Singing for Drama College Auditions (Part 3 of 6) – Song choices (more tips)

Make sure you have read Part 1 of this series first, to get an overview of how the singing element fits into the audition process for actors (not music theatre performers).

  1. Work out how much of the song you will sing for your audition version: work out cuts so you know what you would include in a 1-minute and/or a 2-minute audition performance. For example, you can sing more verses (and story) if you don’t do the chorus every time.
  2. Don’t choose a song just because it’s your favourite, or a popular song.
  3. It can sometimes help to sing a song we know well. It’s like we have a relationship with the song. Make sure you find your own personal set of choices for the song. Don’t let yourself fall into doing an imitation of someone else’s way of performing it.
  4. The song must work:
    • without instrumentals
    • without excellent rhythm section
    • without harmonies
    • without other voices adding a ‘call & response’ effect
  5. When all those things are stripped away:
    • Is the lyric understandable on a first hearing? Avoid lyrics with lots of ambiguity, vagueness, references to things the listener has to guess about and can’t work out.
    • Is the lyric something you can make theatrical, that pulls us into a story, or a character’s situation?
    • Can you work out any objectives and obstacles in the lyric? Will this give a dramatic direction to the lyric when you perform it to a first time listener?
    • Does the tune hold enough interest in variation of pitch and rhythm?
    • Do the tune and lyric work by themselves, without the drama and character provided by musical backing? Remember that, while you (the singer) can imagine the extra emotional information provided by backing instrumentals, the audience of your unaccompanied song can’t and won’t. For the listener, it has to work dramatically as a voice singing alone.
  6. If there is more than one character (e.g. 2 people, and perhaps a narrator as well), find a way to make it clear who is singing each verse. Visuals can help a lot in your performance, but also think what you would do with your voice if you had to dramatise it for a radio / blind listener.
  7. Don’t leave long silences where the instrumentals would be. Just go straight on. If this doesn’t seem workable, choose a different song.
  8. Learn the whole song, so you understand the dramatic arc of the whole story.
  9. Make sure you can perform your song choice as a piece of theatre, not just a piece of music.
  10. How might an audition panel might react to an auditionee with a really good singing voice and good musicianship delivering a song as if in a gig/concert, rather than a theatrical context? Auditionees can be tempted to choose a song they love, or one that they feel shows off their musicality, or their singing technique – but … they end up singing in a way that fails to pull us into the character(s) or the story. The gamble is to hope that the panel might be happy just that the singing is ‘competent’ or ‘ok’ – but you probably want to make more of an impact than that. So, aim to make your singing – however good – a piece of theatre. It’s the difference between Robbie Williams doing ‘Mr Bojangles’ (competent, but superficial), or Sammy Davis Jr doing it. Another good example of bringing a jazz song alive is Tony Bennett (for example, the 2nd song in his concert: ‘Maybe This Time‘ from Cabaret).