Online Auditions: Embrace the Learning Curve!

Recording

Given our present situation during this global pandemic, we are now forced to look at new ways of auditioning. We can think of this in two different ways: It is unnatural, and difficult or it is an opportunity to learn and create.

I don’t know about you all, but this new world we live in has thrown me into a huge learning curve, which I have decided to embrace. Recently, many conservatories, universities as well as companies have had to move their audition process to an online format combining video and online interviews with potential candidates. It is not how anyone really wants to do an audition, but if we believe the projections, we are all in this situation for what they say will be quite a while. How do we power through and survive?

I put together this little check-list for online auditioning from my experience being involved both in doing them and watching them:

Video and sound quality

The most important part of any audition is how you sound and how you look. Just as in a live audition, there are things which are out of your control, and things that are totally in your control-actually even more so with a video recording! While making some videos with some of my singers, these are important points that we had to consider:

  1. Set up your video camera at a good distance showing your face clearly with nice lighting. It is not so important to do a full body shot. I prefer to look at your face, and see what you are doing there, so the torso is enough. Lighting can be natural and you don’t have to have all the latest gadgets. Do a test first and see if your face is well lit, not glow in the dark, but clear and warm. You want to look your best and lighting can be a great help! If you are interested you can buy a Selfie Ring Light which is quite affordable and has different light settings, but it is not necessary.
  2. Your phone video should be good enough, or your iPad or tablet. You want to make sure the sound is as good as possible, so play around with settings. The main concern is distortion in the high notes, you will want clarity of tone but no buzzing. Some phones have these settings, but some don’t. If you can’t seem to control this, I suggest using an extra audio recording device (most singers have this). Your device should have an option to upload tracks to your computer and/or tablet.
  3. Using your video program like iMovie or Movavi (Windows), you can then add the audio to video by syncing them together. I am a low tech person, so what I found helpful is that before every take someone claps their hands once, and that will serve as a starting point to start synchronizing both video and audio, then everything just falls into place.
  4. It does not have to be fancy, but try to find a nice neutral background. You don’t want to distract the people you are singing for with a lot of bookshelves, or photos in the background. Most important is that the acoustic is as good as it can be. In these times, most of us are doing this from home. I know it may be tempting to sing in your bathroom, but maybe stick to another location.
  5. Too much video editing can be distracting to a panel. If you are doing an online performance, then you can go all out, make your own choices, but for a serious audition, keep it simple so we can focus on the beautiful tone of your voice and what you are doing artistically.
  6. Try not to stare directly into the camera, it is off-putting. Just as in a live audition, too much direct eye contact with your panel can make people feel uncomfortable, the same is true on screen. Find a neutral point by looking at your camera viewer. Do a couple of test shots to see what it looks like. Give the impression that you are looking in our direction and communicating without doing a full stare-down.
  7. As is form in a live audition, it is a good idea to introduce yourself at the beginning of your clip. It gives a personal touch. However, if you prefer not to, you can just add a title to the clip in our editing program by typing the title of your selection (watch out for tipos…oops, I mean typos!) along with your name and the names of the other musicians who feature in the clip.
  8. You should pay attention to your attire just as you would for a live audition. Do a couple of test shots, ask your teacher, coach or people you trust to give an honest opinion on the colors you are wearing. Do you look washed out? Do you need more make-up….or less? Are the colors too bright?
  9. Please make sure you include the pianist or other musicians in the shot. It is considered bad form not to do so, and it just looks odd.
  10. Finally, you will want to upload your videos for schools or theaters to view onto YouTube. It is easier this way, but do not make them public unless you absolutely want to, and only if you have the agreement of the other musicians featured in the clip. Make the video unlisted. This way the link is easy to share, you just send it via email, and only the people you send it to can see the video, again be sure to add the names of all other musicians to the post and/or video description.

You got through the first round, and now you have an online interview.

So you got through the first round with your excellent video, and the school or organisation wants to speak to you in an online interwiew. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the platform which the school is using. This could be Teams, Skype, Whatsapp or what seems to be the most popular, Zoom. You want to be sure how the platform works in order not to have any complications on your side, so a few days before the inteview, experiment with a friend or family member. There could be delays or complications on the panel’s side, and if that happens, just patiently wait.
  2. Try not to over-dress. Wear something nice, but don’t overdo it. Think buisness-casual. You want to look professional, but not over-the-top.
  3. Be in a well lit place with a very secure and strong internet connection. Needless to say, busy caf├ęs and such places are not a good idea. Think in the same way as when you recorded your video: natural warm lighting and show your face clearly.
  4. Be early for your appointment and ready as soon as the panel is ready for you. Just as in a live audition-never make your panel wait! Some platforms have a waiting room, which is great. You just enter and wait until you are let in by the panel.
  5. Finally, try not to be nervous, act natural and be yourself. It is a weird situation for all involved so just know that everyone is doing their best. Answer the questions to the best of your ability. Have some questions of your own ready, if you get the invitation to do so, ask one or two of them. It is important at this point that the panel has a good feeling about you as a person which will make them want to work with you in the long term. Hard to believe, but this can be achieved on screen!

What happens when you have to sing with a pre recorded track?

When restricitons don’t allow you to work in person with a pianist, you have to get creative. Some people opt for a split screen video: You make a video of yourself singing and the pianist makes a video of themselves playing and you synchronise them. There are many tutorials online showing you how to do this. Another option is to use a pre-recorded audio track and sing with it. Either way, if you are lucky enough to work with someone who wants to make a recording of the piano part for you to use, it is possible to do so and acceptable to use it for an audition. I would suggest to keep the following in mind:

  1. Have in-depth discussions with the pianist about tempo, rubato, breath as well as the meaning of the text and the mood you wish to convey. You may have to do a few drafts to make sure you have enough space to breathe. You can also try different things, experiment with singing over the phone while the pianist records with your voice in their earphones. Afterwards, you can sing with the recording of the piano for your video recording. The point is, experiment! What I remember seeing were singers struggling to get a breath while singing with pre-recorded tracks, and as a collaborative pianist, that is so hard to watch!
  2. There are apps that exist like Appcompanist, it is not free and sounds a bit rigid, but you can control rubato, tempo, breaths. You can also find some resources on Youtube, again, you have to try and see what fits best for you. I have noticed that panels are more forgiving of ensemble issues, because of the situation we are in which we find ourselves at the moment.
  3. Again, as mentionned above, always include the names of your collaborative musicians even if it is a pre-recorded track. I will say from experience, that it takes me quite a lot of work to record one track. Maybe, I am too much of a perfectionnist, but quality takes time, so if you have someone on your team who will do this with you, that is just amazing!

As singers, this is a very different and difficult situation because you need someone else to play with you in order to do your job and unfortunately in this time, this is not always possible. Auditioning online is daunting, and unnatural, but it doesn’t have to feel too rigid or difficult. Be prepared, do your homework and test it out first. Remember to show yourself at your best and don’t be afraid to try new things, you never know what is waiting for you on the other side!

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