Auditions: 4 Things to “BE” to Land the Gig! by Megan Gleckler

Auditions. Walking voluntarily into a room full of strangers that are about to judge the very thing you have worked on your entire life… Sounds like a blast, right? They don’t have to be frightening. You don’t have to hear the soundtrack of the “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” in your head when you face the panel of adjudicators. You need to know four things: Be prepared, be on time, be yourself, and be likeable. Really, that’s it? Honest.

1. BE PREPARED.

Nothing will get you more nervous than a lack of preparation. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you have no idea what you’re auditioning for, then it doesn’t matter. In contrast, the easiest way to kill nerves is to be prepared. If you are sure of your material and your eligibility, not even an incompetent accompanist or a Simon Cowell will get you down.

Preparation starts general: Know your craft. Get with a voice coach that legitimately knows what they’re talking about (and has proven it) to hone your talent into something you can depend on. Be able to sing sick. Yes, there’s ways around it!! If you refuse to sing in public unless you’ve had nine hours of sleep, two liters of water, and have warmed up for thirty minutes, the professional performance world is not for you. Yes, that is the condition any good singer wants to have.

But you must know your voice well enough to navigate around less-than-perfect conditions. More specifically: Have your sheet music in a couple keys so that if you wake up with Satan’s phlegm, you can just kick it down a notch and still sound great. Mark your sheet music so that if the accompanist doesn’t speak English, the starts and stops will still be communicated! (I don’t mean this is likely. I mean use bright highlighters and write legibly.) Often, you don’t get to have a conference with the pianist ahead of time. The first page should have the title, the composer, and the show the song is from (or the artist whose version you’re singing). If you hand them “I Will Always Love You,” they won’t know if it’s Dolly Parton or Whitney Houston. If it’s from an obscure Broadway show, but it’s by Jason Robert Brown, the accompanist will likely get the idea of a style, even if they don’t know it.

Be able to sing any of your songs a cappella. I am an accompanist, and freak incidents like runaway fans and power shortages to the keyboard are reality. I’m serious. Don’t be paralyzed by silence. The second part of being prepared is knowing your audience. Everyone knows this for a show, but it’s true for auditions as well. If you’re auditioning for a Christian performing arts company, it’s best to stay away from selections like “Sweet Transvestite” from Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Also, know the show or type of show you’re auditioning for. If it’s a specific role in a show, choose selections that show you in your element that the director can relate to the role. DO NOT sing songs directly from the show UNLESS requested!! Have them prepared in case they would like to hear them. If it’s a production company, or cattle-call like UPTA’s, choose songs that demonstrate your best vocal ability and style, and have a variety. If you sing nothing but Christine from Phantom, guess what? You’ll never be hired for American Idiot. Look your best. Wear comfortable shoes. Wear knits so you can breathe. Get your hair OUT of your face (no matter how cool you think you look). Avoid wearing any logos or noisy jewelry.

I had a choreographer who called a girl in the dance call “Nike” the entire time. You want them to remember your name, not your clothes. Look like your headshot. Know what’s on your resume (and don’t lie!!). Have a monologue prepared, and a joke ready to tell. Know a variety of recognizable songs to sing off the cuff. Don’t include anything in your repertoire book that you don’t know backwards and forwards. My book had three songs in it when I started. It still only has five: they are my best. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

2. BE ON TIME

Does this matter if you’re the next Billy Porter? Yes. The fastest way to the Dark Side is a lack of punctuality. It is disrespectful to the hiring personnel, it is disrespectful to the others auditioning. Also: “on time” is late. Early is on time. There is always a way to get there on time. Go to bed early, find an alternate way to get there in case your primary falls through, set eight alarm clocks and have a friend call you. Your punctuality shows how important it is to you to be there.

3. BE YOURSELF

I didn’t say “be unique.” If you are yourself, you will be unique. I’ve been in communities where everyone is trying so hard to be “different” they all look the same. No one else is you. You can’t get more unique than that. This requires you to know who you are. In no other industry will you be told more what to be. If you don’t know who you are going in, be prepared for someone else to tell you.

This is NOT to say, “No, I can’t change the way I prep for a double pirouette. This is who I am.” That is not being yourself, that’s being a diva. Knowing yourself is knowing your values and what’s important enough not to waver on. This is the best sort of confidence. When people are content with themselves (even if they are still growing, which we all are), it exudes an unspoken confidence. These kinds of people can be given critique, with which they run and thrive with instead of being shot down. In this world, people are paid to know how to act—meaning they can also recognize it in a hurry. Don’t act like the person you think they want to hire. Be yourself. When someone is sure of themselves (not cocky, sure), it puts others at ease.

4. BE LIKEABLE

Maybe you don’t see the world as rainbows and butterflies. That’s okay. Smile anyway. Find a way to be friendly to strangers. In this industry, there are a billion good-looking, talented singers. Even if you cut it down to the 5’4”-5’9” blue-eyed brunettes (that’s me!!), you’ve still got way more than is ever needed. Directors and companies want to work with people who are NICE… i.e. people who are willing to take direction and work well with others.

People who put the good of the ensemble ahead of their quality time in the spotlight. If you want to be in a one-man show, write and produce it yourself. Smile, laugh at their corny jokes, answer their questions with more than yes’s or no’s. Example: “So, where are you from?” Answer A: (bad) “South Dakota.” Answer B: (good) “Mitchell, South Dakota— you know, home of the World’s Only Corn Palace?” This often strikes a “Ha, ha, really? What is that?”, which leads to a short conversation, that will make me a more memorable person. They’ll remember that they laughed when I was there, which puts a positive memory in their head.

Also: NEVER, EVER, EVER MAKE EXCUSES! Sure, your boyfriend called you a 3 A.M. last night to tell you that it’s over because you’re ugly. Then you woke up with strep throat. Then you missed the bus this morning, so you had to catch a cab, which smelled like cats, which you’re allergic to. Guess what? They don’t care. You go in there, and sing your face off, and imagine that you look like Giselle Bündchen.

You say NOTHING about your day or why your F wasn’t a clean mix. IF ASKED why your nose resembles Rudolph, you can tell them about the cat cab. But tell it in an off-hand, funny way, that doesn’t make you sound like a walking pity-party. Every single person who walks into those auditions has crap they have to leave at the door. You are never exempt. If you can’t leave it behind, stay outside until you can. Life doesn’t become perfect when you hit the road. They need to know that you can get past microphones that snuff out during the show. That when your partner accidentally drops you onstage, you won’t cuss them out. That when there’s a group of 14-year- olds on the front row, their pointing and snickering won’t phase you. Show them you can laugh through life and say “thank-you” to criticism.

I’m sure you’ve gathered that the point I’m making is that the most talented folks out there are not the ones getting jobs. It’s the nice people who are prepared and know what to expect. It’s the people with the firm handshakes and eye contact. It’s the ones that know how to tell an engaging story and leave behind something memorable, so that when the audition panel goes through the foot-high stack of headshots and resumés, they’ll point at one and say, “Oh, yeah, she’s that Corn Palace girl! Ha, ha, what did she sing again?”.

—Megan Gleckler
Performance Vocalist, Accompanist, Arranger
www.megangleckler.com
photo by Cameron Powell

What’s Your Message?

I recently saw Lady Gaga on Ellen. Ellen was kidding her about her outrageous outfits. She asked her , “So what’s this all about?” This was her reply:

“The whole point of what I do–the monster mall, the music, the performance art aspect…I wanna create a space for my fans where they can feel free and they can celebrate, because I didn’t fit in in high school and I felt like a freak. So I like to create this atmosphere for my fans where they feel like they have a “freak in me” to hang out with–and they don’t feel alone. This is really who I am. And it took a long time to be OK with that, because [I felt] discriminated against…Sometimes in life you don’t always feel like a winner, but that doesn’t mean that your not a winner.”

Standing ovation. Thunderous applause. I got a little weepy as I watched her talk. This is one of the best examples of an artist’s message that I know of. With her quirky performance style, risque and even funny lyrics, ridiculous hats and rubber dresses, Lady Gaga has created her own world that she can safely exist in. And anyone who wants to can visit her there. It is generous and brilliant.

OK I’ll stop gushing about Lady Gaga. Who else in the music industry has a strong and evident message? How about Kenny Chesney? The Nashville Scene did a feature article on Chesney entitled “Why This Guy?” In a very respectful manner, the entertainment publication discussed how a 5’6”, very average-looking, average-sounding guy could be one of this biggest-selling artists in the world. The key: his message.

Think about it. Many of his big hits mention the names of epic songs (“‘Jack and Diane’ painted a picture of my life and my dream” from his hit “I Go Back”). Most of his hits talk about sand, toes, margaritas, tropical destinations…places that his target listener will not be going any time soon. His albums are produced with an Island feel, and the artwork drives the message home. Another one of my favorites: Dolly Parton. I’ve never heard Dolly say what her message is, but I bet I can guess: “I doesn’t matter where you come from, what you have, or what you don’t have. Life is there for the living. God gave you the ability to choose your destiny.” I hope she doesn’t mind me putting those words in her mouth, but her unspoken message has been major influence on my life and my music.

What’s YOUR message? What do you want to say with your music? This is going to be one of your toughest challenges as an aspiring artist. Here is your homework. Print this section out and work through it.

  1. Make a list of landmark events in your life that have shaped you and made you who you are. How can you use these past hurts, failures, bad breakups, as well as your triumphs to shape your art/music? (Ex: 1987 house burned to the ground/lost everything; 1991 my son was born; 1996 graduated college; 2000 saw Bekka Bramlette perform for the first time; etc…)
  2. What do you want your audiences to take away with them from your shows? (i.e. do you want them to feel like partying all night? Go be alone with their significant others? Go home and cry?)
  3. Write down 3 artists that you love, and describe each one’s message.
  4. Write down a list of 10 songs from different artists that you wish were yours to record. Have fun with it. Put them in the order you think they should go. Now, find the common thread in these songs. NOTE: If your choices are all over the map, then you chose poorly. Focus your style better, and try again.
  5. If the above list was actually the track list to your new album, what would the name of it be? If you’re really getting into this, sketch out or describe the album cover, too! Do it right here:

You will hear me say this many times: If you are serious about being an artist, then figuring out your message is not optional. You must figure it out. Your audience will not try to see it. You must show them. Many years ago, my childhood idol was the great Christian artist Steve Green. I remember how my arms would go numb from adrenaline when seeing him live in concert. When I finally got to meet him, I was a nervous, hot mess (I was 12). I shook his hand and blurted out something like, “I want to do what you’re doing!” His reply burned a whole in my heart, so that I’ve never forgotten it. He said, “Well, that’s good. But don’t be in a hurry to get on stage, and then have nothing to say.”

An artist who has nothing to say is of no use to anyone. Word.

Oh, and by the way, here’s that Lady Gaga interview:

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What’s Your EDGE?

Being a great singer doesn’t make you a great artist. It certainly helps, but it’s not a deal-maker. If the music industry was a singing competition, would Johnny Cash be a household name today? What about Britney Spears? Madonna? Cher?! If the industry was really a “who’s the best singer in the world” search, then all of these artists would be PWNED by perfect singers. Flawless singers. Perfect. Flawless. Boring, cookie-cutter, carbon-copy, high-note-screaming, no-story-to-tell singers that couldn’t move an audience with a forklift and a flatbed truck. Great vocals will get you attention, but you won’t hold it for long.

Let’s talk about American Idol for a minute. Forget about all the atrocities that they let get through during the first week; vocal train wrecks that entertain through pure sadism and shock value. I’m talking about the top ten. I’ve got at least ten singers in my performance seminars on any given Monday that would vocally obliterate the A.I. top ten. But America is not necessarily voting for “singers.” They want back-story and drama. Girls will vote for who they think is cute, even if the guy’s not very good …and defend him to the death. People vote for whomever they feel an emotional connection to. Same with your target audience: if they feel a connection, then they think you’re a good artist.

I recently had a very sobering experience at a karaoke bar in Dallas. I got up and sang Gavin DeGraw’s “I’m In Love with a Girl”—I killed it. I was totally awesome. After I sang, people came to where I was sitting and said, “Man you can really sing!” “Nobody’s gonna wanna sing after that.” Just as I was getting full of myself and thinking about how hard I rock, a guy got up on the stage and did “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns-N-Roses. Vocally, he was aweful; just screamed it. He was pitchy, completely untrained, and …awesome. Not a hint of shyness. He knew all the words from hearing it a thousand times at frat parties, no doubt. He had all of Axl’s moves down. It also helped that he looked like an underwear model with a million-dollar smile. The audience went insane. Everyone was on their feet. Women of all ages were acting like monkeys in heat. Now I ask you: who owned the club that night–the “professional singer,” or the guy with no inhabitions that made an emotional connection with the guys and had sexual appeal to the ladies? Hmm…life just ain’t fair, now is it?

If it’s not about sheer vocal prowess, then what’s the deal? It’s about “edge.” What is your market? Your target audience? Your “thing?” Your message? Your groove? Your EDGE? Many great artists had early bouts with failure before they found their edge. Read Trisha Yearwood’s Get Hot or Go Home: The Making of a Nashville Star. Some singers find they have to change the sound of their voice completely to stand out: Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon (from clean pop to gruff rock), Britney Spears (from belter to a near-childish, breathy tone), Alanis Morissette (from pop to crazy awesomeness), to name just a few. Others had to get crazy with their live performances to set themselves apart (Lada Gaga, anyone? ….amazing!!). What about Ke$ha (the “Tik Tok” chick)? Everyone who meets her says, “She’s so weird!” YEAH! Well, it’s working for her.

OK, consider that your butt-woopin’ for the day. NOW, time for action. How will you find your edge? Here is your homework:

  1. What is your MESSAGE as an artist? (If you don’t know what any of this means, then go read the articles about message and image, then come back to this later.)
  2. How does your voice need to SOUND to best convey your message? (i.e. if your message is all about getting’ rowdy at the rodeo, then your vocals should not sound like Michael Bublé—get it?)
  3. What should your IMAGE be like to match both your SOUND and your MESSAGE? (If you’re singing sexy pop songs, don’t dress like a 3rd grade teacher…FAIL.)

If you are serious about being an artist, then none of this is optional. Do you hear what I’m saying? This is not optional. You have to figure it out. For the next few days (or weeks), focus on your message, your sound, and your image. And I mean focus. A scattered image is worthless. Your audience will NOT TRY to “see” it. You have to show them. A record label will absolutely not try to guess what you’re trying to say with your music. You must wrap it up in a neat box and hand it to them—a complete package, ready to go. OK, now stop reading and go practice. Or better yet, go find your edge. If you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go learn “Welcome to the Jungle.”