Preparing for an Audition
Note: The following article originally appeared in the Bass Sessions webzine.
It doesn’t matter if you plan to make a career out of music, or if you intend to play music as a hobby. Sooner or later, you’re probably going to have to audition for a band. Even Jason Newsted had to audition for Metallica before he rose to fame.
During my thirty-five year career on bass, I’ve done dozens of auditions. While I passed most of them, I didn’t pass them all. But even then, I gained experience that was helpful to me as I continued my career. Here are some tips to help you get through this, often grueling process, of auditioning. They are geared toward local/regional players, not touring professionals. I doubt that Nathan East or Mike Watt need my help anyway. Follow these suggestions, and you’ll have a much better chance of passing the audition and getting the job.
Often, we’re so excited about the possibility of getting hired that we forget to do the basic research necessary to determine if we even want it. Neither do we know if our skills and tastes are a good match for the band. Here’s a list of questions to get you started:
What style of music does the band play? Do you play covers, originals or a mix?
If you’re an R&B player and aren’t interested in playing country, it doesn’t make sense to waste your time, or theirs, auditioning for a Country band headed for Nashville.
How often do you perform? How often do you rehearse?
Are they playing enough (or little enough) to satisfy you? Will you be happy in a band that rehearses three times a week and plays out once or twice a month? Conversely, will you be happy in a band that plays five or six nights a week?
What geographic area do you cover?
If they plan to tour and you want to stay local, find another unit to play with. It’s that simple.
What’s the pay range? Who covers expenses on the road?
If you’re doing it for a living, this is crucial. Don’t get involved in a band that can’t support you, unless you truly believe they’ll be the next big thing.
What happened to your last bass player?
This can be very important. Don’t accept a vague answer. Dig deeper. If it turns out it was a political decision, you may want to investigate further to ensure you aren’t the victim of the next political decision.
What did you like about your last bassist? What didn’t you like?
It’s important to know whether you can bring something more to the band rather than simply fill a slot while they look for someone better suited to their needs. This question can also help you fit in better. For instance, if the last bassist was always too loud, don’t bring your double stack of cabinets to the audition. If the last person was adamant about performing his/her own originals and the guitarist only wants to play his own music, you should know that going in.
What are you looking for in a bassist?
Find out exactly what they want in a bassist. Then, if you feel you can give them what they want, move forward. If, however, they’re looking for a Billy Sheehan type and you don’t do two handed tapping while performing flips, maybe this isn’t the band for you.
Who runs the band? Is there a defined leader, or is it a democratic set-up?
Always get this answered. You need to know who runs things, and how.
Be Prepared to Answer Questions
I just recommended doing the research required to know whom you’re dealing with. Just about any outfit is going to want to do the same with you. Write out a list of questions you think may be asked and prepare your answers. As with any interview process, it’s bad form to stumble through your answers. For starters, be prepared to talk about your past experience, your style of playing, gear and musical philosophy.
If at all possible, it’s helpful to have a handful of people prospective employers can call to learn more about you. It will be even more helpful to you if you let your references know someone may be calling them. This helps them be prepared to talk about you and it lets them know you’re OK with them doing so.
Find out if the band has a web site. If so, visit it and familiarize yourself with what they’ve been doing. Check out their promo material, schedule, sound samples – anything that will help you understand who you’re dealing with.
Ask around about the band. Sources of information include other musicians, friends, club owners and managers. Don’t just ask about the music; ask about how the band handles itself. Often, it won’t matter if they’re the best players in the area if they act like a bunch of spoiled brats.
If you’re in a larger area and the band is well known, check local newspapers and magazines for articles on them. You might even ask the writer of said articles about them. How did they act? Were they decent people? Are they professional?
If at all possible, get a CD or tape from which to learn material for the audition. If they have one of their own, learn their original music. However, if you discover they weren’t happy with the way the last bassist played the songs, it’s important to find out what they didn’t like and what they’d rather hear. It won’t help to learn the last bassist’s lines if the rest of the band hated them.
Also, if necessary, be prepared to sing backing vocals, as well as offer a cover or two that you sing. Don’t wait until the leader says, “Can you sing?” to deal with this one. More than once, I’ve passed an audition simply because I was prepared to sing while others weren’t.
Arrive on Time
By which I mean, “arrive early”. Showing up fifteen minutes late doesn’t make you fashionably cool. It makes you late. And why would a professional outfit want to consider someone who can’t even get to the audition on time?
Find out if they will be auditioning more than one person on the day of your spot. If so, it’s good form to NOT show up in the middle of someone else’s audition. But get there on time, regardless. This means ten to fifteen minutes before the scheduled time. That way, you can be set up and ready at the appointed time.
Bring Your Rig
Don’t just show up with your bass, even if they have an amp in their rehearsal space. You want to let them hear what you sound like, and often that means you’ll need your own gear. Hopefully, you already know how to get a good sound of your own equipment, and you won’t have to waste time trying to figure out how to sound decent out of some no-name practice amp.
Bring Your Promo Material
This includes your press kit (if you have one) including pictures, articles, bio, etc. If you have any recordings of past work, bring them, too. Be prepared to leave all of it with the band.
Take a deep breath. Then, take another one. You won’t play your best if you’re tense and edgy. Yeah, auditions can be difficult. Show them you can handle the pressure. Have fun. Smile a lot.
Listen to what others are doing and respond accordingly. Keep your eyes open so you can see visual cues, whether they be intentional or not.
The bottom line is this: If you want to work with professionals, you need to be professional yourself. Treat your prospective employer’s rehearsal space or home with respect. Don’t hit on his sister. Don’t make jokes about his mother – even if he does! Be as likeable and easy to get along with as possible.
Don’t expect a call the next day. The band you’re auditioning for may have a dozen other people to listen to over the next two weeks. However, do ask when you can expect
to hear from them.
The day after the audition, make a short call or send a short email thanking the appropriate people for the opportunity. My basic rule is to say thanks, say something nice about the band and/or leader and tell them you look forward to hearing from them. Then, shut up. Here’s a quick generic voice message example:
Hi, Mike; this is Lane. I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to audition for your band, The Mike-tones. I really enjoyed playing with all of you, especially my rhythm-mate, Dave the Drummer. I think he and I will do very well together. I also enjoyed your original tunes, especially “This is My Song” and “This Isn’t Your Song,” both of which really showcased your vocal ability. I look forward to hearing from you next week as planned. If you need more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Take care; talk to you soon.
If You Don’t Want the Gig
Here’s a “do unto others” way of doing business: call or email the next day and artfully tell the band leader that you’re going to pass. Be prepared to tell them why you don’t think it’s a good fit, but do it nicely. Offer to help them find another bassist that is more suited to their needs. You might even offer to cover some gigs for them while they continue their search.
If You Don’t Get the Gig
For whatever reason, you may not get the gig, even if you played your pants off. There are a number of possible reasons but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Learning why a band didn’t hire you could well help you with future auditions. The key here is to not whine. Instead, show a sincere desire to improve yourself. One way to ask is, “Mike, I’m sorry it didn’t work out. What was it you wanted in your new bassist that I didn’t have? Maybe it’s something I need to work on.”
This list of suggestions is by no means the “be-all, end-all” of preparing for auditions. But it sure is a good start. As with any job, how well you perform in the “interview” can be more important than past work performance. Learning to handle auditions with ease can help make your dreams come true.
Aim High – Play Low!
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©2005, by Lane Baldwin – All Rights Reserved. Permission to republish on the web is hereby granted, provided the copyright notice and following statement immediately follows the article:
With more than forty years on the bass guitar, and three decades of professional experience, Lane Baldwin (known in the music world as Lane on Bass) has a sound and style that’s all his own. A gifted teacher, Lane has helped hundreds of students learn to navigate the deep end with authority. If you’re ready to learn how to be “rock solid and pocket wise,” visit LaneOnBass.com.