Seven top tips to help guitar players ace band auditions


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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.

What next?

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.

Band auditions don't have to be scary experiences, but they often are. In fact, we've been to some that have been more scary than playing actual shows. Suffice to say, we didn't end up in those bands...

Band auditions don’t have to be scary experiences, but they often are. In fact, we’ve been to some that have been more scary than playing actual shows. Suffice to say, we didn’t end up in those bands…

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.

There's simply no excuse for showing up at an audition not actually knowing the material you'll be expected to play. Get it learned nice and early!

There’s simply no excuse for showing up at an audition not actually knowing the material you’ll be expected to play. Get it learned nice and early!

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.

Do you really need that second wah pedal? Probably not. Does the audition call for three backup guitars and a complex wet/dry/wet amp rig? No? Then don’t bring them.

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.

This is a mightily impressive rig, there's no doubt about it. But if you're trying to get into a Mumford & Sons tribute band, it's not going to cut the mustard. Capiche?

This is a mightily impressive rig, there’s no doubt about it. But if you’re trying to get into a Mumford & Sons tribute band, it’s not going to cut the mustard. Capiche?

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.

Those few moments when you're setting up before you play can be some of the most nerve-wracking, but the more prepared you are, the smoother the audition should go.

Those few moments when you’re setting up before you play can be some of the most nerve-wracking, but the more prepared you are, the smoother the audition should go.

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.

Once you're through with the audition, get out of there... and wait. Patience, patience - don't go pestering the band for an answer. If you've done well, you'll get a positive phonecall or email in a couple of days anyway!

Once you’re through with the audition, get out of there… and wait. Patience, patience – don’t go pestering the band for an answer. If you’ve done well, you’ll get a positive phonecall or email in a couple of days anyway!

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.

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Leave a comment

James on August 17, 2015 Reply

I’ve done a few auditions. The first one I was nervous as hell and bombed it. (Granted due to the circumstances in my life at that time all my gear wasn’t with me) The second band I auditioned for picked me because I picked up the songs fairly quick and the other guy didn’t show

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on August 17, 2015 Reply

    It’s surprising how nerve-wracking an audition can be, even if you are fully prepared and have all your gear! And sometimes no matter how relaxed you feel before the audition itself, there’s no hiding the nerves when you actually have to play. But glad you found your band second time round James – it always takes courage to try again 🙂

Peter Aves on August 18, 2015 Reply

Earlier in the year I auditioned for some work abroad; they were auditioning for a guitarist, bassist and drummer, so at times, there was 3 faces that were fresh to the current band members, that took a fair bit of stress away from me. Plus the bassist at the time of the audition wasn’t brilliant, so it made the rest of us look better.
Later on a different drummer took a seat whilst the rest of us were there. The best thing to do was to get on with everyone as much as possible, treat them as if they’re already a friend. Unfortunately, on that occasion they chose a different guitarist, as he had previously been a band leader for decades, but I was only 20, so he got the position; so that when they done small trio shows, he could take the reins with ease. They said on any normal day, they’d have signed me up in a heartbeat.
A week after I auditioned for a resident band, based in the UK. After the audition, I didn’t even make it home before receiving a call from them saying they will cancel all their other auditions if I’d be willing to accept the position; I’m still with that band now.
I am still looking around for work with chart artists, for the future, but those auditions will be a different kettle of fish I imagine.
Peter

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on August 18, 2015 Reply

    Thanks for the interesting feedback Peter. You’re right, it’s kind of a fine balance between being confident and humble, friendly with everyone, yet not too… desperate. But we’re really happy it worked out so well for you, and we’re also sure that the first auditions you did were only helpful for you as experience!

    You’ve actually inspired us with that last bit to do another blog about more pro auditions. We’ll ask some of our higher level endorsement artists how they go about it, and do another article, so stay tuned for that at some point in the future!

Peter Aves on August 18, 2015 Reply

Many thanks for your response; if you could inform me once that blog has been created, I would love to hear from people with those experiences or how they got into that situation in the first place.
Thanks again,
Peter

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on August 19, 2015 Reply

    Hi Peter, we’ll announce it in all our usual channels, and we’ll try to remember to comment to you here again, so we recommend you subscribe to this thread (tick the little box thing down by the Leave A Comment section – you’ll then get another email to confirm you want to subscribe, and of course you can then unsubscribe at any time).

    One thing we will say is: rounding up our bigger artists for things like this can take time, so it may be a couple of months before you hear more! But we’re intent on doing this, as we’re sure it’ll be really interesting reading! 🙂

CrackerJackLee on January 8, 2016 Reply

I’m an amateur bass player. I once auditioned for a seven piece horn band back when I was 22. And it was exciting to finally get the chance to play bass on Chicago covers. Their bass player was leaving the band for “personal reasons” and they were happy to find a replacement bassist who knew the style. I didn’t even have any competition.

I remember it was on a week night after work and I was tired, but I braved the Vancouver rain, paid for a cab, lugged my gear in and out and proceeded to meet six people for the first time.

We played a few numbers together and all was going well. I had noticed that a friend of theirs had just come in. A break was called and after hearing a lot of mumbling from the next room, people started exiting and I thought they were going for coffee or to get a smoke. But apparently the audition was over, which disappointed me as I was ready to keep on playing.

One of the guys remaining came over to me and I remember his face was flushed. He said it went great and all, but their bass player had changed his mind and was not leaving after all. Apparently after listening to the audition, he had changed his mind…! What could I say…? I actually felt ill and speechless. Of course, they had a social tie with him and I was out before I even started.

He apologized and all, but I now had the task of rewinding my gear, calling cabs on a rainy night and lugging a 2×15 cab and amp back home in the night from an area I didn’t even know well. And I had to explain to my wife that it had all been for nothing. I can still remember sitting in the cab on the way home, tired and very disappointed and having to cough up cab fare. And it all seemed to happen so fast. And this was 40 years ago…!

The odd thing is that now I can’t get myself to attend an audition. I’ve been in contact with many people searching for bass players. But when they say the word “audition” and want to arrange a “time slot” for me, like 3:15 to 4:45, I make up some excuse and turn down what are probably some good opportunities.

Most people have no idea that the “auditionee” often makes a huge effort to show up for the gong show. And the kicker of this is… 99% of bands holding auditions are rank amateurs… there is very little money involved. Real musicians making a living rarely hold auditions. They have already heard the people that they call up. They even scout you out. It’s my opinion that bands calling for auditions are just not worth your effort.

And if you’re good at what you do, you are probably better than what they need. So… you’re really being judged on your looks… facial and body type… do your habits coincide…? do you like the same hockey team…? do you have the same politics…? What kind of clothes are you wearing…? You instantly turn these band members into alpha wolves while you grovel for a place in the band… and will you ever really be a full member…? part of the decision making process…?

Is the “auditionee” to blame…? Of course…! We’re too lazy to start our own venture… arrange a practice room… take on responsibility…

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on January 15, 2016 Reply

    Wow, great stories there, and some crazy experiences! There’s lessons in here for all younger guitar players 🙂 Even if it is to just go ahead and start your own project for fear of being rejected at auditions, just go for it! Get out there and play, and all will be well…

Poul on May 21, 2017 Reply

Good – and mostly obvious – article, but I completely disagree with lowering the volume. I personally hate wasting my time trying to audition someone I can’t hear anyway. If you’re too loud I can hear your skills, if you’re too low I think you have something to hide.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on May 22, 2017 Reply

    Thanks Poul. The points might seem obvious to you and us, but honestly we’ve been to auditions before where we wish the band members had read this article first 😉 And point taken on the volume thing – again, it’s something we’ve learned from in the past (the hard way!), and we’ve always found it easier to turn up rather than down on command. But, different strokes for different folks! Hopefully people reading down the comments will learn something from your answer too.