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Choosing an Audition Song: Advice for Non-singers

So you can sing, but you’re not a singer. Even if you’re doing non-musical theatre or even film, there are plenty of occasions on which you might need to sing. If you can sing but just generally, you know, don’t, you might still want to have a couple of audition songs in your back pocket.

But today we’re talking about those times when back pocket options won’t work (or you just don’t have them. How do you pick a piece when the thought of singing in an audition fills you with dread? Here are some things I’ve found helpful to keep in mind.

What if I don’t know my voice type?

If you’re unsure of your voice type, there are multiple videos on YouTube and elsewhere that can offer you a pretty good idea based on your vocal range. Just sing along with the vocalization exercise, drop out when it is no longer comfortable, and make note of your top and bottom notes.

How do I choose a song?

Recently I had to choose a song for an audition on fairly short notice. I had the perfect idea–it showcased my range, it was funny, and it was in a style I knew the music director would like. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized it was going to require a lot of work. Changing keys, awkward cuts to fit in time, and a lot of intense rehearsal in order to get the gag of it precise. Far more work than I had time for.

Additionally, I was already nervous about this audition and getting in my head. There were a number of other demands on my preparation time (sides, playing an instrument, stage combat) that I felt better showcased me, and I couldn’t afford to devote the time to the song that it would require in order to be good. So I pivoted.

I chose a song that I had mentally deemed “wrong” on paper (didn’t show a ton of range, played against the type I thought this director would see me as, etc.) But what was right about it was that I could sing it in my sleep, I felt confident with it, and I loved the song itself. Ultimately it was the right choice for me. The audition went well, I booked, and it opened up new possibilities for myself as a singer.

So often I think when we try to apply the rules that we learn in college, in classes, from talking to industry folks, it can be constricting. This is not to say these pillars don’t have value. But many times they are better as foundational tenets than defining structure. I had spent so many auditions limiting myself, choosing songs that followed the “rules” and that honestly didn’t resonate with me or feature my most comfortable voice type. Putting that aside was liberating, and supported a better performance.
Ultimately showcasing you might not fit neatly in the boxes we are taught to identify as young actors. And that’s all right.

So, if you don’t consider yourself a singer primarily, and you don’t know the right song to choose, choose the song that feels like you, that you’re passionate about, and that you can sing well. Leave the rest up to the fates and the casting directors.

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