Behind the Scenes at Auditions

Following up on my FAQ on acappella auditions, I sat through two sessions of auditions in the past two days, one for the classical madrigal group, The Mt. Ayres and one for the traditional acappella group, Stuck in the Middle (SIM). This is my second real experience being on the deciding side so it was very informative to learn more about the process.

Auditions are characterized by four types of auditionees: the American Idol out-takes, the need-some-training kids, the there’s-something-a-little-off people, and the superstars. Much like the taped American Idol auditions, a lot of folks do not know that they can’t sing. I admire their courage for coming out because that is half the battle but this 25% really waste the time of the auditioning group by being unable to match pitch or feel the pulse/beat. The second group (35%) really has potential to be singers but need some training, any basic training. They are characterized by people who love to sing but haven’t found their voice quite yet. This means not breathing correcting, not opening their mouths, being unfamiliar with basic major scales, etc. They need a choral class like what Timothy Krol provided at SF University High School. The third group (30%) is made of people who have something special but not everything, the full package. This often disheartens decision-makers because trade-offs have to be made: an auditionee who has an amazing solo voice but cannot blend well with a group or an auditionee who sings a mediocre solo song but is loud and clear on scales or a person who has a good voice but no personality. The last group (10%) are the clear shoe-ins who are outstanding auditionees with great technicals as well as solos.

So the majority is in the second group who need some training to make use of their natural abilities. And this is the easiest jump to make: join a community chorus or get a voice teacher. By doing this, you will learn classical basics that make you a much better singer. I find that 80% of SIM has some vocal training and five of six members of the Mt. Ayres have formal classical training. Those are the people who get in to college singing.

College music, and in particular, a cappella can be very peculiar. Groups, especially pop ones, are just as much about good singing as good people and personalities. A cappella groups are looking for singers that mesh well in personality. A cappella groups spend a lot of time and effort (far beyond your five minute audition) reviewing your audition and deliberating about people. I was up until 1AM last night, deliberating over a 15 individuals widdled down to 8 selected for callbacks for SIM. There is a real seriousness (perhaps overly so?) that accompanies a cappella auditions so you too should take it seriously. If you don’t get in, keep working at singing. You can get better. I’ve seen people get better and move from category two to category three, which may get you a callback audition (more on that in a later post this week!)

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