Many of us have seen it happen while watching singing competition shows like The Voice, American Idol, or The X Factor— “You’re voice is incredible, but the song choice was all wrong.” It usually ends with an elimination, especially if it is a consistent pattern. You might love a certain genre of music, but knowing whether a song is a good fit for your voice and audition is critical.
Like many things, success is dependent on knowing your strengths and showcasing them. So what are the best songs to sing for an audition? Are there steps you can take to find them? Absolutely. Whether you’re auditioning for musical theater, a band, a reality music TV show, a college music program, or your high school jazz choir — take a look at these simple steps to choosing the best songs to sing for an audition.
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Step 1: Know Who You Are
Unless you’re a hard rock singer auditioning for “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”, the musical, the typical musical theater production probably isn’t going to pick you if you start head-banging on stage. Instead, stick to auditions and song selections that fit your voice, style, and strengths. That’s not to say you can’t croon along in your car to “Cats”, just don’t expect that your best audition song is always a good fit for that particular show.
Knowing who you are as a musician, and focusing on becoming that, will help a ton. Whether you’re country, rock, opera, folk, or alternative, find where your voice shines — and then polish it even more with songs that highlight your skills.
Step 2: Know Your Range
Nothing will hurt you more than if you’re struggling with notes that are too high or too low for your range. Comfort is essential. Understanding basic music theory can help you, too — that way, if there is a song you like that’s just out of range, you can adjust it to a better key for your voice. You can always practice and improve your range, also, but expect that there is a place that will always make your voice magical. Find that spot, and pick music that helps you blow the audience away!
Step 3: Know Your Appealing Quirks (and get rid of the not-so-appealing ones)
Some people love the rasp, others the trill. Maybe you have a rich tone that doesn’t need an abundance of vibrato, or a simplistic but pure voice that shouldn’t attempt bold runs. There is usually something about our favorite singers we like to point out: they never miss a note, their rich baritone is smoother than butter, their falsetto is unbelievable, the gravel in their voice speaks to you, or maybe the emotion is so strong it makes you tear up. Many singers have quirks that make them stand out in a good way, like Mariah Carey’s amazing range, Kurt Cobain’s angsty growl, or Ella Fitzgerald’s clear-as-a-bell-never-overdone perfection. Others make you crazy because their voices are consistently over-embellished. Go ahead and find your appealing quirk, and make sure you incorporate it into your audition song.
Step 4: Know Your Audience
Do a little research before an audition and before choosing your audition song. While you don’t want to lose yourself or your individuality by choosing a song you think the panel of judges wants to hear, you still shouldn’t go so far off the grid that they don’t want to listen.
Find a happy medium, and choose a song that fits you and the audition. It’s natural that if you twang that you should consider country or a pop-country cross. If you’re a first soprano heavy on the vibrato, opera probably fits better. Also, who are you trying to impress? Auditioning for a high school theater production is going to require a different song choice than auditioning for a Broadway musical. The judges may be at different experience levels, as well. What might wow your high school music teacher is probably not going to be the same for a producer in New York. And taking a risk with a bold, complex song choice might work in New York, but it might be too much for your high school. Look at what you’re trying to achieve, who the audience is, what the experience level of the judges is likely to be, and what they might be looking for.
Step 5: And Finally…Choose the Right Song for Your Audition
If you’re not connected to your song, chances are the audience and judges are going to know it. Ditto if the song is too complex for your experience level. If the song doesn’t fit your tone, range, and quirks, consider selecting a different one.
Music is an intrinsically personal thing. Choosing a song to audition with means you should be able to convey the emotion it stirs in you, and add enough of your style to make it your own. It should fit who you are, and who you want to be musically. If you’re not a bounce-around-the-stage type of singer, then choose something slower. If you’re upbeat and joyous, then go with a song that’s a little more fun. Lastly, try to avoid the songs that you know everyone is going to sing. Sometimes judges get sick of the “it” songs. Be the person who stands out and is a breath of fresh air!
Some Final Thoughts
Enlist the experts – Never be afraid to ask for help! Even seasoned performers have vocal coaches, who often help them select the best songs to sing for an audition. Working with someone with the skill and background to make you a better singer might just be the boost you need to win the audition. Plus, you can use those voice lessons to get more pointers and practice before the big day.
Stick to your experience level – It can’t be said enough: if you’re not Adele, don’t try to be.
Practice, practice, practice – Think of it as muscle memory, similar to an athlete’s. It takes work to get better at something. The more times you run through a song, the better it’s going to get. It doesn’t hurt to know what you’re going to do with yourself on stage, either. Practice motions, movement, holding a microphone, and your facial expressions.
Be prepared for nerves – It can be helpful to know what your voice does when you’re nervous. Do you get sharp, flat, forget lyrics, or get a crazy wobble? Prepare for it and know what to do if it happens.
Be prepared overall – Know what you’ll need at the audition. Do you need background music or sheet music? What key are you singing in? Do you need to dress the part? Find out as much information ahead of time so you come across as professional.
Be yourself and have fun – Writers get rejected over and over again, actors wait tables for years before a big break, and singers might sing the same song a hundred times before they find the right audience. Just remember to love what you sing, sing like you love it, and choose a song that lets your voice shine!
Looking for specific song recommendations? Check out our list of 400+ songs to sing for every occasion!
Photo by Eva Rinaldi