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The Guitarist's Guide to Successful Auditions

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Playing alongside other people is one of the best experiences a musician can have. Contributing to the creation of a great sound is genuinely thrilling.

Working with others, however, means having to submit to the scrutiny of an audition. Whether it’s work or fun, treat it like a job interview and prepare accordingly. 

This tutorial gives you ideas for improving the chances of success.

Looking for Work

Even if you’ve a definite idea of what you want, I’d advise keeping an open mind otherwise you’ll limit the opportunities available.

For example, I ended up in an Elvis tribute act further to playing some songs at a party. Whilst no great fan, I agreed because I knew it’d broaden my skills and offer gigs I wouldn’t otherwise get. The experience also improved my sound as I had to integrate into a seven-piece band.

When looking for work, here's some suggestions:

  • There are many ‘musicians seeking musicians’ websites, some being particular to your area or country. In the UK, joinmyband.co.uk is a good example. You can search by counties or by phrase such as ‘guitarist’. Joining and placing ads is free, although a ‘pinned’ ad does attract a small cost
  • Pages and groups on Facebook are worth looking into. If nothing else, it’ll give you a feel for what’s out there
  • In this age of remote communication, try talking to other musicians. Even if they can’t help you directly, they might recommend you to someone else

Advertise

It’s easy to create a free EPK, or Electronic Press Kit. It can be a Facebook page, Instagram account, YouTube channel, or all of the above. 

The more audio recordings, videos, and photos you have, the better. If you don’t have any, create some, even if it’s just a video of you playing along to a song. 

As with all such things, use only your best work. Remember that you’re demonstrating your skills to as many people as possible in one go.

Answering the Call

Whether answering an online ad, or if a band contacts you, strike the balance between being mysterious and overburdening in terms of information. 

Typically, you’d include:

  • Your age and how long you’ve been playing
  • Experience in previous bands, gigs, etc
  • ‘Own gear and transport’ (this is essential)
  • Influences (consider appropriateness to the band)
  • Availability (if you’re only free on occasion, chances are you’re not getting the gig)

By all means try to sound impressive but be reasonable and don't make claims that you’ve no hope of verifying later on.

For example, I interviewed a guy my band had chosen for a second guitarist. They’d been impressed by his influences and the huge range of gear he owned. 

The five minute chat I had with him revealed a serious problem they’d missed—he couldn’t play a note.

Audition Booked

They like the sound of you and invite you to audition. Here's what comes next:

Location Location Location

Find out where the audition is. Look it up online and ensure you can find it easily. Nerves aren’t eased on the day by driving round trying to find the venue.

Contact

Get a mobile number from one of the band just in case of emergencies. 

Sending a text ahead of the audition to the effect of “Just checking we’re still on for today, looking forward to it” will play in your favour.

Timing

Ensure the agreed time works for you. Furthermore, arrive in plenty of time and don’t keep the band waiting, especially if they’re auditioning a number of people.

Gear

Check your gear can be packed and unpacked quickly and is fit for purpose. Taking forty minutes fault-finding your super-complex rig won’t impress.

Homework

Ask what they expect you to play on the day. If they say, “We’ll just jam”, then fine, provided your improvisational skills are up to the task. 

If not, get a list of tracks. Check that you’re learning the correct keys and arrangements.

Surprise Surprise

Even if you do learn everything, be prepared for a surprise song. If this happens, take it as a good sign—if they’re not interested, they’re unlikely to test you further.

If you don’t know the song, say so, but follow it with, “But I’ll play it if someone can quickly run through it, or can shout out the chords as we go”. Showing this kind of willingness goes over far better than simply refusing to play.

Finally

Auditioning often feels very one-sided, with all the weight of work and stress on you. So bear these points in mind.

Work Versus Play

Even if it’s work, even if there’s lots of preparation and even if you’re feeling pressured, try to enjoy yourself. If you arrive a nervous wreck things will go downhill from there. 

A little anticipation’s fine, particularly if you really want this gig, but don’t let it cripple your abilities.

The guitar has an amazing capacity to sound in the manner it’s being played—if you want to sound relaxed, happy and in control, that’s how you have to be.

Both Ways

The band aren’t just auditioning you, but also for you. Regardless of their thoughts, it’s as important that you feel the band’s worth joining.

Bottom line—consider if you want to spend significant amounts of time working with these people. If the answer’s no, walk away.

Keep Some Perspective

If you don’t get the gig, don't worry. Nobody died and it’s their loss. There'll likely be a better, more interesting opportunity around the corner.

Conclusion

Like any kind of interview, preparation and experience improve your chances of success.

Remember to:

  • Be open to new opportunities
  • Check out websites and social media
  • Talk to other musicians
  • Advertise yourself with an online presence 
  • Speak well of yourself but don’t be dishonest
  • Agree time and place for an audition
  • Find out what they expect you to play
  • Ensure the gear works and is compact
  • Be prepared to be surprised
  • The audition works both ways
  • Enjoy yourself, music should be fun

Get practising and good luck.

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