A For Auditions
Find out how to get those missing musicians for your group, or get into a new group yourself.
Auditions can be painful experiences for both parties. And parties are definitely the wrong place to hold auditions. But you want sensible advice, don't you - that's why you're reading Making Music. Right then, prepare to get the lowdown on the perfect audition - whether you're looking for a new musician, or you're a musician looking for a group.
• We'll get the plug over and done with now: the best place to advertise for musicians is in the paper that most musicians read. This one. There you are, that was nice and short.
• Put the name of the instrument you want the new person to play at the start of the ad, cos that's what people look for. So make it BASSIST WANTED BLAH BLAH not WANTED BASSIST FOR BLAH BLAH or worse still A ABLE BASSIST BLAH BLAH.
• The best thing to put on the end is a phone number - then you won't have everyone knowing that at 6 Railway Cuttings there's a pile of expensive equipment waiting to be nicked. But make sure it's your own phone, not the phone box on the corner - or at least, a phone you'll have constant access to.
• Just before the calls come flooding in, write out a short list of questions to ask the hopefuls - you'll sound more together (man), and also get the right info from the yobs.
• You know what you want, of course, but try: What is your name (are we going slowly enough for you?); what is your phone number; how long have you been playing; what are you doing at the moment (I'm on the phone ha ha); what gear do you have (not so they can show off, but for more obvious practical reasons); how soon can you start; what other commitments do you have; are you a psychopath? And so on.
• Once you've decided who you're going to audition, ring them back and tell them, clearly, the time and place, and repeat to them any difficult directions to the venue in question. If you're very untrustworthy, you could even get them to read it back to you.
• You will already have worked out where you're going to hold the audition, of course. You haven't? Oh god, well: if you're after someone to slot into an existing group line-up, then a proper rehearsal room is going to be the best place. You know, set up the gear, play like a real group, that sort of thing. But there are some things you might even consider auditioning for at home: perhaps a drum machine programmer, or a second synthist for a duo, or a hairdresser, or... well, you know what you're after.
• If it's a queue of players you'll be confronted with, then allowing half an hour per person seems a good bet - you can whittle down your shortlist to fit as many half-hours into the time you can afford at the rehearsal room. Playing three songs each in that time might be pushing it a bit, but is a good number to go for as it keeps things moving and gives you an idea of how the bozos are going to work under pressure.
• When you're finally there and they're all turning up (uncross your fingers now) play down the fact that it's one big lottery. Get them talking to the rest of the group, and imagine how this person would work out on a regular basis. Any obvious personal problems?
• You can in fact usually tell straight away if someone's right or not - before they've played a note. The music can be a very secondary activity at an audition, assuming that they're not total non-players (unless that's what you're after, of course). Playing ability can be improved. Being an inconsiderate, miserable, boring, smelly idiot is usually more permanent.
• Check carefully how enthusiastic they are about the material and the group: the extremes are likely to be obvious, but in the grey area it's worth considering that people have over the years been known to lie.
• You've seen the ad in Making Music (even shorter gratuitous plug). No answer when you try ringing, on more than one occasion? Give up now. They're not serious. But suppose someone answers: here's you first clue. Do they know what on earth you're on about? Or do they seem professional and (sorry) together? Judge for yourself.
• Assuming you decide to proceed further with the phone call, start hitting them with your prepared list of concise, relevant and revealing questions. Do they answer straight away? Do they dither about? Time to judge for yourself again.
• Only you know what you want from your new group, but here's a few questions you might like to try on the advertisers: why do they need a new (whatever it is); what happened to the last one; where is he buried; was there a last one; what sort of thing does the group play; is there any risk of making money as well as music; what groups do they like; where and how often do they rehearse; where and how often do they gig; where and how often do they record; will you have to chip in for the PA, or other collective costs/ownership; what are the 39 steps? And so on.
• When they offer such a keen chap an instant audition, make sure you get the full details of where and when, and we mean full. Try to avoid the possibility of finding out on the morning of the audition that the road they mentioned doesn't exist, or that there are several such names on the map and you don't know which one, or that you haven't actually written the address or the time down. Course you're not stupid, did we say that? Just forgetful, that's all.
• When you get offered the audition (be positive, OK loves?), make sure too that you find if the group have an amp for you to use, or whether you should bring your own. Do they have any bizarre wiring arrangements that require you to have extra MIDI cables, or a spare mike, or a set of matching underwear? Or perhaps you're a drummer? Tough luck.
• When you get to the audition, the best scheme is to be yourself. This is fair on everyone. Avoid the temptation to sink a few Dutch Courages (or worse) before you go in as you'll need all the brain tackle in full working order.
• Is there an obvious leader? Befriend this person immediately and play your best bits at them. Don't be flash, mind, and don't turn up and drown everyone else out.
• Try to be as fair as you can with them when they ask you searching questions about the cultural and social value of their music and how you would feel about contributing to it on a full time basis. If it's a load of crap, then tell them - subtly. Phrases like, "I think you need someone a little more sensitive than me to play this wonderful noise," can be useful.
• If on the other hand this is the music that will change the future as we know it, make it quite plain that it's you they need and that you'll settle for no less. A handy phrase here goes more like this: "I have been searching for such a creative, stimulating musical environment for many years and I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
• Now comes the crunch. "We'll let you know," very often means they won't and don't intend to either. "You're in mate - come and have a drink," however, means that you're in and are about to buy them all a drink. Better still, they're going to buy you several.