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Band auditions: How do you go about yours?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by FJBass82, Dec 4, 2018.

  1. Our cover band is currently holding auditions for a lead vocalist and a guitar player. We play classic rock, alternative rock, and a few country tunes.

    When we hold band auditions we assign the person, for example if they're a guitar player, 5 songs off of our set list, and give them a week or so to prepare. At their audition we have them play the lead parts of the songs, since we're a two-guitar band and our guitarists trade-off playing lead and rhythm. Once we blow through those tunes we usually jam to a couple of more. We also listen to how well they sing backup vocals/harmonies. And most of all, being prepared for the audition is a major bonus.

    In addition to that we talk to the person to get to know them better, such as where they live, how old they are, what previous bands they've been in, how long they've been playing, what bands they like, etc.

    Do any of you hold auditions differently?
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
    Combat Wombat and Jewce like this.
  2. PauFerro


    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I used to hold auditions, but don't anymore. I go to jam nights, or get recommendations from other musicians who know good jazz players.

    But when I used to hold auditions, I would give them three songs - a ballad, an bossa and a swing. And then we'd throw a chart at them at the rehearsal -- they knew this would be coming.

    I would tell them in advance that we won't make any decisions at the audition, likely -- that they will get a phone call the next day after we talk about it as a band.

    I also let them know they have to watch a short video on how things work (a Youtube powerpoint) that goes into how things work. Then they have to get back to us and let us know if they are interested after watching the video.

    Surprise -- the video actually made them seem increase their desire to be part of the whole thing, since it conveyed professionalism and organization. If they weren't into the video, and the way things worked, they saved me a ton of hassle later on.

    Things that stopped happening, which were common occurrences before the video were:

    a) Trying to get me to move rehearsal to their practice space a long way away - when I had already invested in one and it was clearly working for the band.
    b) gutting our repertoire to suit their tastes
    c) treating me like the band's lackey while they made all the fun decisions
    d) expecting me to pay their taxes by insisting on being paid in cash or no 1099 when appropriate
    e) ignoring my needs for well-charted, easy songs to substitute musicians
    f) refusing simple requests from clients
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2018
  3. BassAndReeds

    BassAndReeds Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2016
    You seem to be doing it right.

    5 songs, different styles, different techniques.

    Talk after to get to know them.

    Really, you should be able to evaluate someone in 15 mins playing + 5 mins talking. Sometimes less.

    Lots of time wasters, bands and auditioners. Try not to be one of them. Being clear in what your looking for before auditions, and being able to weed out auditioners before tryouts is key. I’d definitely ask for YouTube or other videos before inviting them for an audition. If they don’t have it, no audition.
  4. If you are going to audition, you need a system that addresses all you are looking for. When we audition we want:
    1. A professional level of instrument proficiency.
    2. A good enough ear to learn a song independently and quickly.
    3. Familiar enough with genres and styles to play along with something new.
    4. Ability to improvise.
    Toward these ends, here is our audition process:
    1. We give them a list of 10 to 15 cover songs, and tell them to prepare 3. We don’t care which.
    2. Once we book an audition date, exactly one week prior, we send them a link to a password protected subpage on our website containing 3 of our originals.* Anyone who cannot learn 3 songs in one week will not be considered.
    3. At the audition we teach them a new chord progression, and ask them to jam it out with us, including a solo.
    *if they reschedule the audition, they are given a new link one week prior with all different songs.
  5. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    First I would have a talk with the person, generally over the phone. If they seemed have their $&+_# together, we set the audition. Generally 5 songs with about a week of prep time (may not do all 5, but we want them prepped). Play through the tunes with them just playing. If vocals are involved, play the songs again with lower instrument volume to hear the vocals. Talk for a few minutes with the band if all seems good, to see how personalities fit.
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2018
  6. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    The Deep North
    Been quite a while since I ran auditions but you seem to be on the right track. Only thing I’d add is a pre-screening process (in person). Either meet for coffee/beer whatever or see them perform elsewhere beforehand to weed out the psychos and wannabes.
    redwingxix likes this.
  7. I figured we were on the right track. I was just curious to know if any other bands do things somewhat differently. Thanks for the input!
  8. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    I've auditioned more than I have held them, but you're on the right track. Here's my take on good audition process:

    -Provide explicit list of songs to prepare.

    From an auditioner point of view I hate it when they send me a 75 song play list and tell me to pick a few to play. My preference form that perspective is to get the whole play list (so I can get a good picture of their general) direction with 3-10 songs identified (depending on lead time) for me to play with them. It's good for both sides of the coin - I get an idea as to what is important to them and they get to know if I can carry what's important to them. I'm not crazy about it, but I don't mind too much if they just throw something at me after we've been through a few prepared songs - this has happened about 60% of my auditions (probably because I didn't pick what they should have told me to play).

    Also, for cover tunes be sure to indicate if there is a key change or severely altered arrangement to any songs you want prepared and which published version of a song you lean towards. Define if you guys try to be a "note for note" band, a "we make it our own, but true to the original" band or a "we make them entirely our own" band. If possible give them a video or recording of you guys doing a few songs. If doing originals, be sure to provide some tracks and if possible some sort of chart or lead sheet.

    -Don't make a hiring decision on the spot - talk amongst your selves and get back to them. If they suck and you say no thanks on the spot, it may come off as hurtful and if they are great, they may be a little suspicious of your desperation. Yeah, you can cut it short if it's not working or extend it if you're having fun jamming, but no decisions.

    Rarely has an audition ended with me being certain about the outcome. It's almost always a follow up call with the "you're in" or "we went with someone else" discussion/text/email. I've never been rejected on the spot, but have been hired in that manner.

    -Be considerate of the persons time and expect the same from them.

    Be specific if the time you set is for show up or downbeat. Expect them to be on time or early and expect the same from yourselves. Describe the entire audition process ahead of time. If you have need for multiple levels of auditions or you're going to have a parade of people n a given day or anything like that, let them know this upfront. If you are running several auditions on one day, make sure to allow time for load in/load out to try to prevent them bumping in to each other. This would be uncomfortable for some people. Try to avoid last minute scheduling changes.

    - Be clear about how what you need.
    I auditioned/jammed with one original band twice before getting excused. They wanted more than I could give them (slap and backing vocals). This was a little disheartening and could have been prevented if they just would have expressed what they needed in their ad or the communication leading to the audition. If you expect them to dress for the stage at the audition, then express that. I'm a very casual person and have yet to "dress up" for an audition - but have thought about it a few times.

    -Be clear about your goals
    Just want to jam? Want to gig every weekend of the year? Want to tour? Want to gig once a month? We're a low level bar band? We're a sparkly touring pop band? We're an original grunge band?

    It's important for me to know what I'm getting into before I even make contact. Nothing worse than showing up expecting one thing and finding something completely different.

    -Be clear about expected rehearsal schedule, other duties and pay structure
    Do you expect the newbie to help with general load in load out, hump gigs, provide or set up PA? Is there a reason that monies aren't split evenly (gig finder fee, PA rental, etc)? I personally will not hump gigs, but am happy to let someone take an extra share (or maybe a half share) for doing that thankless job. I'm happy to help with loads and any administrative stuff I can help with and don't expect additional pay since it's somewhat of a team effort. In my current band, I'm very surprised to see that the BL takes nothing off the top and he humps all gigs, supplies and brings the PA, and organizes all rehearsals.

    -And of course, we're auditioning each other.
    Look for signs of drama, personality conflicts, preparedness, musicianship, presence etc. Make sure the band presents itself in a good light. Don't be too "first date" about it - you need to present who you are, but don't come off as total douches either - unless that's what you're looking for.
  9. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i think everyone has given you (OP) great advice and counsel, here. i have nothing to add, but one thing to emphasize: it's great to get a new bandmate who has a true sense of humor...the ability to view things from 30,000 feet. those cats will gladly go along with your audition routine/protocol...and it's the 'first filter' in the process. be sure to let us know how it goes. good luck with your audition(s). :thumbsup:
  10. QORC


    Aug 22, 2003
    Elberon, New Jersey
    honestly, on both sides of an audition, I know within the first song whether I'm interested in the band, or interested in the prospective member. You can tell awfully quickly whether they have "it" or not. I would say 3-5 songs is however typical for an audition
    lfmn16 and StayLow like this.
  11. QORC


    Aug 22, 2003
    Elberon, New Jersey
    i remember going to an audition with a band who told me to pick 4 or 5 from the list they gave me. I prepared 6, but the band seemed very sketchy on all but one. I left pretty quickly. I realized they simply were not up to snuff or were professional. if you're going to try-out new members, freakin' KNOW the songs yourselves cold!
    StayLow, lfmn16 and oldrocker like this.
  12. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    I would agree in 99.99999% of all cases, however, one of the best bands I ever played with gave me a list of tunes to learn, about 1/2 cover, 1/2 originals. I showed and they said what do you want to play so I chose a couple of cover tunes to warm up and then went on to the the originals but it had been so long since they'd played two of them, they didn't want to try them. They did have the good sense to be embarrassed though, the drummer said, "The man shows up and knows our originals and we don't even know the damn songs ourselves." The drummer and I clicked immediately and I found out later that after I left he told the other guys, "You can pick whoever you want, but that's who I'm playing with."
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  13. juancaminos

    juancaminos Supporting Member

    May 30, 2003
    USA, Phoenix, AZ
    I remember the audition days. We talk with people on the phone and send them a typical set list. If they are still interested we schedule the jam session (we never called it an audition). We go out of our way to make the person feel as comfortable as possible. It's amazing to me that you always get musicians that should never have called. I remember one particular opening was for a drummer, we probably went thru ten. The last one was really rusty having just got his last child thru school he decided to get back into the band thing. I was out voted and he became our new drummer. He was actually pretty good at first. After a while he became more demanding. No one could stand in front of him, we couldn't play too many uptempo songs in a row, he couldn't play on Sundays, had to practice at his house only, started bickering with the guitar player. Then he got to where he would drag noticeably toward the end of gigs. Next he told us that "This will be my last gig" moments before we were to play our first song at a very important NYE gig. Why in the hell would you start a gig like that! A year later out singer tried to get him back in as a key board players. two of us said hell no the other two said yes. I put my foot down, dug in and said no, no, no! This caused a bit of tension for the rest of our run.
  14. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Regarding the OP's question, I have a list of things to talk about before we do anything. It takes just a few minutes, but tells potential candidates where we are at. How long we've been together, a representative list of the bands we cover, how often we practice, how often we play, average salary, where we play, what is expected of them at the gig, how close to the original recording we intend to play, we expect professional grade equipment, if there was a band fund I'd mention that, if one member provides PA for an extra cut I'd mention that, we'll give them 10 tunes and they can learn any 5. After this, if they are still interested, I'll listen to their story and ask for an audio or video (but it's not a deal breaker if they don't have one). If we click, or at least aren't like oil and water, I'll arrange an audition; date and time, be on time because there are other's before and after you. The whole conversation usually takes less than 10 minutes.

    I posted about my earlier efforts putting together a Rockabilly band when I was much looser. I had people showing up that couldn't play a 12 bar progression, people showing up with equipment that looked, and more importantly sounded, like they got it at toys-r-us. It was just embarrassing.
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  15. SactoBass

    SactoBass A retired civil engineer who likes all-tube amps! Supporting Member

    Cool story! :thumbsup:
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  16. Alik


    Apr 13, 2013
    El Paso, TX
    An old musician friend of mine told me once: Remember, if you are auditioning for them, at the same time They are auditioning for you! Don't assume they are better musicians just because they have an almost complete band. There Is A Reason why their last bassist left. Or why they cannot get a permanent replacement. My 0.02.
    StayLow likes this.
  17. StayLow


    Mar 14, 2008
    1. A respected pro can vouch for the potential auditionee OR they can provide, ideally without being asked, videos of them playing songs of comparable difficulty and style. If not, no audition and no further contact.

    2. 2-3 songs MAXIMUM straddling the range of style and difficulty required. Brief bit of jamming if applicable. Whole audition is 30-60 mins MAXIMUM including setup, tear-down and chit-chat. For jamming, test them by asking what key/notes/time/tempo they're playing. Make sure they can play everything heads-up and smiling (or scowling if it's metal). Ask them to put some of their own spin on some of the material. Throw a key change in there too.

    3. Audition is at a public, clean, safe facility and a guitar/bass/whatever rig is already set up for them but NOT plugged in or fired up. All knobs/faders at zero. This is not only efficient, this is a test.

    4. No immediate feedback or decisions, just a cordial "thanks".

    5. Longer or more thorough auditions, including gigs, subsequently if applicable.

    The higher level the band, the more it looks like the above. The lower level the band, the less like the above.

    It's really that easy, and a win/win for everyone.

    Soon I'm auditioning for a band that gigs frequently and internationally, and the setup is exactly as per above which makes me much more motivated to join an act that totally has their #### together.

    When I ran auditions for a major recording artist, the audition was precluded on whether the other pros in the band could vouch for someone even if it was only "my events band auditioned this guy a few months ago ... he didn't get the gig but is solid ... I still have his card in my case."

    Point being it's who you know, and when you audition for a good band they'll remember you did well even if you don't get the call. They'll recommend you to others if need be, ask you to join a side project, or you can call on them when you need someone for your projects.

    This is a *HUGE* success. People who didn't know you existed before, now know you're a cat that comes correct. That's the only part you can control, so *that* is the actual goal.

    If you're the one auditioning, see above plus:

    1. Be early.

    2. Dress as you would, or close to, for one of their gigs. Don't overdo the cologne but for sure smell clean and have fresh breath. Clean, new(er) shoes too. Have an instrument that looks correct for the style, even if it's not the one you'd rather be playing. And do your practicing on it. First impressions!

    3. Know more of their songs than asked to learn, in case the next guy doesn't show up and you get twice as long to hang with them. You do NOT know the material unless you can play it without any other accompanyment to just a click, and be able to listen back to a recording of that and feel it grooving.

    Keep it simple, with as few licks as possible to not risk stepping into spaces where one of them is used to ad-libbing. If you feel it really needs something more, go with ghost notes or rhythm, not more notes.

    If there are what you think are important licks, be able to play them, NOT pay them, and play them elsewhere. Sometimes guitarists play the bass licks, not even realizing the difference, have changed it over time or learned different/live versions of the song, or the licks just might fit better elsewhere for whatever reason.

    5. Have some good jam ideas and be able to communicate what key/time/notes/tempo is going down. Know the same for the songs you've been asked to audition on. If possible, have a clue how the drums go in the intro... "Hey man, on the original that crash is on the & of 3, not on the 4."

    Better yet if you can sit down and play it on that instrument. This is particularly important for tricky passages that might trip you up, or odd time signatures: don't count on the drums being the same as on the original, even if it is their own original.

    6. Have a clue what chords the other instruments are playing, effects being used, etc. Just be prepared to seem like you have a clue, especially if you can highlight the fact casually without seeming like you're trying too hard.

    7. Be very conscious of the singers you're working with, especially if you're a drummer. Some voices can easily get washed out by brass or the band playing in certain registers even if they key is correct for the vocalist. You are NOT actually the original band.

    8. Be able to *perform* all this stuff, not just play it, including with some of your own variations (if asked) and your head up with a smile. Their audience doesn't want to watch you watch your hands all night, and this comfort level will help immensely if you start to feel pressure or if they're running video or have an audience there to *see* how you fit in.

    9. Be gracious, leave quickly, and hand out some contact cards to show an extra level of profressionalism and also leave some with their manager, staff/crew, or in the lobby of the facility since you're looking for gigs.

    10. You just auditioned them, not the other way around. And you just auditoned yourself. How did you do vs. all of the above? How did *they* do? The fewer points they hit, the less you want to join. The fewer points you hit, the more someone else probably hit and they'll get the gig.

    REMINDER: This isn't your usual routine or setup. Practice at home before leaving, going through the motions of setup to make sure you have the tuner, cables, and backups you'll need. Use as few effects or pedals or anything that plugs in or requires power as possible. These increase the chances of something going wrong or adding noise, and if others take forever to set up while you're instantly good to go with a good attitude then it's your gig to lose at that point.

    If it takes you longer than 2-3 mins from when you walk in until you're ready to hit the first note (not including chit-chat of course) then you're failing already.

    It's that easy!

    Have fun!!
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2018
  18. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    This. I believe in giving a candidate the whole lowdown on the band, its short term plans and long term goals, how the money works, expectations about commitment and level of proficiency, etc. right upfront.

    If they’re still interested after that, (about half self-disqualify since it’s not a good fit for them) I like to talk about them for awhile. All the usual questions. If I’m still interested at that point we’ll move to arranging the actual “audition.”

    I put audition in quotes because I’ve mostly done originals bands. And none of the ones I was in ever did totally cold auditions or open calls. When we were putting those bands together we already had a good idea of who we wanted in it and went from there. I don’t recall ever auditioning a complete unknown. Everyone came in with at least a recommendation or on a referral from someone we knew.
    lfmn16 and StayLow like this.
  19. Bunk McNulty

    Bunk McNulty It is not easy to do simple things correctly. Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2012
    Northampton, MA
    Good advice all around. Quick story: A few months after I got hired by my current band, they told me about the two dozen guys they'd auditioned before me. If it was obvious the guy was wasting their time, they'd start talking about how they were expecting bad weather soon, which was a signal of mutual agreement to shut him off and send him home. "We're expecting another person in a few minutes..." :D
    SactoBass likes this.
  20. SactoBass

    SactoBass A retired civil engineer who likes all-tube amps! Supporting Member

    Bunk: it sounds like when they auditioned you, they said "it looks like sunny skies ahead!" :thumbsup:

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