(10 minute read)
It’s not that long after Christmas and some of you will have felt you wanted to lose a few lbs and decided in order to make the best changes you needed to see a Nutritionist and maybe book a term in at the local gym in order to give yourself the best chance. In the back of your mind most of you inherently know that come the middle of February you’ll have forgotten most of what the Nutritionist said and you’ll have missed a lot of February’s opportunities to get down to the gym. (You also wouldn’t expect to drop 7lbs by tomorrow simply because you met the Nutritionist and had your first Gym class). Well, at least you tried.
Maybe you felt you needed to learn to play the piano. You instinctively understand that it’s going to take more than one lesson before you can get up and play a tune in front of an audience.
The thing is in choosing a New Year Resolution/Activity you fully understand that it is not the lesson that is the critical element in improving your standing in the chosen activity. The lesson is really only the instruction. You know deep down that it is in the practice that you make the big strides.
Taking a lesson once a week is one thing, but if you don’t practice then each lesson costs you €25/$30. If you practice well 7 days a week then the €25/$30 you spent on the lesson becomes less than €3/$4 per practice session AND you get better 7 times faster!! OK, the maths is probably a bit less scientific, however you get the point, right?
“Congratulations!! You have been selected to audition for the upcoming production of “…..” Please attend “…..” at the time of “…..” or prepare a video-recording of you singing “…..” and send it to “…..” by the latest “…..”pm. Good luck!”
So excited are you to receive this news, you tell your nearest and dearest of the opportunity. They are excited for you. Nerves kick in, it’s been a while since you’ve sung a song. Jesus! How long has it been? Oh well, let’s not worry too much about that.
Excited you read the piece the producers have selected for the audition and you realise,… it’s a Song! You panic a bit. Butterflies. When was the last time you sang a song? You chat to your theatrical school. They only do the group classes with the kids on Thursdays and Saturdays and in any case, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. What do you do? You call around a few friends and one of them suggests you contact a professional Vocal Coach.
Eventually you find a Vocal Coach and see if they are available to take you for a class.
“So when is the audition?”
“I have to send a recording in to them for tomorrow.”
The Vocal Coach
You get a phone call from a number you don’t recognise. The caller is looking to book a class in as soon as possible. You see, they’ve just been notified, “only today” of an audition they need to prepare a song for. They don’t really know the song but “hopefully you can help me”.
So first of all and emphatically, ABSOLUTELY! Check in and see if there is anything you can pick up that might give you an edge when you take that Audition. It’s what we do. Firefighters!
Following the call you instinctively drop everything and find the song on YouTube. You switch on your keyboard and start working out the tessitura of the song. How much of the song is in the lower range? How much is high? How much is in the middle? Where are the tricky bits the song writers inserted into the song?
You teach for the day, back to back lessons and when you’re finished teaching you get back to YouTube and you’re into it again for another hour before you finally manage to eat, sit down and watch a bit of television before going to bed.
You wake up the next morning and following the morning rituals you open up Spotify or YouTube and you are back in again.
The class for the actor arrives and there are some choices to make. The Coach needs to get a feel for where the Actor is coming from.
- What is their voice type.
- What is their voice type compared to the song they need to prepare.
You find the actor has a break in the middle of their voice and your heart sinks a bit.
They’ve been hiding this part of their voice (for years probably) by changing the pitch of songs so as to avoid the break as much as possible. And in the songs where this wasn’t a choice, they softened their voice by trading off dynamic and some of the naturally good pieces of technique they were already blessed with just so that damned break wasn’t visible.
For the Vocal Coach, there is no getting around the break. The Coach knows the actor has a challenge getting through this song with their voice. Deep down the actor actually knows this. The only thing to do in the remaining 20 minutes of the class is try to give the actor some tools that can help them experience those difficult notes with connection and hope for them, they understand what it is they need to work on. That or give them a “Vocal Band Aid” and hope there is enough adhesive they can get through without cracking.
Let’s walk back a little bit. The Actor was most likely looking for the Vocal Coach to show them a few ‘Tricks’ that they can use to tag onto their voice that might give them access to some wonderful vibrato or a richer tone and hopefully nobody will notice that break they’ve been hiding all these years. Better still, hope the Auditioner likes your look enough that you fit the picture of what they are looking for and maybe your dynamic personality will convince them to take a chance on you.
The Vocal Coach was hoping that the Actor walked into the studio with a voice close to a mix or at least with reasonable vocal balance so that they could work on the interpretation and performance the song requires so that they have a solid strategy going into the audition that gives the actor a performance that will convince the Auditioner to nominate them for the role.
These two stories are part of the same coin. The thing is, as a Voice Coach/Singing Teacher you know deep down that this Actor, unless they have an outrageously amazing natural gift and composite acting skills, is facing an uphill challenge to win this role. I mean, it’s already uphill enough as every actor knows. If the actor already has a profile then this might be enough to tip the odds in their favour. But let’s face it, if it’s a singing role, then the profile would have to be pretty substantial for it to overcome imbalances in the the singing voice.
Legitimately some actors might make use of this audition purely for ‘Experience’. And there is no major issue using an audition to build up experience, however the actor must be super clear on what their objective is in this case. Blindly taking an audition just for the sake of “Experience” can end up being as much a waste of time for the you as it is for the Auditioner and in any case, what can you actually gain from this scenario? Well, we might suggest that you use the experience to try out a different approach or strategy to auditioning and then objectively critique your performance. I mean, you’re just using it for “Experience” right? Ask the Auditioner if you can record your audition so you can go back over it objectively later.
Negative or Constructive?
There’s definitely a fine line between coming across negatively and being constructive. For somebody who has positivity drilled into his DNA (me! ;-)) this is a toughie to put into words because it pulls against every positive grain of encouragement I use to drive my teaching practice. But essentially these are the facts of the matter.
The Role will be sought by 100s of actors, many of whom have been training since they were 10 years of age. Your Competitors who have walked the hard miles for years, who have ‘done their scales’ on the mornings of their birthdays, Christmas, who not only understand their own voice, but have studied the songs and inherently know and understand why the producers picked “this song” for “this role” and understand how to approach their performance in the audition.
The people who generally get chosen for these roles are the ones who are already, ready.
What you may not realise are that these performers come to our studio and the studios of other professional Voice Teachers. We are the ones who help get them ready. We know the students who practice and prepare. We know the students who really/actually “want this” because they have been working for years (with us!) honing their skills.
They commit themselves every day. They have already been through the weird ‘starting off process’ of Voice Building and have invested time and money learning the difference between an AA and an AE. They have spent time understanding the change in their voice when they move from OO to OU and have worked out the difference each of these changes offer them as they pass through one passaggio and into the next. In other words, they really want this! They have prepared for this moment.
The years they have spend Nay Nay Naying are about to pay off for them. And of course, for that role there can be only one winner.
Which means that all of the others who have also prepared for this opportunity will leave the room disappointed. The difference between them though and you is that they stood a chance. They put themselves into contention.
The reality is that without proper training, unless you are born with the gift of natural balanced technique, there is not much you can gain to give you an edge in the Audition when you are taking your first Vocal Class the day before the audition. If you think you know it all then you have already lost. Think of it like:
(a) Starting to drink 2lt of water a day and expect to lose 7lb by tomorrow
(b) Going out for a bit of a hard run and expect to be able to run a marathon the next day
(c) Cut bread out of your diet and fit into those jeans you wore when you were 17 by the weekend
This blog may seem to be a bit harsh but in all honesty in most cases, it’s the reality. I write this blog purely out of love. I would love nothing more than for all of our singers to punch above their weight when it comes to Musical Performance but would prefer that they were competing against the best by standing on their own two feet, on merit.
The reality is that there are not that many opportunities to audition for a massive budget Disney movies or Broadway shows. Access to these or Las Vegas or the West End are limited but they always have been. What there are however are tonnes of Musicals that take place every year in many towns and cities across the country that you should all be taking part in. The competition is deep and talented. The learning curve steep. These Mecca of the Theatre and Movie Industry are literally full of actors who walked the walk in kids theatre groups and Musical Societies, College Drama Clubs and the like. Don’t be too precious.
On a technical level, there is generally no reason on this living planet why you cannot nurture a voice that anybody would pay money to hear on stage whether on Broadway, West End, Las Vegas, Paris or in a movie or even in your local Theatrical company.
If I had one piece of advice to impart with relation to singing roles in Musical Theatre or the Movie Industry or X Factor, etc. it is that in any of the above you are going up against performers who have dedicated themselves for these moments. You need to ask yourself if you really (actually) want this or is it the idea of it that appeals to you most?
If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to prepare seriously.