Being part of a good band can be awesome. You play great shows, write great songs, meet great people, and have a whole lot of fun doing all of the above. You might even make some money along the way, if you’re extremely lucky. Finding that band can be difficult, though, and getting a place in that band (assuming you didn’t form it yourself) can be even harder. Here, then, we present some tried and tested tips from Blog Of Tone’s long-suffering writers on how to get through those terror-inducing freak shows we call band auditions…
So, you’ve steered clear of the scary online ‘Guitarist Wanted’ ads (“Guitarist needed for satanic death metal band, must be aged 14-16, must have own gear and transport, must be able to play FAST/do death metal growls, no Limp Bizkit fans…”) and you’re ready to go and meet a band that actually sounds like they might be pretty good.
How about fear, apprehension and self-doubt? Because there’s no denying it: band auditions can be terrifying experiences.
They can also be wonderfully relaxed and fun affairs, of course, but it’s absolutely normal to get nerves before you show off your chops to a bunch of (most likely) strangers who are analyzing your musical ability and looks simultaneously in the way a doctor might look at you before he gives you bad news.
So just for you, here are a few field-tested tips from us on how you can approach band auditions in future.
Before the audition
If time permits, you can actually do the bulk of the work before the big day. You know the old saying: fail to prepare, prepare to fail, and the more you get done in advance, the more relaxed you should be come showtime.
Find out everything about the band in advance
This goes without saying, of course, but find out as much about the group as you can before your meeting.
Listening to their music is, of course, essential, but even better can be watching live footage of them on YouTube or on their website, if available.
That way, you’ll learn about their existing chemistry, how they function as a live group, and how your predecessor fitted in (or didn’t) – not to mention the hole you’ll be expected to fill when you potentially join.
On top of that, you’ll see the equipment they use, and experience their band mix, so you should be able to start thinking about how to fit your guitar into their overall sound.
And, talking of fitting in, you’ll be able to see how they dress, too – handy if you’re not sure of whether to turn up in your best suit and tie or in a band shirt and skinny jeans.
Learn the material
If it’s a covers band, get the songs well and truly nailed. If it’s originals you’ll be playing, the band will probably give you up to a handful of their tracks to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask for tabs or assistance if it’s complex stuff – it’s in the band’s best interests to have prepared for the audition too.
For extra brownie points, you could even consider learning a couple more of their songs than they recommend. If you pull that off and can surprise them later, then you could be in.
Prepare the perfect audition rig
Spend as much time as you need getting a setup together that’s as simple as possible (the more extra unnecessary FX and cables you have, the more that can go wrong! Read all about that here) but has everything in it to get the job done properly.
You’ll just look like a bit of an idiot if you show up with way too much gear.
Also pay attention to the type of gear you’ll need. If it’s a jazz combo, a pointy metal axe may not be the right look or sound.
Similarly, a dinky lunchbox amp may not stand you in good stead for the aforementioned satanic metalhead teenagers.
Get your core setup in order as soon as you can, and use it to practice on before the audition itself. Tweak the guitar and amp setup as much as necessary, and get fresh strings on your guitar and batteries for any FX pedals ahead of time.
Incidentally, don’t forget to take all the essential accessories to the audition with you. We did a good list of all the little bits and pieces you should always have in your gig bag right here, and it works great for this purpose too.
All that done, and you’re almost set – the only thing left to do is actually pass the audition!
During the audition
Be on time. Actually, don’t. Be early. Because if you get to the place you need to be with time to spare, you can…
Relax and chill out
To an extent, anyway. Possibly the only way to be 100% chilled out during something like this is to be under the influence of alcohol or other substances, and we would never recommend that. Besides, you’ll need your wits about you to succeed.
If you’re nervous before the audition, go to the toilet, take some deep breaths, count down from 100 backwards, whatever it is you do to stay calm. Of course, the more preparation you’ve done before this moment, probably the less worried you’ll be feeling at this point.
Be confident… but not too much
Walk in the audition room like you’ve been there a thousand times before. Maybe you actually have (shared practice space, anyone?), which will certainly help, but if you haven’t, it’s no biggie.
Just smile, be polite and friendly, shake hands if that’s your thing, and ask where you can get your gear set up. Rockstar egos are not welcome here, but neither is obvious fear.
You know what? Just be yourself.
Get in the zone and do your thing
This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the time to play is upon us.
Get plugged in, switched on and tuned up – check again that you and the band are in sync tunings-wise – and you’ll probably now have the chance just to gauge your levels in the band’s overall sound first.
Hint: go for quieter rather than louder – it’s better they ask you to turn up later, rather than to turn down!
Then, it’s on to the playing, where there’s a couple of things you can avoid doing to help your chances.
Firstly, overplaying. Avoid this at all costs.
Do not go adding widdly solos over verse or bridge sections, and don’t feel the need (at this stage) to embellish an original band’s guitar tracks.
Trust us, you will look like a dick, and the band will not be having you back.
Unless, of course, it’s some kind of a jam band and they actively want you to widdle. In which case, widdle away.
Secondly, avoid breaking up proceedings by stopping if you make a big mistake or forget a section of a song. It’s not all over if you play a few duff notes, but it probably will be if you keep stopping the band by waving your arms around and swearing loudly if you mess something up.
After the audition
Once the playing’s done, thank the band for their time, leave your contact details again, and get the hell out of there. Don’t overstay your welcome.
When you’re out the door, give yourself a huge pat on the back. You’ve done it!
Alright, you might not have heard if you’ve got the gig yet (most bands will be testing out a number of players, so chances are you won’t hear anything for a couple of days) but you’ve been brave enough to get through the audition intact.
Now it’s time to play the waiting game. Most bands will get back to you fairly quickly, and it’ll either be a yes, a no, or an invite to a second audition.
Don’t take a ‘no’ personally
If the band decides to go with someone else, try and be gracious (don’t forget that ‘no’ phone call will be very difficult for them to make too) and don’t take it to heart too much. Another chance will come along.
In many cases, personality can be more important than the music itself (bands are like gangs, after all), so if the band just clicked with someone slightly more than you, then that could have resulted in them getting the nod instead – even if you’re a better guitar player.
Another result may be that you get invited to a second audition, which probably means you’re down to the final two in the selection process. Good luck with that, just do your thing again, and cross your fingers that you’ll ace it again second time round.
If they call you back for round two, at least you know they like you.
Of course, the best result would be them calling you back to say you’ve got the gig, in which case: congratulations!
The fun starts here.
Or at least, that’s the theory. What are your tips for guitarists heading to band auditions? How do you make sure you’re always called back? Or have you ever had a terrible experience at an audition? Let us know, as we’d love to hear your top tips…
First published: August 14 2015. Most recent update: December 22 2016.