What makes a “good” song? A good audition song? When is a song a good audition song? Some songs work well in a cabaret set but don’t work in an audition room or translate beyond our small theatre community. Certain songs strike an emotional chord in many people, others are more unique to a particular songwriter, individual or a smaller segment of the population. Simply put, some songs are so personal they can seem indulgent. When I think of examples of pop songs that connect on a large scale, I think of Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are.” Who doesn’t want to be cared for unconditionally? Or Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?”… Anyone who has had a baby or even held one can relate to the wonder of new life. Eric Clapton wrote a universal anthem for loss and mourning with “Tears In Heaven.” And of all the amazing songs to come out of our Broadway songbook, “Seasons Of Love” from Rent has broken through every barrier to ask – and answer – what love is.
NYC Vocal Lessons
Every Spring, I attend showcases for graduating seniors from musical theatre programs around the country. These students have spent 4 years and $200,000 to learn their craft. They have 2-3 minutes to impress the audience of agents, managers and casting directors and launch their careers. A few shining stars will get those “golden tickets” – invitations from industry professionals to meet. A few will be signed. 1 or 2 will book a job. The rest are belched out into the streets to pile into apartments, find survival jobs, and join the audition mayhem, hoping to earn equity cards and book shows before student loan payments are due.
Then the really tough news arrives: you don’t have the right material! Those Rogers & Hammerstein and Cole Porter chestnuts that carried you through college are of no use at the American Idiot tour audition. Your cute 50’s pop song that seemed perfect for Jersey Boys is being sung by so many other people that day, the casting directors roll their eyes and check their blackberries. And the technique for singing pop and rock is totally different than for Traditional Musical Theatre. Who knew?! Even your Contemporary Musical Theatre songs are wrong. You may have been cast to play a 50-year-old character in college, but Broadway has actual 50-year-olds for that, with professional resumes longer than your loan modification applications. You need age-and-type-appropriate songs and you need them now. Someone on line at the open call is charitable enough to say ‘here’s my voice teacher’s card,’ or ‘you should really check out ____’s class at Broadway Dance,’ or ‘I’m so happy with my monologue coach, call him!’ WHAT? I took voice lessons and dance classes and acting classes for 4 years. I was the lead in every show in school and summer stock. I’m DONE with training! I thought I had everything I needed to work!
The humbling truth: Graduation Day is when your training begins. You will always need to study. Even if you were a “golden ticket” winner, you still need to keep working. You will always need new material. You will outgrow some songs and mature into others. And the demands of the industry will keep changing. This week’s favorite song winds up on next week’s “avoid list.” Or you’ll find the coolest song ever, that no one else does, and uh-oh… there it is on Glee, American Idol, or The Voice, and the secret is out. Rats!
OK everyone, I feel your pain. I really do. And I’ll help you through it. But you have to keep coming to lessons. You have to keep working those muscles and stay focused. Broadway is the Olympics. Your agent expects you to be ready when they get you an appointment. No agent? Keep working and we’ll try & get you one. And don’t think it can’t happen for you at an open call – it can and it does all the time.
Hey, I’ve been going to the gym for 25 years. Can I stop now? Won’t I stay toned and fit based on my past workouts? Answer yes and prove it and you’ve won a free lesson! Either way, I’ll see you next week.
I recently attended a brilliant master class called “Rock The Audition” with Sheri Sanders, which focused on choosing and preparing rock and pop songs for the rock musicals – some say “juke box musicals”. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re here to stay and I want all of my students to be ready for anything. I’ve always made sure my students had plenty of pop songs in their books and we’ve been having a great time incorporating Sheri’s ideas into lessons. This was one of several courses I’ve taken since becoming a member of NYSTA – the New York Singing Teachers Association. Learning isn’t just for students… the best teachers know there’s always more to know!