by Mike Mindel. This article was originally published on HVmusic around the year 2000.
Over the years, I have been a sideman in bands that were auditioning players and have been a leader in bands auditioning players. One event a few years ago gave me a unique vantage point. I was able to hear someone audition for a position in a band and at the same time was 100% aware of exactly what the position required and didn't require. The reason I had this unique perspective was that the musicians were auditioning for my position! One I have held for many years. Observing this process was a great learning experience. I was able to see how other guy's approach a band audition, both in attitude and musicality. It was also reassuring as a player to see how I stood up against other players, in the same setting. Here are some of the things I learned.
Every band looking for a player has a minimum threshold of musicianship they require. All those trying out who are comfortably past this threshold are probably in the running for the gig, everything else being equal. Attitude can be the difference that makes you shine out from the others. Remember that these people are scrutinizing you in all ways they can think of. They don't want to repeat past mistakes any more than you do. Are you friendly, but not overbearing. You should be. I find what I call 'quiet self-confidence' works well in a situation where you don't know exactly what the auditioners are looking for in you, the person. The 'quiet' part come from not opening your mouth too much until you feel they're getting familiar with you. The 'self-confidence' part comes from doing your homework and knowing you have your parts down cold.
This many sound like a blatantly simple stupid concept, but you would be amazed at how lame some people's idea of preparing a song for audition is! If the band gives you a tape to learn some tunes off of for the audition, make sure you ask what key they play it in. If your tape deck is like mine, sometimes the song falls between in the crack between two keys. Nothing can undermine good preparation like realizing at the downbeat that they play the song a half step lower than you learned it. (Of course, for us keyboard players, that's where the transpose button comes in!) Also for you keyboard players especially, ask what the instrumentation in the band is. A large number of today's tunes have more than one keyboard part on the recording. How do you know which one to learn? If the band has 2 guitar players, maybe one of them is playing a keyboard line or rhythm. If not, learn the part or combination of parts that affects the song the most, whether it be a line or a certain sound the keyboards are using. Whatever the case, ask. Just taking the time to ask someone shows you are conscientious and take your craft seriously. There's nothing the matter with leaving a good impression before you arrive. If you are going to take the time to make the audition, don't make it waste of their time or yours. Bad news, especially dirt, travels a lot faster than you can line up your next audition.
Personally, I am very wary of someone who, within the first few meetings, spouts all his accolades. "I played with this guy or that guy." "My next door neighbors friend knows the guy who lived next to Mick Jaggers mailman." Who cares! At least for the moment. This is an audition for you to play in a band, not an interview on how wonderful you are. How you conduct yourself, both musically and attitude wise, will speak loud enough. When I hear someone speaking at me like this, all I hear is "I'm not self-confident enough to let my playing do the talking, so allow me to bore you with how wonderful I hope you think I am." Please! For my taste, there's nothing cooler than to just doing your job, and when asked, quietly and confidently blow them away with what you've got, as though it's no big deal. But that's just me.
If you have to learn a big-band song, play like a big band player. If it's a country song, play in that style. If it's an R&B tune, play it like one. Sounds obvious, doesn't it. Well, I hope it is to you! Because it's not to a number of players. A good number of the guy's trying out for my position in this particular band totally blew me away with their chops. They were burning! But once again, who cares! Who cares, if they're not going to play the parts as the song and arrangement dictates. You'll always sound your best in a band setting if you play what makes the band, as a whole, sound best. When a band is looking for a player, they are looking for someone who will enhance the overall sound of the band, or at the very least not dimish it. This is a very important concept that eludes many an otherwise good player. And best of all, it doesn't take practice. All it takes is common sense.
I'll leave you with some gem's I've heard recently. These are real comments from real people who make it really easy for the rest of us to get work.
"Is this a pressure gig? I don't want no pressure gigs."
"I'm a jazz player. I don't play those changes."
"Rehearsals? Oh, I didn't know you guys were that serious."
"That may be what's on the record, but this is the way I play it."
"I don't wear tuxes."
Musician joke of the month:
What do you call a blues musician without a girl friend?...
Mike Mindel has been a professional musician for over 40 years and is currently a member of The Bills Toupee Band.