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No one really knows how to nail an audition ... certainly not me. But I've learned some things through my experiences with them, which may hopefully make the whole process more enjoyable and productive for others. Much of this may be specific to drummers, since that's what I know and do, but I'm sure most of it will apply to any instrumentalist or vocalist.


Mind ReadingTo start, I've found the most destructive force when preparing for an audition is trying to read other people's minds. I'm referring to trying to guess what the people auditioning you are looking for in a musician or person. All this accomplishes is, at best, stressing you out and distracting your mind from more important things, and at worst, leading you in an attempt to be something other than what you are as a musician and person. You know the saying... be yourself. It may be a cliche', but it's so important.

Being yourself takes the least amount of effort and very little practice. When you try to be someone else, as a musician or person, you always come up short. It comes across as awkward and phony. The worst part about trying to be someone you aren't, is what happens if they like "that" guy. Let's say you get the gig and now you're out on tour. You have to keep being "that" guy or start being yourself and you become this different personality and they don't like it. Ok, that's really far fetched, I know. But you get the point.

Trying to figure out what others are looking for in a musician/person is pure brain torture because it's completely impossible and pointless. It's impossible because we can't read minds and it's pointless because it's like trying to guess some one's favorite ice cream flavor. There are 31 flavors because people are freakin' weird and unpredictable.

Put 10 artists/managers/band-leaders in a room and send in a dude wearing a certain set of clothes, with a certain hair style, certain eye-wear, and certain shoes. Half are going to like skinny jeans, half will think they look lame. A third will like a faux-hawk, a third will like long hair, and a third will like those gawd-awful Justin Bieber side-swept bangs, and obviously one guy voted for all three. Some will love glasses, some will hate them. Some will hate or love cowboy boots, or Skechers, or combat boots ... but your skanky toes in smelly sandals don't really need to be discussed, right?

The same thing can be said for musical style, too. You could finish playing a song on drums and three people will think your playing was way too busy, three could think you were too reserved and need to be more expressive, three will think it was perfect and that same dude will vote all three.

Trying to guess what they want in your on-stage personality, will be just as futile. Some guys are real flashy and have big, exaggerated arm movements, make funny faces and spin their sticks ... yes I'm talking about Rich Redmond. Rich is a great guy and a fantastic drummer. That's his thing and he does it well. He's obviously very good at it and looks cool doing it. Unless you've been practicing and playing that way for a long time and it's your thing, too, it would be very unwise to go into an audition doing that, just because you're trying to stand out in the crowd.

Enough about that, except to say that *you* are the best you there is. They're going to have to work and live with you, not someone you're trying to be. When you be yourself and you get the gig, won't it feel great knowing they picked *you.*


Mind Your ReadingLearning the songs ...

When learning songs for an audition, I've gone back and forth between charting songs and memorizing them. Everyone's brains work differently when it comes to this.

Charts Pro & Cons


- Like writing down a phone number or directions to someone's house, the act of seeing what you're hearing seems to help the brain retain the information.

- Many times when you go into an audition, the music you play along with may be vastly different than the version you were given to learn. There may be no vocals, or you may have to play with just bass and acoustic guitar (my last audition). When that happens, it can be like you've never heard the song before, so a chart can really help you get through the changes that are normally set up by the melody and lyrics.


- This may be the only time I'm certain I know what people are thinking ... You don't want to go through an audition staring at a chart. You want to look like you're going to look while performing those songs. You'll want to be having fun and enjoying the music (however that looks for you), and interacting with any other musicians who might be playing. You can't do those things very well, when it looks like you're reading a book.

Memorization Pro & Cons


- I've found that after listening to a song a couple times, if I just play along to it several times, as the first step to learning it, my brain retains the information in a much more musical sense. Add to that, the kinesthetic learning that is happening. That is, your body is going through the physical motions associated with the mental learning of the music. Your mental and physical muscle memories are being developed in tandem. I'm not a doctor, but something tells me that's better.


- As stated in the pros for charts, if you're not playing to the CD or there are no vocals, you can be thrown for a loop (pun).

Here's what I suggest ...

Most of the time, you only need to play a couple songs at an audition. It's often a fast one and a slow one — a rocker and a ballad. I suggest memorizing them instead of charting them and here's why. Even if they throw you a curve by not having things exactly like the CD, they're most interested in seeing and hearing how you play and groove (your pocket), your time, how you lock in with any other players who might be there, and your emotion and dynamics. Now, there I go thinking I know what those people want, right?


MemorizingANYone can memorize a song and play it just like the CD. We all did that every day after school, right? They already like the guy who played on the CD. Assuming you're at least good enough to technically play what is on the CD, you want to perform it with your playing personality, short of changing the essential drum parts. That brings the old audition quandary ...

Do you play the song exactly like the cd, note for note, or do your own thing?

The answer is ... both, sort of.

Play the beat the way it is-- keep the essentials essential. If it's four on the floor, don't play a Bo-Diddley. If it's a straight boom...bap...boom-boom...bap, don't play a syncopated beat. A general rule of thumb is, less is better than more. You can sound pretty good by playing less than the original beat, but playing more than the original usually raises an eyebrow.

For example.... a medium tempo tune has a groove of:


You probably shouldn't go with:


Where the groove/beat is concerned, less instead of more is a good default setting to have, but it's not carved in stone.

Play with your own personality, but keep any signature fills or rhythmic hits intact. Most fills are ok to make your own.

If on the CD, the drummer played, "Pat Boone, Debbie Boone, crash," it's okay to play "Pat Boone, Patty Bootie crash." That's a decision the session drummer made and it's okay to make a different decision, if it's musically in context.

It may not be wise to play, "lookie-what-I-can-do, bucket-of-fish, gong-gash!"

If a fill on the recording mimics the rhythm of the melody or another instrument, play it the same. If there's a cool fill in which the drums and bass are playing the same rhythm, keep that. The bass playing is going to come into it playing the same thing and it'll feel nice and tight. If a fill is a rhythmic structure most of band is playing, by all means, play it the same. Those are decisions the writer and producer made... best to go with it.

Let your musical personality come through in your playing, without it changing the essential parts of the original performance. It takes practice and experience to develop a taste for where that line is.

Here are a couple of real-life examples from auditions for gigs I got.

For an audition a couple years ago, there were only two songs ... I rocker and a ballad, remember? On the ballad, the drum part was really, really, reeeeealy simple. I'm talking human drum machine—boooorrrring. I felt this was the only chance I had to show them "me." I broke the rules ... I ignored what was played on the CD and I played what *I* would've played if I was the drummer on the session. The manager loved it and said it was much more dynamic than the recording. I took a chance and it paid off.

Recently, I asked the manager on my current gig what it was, besides my stunning good looks, that made them hire me. I found one of his comments particularly interesting. He said something along the lines of, "The other guys just played what was on the CD."

My guitar player friend, Greg, who has auditioned and plays for some top level country artists gave me a cool piece of advice before that audition. He said, "Throw in something unexpected but musical to set yourself apart."


By now, you're probably wondering about the "sooner you don't give a crap" part. It's tongue-in-cheek, but experience has shown me that, in Nashville at least, if you couldn't care less about getting a gig, you're probably going to get it... or at least get called back. Whether it's real or perceived, when you look like you couldn't care less, it comes across as experience.

When you simply walk in, introduce yourself, get on with it... and it looks like the whole process is just like any other part of your day, like you're just coming into work, sitting down at your desk and doing your job, you are seen as an experienced professional. I'm not telling you to act like you're "too cool for the room." I'm just saying act like this ain't your first rodeo.

Don't go into a soliloquy about your hopes and dreams and everything you wish to accomplish in life. It paints you as a greenhorn, fresh off the bus. Assume they "don't give a crap," either?


Watch Your MouthTalk less, listen more. Talking too much comes across as nervousness and inexperience. This is something I really have to be aware of, because I'm a talker ... especially about gear. Man, if someone brings up gear or asks about my drums ... I'm off to the races. Be friendly and cordial. Answer questions succinctly, without a lot of explanation. If you must ask a question, keep it pertinent to the audition. Don't put the cart before the horse. Questions like, "So, how long is the tour?" or "Are we gonna be opening for anyone?" are rudely presumptuous and likely to be met with awkward smirks and knowing glances to others in the room. In worst case, you may get put in your place with a response like, "Um ... ok, how about we see if you get the gig, first." Don't seek information or try to get to know those auditioning you by manufacturing conversation. If some common ground comes up naturally, great. Otherwise you're just fishing for an advantage. All that stuff is distracting to everyone in the room. There will be time for all that, later, when you get the gig.

NEVER ....

- bring up money. cart/horse and just plain rude.

- use profanity. Even if you're cool with it, they may not be. Plus, it's just unprofessional.

- hound them about how bad you want the gig. "Dude, I just wanted to tell you man, I uh, I really want this gig. I really need it and if you just give me a chance ..." This isn't the movies. It comes across as desperate and creepy.

- Gurm/Gherm them (google it) or ask for an autograph. Most likely, the artist isn't even going to be there for the first round, anyway.


- dress the part. If it was a job interview at an office, you'd wear the proper attire. You know the proper musicians' attire. Wear it, but be yourself.

- greet them when you get there. smile, shake hands, "nice to meet you."

- do the same with the rest of the band or other players. More often than not, you will find yourself auditioning with other instrumentalists also auditioning. Your interaction with these players, musically AND personally, is part of the audition. Chances are, they'll run across several guys who can play the drums. But you're only on stage for two hours; you have to live together for the other 22.

- be helpful. If you're already set up or torn down, see if someone else needs a hand. Show them you're not a prima donna.

- thank them & shake hands before leaving.


When it's over, wash your hands of the matter. A follow-up email or call is okay, but unnecessary and certainly, leave it at that. Don't harbor on mistakes. Most of the time, the reason you didn't get the gig has nothing to do with all the things you're mulling around in your head. You could be the best player in the room, but they went with the band leader's buddy. Or you sucked. Hey, learn from it and move on.

On that note ... audition a lot. If you're new to town or new to music, fresh out of school or just inexperienced in any way, audition for everything you can. Just open up Craigslist or the local music rag and start picking. I don't care if you want the gig or not, if the band sucks, or if it's for church worship bands, get some experience auditioning. You will pick up little things here and there in the process and learn from every experience. You will start to shed nervousness. You will learn from seeing and/or hearing others audition. You will develop your song learning skills and techniques. You also never know who you might meet at the audition. Networking is a critical aspect of trying to be a professional musician. The other players at the audition will be looking for musicians in the future, and so will you. Most of the time, new players, producers & managers move up the ranks together. You'll probably meet people at an audition who will end up being great friends and colleagues as you chase your dreams together.

Mike Radcliffe

Mike Radcliffe is a professional drummer living and working in Nashville, TN. His album credits include CCM artists Phil Joel and Barlowgirl, Andrew Mitchell and American Idol’s Joanna Martino. He has played live for many artists, including Michael O’Brien, Nate Sallie, Curb Record’s Christy McDonald, singer/songwriter Amy Stroup and is currently playing for Skyville Records group, Stealing Angels. He also builds custom snare drums and teaches drum tuning clinics.

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