficult to listen, no matter how well you sing. Consider singing earlier when the agents’ ears are fresh.
DO dress for success. We’ve heard this a million times, and the audition dress protocol has certainly evolved in the past decade, but there are still some basic guidelines to follow. This is essentially a job interview, so dress professionally. Nothing too casual, nothing too fancy. Clothes should be clean and pressed, shoes clean and polished. I would guess that 95% of all panelists prefer not to see drastically low necklines or drastically short skirts, shirttails, or sagging trousers. Haute couture is not necessary, but please have respect for your craft and yourself as an artist. You just don’t want your clothing to detract from your audition. [n.b. European audition dress has traditionally been more casual than in North America, but this is quickly changing, and it’s obvious when people “haven’t gotten the memo.”]
DO speak loudly and clearly when you enter the room/hall. Introduce yourself confidently and cordially.
DO choose simpler repertoire that you can sing perfectly, rather than “impressive” arias that are more risky. Panelists are much more impressed with clean, beautiful, flawless singing than big, flashy repertoire choices.
DO staple your CV together. Better yet, limit your CV to one page. You’ll be surprised how much you can fit onto one page, and anything more than that the panel doesn’t really care about or read. It’s more impressive to have a well-designed one-page resume than a long, drawn out one. The best resumes we’ve seen have all relevant experience on one side with one small color photograph, and audition repertoire and space to write on the other side.
DO clearly mark cuts for your pianist. And if a previous cut was marked but now you want to sing it, recopy the music without the markings. Don’t make your pianist guess.
DO practice giving your tempo to a pianist. This is a skill in and of itself. Usually all it takes is speaking or singing one to two bars of the aria. You can do this quietly, but practice setting the exact tempo you need within those two bars. If you need to change the tempo once you’ve started the actual aria, placing the consonants exactly where you need them will signal to the pianist to play slower or quicker.
DO record your audition (if it isn’t being recorded for you) and use it for your own learning process. Listen to the recording, note what went well and what didn’t, and work on the areas which need improvement. Send it to your teacher so that they can help you improve your weak areas.
DO make an honest self-assessment of whether you are really ready to audition for major agents. Know what those agents are looking for: a finished product that they can sell immediately. The business is really tough for them as well, and they can’t afford to take a risk on someone who still needs development. Singing before you’re ready is a guaranteed way to make sure those particular agents won’t want to hear you again. Have conversations with your coaches and teachers and ask them to help you make this assessment if you aren’t sure.
DON'T be difficult during the process of setting up an audition: changing audition time request multiple times, making requests for special treatment, being rude in your dealings with the administrators, not saying thank you when requests are honored – all of this wastes the company’s or agent’s time and does not ingratiate you. Again, the agent or casting director will hear about it. Furthermore, administrators are inclined to help singers who ask nicely, and are disinclined to honor requests which are made rudely or with a tone of entitlement.
Check your writing carefully, and if you’re writing in a language in which you are not fluent, consider having a friend or translator check it for tone.
DON'T fly in on the day of your audition. If you’re going to spend money on an audition, spend a little bit more to have a comfortable night’s sleep. If you are exhausted and have a bad audition, you will have wasted 100% of the money you spent. This goes for singing when sick or suffering from allergies, too. It seems like a no-brainer and we’ve all heard it many times, but you would be shocked at how many people still sing when sick or exhausted. Don’t do it!
DON'T give a long introduction at the beginning. A greeting, your name, your first aria and a brief chat with the pianist will do. Don’t use up your own audition time by giving your life story. Same for shaking every single panelist’s hand – especially with a large panel, this wastes a lot of time.
DON'T start with a super long aria. Time is limited, and if you’ve blown your whole 8 or 10 minutes on one aria, you force the panel to either forego a second aria (which might have shown another side to your voice) or cut into someone else’s time later. Neither is good. Additionally, there’s very little you can show in an 8-10 minute aria that you can’t show just as well in a 3-5 minute one.
DON'T bring music that is difficult for the pianist to deal with. Examples include: loose sheets of paper (not taped together), poor-quality photocopies, books that don’t stay open, copies with notes cut off, music which has excessive marking/writing. Check with your own coaches to find out if there is a preferred edition to play from.
Speaking of pianists, absolutely under no circumstances be rude to the audition pianist. Most audition pianists are excellent at what they do, and even if you encounter a pianist who isn’t, being rude to them will not ingratiate you to the panel. It’s guaranteed that the pianist will tell the panel if you were rude to them (this goes for audition monitors/hosts as well). I have more than once been ready to contact a singer and then immediately marked them off my list upon hearing that they were rude to the pianist or audition monitor.
DON'T overact during your audition. Make sure all movement develops out of a genuine connection to the text (think like an actor) rather than from singing technique or the need to “do something.” We all know the stereotypical baritone claw or soprano choir hands – these are great for a giggle, but they are extreme examples of what many, many singers do with their hands. Make dramatic choices, then get rid of anything which doesn’t come from genuine meaning. [n.b. We realize that this is very different from what you would do on stage in a production, and that’s fine. This is an audition. It’s a different beast.] Oh, and please no referential gestures. You don’t have to touch your heart on the word “cuore.” We get it.
DON'T pace around the room as you sing. A good rule of thumb is one step in any direction. There are, of course, exceptions, but only for extreme cases when you want to make a big statement.
DON'T ask to re-do your aria or part of it if something didn’t go well. The panel may not have thought it was as bad as you do and asking to re-do it will only highlight the mistake. Do not make excuses for performing below your normal standard. Just thank the panel graciously and learn from the experience.
We wish you great success in your future auditions and singing. Please know that every agent, every casting director, and every audition panelist wants you to succeed. Every time. Be the best version of yourself you can be, and eventually you will meet the person who is looking for exactly what you have to offer. In the meantime, continue pursuing your dream, honing your craft, and creating great art.
Article by Julie Wyma for The Opera Stage