Is your group ready to welcome new members into your a cappella family? Establishing an audition process can seem intimidating, but this foolproof guide outlines the necessities that will help your group find your newest members. Let us help you set your group up for a successful year!
First, announce that you are hosting auditions.
Be sure to include where, when, and what the audition entails. If you are looking to recruit certain voice parts or roles, include this in the audition information - this can attract individuals of a specific talent/vocal range.
Use flyers, social media, email, and student involvement fairs to get the word out. Posting on new student platforms, such as a Facebook page for incoming freshmen, is a great way to advertise directly to new people. Setting up an information table manned by group members in your student commons is a great way to reach as many people as possible, too. You can even perform around campus before auditions to show off to potential auditionees!
Identify what your group is looking for.
What does the group need?
Identifying areas where your group can improve the most can make it easier to identify what you are looking for in potential new members. Ask questions such as, do we need specific voice parts? Soloists? Arrangers? Performers? It is important to keep your group membership balanced, which means you should always have a plan for accepting members that will keep your voice parts even.
What does the group want?
An important part of performing in a group is good chemistry. While an individual may be a great performer, the group needs to feel comfortable working alongside them to create the best possible sound. Your group spends a lot of time together both in and out of rehearsal, and a positive social dynamic is definitely something to factor into your group’s success.
Answer these questions to plan your audition process:
Will the audition be online or in person?
Extraordinary circumstances have led to many meetings being held virtually. If your group is not able to meet in person, here are some extra tips and factors to consider when planning a virtual audition.
If you will be using Zoom to conduct your auditions, make sure you and your auditionees optimize your audio for singing in Zoom settings
Make sure everyone present has their cameras on so that you are still making personal connections with everyone who is auditioning
Clearly establish who in the group is going to be asking questions and speaking during the audition process to minimize the confusion of people talking over each other
Ensure all group members’ mics are off during the singing portion of the audition to avoid accidental interruptions
Pin the person auditioning in order to focus on their performance
Since having an auditionee sing in a group setting might not be an option over Zoom, establish other ways to test their blending and dynamic abilities
Instead of a group exercise, ask them to sing phrases legato, staccato, forte, piano, or with a crescendo and decrescendo to test their skills
How long will the audition be?
Make sure you have a rough estimate of how long each audition will take so people know when to show up, especially if you are assigning timed slots rather than having an open call. Estimate your timing and plan out your process depending on the number of individuals that are auditioning and what you plan to ask them to do.
What will we ask the auditionee to prepare?
For an initial audition, an individual is typically asked to prepare two solos of contrasting genres that show off an individual's talent and range. It is also wise to have an auditionee complete a form with general information (name, contact info, musical background, voice part, etc.) so you have the basics on file.
What will we test them with and observe on the spot?
This area is likely to vary based on what your group may be looking for. To loosen the auditionee up, you may want to start the audition with some scales, pitch matching exercises, or your group’s favorite vocal warmup. Make sure to have a few different exercises in your back pocket so you can switch things up based on the person. Consider covering most or all of these areas:
Test their range by having an auditionee sing up and down scales on whichever vowel is most comfortable for them. Don’t be afraid to ask them to go outside of their vocal part so you can see what their voice can do.
Blending, vowels and tone
To test how they blend, perform an exercise in which an auditionee is given the opportunity to sing alongside members of the current group. This takes some of the spotlight off of the auditionee and allows members to interact and get to know them. Make sure your existing members have the exercise perfected so you can adequately teach the newcomer and focus on listening to them. Performing an exercise with changing vowels is best (oo-ee-oh-ah-mm).
Ask the auditionee to sing back the pitch being played on the piano, or ask them to sing back full scales. Give them several of these to complete.
Observe the auditionee’s mannerisms and presence during their performance. Do they seem comfortable? Are they straining their body or voice? Do they seem to have a big stage personality, or are they more reserved? These things are especially important for competitive groups to consider.
Think about the type of song and performance delivered during the solo. Does this individual seem to enjoy singing music of a specific genre? What type of vibe as a performer do they bring to the group?
Ability to read music
Sight reading -- some groups will provide a simple eight-measure bit of music for the auditionee to sing back to them to gauge their ability.
Teaching a part -- some groups will take the time to teach a part to an auditionee and determine their ability to learn music quickly. This can be a great way to hear them sing with the group as well. While reading music and sight reading does not have to be a dealbreaker or a big factor in being in an a cappella group, the ability to learn and be taught should be important.
To take the edge off an audition, don’t make your process too cold and calculated. Instead of completing one test right after the other, take time between exercises to ask the auditionee some more lighthearted questions to get to know them. If your group members give off a welcoming vibe and ask fun questions, that will help the auditionee relax and give them a chance to show you what they’re like. Some examples: If you were a flavor of ice cream, what flavor would you be and why? If you could have dinner with any celebrity, who would it be? What’s your guilty pleasure TV show? If you could switch lives with anyone for a day, who would you choose?
It is important to ask if an auditionee has the time and ability to commit to your group. Be honest with them about the time commitment your group expects of its members, including rehearsal times, performances, etc. An individual may be auditioning for multiple groups as well, so it is wise to ask, “Why our group?” This question can tell you a lot about the auditionee’s preparation for your group’s audition and why they may be committed to you.
Be sure to have a scale to evaluate auditionees on various criteria, such as a 1-5 scale for each category your group wants to test. Group members should also take open-ended notes that will be useful later on in deliberations.
Your group may choose to record audio or take a photo of the auditionee so it is easy to put a name to a face in the deliberation process. Taking a video could make the auditionee uncomfortable, so a picture of them is usually enough if you choose to do so.
Test the process
While it may seem silly, try putting a member or a friend through the audition process. Doing a trial run will let you know of any hiccups that may occur and what should be focused on for an efficient and professional audition.
Narrowing down your new member pool for a second round of auditions gives you the chance to see more of their strengths, weaknesses and help you decide who would be a good fit for your group.
You may want to include a group singing segment in callbacks to gauge how auditionees sound in a more formal group setting. Gather the auditionees in one room to learn an excerpt from a common piece of music, and have existing members split into sectionals and sing with them to teach parts. Then, have everyone come together and sing the piece while slowly removing current members until it’s only auditionees. Eventually, ask them to sing in quartets; this can be very indicative of how an auditionee may perform in a group.
You should also ask auditionees to prepare a new solo to sing for the group during callbacks. Feel free to ask them for a specific genre, or anything that may showcase something about their voice your group wants to see more of.
Ask more questions
Make your auditionees feel more comfortable and learn more about their personalities by asking questions and talking naturally with them. Have some fun questions prepared and try to get a feel for how they mesh with your current group members during the callback.
After seeing so much talent, deliberations can get tough, especially when there is limited space for new members and current group members may have a lot of differing opinions. This process tends to work best with one individual, such as the president or music director, leading the group. Make sure to establish goals, expectations, wants and needs as a group to keep things focused while you discuss the qualities of potential new members.
Before your group goes into open discussion, give members time to think for themselves. Have every member write down their top choices based on who they saw, and make sure everyone has their notes in order and has an opinion to share.
To begin deliberations, go through all of your auditionees in order and agree to remove auditionees who were rarely mentioned or vouched for in your first group discussion. Removing anyone not being heavily considered right off the bat can help with efficiency.
Set up a way to display information so everyone can see what is being discussed, such as a projector, dry erase board or chalkboard. You should also establish a system for allowing everyone in the group to speak. This may seem excessive, but it can be easy for group members to talk over each other or dominate conversation when the stakes are high. Don’t underestimate the power of a talking stick!
If your group gets to a point where you can’t seem to choose one or the other, refer back to the goals, wants and needs of the group that have been established. Tough decisions will need to be made, but the group should always remember what they’re hoping to achieve with these new additions.
At the end of the meeting, it should be noted that all discussions regarding deliberations should not leave the room. Make sure to respect the privacy of all of the auditionees.
Audition results and initiation
All auditionees should be given a timeline of when to expect to hear about their audition results. However you choose to let them know, make sure to send official rejections before sending out acceptances. Sending rejections is never fun for either party, so make sure to be kind and respectful of their time and effort.
After sending out membership offers, the waiting game begins! Celebrate with your group as you get acceptances from your brand-new members. There will always be people who receive offers and decline, which your group should be prepared for when deciding how many acceptances to extend. Make your new members feel welcomed and loved, and maybe confuse them with any bizarre initiation rituals your group might have up its sleeve. Finally, get down to work with your new group and start singing!
This post was originally published by Vice President of Production Kyle Howard and has been modified and updated for republication.