Choosing an audition song can be a challenge, but it doesn't have to feel overwhelming. At the end of the day, it is an exciting opportunity to showcase who you are and what you can do.
Although specific advice might vary depending on what you're auditioning for, here are a few tips to help you pick the right song - one that you can really enjoy performing and gets you the job.
1. Make sure the song is appropriate
Sometimes you will get a list of songs or audition requirements from the jury panel. If this is the case, make sure that you choose a song with the guidance in mind. However, if no song list or guidance is provided, take some time out to think very realistically about what you're auditioning for. You need to choose the right style and genre of song for the job in question.
For example, if you're doing a general audition for Dear Evan Hansen you don't want to choose an opera aria like Nessun dorma. Likewise, you don't want to sing something legit either. Instead, look for a musical theatre number that will show the panel how well you can do contemporary, speech-based singing.
If you have given it some thought and you're still in doubt, don't be afraid to contact the people you are auditioning for to ask for more information or clarification.
2. Think about accompaniment
Another thing to consider is the accompaniment itself. Unless you are bringing your own accompanist to the audition or accompanying yourself, it is best to pick a song with a straight forward piano part. There will be little or no time to rehearse together with an accompanist before you meet the panel, so an easier piano part means the pianist can better support you.
3. Make sure the song isn't too long
People on selection panels are busy; they are probably auditioning many people and time is of the essence. If you have been given a specific time limit for your audition slot, make sure that your song comes in just under that limit.
If there's no guidance, choose a song that is around three minutes long. Pick another song if you can't show what you want within three minutes.
4. Get straight to the point
Whatever you want to showcase - whether it's your personality, range or performance skills - pick a song that gets to the point quickly. In other words, avoid a song with a long, lingering intro, especially if the panel is looking to hear a soaring top note at the end. Make it short, sweet and to the point and the panel will love you!
5. Make sure the song is comfortable
From a poor night's sleep to a cold to a long day of travel before an audition, life happens. So choose a song that you can deliver even when you're not feeling your best.
In an audition, the song you sing needs to show your strengths not your weaknesses. So find a balance with your choice - don't go over the top, but equally don't make it too easy. Don't pick a song you've done a million times and are fed up with. Instead choose a song that you are excited about and can nail come rain or shine. Believe me, you will really thank yourself on the day!
6. Love the song
Loving the song you're singing is what will give you the X-factor during an audition. Regardless of your phrasing and your range, if you are really enjoying yourself it will come across to the panel.
7. Make sure songs are contrasting
If you have to sing two or more songs at your audition, choose pieces that are different from one another so that you can show your versatility as a performer. For example, pick songs with varying tempos and different ranges. It's also good to consider songs with contrasting emotional content and songs that give you the opportunity to highlight different acting skills.
Also, unless you have specifically been asked to sing multiple songs by the same artist or composer, it's best to choose a variety.
8. Be realistic
Know your skill set and stay within it. Sing what you can sing now and not what you wish you could sing. An audition is not the place for wishful thinking.
9. Be original
Panels love to be entertained. And because a lot of people pick the same songs, they typically enjoy hearing something different and interesting. So, unless a standard song or an aria is required, pick a song that is off-the-beaten track...but not so off-the-beaten-track that people have no idea what you're doing!
In any case, avoid choosing a song from the show you are auditioning for unless you have been specifically asked to do so. For example, if you are auditioning at an open audition for Éponine in the musical Les Misérables don't sing On My Own - find something similar. Of course if it's a recall for the part, that's the time to hit the panel on the head with your rendition of the main song.
10. Build a portfolio
As invitations to audition often arrive at short notice, put together a portfolio of songs that are ready to go at the drop of a hat. Your portfolio can change organically as you learn new songs and tire of others, but a folder of between 5-10 songs that are performance-ready means that you can easily prepare for an audition with three days' notice. What a great stress buster!
Pick, stick and prepare
Once you've chosen your song, it's important to stick with your choice and start preparing it for the audition. Don't waste time by dithering and second-guessing, wishing that you had chosen to sing something more impressive. You'll thank yourself on the day for making a balanced choice. Trust your intuition; don't doubt yourself and cause stress by changing your mind.
These common sense pointers are all from my own experience as a professional singer and from helping others prepare. You may think that they are obvious, but believe me, many performers don't follow them. Follow this simple advice and I promise you will be ahead of the game and a step closer to getting the gig!
Stefan Holmström is a professional opera singer and voice teacher working with speakers and singers of all ages and abilities with a wide range of goals. He offers online and in-person vocal coaching and workshops from his studio in central Brighton in the UK. As an Estill Master Trainer (EMT), Stefan uses Estill Voice Training (EVT) as a baseline for safe and sustainable voice use.