“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” -Frederick Buechner
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9
I’ve been wanting to write on the topic of auditions for some time now. I wanted to make sure I spent ample time refining my perspective on this subject, as it is one that has already been addressed numerous times by fellows who are more experienced – and, by my own measure, more qualified – than myself. A quick Google search will likely net you half a dozen articles dedicated to teaching you how to prepare for and ultimately come out on top in the audition process. These are quite invaluable, and I highly recommend spending some time absorbing their wisdom if you’re headed into an audition anytime soon. Nevertheless, as the subject of how to do well in an audition has been discussed at length, I have elected to write about the other possible outcome – an experience which I am immensely qualified to discuss.
I want to talk about how to FAIL it.
But first, a little background on the process itself, for those who are unfamiliar, uninitiated, or simply managed to be part of the select (and blessed) few who got their gig without having to do one of the bloody things…
It usually starts with a whisper.
A friend casually mentions that so-and-so is hiring a new [insert your instrument here] player for their upcoming tour, and they happened to drop your name to said artist/band. Or perhaps you see an ad posted somewhere and throw your resume into the pile hoping and praying that, out of the hundreds submitted, you actually get a call. Regardless of how your name gets in the hat, that’s all you know at this point – your name was mentioned, and nothing is remotely guaranteed.
Days pass. Weeks. You move on, assuming that they either hired some band member’s roommate to avoid having to audition anyone (more common than you’d think), or perhaps decided not to hire anyone new after all due to budget constraints (even more common). Either way, no big deal… you hadn’t invested anything, and there are plenty of other opportunities for you to-
“Hello? Yes. This is he. Really? That’s fantastic. Of course I’d be interested! Yes, Tuesday is great. See you then!”
Go time. Turns out your friend was right – it’s happening, and you’ve got a shot. If you hadn’t already, you get to work. From this point, you usually have anywhere from a couple days to a week to learn whatever material they’ve requested. If you’re diligent – and I always encourage people to be – you learn every bit of material you can get your hands on, required or not. You learn it on every instrument you know how to play. You learn every harmony part that’s on the recording, as well as the ones that aren’t but would sound nice if they were.
Social life? Not now. Gigs are at stake. Dreams are at stake. This is why you moved to this town. This is the call to the big leagues. This is everything.
You practice. Hard. CRAZY hard. You learn the material to the point that you’re singing it in your sleep (true story – ask my wife). There are days that you never change out of your pajamas. You make sure not a moment is wasted because you don’t want to look back and realize that you could have worked harder than you did.
Finally… the day arrives. You made sure to get a full night’s sleep. You cook a good breakfast. Your phone erupts at random intervals with encouraging text messages and prayers from your friends and family, if you were candid enough to tell them about the upcoming trial. You have butterflies in your stomach, but you’re ready.
The audition itself is difficult to describe, as no two are ever completely alike. There will be common elements, of course – playing the prepared material, some light conversation to gauge your personality type, some basic background questions to make sure you’re not crazy or a serial killer… then there may be some unexpected, less than predictable elements, including but not limited to:
- making up a song on the spot
- performing without the artist present at all
- determining if the artist’s pet likes you
- performing in front of the artist’s family members
- actually touring with the artist for over a month as an extended audition
*all of these based on the personal experiences of myself or close friends
You leave the audition, and you’re pleased. You worked your tail off, and it showed. You played remarkably well. When the nerves hit you hard, your muscle memory took over and you prevailed. You had great chemistry with the band, and even made everyone laugh once or twice. They really liked you! You begin to imagine what life would be like on the road with them… start checking their tour calendar…. oh my, you would have a busy year… OOOOO LOOK THEY’RE PLAYING IN [insert dream destination]! You’ve always wanted to go there…
“Hello? Yes! I’m great! Yeah? Oh… of course. I see. Well, thanks for calling. It was nice to meet you too.”
They went with someone else.
Most auditions of which I’ve been a part have had anywhere from six to fifteen candidates for a single open position. This means that at the end of each process, one lucky winner will walk away with a new career and as many as fourteen others will walk away completely empty handed. Weeks of work and exhaustive preparation, all for naught.
I do not mean for this to sound pessimistic, but the reality of the thing is that the vast majority of us will likely be rejected at an audition at some point in our careers. Statistically speaking, it may very well happen more than once. At the time of this posting, I’m currently 1 for 5 with regards to major auditions. At least twice I’ve been told I was the runner up, which is both awesome (to have gotten that far) and terrible (to have gotten that far and still get nothing).
Thus, as the title states, this blog will be discussing how to fail the audition. Not literally how to accomplish the failure – I’d say dropping your pants or insulting the artist’s mom at any point during the audition will do the trick as far as that’s concerned – but how to get through it… how to fail, and then get back up.
In my experience, there are three lies that you’ll be tempted to believe soon after you get a call like this.
The First Lie: You blew it.
The temptation – and it’s a hard one to refuse – is to replay the audition over and over in your head, looking for the moment where you went wrong. You search through your memory… every note you played, word you sang… every joke you told… did I offend someone? Should I have brought a different guitar? Did I practice the wrong things? If I’d just done that one thing better… they’d have picked me.
The Truth: You can do everything right and still not get the part.
As backwards as this sounds, it’s the truth. They may choose someone else based on their look, style, or some superficial trait. There may be hidden politics at play. There’s even a chance that they knew who they wanted ahead of time, but had to go through with the audition process for one reason or another. Either way, there are always aspects of these things beyond our control – we simply have to be good stewards of the parts we can control (preparation, appearance, attitude, etc.) and hope for the best.
The Second Lie: You’re not good enough.
You’ve replayed the audition a few thousand times in your head and come to the conclusion that you really did play well. This, however, leads you to an even worse conclusion: even at your best, you just aren’t good enough. They saw you at your finest, and still had a better option – maybe even several. You’ve put years of study and training into perfecting your craft, only to be reminded that someone out there is still better than you.
The Truth: Auditions do not measure talent.
Simply put, unless it’s a blind audition for an orchestra or something where musical technicality is the only measure utilized, then this is a flawed conclusion. In almost all auditions, people are looking for the candidate that fits best, not the one who plays best. “Fit” is a rather vague concept that is loosely characterized as a combination of sound, personality, style, and the ever-elusive “it” factor that just makes a person feel right for the job. In fact, the most common reason I’ve heard given to people when being rejected – myself included – is that they simply weren’t the right fit. You played great. You looked great. You were likable. But at the end of the day, it just wasn’t right for you, no matter how much you were convinced that it was.
The Third Lie: I’ll never get another opportunity like this.
Then comes the final lie: that you’re finished. This was the best chance you’ll ever have, and it’s over. You’ve hit your ceiling professionally, so you better get comfortable watching everyone else playing the big stages and living happy, accomplished lives. Once people hear you didn’t make this one, they’ll realize that you’re really a hack and stop throwing your name out.
The Truth: There are always new opportunities.
Simply put: there are opportunities all around us. The longer you stick around and keep pushing, the more people you outlast. The more experience you bring to the table. The more people who know your name and – not just your name – but how hard you work. They know that if they throw your name out there, you’re not going to reflect badly on them because you do your homework. If you need to be reminded, look at your phone. All those prayers and well wishes that you received before and after the audition – those are all people who are in your corner and want the best for you. Lean on them during this time – they will see the best in you even when your own judgment is clouded.
The hard truth is that rejection never gets much easier – it awakens a range of emotions that can be quite difficult to deal with if you don’t see them coming. After my first major audition, I found myself drinking a healthy amount of whiskey and eating an entire bowl of guacamole while playing video games for several hours. After much time and reflection, I do not recommend this course of action, as it didn’t help much and left me smelling quite odd.
However, the one thing I’ve found that helps immensely is time spent with those who believe in you. You’re not alone in this; in fact, you’re in good company. Almost every single musician I look up to has gone through it at one time or another. As I mentioned earlier… for every person who gets a gig, there are a dozen who did not.
At the end of the day, I’m thankful to be in the conversation at all. My biggest fear in moving to Nashville was that I couldn’t cut it as a player. The last time I read an audition schedule with my name on it, I was tempted to feel intimidated – after all, the other names on the schedule were CRAZY good players and people! On the contrary, I felt accepted – my name was on there too. Amongst those amazing talents and people whom I greatly admire… there I was. And when I got a phone call saying I wasn’t the guy… I once again found myself counted among them.
I posted the quote at the top because I believe that God created us all for a specific purpose and put hungers within us to help guide us toward that purpose. I believe that if we do not grow weary – if we continue to pick ourselves up – we will eventually find ourselves in a place prepared specifically for us… a place where we are the ones who, perfectly and purposefully, fit.
So if you’ve been told “no” recently… join the club. There are a lot of us, and we’re here to help you along until opportunity knocks again. It will.