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Hey Dave,
My college group will be holding auditions soon. Although our group has been decent in the past, we’d really like to step things up to the next level. We obviously want people who sing well, but we also want to get people who take our group seriously. We want to attract really committed people. How do we do that?  Got any suggestions?
Thanks, Jason

This is a great question. Honestly, auditions are the single most influential factor on your group’s success. A successful audition can turn your extremely mediocre group into something superbly fantastic in a matter of hours.

People are the essence of singing ensembles. They’re the meat and bones of what the group is. Not only do your group members sing the vocals on your songs, but they wail as guitars, beat the percussion, write the arrangements, choose the setlists, hang the flyers, and everything else!  With all these things in mind, it’s clear you’re going to want to get the best batch of folks you possibly can. So how can you get the best results for your efforts?  Below are a few tips that will help you plan and execute an effective audition.

1. Have a plan. Before your school year starts, Jason, get your group’s returning members together for a big kickoff meeting. Greet each other excitedly, sing some old songs, reminisce about last year’s ICCA trip, drink punch. You get the idea. Then really get down to business; sit down and go over all the great stuff you want to do during this coming school year. Identify your goals. Once you’ve got everyone riled up and seeing the vision, plan out your audition. Have a day, a room, a time, all the other necessary details. Right then, while your group members are excited, hand them a big batch of flyers and assign them different places to advertise. Before you dismiss to go hang flyers, make sure everyone in your group knows where to be and when, once audition day comes.

2. Advertise like mad. Hang flyers all over your school. The best places are on stairwells, near drinking fountains, and outside classrooms where professors are notoriously late (people wait outside to get in, and they’ll pass the time reading your flyer!). If you’re looking for all guys, don’t be afraid to hang one in the ladies’ dorms or near the ladies’ restrooms. A lot of people who come to auditions go because their friends told them about it.

3. Do more advertising. Seriously, advertise until you’re sick. Hit your fan email list, update your website with big news announcements, advertise through your school paper and your school’s a cappella club email list. If there are several a cappella groups at your school, use each other’s email lists – coordinate your efforts. If you’ve got enough returning members, do a street sing on your campus, or a dormsing. When people see your group perform, they’re more likely to be interested. Walk around to local businesses in your community and ask to hang flyers in their windows. The more advertising you do, the more people will come to your audition. The more people that come to your audition, the pickier you can be!

4. Arrive early. No joke – arrive with your entire group at least one hour before the audition time. Hang up lots of signs around the audition room door. But don’t stop there; hang signs down the hall so people know where the room is. If you’re really organized, hang your flyers around campus on colored paper, all in the same color of paper. Then around your audition room, all your signs should be in the same color – this will help people recognize that they’re in the right place. You don’t want anything to deter your next star from making it to the audition room. Have lots of audition sign-up forms out on a music stand (and don’t forget to bring lots of pens!). Bring your Polaroid camera, extra film, a stapler, some sharpies to write on the pictures, etc. Remember the details. The more prepared you are, the more professional you will appear to your auditionees and the general public.

5. Take command of the room. Once auditions start, the director should be sure to welcome people in the room, tell them what to do and where to stand. Since we’re amateurs at the collegiate level, we sometimes forget that we have to be the professor for a minute. No taking orders. You’re the director, and you should be running the audition efficiently and with assertiveness. For each “test” you give your auditionee(s), demonstrate it once so they know what you want from them. Do as many tests as you need to make sure you hear the person well. Be in charge.

6. Be friendly. In all the rush to be professional and get everything done, we sometimes forget to be welcoming. If this is your first time running the audition, you’ll be surprised at how nervous people get in an audition!  They will quiver, grab the side of their pants, and show many other nervous habits. You can quell a lot of fears by remembering to smile when people walk in, and thank them for coming. Congratulate them on a job well done. And don’t let your group members talk while people are auditioning unless totally necessary. It’s rude, and it makes people even more nervous.

7. Take notes!  It always surprises me how little I remember about each person. Even if you only get like 20 people at your audition, you still will have people in your group that can’t remember a certain face, or a certain voice, or what solo they sang, etc. Take a picture with your Polaroid, and then take lots of notes during the audition. After each person walks out of the room, you may want to put them in a no, yes, or maybe pile. Or you’ll give them a certain rating out of five stars. Whatever your system is, develop one that works for you. You’ll be glad later!

8. Have lots of helpers. If you’re a large group, this problem is basically solved. If you’re a small group, recruit some boyfriends, girlfriends, roommates, spouses, and of course alumni to come help you at the audition. Someone should stand outside and welcome people in to the audition, pointing them to the audition sheet they need to fill out. Someone should be there taking pictures. Someone will have to go to the door between each audition and tell the next person when it’s time to come in. The point is – you may need a few helpers. Use ‘em.

9. Make your decision. Once you’ve heard everyone, you may be tempted to go home and take a nap, or go get dinner. Instead, put in some good time to go through all your candidates. Remember – people are the essence of your group. You want to make this decision carefully. Once you decide who to accept, be sure to notify everyone that auditioned. There’s nothing worse than sitting around wondering if you made a group, and never hearing back. Post a list somewhere (people love seeing their name on “the list”), email everyone, or call your admitted people and email the rest. Whatever you gotta do, make a careful decision and then notify quickly. If possible, do it within one day. Oh, and if you call people that weren’t chosen, make it a quick call – cut to the chase and just tell them they’re not what you’re looking for this year

10. Hold more auditions as needed. If you haven’t found everyone you need, hold another big audition. You don’t need to announce to the world that the people who came weren’t good enough; instead, just say that some of your potential auditionees had scheduling conflicts, so you’re opening up another day. On the other hand, hopefully you’ll have the opposite problem. If you’ve heard a great batch of singers, and you’re not sure how to narrow it down, hold callbacks. Callbacks can be longer and more involved. You can do new stuff you haven’t done yet. Teach actual group songs, test people’s dancing and movement skills, have a beatbox showcase, whatever you want. Once you’re done with your second set of auditions, it’s probably time to make a choice. If possible, have your group members come to a unanimous decision about who you’ll select for the new year. Then see #9 above.

Approaching auditions professionally will set a great tone for your new year. Your returning members will be inspired by your level of commitment and preparedness; your enthusiasm will be infectious. And your new members will know nothing other than this professional attitude they’ve seen. If you’ve really got your act together, auditionees you didn’t select will become your greatest fans (and if you’re brave, you’ll add them to your fan email list).

If you prepare for success, and execute your plan, your group’s auditions can bring you all the talent you need in order to bring your group to the next level. Good luck!

Got a question about organizing or directing a group that you’d like Dave to answer?  Email him at dave@casa.org.