I music direct The Undertones, one of twelve major a cappella groups at Northwestern University (several others come and go). Last year I saw over 200 auditionees and called back 17. Were those 17 people really that much better than everyone else? Well yes, but they also knew how to audition.
We want you to succeed. We really do. We want everyone to come in to wow us. So to help you represent yourself as best as possible, I'm going to tell you everything I wish you knew before auditioning.
Before getting started, I need to thank Matt Edmonds, Matt Kania, Alexi Kovin, Emily Krulewitz, and Alok Nadig, who all contributed significantly to this article, and without whom it would be a lot less developed and thorough.
Song choice is everything.
A good audition song shows off your voice and plays to your strengths. Pick a song you already know and love. If you’re having fun singing it, we’ll have more fun listening. Pick the genre you do best, but avoid Disney songs, Ke$ha, and really act-y musical theatre. Also note that I have never yet heard a good jazz audition song.
Know your audience.
The best solos are ones I could see you singing with the group. The ideal audition song for a fratty all-male group might be different than for a group that emphasizes singing competitions.
You must stand out.
There is no way you will be called back without a memorable solo. Just being good isn't good enough when competing against over 200 other people. For example, every year there’s a song we hear like 10 times. Last year it was “Someone Like You”. Try to avoid this song, as we’re bound to get tired of it.
Ask for a starting pitch.
This ensures you don’t start too high or too low, and shows that you prepared and have at least some amount of musicality.
The most common problem is memorization.
It’s so frustrating to hear someone who is pretty good but is struggling to get through their song. Pick your song weeks before you audition, not days, and definitely not hours. If you are spending mental energy trying to recall the lyrics, you won't be able to perform your song. The best solos are performed, not recited.
We are looking for more than a musician.
We are looking for someone to spend the rest of our collegiate years with. Every year I see people who seem oblivious to the fact that we are judging them on more than just their singing. Collegiate a cappella is about more than just music, so be sociable when interacting with group members and have a good attitude.
Dress like this audition is important to you.
How you look matters. So please take a shower. If you're a little dressed up, then we will know you really care about this audition. And that means a lot to us. You only get a few minutes to impress us, so first impressions are everything.
Everyone is nervous.
Try to relax. Many people who are visibly nervous still have great auditions. But having confidence is such a breath of fresh air because we see so little of it.
Don’t tell us you aren't in perfect vocal health.
Before they even start singing, many people make excuses for why they don’t sound their best today. That’s the worst way you can start an audition. If you don’t believe you sound good, you’ll never be able to convince us that you do.
Don't try to be someone you're not.
You never know what we're looking for.
Dress like this audition is important to you and have a good attitude. Find a great song and be as prepared as possible. If you do all that, you will have given yourself your best shot to be successful. Can’t wait to hear you this fall!
About the writer:
Patrick Hockberger is a RARB reviewer and a student at Northwestern University studying music composition and vocal performance. He is music director of the Northwestern Undertones.