How to Prepare for an Audition – A Checklist for Singers

25. January 2020



Congratulations! You have been invited to an audition. A first goal is achieved!

But what to do now? What to take with you? What arias to chose? What to wear?
In this guide I have summed up topics that often come up in preparation
for an audition.
Although this list is not exhaustive, it can be a helpful resource for you when
you are attending an audition, independent from your level of experience.

Confirm the audition date immediately, send your resume and
all required files and then make sure you are prepared as good as possible.
This means not only that you have a packing list ready with the things you should
take with you, but it also includes general preparations and mindset issues that
will help you to give a memorable performance.

Let’s look at it step by step:


#1 Your Repertoire


A prerequisite for every audition is a clearly defined audition repertoire
of (opera) arias that is appropriate for your voice. It should contain at least
five pieces that are well known.

– Only take those arias that you are able to master perfectly and which you
are comfortable to sing. Make a well-considered choice that lets you show
all aspects of artistic singing: the quality of your voice, your vocal technique,
an elevated level of difficulty (height!), musicality, interpretation, virtuosity,
articulation etc.

– Furthermore, your selection should consist of arias in at least two, better three
different languages and show some contrast in terms of style, mood,
character and period.

– Always sing your repertoire in its original language and take coaching lessons
well in advance to make sure your pronunciation is immaculate!

– Know which aria you will sing first if you are given the choice (which is often the case).
In my opinion, it is smart to make that first aria short and fabulous; this will leave time
for a second aria.

– Do not at any cost let yourself be persuaded to sing something you have not prepared well
enough for a perfect performance. Auditions are a game to be played on the safe side.

#2 Travel Organisation


Often an audition takes place not near your home town but at a place far off
so that you will have to travel. If possible, make sure that you travel with
enough time buffer, so that you are relaxed and fit for the audition.  
Needless to say, that an unbalanced bio rhythm will have a very
negative impact on your performance. I have often seen singers who had
departed at 4.00 a.m. to perform at 12.00 a.m.


This means: try to travel with as little stress as possible; if necessary,
arrive one day before and stay overnight. AirBnB offers cheap accommodation
or you might want to ask in various Facebook groups for recommendations
or opportunities to stay with a fellow singer. Check out if there are any
Facebook groups for the city where your audition takes place or close to it.
People are usually very helpful.


On audition day, do not plan your departure time (or any appointment) too close
to your time of performance. Sometimes, auditions are very short, but they may
also be delayed and thus may become excessively long. Knowing that you have
to leave at a certain time to catch your train or flight or that you have an appointment
shortly after your scheduled time, will add further pressure to an already stressful event.


#3 Clothing


The question of clothing is often posed and must not be neglected.
Your outer appearance is the first impression your audience gets and,
as is so often the case, first impressions last.
You already know that an audition is not a “come-as-you-are-party”.
In general, I would say, that you should feel comfortable with what you wear
without being slouchy or overdressed. Torn jeans, jogging pants or flip flops
are as inappropriate for a routine audition as tailcoats, tuxedos or
full-length evening gowns.

Both men’s and women’s hair should always be out of the face.
It needn’t be pulled back, but you should be able to make eye contact.

Men

For men – as often 😉 – the question of clothing is a relatively uncomplicated one:

Smart/casual clothes tending towards the elegant side always look good.

– Wear a shirt that is relatively loose around the throat and either a jacket or a tie or both.
If you choose a tie, however, be careful that its fit is not too tight and chokes you.

– You can go for colour but avoid busy prints which divert the audience’s attention.
Better set an accent by wearing a bold tie, funny socks or an amazing suit that will
make you memorable apart from your voice.

– If you wear your hair long, make sure its out of your face. You should be able to
establish eye contact.

Women

Women’s clothing on the other hand is a much more differentiated subject:

– I would recommend wearing comfortable, unobtrusively elegant clothing that highlights
your physical appearance without showing too much skin. Although it should go without
saying, I cannot emphasize enough that strapless dresses showing off your cleavage down
to your navel or skirts so short they could be just broad belts are a no-go and will not help
you to get the job.

– Talking of skirt lengths: always bear in mind that you stand on the stage and the audience
looks up (!) to you. If in doubt, choose a longer skirt or dress.

Pants are equally fine as long as they look classy and fit you.

– Be careful about shawls and scarfs and other things that are not stabilized.

– If you want to remain in the judges’ memory (apart from your singing), go for a vibrant
touch of colour (no sequins or über-glitzy stuff and again: no busy prints) or some
interesting detail (a pin, a necklace, etc.) that does not overwhelm.

Black is always an option though hardly memorable

– One word on women’s shoes: I know that many vocal teachers recommend wearing rather
flat shoes in order to being “connected with the floor” and being able to stand upright which
enables you to adopt the perfect posture for singing. However, in many roles on stage you
will have to wear high heels so why not wear them to an audition? Always provided, of course,
that they suit you, that you are comfortable with them and – most important of all – that you
are able to walk in them confidently and gracefully.

#4 Audition Day


Get up in time, do your morning routine and have a healthy breakfast. I know:
stress can affect your nerves to such an extent that you can hardly eat anything.
However, you will need some nutritious basis in order to not only cope with the day
but rock it.

If you are a bit like me and have a very stress-sensitive stomach you might want to try some
oatmeal porridge with nuts and berries or bananas. It soothes the belly, is very nutritious
and will keep your energy level constantly high.

Avoid dairy products as they will generate mucus; also, citrus fruit and overly spicy food
are not recommendable.

Do not excess on coffee as it will dehydrate you. Instead, drink enough water or tea
before leaving the house.

– Carry out some light body warm-ups and stretching to smoothen your muscles and
become flexible.  Singing is so much more than just using your diaphragm and moving
your vocal cords. Your whole body is your instrument so take good care of it!

– If you have the opportunity, you should do a little vocal warm-up before you go.
Be careful and do not overdo it. Lip trills and glissandi will be enough.
The “real” warm-up will take place at the audition venue.

– Check carefully that you have packed everything you need (see #5)

Leave the house in time. If you are travelling to the venue by public transport you will
hopefully have planned out your travelling schedule well before, always keeping in mind
that Murphy’s law could kick in and there could be some delay.

#5 Package list


– First of all: your note sheets! Nothing more shocking than to arrive at the place of the
audition to realize you have forgotten your notes at home! And believe me: this has
happened before and more than once.

– Your ticket for public transport and/or ticket for your journey back

– If you have one, take your audition plan with you.

– Water or unsweetened tea. Make sure to drink plenty, starting already at the day before,
in order to keep your throat hydrated.

– (Sugar-free) lozenges or pastilles, if you want and/or need them to hydrate your throat.

– Something to eat, at best something that additionally provides you with moisture, like
fruits or vegetables and something nutritious like muesli bars or nuts. However,
some people have a very sensitive digestion, especially under pressure. Make sure you
choose your food wisely in order to avoid any inconveniences.

Also do not eat too much or too close to your performance. If your belly is overstuffed,
you will have trouble with breathing and breath support. Additionally, gases might form
and… well, you know…

– If you get cold easily, take a sweater or a coat with you to keep you warm.
No need to shiver from anything else than nerves…

– A pair of extra shoes. This is not a must but especially the ladies will know what I am
talking about: running around in high-heels the whole day can be extremely stressful
for the body and lead to muscle tension which leads to bad posture which leads to
decreased breath support which leads to voice problems ….

Deodorant or body spray. Have mercy on your competitors and colleagues and have
something to freshen up at hand.

First aid supplies like (blister) plasters and a disinfection spray. Again, this is optional,
and chances are that you will hardly need it, but again: Murphy’s Law might kick in just
when you do not have anything with you.

– It is also advisable to have a mini sewing kit with you. A loose button or a ripped seam
will not be a drama but something you can control and confidently cope with. Also, if one
of your competitors has a clothing issue you can fix with your sewing kit, stay human
and help them.

Noise cancelling headphones. You might want to take them to the audition venue
in order to shut out the noise and calm down and concentrate.

– Your lucky penny or whatever good-luck charm you have and need.

#6 Warm-Up


After having arrived at the venue and having carried out all the administrative
stuff, you usually have the opportunity to warm up your voice.
However, you are not the only one to do so and you will certainly have no room
for yourself. This is the time to mentally shut out the world and focus solely on your voice.
Exercise your warm-ups carefully, try out those high (or low) notes
but please: do not exaggerate, neither in height nor in volume.
With many people around you who warm up their voices you might be tempted
to sing louder than is healthy.

However, sometimes there will be no official room for warming up.
Be inventive then: do your exercises in the cloak room, in the toilet compartment
or any niche you can find. A friend of mine even stepped into a large closet and
did his vocal warm-up there. We still have a good laugh when we imagine that
anybody had casually strolled by – to be frightened nearly to death by a booming
voice coming out of the closet.

#7 Mindset


When it comes to a winning mindset, athletes are pros.
As a lot of their techniques are applicable for singers, as well,
I have listed some of them here:

Visualization. According to research it does not make any difference to the brain whether you
really experience something or whether you just imagine it. Use this technique by imagining how
you want the audition to be. Picture yourself entering the stage calmly and composedly. You start
to sing and are totally absorbed in the music and the lyrics and you do a stunning and convincing
performance. Imagine not only what you see but also what you hear and feel. Use as many senses
as you can to make the image real in your mind.

Remember your previous best performance. The task here is to re-create the mindset that
led to your success. Again, remember how you felt, what you saw and so on. When you have
found this successful mindset, try to find a word or feeling for it that you can repeat when
you feel negative thoughts creeping up.

Create a ritual that helps you to stay in control. Do some breathing, meditate or carry out
exercises and movements that will help you to calm down. Use the minutes before you enter
the stage to focus completely on your upcoming performance. Try to enjoy this feeling of
tension and excitement! It is normal to feel nervous.

Get the right attitude. You cannot expect to be perfect every time. After all, it is more
important how we react to what happens than what happens itself. Define personal goals
to measure your progress and success and commit to them. Distinguish between the things
you can control and those you have no control about and accept that.

“One play at a time”: do not fret about a badly intoned note or a flounder but go on.
Don’t let one tiny part of your performance throw you off for the rest of the aria.
What’s done is over and you cannot bring it back. Concentrate on the task at hand and
give your best now.

Keep up a positive mindset. “Whether you think you can, or you can’t – you are right.”
is a saying by Henry Ford, which shows the power of your thoughts.
So make sure you think that you can!

#8 Accompanist


No, I don’t mean: bring your own accompanist. 😉
But he or she definitely plays (hihi, get it?) an important role in your performance.
Therefore, it is always advisable to at least not disgruntle him/her and at best
make his/her work easy so that he/she will support you in return by
accompanying you perfectly.  

It is a matter of politeness to take special care of your note sheets! I think there is no
accompanist who could not tell you his or her hair-raising experiences with crumpled
scraps of paper, unreadable scribbles and instable sheets that collapsed or fluttered to the
ground. Be considerate and either tape the sheets together in the right (!) order or put
them into a folder where the pages can easily be turned.

– Also, inform your accompanist beforehand about any specialties in your performance,
for example fermatas, cadenzas or any omissions you intend to do.

– As far as tempo is concerned, you usually can rely upon an experienced accompanist to play
in the appropriate pace. However, to err is human and it could happen that he or she plays
your aria either way too fast or too slow. In that case – and only if you really cannot cope
with it or if it would distort your performance – I would recommend trying to make eye contact
first and stubbornly sing in the tempo you want to have. If nothing helps, you have no other
choice but to stop singing and explain shortly how fast or slow you want the piece to be played.

#9 Performance


Enter the stage with confidence. Do not carry anything with you except your note sheets.
Leave your bags or coats in the wardrobe. Also, do not fall into the bad habit of bringing up
a water bottle onto the stage and then trying to hide it (unsuccessfully) under the piano.

– Normally, the audience room is partially dark, and you will not be able to see anyone.
Nevertheless, introduce yourself with your full name and explain shortly what aria you
are going to sing first. Remember: you are on stage. So, make sure you are clearly
understood even at the last seat.

Stand up straight without touching the piano (it can support itself 😉), take some seconds
to concentrate and let the accompanist know (for example by nodding slightly towards him/her)
that you are ready to start.

Connect with the words and music and perform as if you were singing alone and
just for yourself.

– You may use your hands and arms to emphasize your words and do facial expressions,
but you are not supposed to wander around or act excessively. Close your eyes if you want,
yet do not keep them shut for too long. After all, your eyes are an important factor in your
performance.

– As far as pronunciation is concerned: spit out your words! If you think you are overdoing it,
this is when you have reached the point to articulate understandably.

– When your part is over, do not relax to soon but hold the tension for a few seconds longer to
keep up the energy.

– Maybe you will be asked to sing a second aria. Then go ahead and do what is requested!  
Maybe you receive a “Thank you, you will hear from us.”  In that case stay polite, bow, say
“Thank you” and leave the stage with your head held high.

– Never, ever excuse yourself! No one is interested in your personal matters, your sore throat
or your lack of sleep due to nerves. Always act professionally.

#10 And now?


When we break it down, there are four possible outcomes:

A) You were not satisfied, and the director was not satisfied.

In that case you go back, lick your wounds and analyse ruthlessly your mistakes or flaws.
Make a plan of all the issues you want to work on and the steps you will be taking
in order to achieve what you intend to. Then put your plan into action:
Work with your teacher on your vocal challenges or look for a teacher if you
haven’t got one; hire an excellent pronunciation coach who helps you to improve
your diction and to understand every word of your arias so that your performance
will reach a new level. And then try it again. There is always a next audition.

B) You were satisfied, but the director was not satisfied

Be very honest with yourself: was your performance the best you could do and
were you really satisfied with it? If your answer is yes and you still did not get the
role then maybe you did not fit into it for other reasons but your voice. As you know
very well there are various factors that lead a director to cast a role with
a certain person, for example your appearance, your height (and weight) or maybe
you reminded him of his first-grade teacher which he loathed.
If, however, after thinking hard about it, you did find some flaws in your performance,
go back to #A), make a plan and put it into action.

C) You were not satisfied but the director was satisfied

Congrats, you got the role! Even if you were not satisfied, the most important thing
at this moment is: you nailed it. However, as discussed under #B) you could have
been chosen for various reasons apart from your voice and thus, if you had some
points you were not satisfied with, go back to #A) and make a plan and put it into action.

D) You were satisfied and the director was satisfied

Again: congrats you got the role and you didn’t find any flaws in your performance.
Very well done! Continue the good work and constantly strive to improving your art.
Every new role will bring up some new challenges you will have to tackle.
Singing is a life-long process of learning and improving. So, take stock from
time to time and work with a teacher or a coach when the need arises, even
if – or better: especially when – you are doing well in business.

Conclusion


If you have read to this point, I want to say a big “Thank you!”
I hope this list will help you to prepare your next audition perfectly or at least
cut down the stress a bit.

Do you have a topic you think should go into this list? Please, tell me more about it!
Together we could make this post a work-in-progress.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this summary and about your experiences
in auditions. Feel free to write me an e-mail and let me know. I would be delighted
to hearing from you!

As stressful as these events can be, they are only one part of your profession and
should neither freak you out nor ruin your pleasure in singing.

So, if there is only one thing you take with you from this post, I would love it to be:

Have joy and fun in singing! Love what you do and strive to do it perfectly!
Contribute your art to the world! We need it.