Surviving Auditions and Getting The Gig

Your band just broke up last month. The guitar player’s wife caught him in the back of the van en flagrante with a cute blonde, the bass player was transferred to another state, or the singer developed tonsillitis. Whatever, the reason, it’s time to find a new musical project.

Thumbing through the local music paper, you come across the following ad:

Drummer Wanted Immediately. Must have solid time, tasty fills, rock ‘n roll appearance, good stage presence, positive attitude, willing to rehearse, for cover/original band with plenty of work, a following, and recording prospects. Prefer player 25-35 years old. Call (123) 456-7890.

Sounds pretty tempting, right? Sounds like it might be a good fit?

Where do you go from here?

Start by picking up the phone and calling the number listed (I shouldn’t have to tell you this, right?). In a clear, straightforward voice, tell the voice at the other end of the line that you’re responding to his or her ad looking for a drummer. Usually, this is a chance for the person to explain either in short or lengthy terms what the gig is all about. But don’t always count on that.

I formulated a list of questions years ago when faced with a situation like this. Start by asking the name of the band. How long have they been together? Where are they working and how often? If you have a day gig that requires you to get up very early everyday, you have to determine if the band works on weeknights. That might or might not be a problem for you.

Hopefully, these few questions will stimulate the other person to begin to open up and talk if he or she already hasn’t.

Then, I always ask why the band’s drummer left. The response could be anything: Bad time, overall poor playing, other interests, substance abuse problems, a nagging spouse, job or family commitments, or a case of common burnout, are all common situations.

Then, I ask the REAL IMPORTANT question: What does your band look for in a drummer? Your response should tell you all you need to know to help ace the audition and hopefully nail the gig.

Asking questions will also help you size up the person you are speaking to. Maybe you don’t want to play with these people after all. Maybe the music doesn’t suit your style or taste.

Request a copy of their songlist, or ask for some tunes that you could prepare for an audition. Set up a convenient date, get directions, and by all means, leave ample time to learn the tunes. If the audition is in a rehearsal studio, get the phone number and call so you can ascertain what equipment you need to bring.

Once you have prepared yourself completely, check your gear, don’t forget anything (make a check list beforehand if necessary!), and leave home with plenty of time to drive wherever you are going, plus a few extra minutes for setup time.

Arrive looking presentable, well equipped, on time, and acting like the consummate professional drummer. These things are always important in the long run.

When meeting the bandmembers (sometimes an awkward experience), be outgoing, upbeat and positive. Set up quickly and remain pleasant at all costs. Even if you’re nervous!

Most important, just be yourself. Remember, the band may be just as uptight as you are. Maybe they’ve auditioned twenty drummers already without finding the right guy. They could be hoping against hope that you are Mr. or Ms. Right.

Let the leader call the tunes and jump right in with both hands and feet, based on the information you have already gleaned from your previous questions. Play with authority and lay down rock solid time, keeping your fills tight, punchy and in tempo. Don’t worry too much if you blow an ending or make a mistake. What matters is your feel for the music. If that falls in place right away, rough spots can always be worked out later. Try to lock in with the bass player immediately, and maintain eye contact at all times with the leader, who may want to signal a break or ending. Watch your dynamics at all times, and give it your best shot.

If you suggest trying one of the band’s original songs (most likely one you’ve never heard), you might impress the band with your sense of willingness and adventure. This will give them a good look at your ability to think on your feet and listen to what’s going on around you.

When the audition is completed, ask when the band intends to make a decision, when you can expect to hear from them, and thank them for the opportunity to play. Make sure the leader has your phone number and vice versa. Very important!

Of course, anything can happen. They could love you and offer the gig on the spot. You might hate them and want to bolt for the door. Or, they might think you aren’t the right person. That may not be your fault. Sometimes, all the factors (however insignificant) may not be in place. One member might hate the pants you wore that night. Another might not like your three earrings. These things are out of your control. Again, be yourself. If a match is meant to be, it’ll happen. If it isn’t, it won’t. You’ll survive. Treat every experience as a means to grow as a human being and musician, whatever the outcome.

If not, hey, you can always answer another ad. Now you know how to conduct an audition and remain in total control.

The bottom line-be a professional under all audition circumstances. You will get the gig more often than not by doing so.