Business of Bass: What You Need to Know to Nail the Audition
Auditioning for a gig is one of the more challenging situations you'll face in your pursuit of a professional career. Being scrutinized and judged so closely is nerve-wracking, and yet you have to find a way to rise above any insecurity.
Confidence is the key - and the key to confidence is to be as ready as possible for the challenge.
The first step toward nailing an audition is to make sure your equipment is in top condition; it must represent you well. Make sure that your strings are fresh, your instrument doesn't buzz, your intonation is set, your cables don't crackle, and your amp (if you bring your own) works properly. Have extra strings on hand, as well as batteries, cables and, if you use them, picks.
These are basics expected of all professionals. It's also helpful to know what the gig requires. Do you need a five-string? A P-Bass with flatwound strings? Both? Ask these questions beforehand, and while you're at it, find out whether an amp will be provided.
It's impossible to anticipate everything that will happen at an audition, but being prepared for anything is the best strategy.
If you're auditioning for established artists, you should know their material-from the very beginning of their career up to the most current tunes. (Here's where playing in cover bands can be a big help.) Even if they've told you to work on specific songs for the audition, they might call a tune out of the repertoire to see how you work with unfamiliar material. The best thing you can do in that situation is to show them you know every song on their list. Do your homework!
Sometimes it's tricky trying to second guess what artists want. You might try to learn everything exactly the way it is on the record, but maybe they're looking for something new. For example, early in my career, I auditioned for the Crusaders. I spent time learning all of bassist Robert "Pops" Popwell's licks, but it turned out they didn't want to hear that. I went home thinking I had nailed it, but they called me back and told me I didn't make it. It just goes to show that anyone can lose an audition.
The story has a happy ending, though. Two years after that audition, the Crusaders called me to play on their album. I was on the road at the time and they actually waited until I got back to town to record it!
If your audition is for a new artist or a band without an established repertoire, ask in advance if there are particular tunes they want you to learn. They may also want to see how you fit in with the other members by jamming. Keep your ears open, and don't feel like you have to play a lot of notes to impress people. Play what feels right,. make it groove, and if you get a chance to show them your stuff, give it to them.
Make it a point to know what the band or artist expects of you in terms of appearance. You could take two different approaches. One is: "This is who I am, take it or leave it." The other is: "I'll do whatever it takes to get the gig." You have to decide for yourself how much of a chameleon you want to be, but a little common sense goes a, long way. You wouldn't want to show up at a metal audition looking like a country player, right?
Many gigs have very specific appearance requirements: long hair, no beards, shaved head, no flannel shirts, whatever. Some gigs may require someone of a certain height, build, or age-obviously, you can't change that sort of thing. It's best to know as much as you can about those requirements before you go for an audition.
You don't have to totally change your identity, but if you want the gig and they want a particular look, try to approach it like an acting job. Just remember, if a gig requires a certain look, and you're not feelin' it, someone else is.
Stay in the pocket!
Bassist Nathan East wrote the "Business of Bass" column for Bass Guitar magazine. This is a reprint from the July 2007 issue. For more about East, visit his website, nathaneast.com.