Read Up! : A Blueprint to Successful Auditioning

Nail Your Next Audition: The Ultimate 30-Day Guide for Singers
by Janet Williams

(Performance Enhancement by Design, 2006, ISBN 978-0978752101)

Auditions are not most singers’ favorite topic. “Whoopee, auditions!” Most singers I know make the best of it and try to treat them like performances, but agree that it’s the least fun part of a singer’s job. So, then, maybe the only thing less fun than an audition is reading a book about auditions.

But the art of auditioning is as important in the life of a singer as is the art of performance.

All singers know this and prepare the best that they can. But how and what, exactly, are they preparing? Of course, they are preparing vocally, musically and, hopefully, dramatically. But if that were all there is to it, then singers would sing as well at auditions as they do in their performances, voice lessons, and living rooms.

What are the elements of a good audition? What can help singers to show themselves at their absolute best?

As a singer with top houses around the world who suffered from intense performance anxiety, Janet Williams has asked herself all of the above questions and more. And in her book Nail Your Next Audition: The Ultimate 30-Day Guide for Singers, she answers each one with wisdom. In this concise, 133-page book (available in paperback or online as a PDF), Williams offers step-by-step instructions on technical, expressive, and mental preparation that can give singers the best possible chance of singing their best possible audition.

Many books offer advice to singers on what to do in auditions, but Nail Your Next Audition breaks down the preparation process into specific tasks and exercises—and, most importantly, it includes a timetable. A 30-day program, the book includes worksheets to clarify intentions, address fears, define characters, create positive affirmations and reliable warm up routines, and assess aria recordings and much more.

The book is absolutely free of vague cheerleading or authoritarian admonishments because it is too busy helping singers take the simple steps needed to get ready. Getting ready, according to Williams, means preparing in four key elements: technical precision, inner awareness, mental muscle, and expressive freedom. Using the acronym T.I.M.E., Williams leads the singer through the process of setting goals and rooting out obstacles in all of these areas. Drawing on performance psychology and her own experience confronting performance anxiety, Williams’ tone is friendly, straightforward, and utterly practical. 

Because Williams is so thorough in her understanding of the obstacles singers face, her program has the potential to help protect singers from being blindsided by less-than-perfect audition conditions. With section headings such as “The Doom Room,” “The Waiting Game,” and “Of Human Bondage,” this book is a refreshingly honest look at what singers actually face. But Williams moves swiftly through these challenges into the work singers must do in order to sing a top-notch audition, in whatever conditions that are present. 

Utilizing the idea that you can create a positive performance experience by drawing on positive performance experiences from the past, Williams takes the singer through a process (again, with worksheets) of identifying specifically the components that went into positive performance experiences the singer has had—asking the singer to recall what it felt like before, during, and after. The month-long program includes a tight schedule for mock auditions, aria recordings, inviting and processing feedback, and clarifying not only the singer’s vision of what a good audition would be, but also what the singer hopes it will bring him or her in life.

The book contains instructions for creating a singer’s own performance environment, including “trigger” words that help to create the positive feelings for an easeful performance—words chosen by the singer that evoke a positive response. Throughout the program, Williams calls on the singer to re-evaluate, revise, and check in with how it’s working and what is needed to clarify or create differently in all of the important elements.

The program seems designed to build a very strong self-awareness and intention so that by the time the audition rolls around, a singer having practiced, and still practicing, this program will have little time for nerves. There will be so many positive, active things to concentrate on that vague and debilitating thoughts will have nowhere to take hold.

If you have found any of the ideas in this article helpful, keep in mind that they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are far too many valuable exercises in the book to mention here. For anyone who thinks that there’s no point in reading a book about auditioning (that one just needs to learn through doing), bear in mind that this book is not philosophical. It is a book to be read with pen, paper, and day planner in hand. It is a blueprint for action. 

Williams has written a fabulous book full of terrifically helpful concepts and ideas. But she has not done the work for you. Following this program is a large investment of time and energy. An investment that will pay off the next time you walk into an audition and don’t wonder for a second what it is you’re supposed to be doing.

Lisa Houston

Lisa Houston is a writer and dramatic soprano who divides her time between Berlin and Berkeley. She recently performed Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder with the Kensington Symphony Orchestra and the title role in The Last Diva on Broadway with the Leipzig Kammeroper. She can be reached at Lisahouston360@gmail.com.