I haven’t met many musicians who enjoy the audition process. They can be incredibly nerve racking environments and cause us to feel inhibited, tense, sweaty, scared, unrehearsed, unsure of what is expected and distracted by minor things that normally go unnoticed. Not ideal reactions to a situation in which we’re supposed to demonstrate how good we are at playing our instrument.

If you suffer from these problems, they can be overcome, and maybe the best remedy is just to get out there and gain experience by attending auditions and becoming comfortable with the process.

But to save you from screwing up too many auditions and learning your mistakes the hard way, here are some tips that will hopefully help you in preparation of your next audition.

  1. Do your research
  2. Prepare, prepare and then prepare some more
  3. Arrive early
  4. Warm up
  5. Act confidently
  6. Be yourself – personable
  7. Stay relaxed
  8. Take ‘essential’ equipment
  9. Try to work out what they want.
  10. Don’t be disheartened.

1. Do your research

The more you know about the gig, the better you can prepare. What music is it? What equipment will you need? Which cymbals, drums, sticks? What style of playing should you brush up on? What should you wear? What sort of people will you be trying to impress. It all helps to understand what is required.

2. Prepare, prepare and then prepare some more

I’ve never gone into a musical situation and thought, “Damn, I over prepared. I know all the music, I feel relaxed and I’m playing really well. What a fool!” But I have definitely gone into many situations wishing I had had more chance to practice or more knowledge of what was required. Learn the music if you can. Get recordings, make your own charts and practice until you know it in your sleep. Also on the logistics side of things, where is the rehearsal studio for the audition? Where can you park? What gear will they provide? Make sure you leave nothing to chance that will ruffle your feathers.

3. Arrive early

Promptness is one of the biggest aspects that we hear top musician’s talk about all the time. Don’t be the one who keeps everyone waiting; especially if you have a drum kit to set up. Get there early, get relaxed and be ready when they call you.

4. Warm up

Warm up. You only have one chance to make a first impression so don’t let it be one of a wooden, stiff sounding nervous wreck. Even if you just take a practice pad and go through your regular warm up routine; just do it. Limber up, focus your mind and the act of playing will help relax you too.

5. Act confidently

Even if you’re shaking inside, project a confident and competent persona and you will come across in a much better light. That doesn’t mean you have to over do it and steal the show, but at the end of the day you’re auditioning to be a performer who can get up on a stage and perform.

6. Be yourself – personable

Be a nice person. Why would anyone want to choose a difficult person to spend all their time with? Seasoned professional drummer Gregg Bissonette says that, “50 percent of the job has nothing to do with playing the drums, it is what sort of person you are. Are you going to be positive and lift the session, or negative and complain?”

It’s like the saying, ‘Some people light up a room when they enter it, some people light up a room when they leave it.’ Which would you want in your creative environment?

7. Stay relaxed

The psychological enemy is often our worst enemy. Our brain is sometimes out to sabotage us and we have to learn how to control it. Practice relaxation techniques in the calm and peace of your own home so when you need to call on them, they are well rehearsed and have more chance of working. Maybe you have certain breathing exercises that help. Maybe a certain drumming warm up routine. Maybe a visualisation exercise. In the 2010 Dream Theatre drummer auditions, successful applicant Mike Mangini spoke of his calmness in the audition having visualised being at the audition prior to arriving there. He had visualised making mistakes with the band so that when he actually made a mistake at the audition, he was already comfortable with it. Whatever works for you, just make sure when you’re there you can focus on the music and have fun doing what you love doing.

8. Take ‘essential’ equipment

It is often impractical to take a whole drum kit to an audition, which poses an obstacle that guitarists and singers may not share; the instrument that we play will be unfamiliar and quite possibly sub-standard. However, it is always worth taking some key elements of the drum key to reduce this potentially damaging situation and allow us to focus on doing our job well. Such elements may include cymbals, snare drum and a bass drum pedal.

From my own experience, many years ago I travelled to a grotty rehearsal studio in West London for an audition. I took very little with me and when I sat at the kit, I found that the bass pedal was not only bad, it was near unplayable. There was no time to take it apart and try to get it working so I just had to play. In a pressurised situation – a nervous audition in which I had to sight read music that I didn’t know – this just distracted me further, left me flustered, and caused me to play terribly. I began reading notes wrong and making bad decisions such as going to the ride cymbal at a completely inappropriate time.

As the MD and agent smiled and said goodbye, I knew I had screwed it up. I left the room and smiled wearily at the next drummer waiting for his audition. I looked down and saw his stick bag, his cymbals, his snare drum and………………..his well maintained and perfectly playable bass drum pedal. Lesson learned the hard way for me.

9. Try to work out what they want.

Maybe the hardest thing to ascertain is what they really want. Do they want someone to interpret the music in their own way? Do they want someone to play it note for note like the record (if you are joining an existing band or show)? Do they just want someone who looks good even if they can’t offer much musically? In reference to the aforementioned Dream Theatre audition, some of those world class drummers played the old parts as the previous drummer, Mike Portnoy, had. Others chose to interpret the parts slightly differently and it transpired that the band really wanted the original parts maintained as that’s what they were used to and what the fans wanted to hear. See if you can work out if technical ability, sight reading, stage presence and showmanship, or timekeeping and groove are the key to your audition.

10. Don’t be disheartened

Sorry, I know I’m being negative but it’s just a fact………not everybody can be successful in every audition. I doubt there are any successful musicians who don’t have a failed audition story to tell. But if it happens to you, get over it. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad drummer. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. It might be that you had the wrong coloured hair, wore the wrong t-shirt, didn’t twirl your sticks enough, twirled your sticks too much! Who knows what they wanted. The best thing you can do is take note of anything that you could improve on (such as my bass pedal experience) and make sure you don’t do it again. Otherwise forget about it, get back to the practice room and look forward to the next opportunity. Keep improving, keep going for auditions and your chance will come.