How To Win Your Audition For The Voice

How to audition for The Voice

Want to know how to audition for The Voice… and WIN?

It’s that time again where tens of thousands of aspiring musicians will wait for hours in line for a chance to perform for the producers of the Voice which gives them a chance to perform for the “blind auditions” in front of the celebrity judges which gives them a chance at making it on TV! Look mom, I’m on TV!

I’ve never been a huge fan of these singing contest shows for the simple fact that they aren’t meant to help musicians. They are meant for ratings. And The Voice has been great at garnering ratings (and helping the JUDGES careers out). I can count on one hand how many former Voice contestants have gone on to become stars. Actually, I can count on one fin. Because fins have no fingers… never mind. NONE. Just remember that getting into this thing.

Yes, former contestants and winners have gone onto (or continued their) successful music careers, but if you’re doing this to be a star, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Hell, if you’re in music for fame and fortune, you might as well give up now. Music ain’t about that. And people see through false motivations and can sniff out inauthenticity a mile (or iPhone screen) away.

That being said, yes, The Voice has given many musicians’ careers bumps. You still have to be the one to drive your career. And you cannot (and should not ever) rely on others to run your entire career for you. Even if you win the whole damn show, you better surround yourself with people who believe in you, the artist, and want to stick with you for better or worse. Because, yes, right after you place well on the show there will be trophy chasers pounding down your door. You don’t want them. You want a manager that says “I’m not working with you because you were on The Voice, I’m working with you despite it.”

And you definitely can’t expect the labels to help you out.

“In that time, we do so much great shit for these singers, and then they go to a record label that I won’t mention. But they go to a record label that fucks it up. Record labels are — our business is the worst right now. No one knows what they’re doing.” – Adam Levine

So, with all that said and you still want to audition for the TV SHOW, (yes, it’s a TV show, not meant to make musicians famous, but meant to increase ad buys during said TV SHOW) then here is what you need to do to win your audition.

These points are taken from many conversations I’ve had with former contestants who were bound to secrecy by the show for fear of a $100,000 fine. No joke. So, obviously, I’m not mentioning names here.

Pick The Right Songs

For the open call auditions, they want you to prepare two songs a cappella. No tracks or instruments are allowed. Open calls move quickly because they’re just trying to weed out all of the crap “talent.” For the callbacks/private auditions you can have accompanists (or accompany yourself) and they want you to prepare three songs – at least one song without your instrument (you can sing to a track).

Pick songs that have been popular in the past 5 years. The reason for this is at the callback audition they require it. So you might as well prepare these in advance and hope you get a callback.

And make sure that at least two of your songs are up beat. If you’re going to the open call, make them both up beat. At the callback/private audition, you can have two up beat and one chill tune. But it’s best to keep them all upbeat. However, if you can sing “Hello” like Adele, then go for it.

The casting directors (judges/producers) are looking for authenticity. They’re looking for artists. Not musical theater performers. They are looking for, yes, strong voices, but this doesn’t mean you need to be a belter or have vocal acrobatics. Just show what you do best. Some of the top 10s of previous seasons didn’t sing like Christina Aguilera or Brian McKnight. They sang like themselves. If you sound like Ray Lamontagne, Lorde, Halsey or Norah Jones, great! Pick songs that work in your vocal style and range.

One of the contestants I spoke to said he made the mistake of choosing “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga for the prerecorded track to sing to. He used the karaoke version (which sounds just like the original). He bounced around singing Lady Gaga after he just finished a Coldplay song on acoustic guitar. The judges loved his Coldplay song, but the Lady Gaga threw them and they stopped him and said, we love you, but we’re going to pass because you’re too inconsistent.

You have to have an established understanding of who you are as an artist. Not just a good singer. Home in on your style and your sound. Then show it off.

Dress The Part

It should go without saying, but you should dress like an artist. If you aren’t a working musician, this may seem awkward for you. If you work a 9-5 corporate job with a dress code and hang out with only your non-musical, non-artists friends, this will feel extra uncomfortable. Don’t go in there looking like a soulless corporate hack. They will judge you based on your look long before you open your mouth. Go in dressed like an artist. One that fits your personality. Your sound. Your style. If you don’t have an outfit in your wardrobe now, go shopping. Look up your favorite artists and study their wardrobe. You can use that as inspiration, but of course, make it your own.

Ladies, don’t show up in your tight, short clubbing dress. It’s unoriginal and this isn’t a beauty contest. Dudes, don’t show up in cargo shorts and Birkenstocks. Unoriginal.

Remember, they are looking for artists. Be an artist!

Own The Room

The show isn’t just casting good singers, they are casting good personalities. They are casting characters for their TV SHOW. Ok, I’m done hitting you over the head with that.

When you walk into the room, you want to OWN the room. You’ll have a bit more time at callbacks to shoot the shit with the casting directors/judges and you definitely should. And you want to initiate conversation. Don’t go in polite. Don’t go in like an arrogant asshole either. Go in confident and say something to them right away. It should feel and seem off the cuff. It should fit your personality and showcase what makes you special (aside from your voice of course). If you’re boisterous, be boisterous from the moment you walk in. Crack jokes, talk about what you just experienced in the hall. Be different. Be unique. If you have a dry sense of humor, tell a joke, quietly in the mic that works with your personality and the situation. Make them laugh. If you’re goofy be a goddam goofball. If you’re a tortured artist, then, you get the point. Don’t say the same boring thing everyone else is going to say “uh, thank you for your time.” Bleh!

You want to bring in good vibes with you. Relaxed vibes. You may have those butterflies raging battles on 3 fronts in your belly, but you want to project an air of confidence. It’s almost just as much how you carry yourself as it is how you sound. Of course confidence can’t replace a crappy voice, but it will help.

+This Musician Got An Audition-Free Slot On The Voice. Why He Turned It Down

At callbacks/private auditions there will be mics, stands, keyboard, monitors, cords for you to plug your guitar in. Your gear should work. Triple check it the day of. Replace you batteries in your guitar. Change your strings. Make sure the pre recorded song you have (for callbacks or the private audition) is pulled up on your (charged) iPhone and that your phone is in airplane mode or Do Not Disturb so you don’t get a phone call that interrupts your performance. Don’t Snap the 4 hour waiting process only to drain your phone to its death – unable to play the track you’re supposed to sing to. Maybe bring a battery pack with you just in case.

Know Your Story

If you make it past the open call and past the callbacks, you will be sent to “casting” directly following your callback vocal audition. This is where they will bring you to a room with a camera and a casting director and they will ask you questions about your life. This is for them to find the most interesting people with the most interesting stories. You know all those backstory montage intros before many of the contestants’ blind auditions? These come from the casting session. Make sure you have at least one really interesting thing about your life: Tragedy, things you’ve overcome, interesting family history, current job or volunteer organization. Something that sets you apart. What is your “story.” Because they want to know. And if you don’t have one it will be that much more difficult for them to justify bringing you on the show.

Are you a working musician? What’s the most interesting show you’ve had. Best? Worst? Why are you a musician? What kinds of shows do you play? How long have you been performing?

Is your great uncle John Coltrane? Is your husband Andy Grammer (shoutout to Aijia!). Is your daughter autistic? Do you work 3 jobs to support your family? Are you a teacher? A camp counselor? These are all interesting things to talk about. Come up with the most interesting thing about your life before you get to the casting room and you’ll have a much easier time talking about it and winning over the producers when they watch the tape.

The Private Audition

Most of the working musicians I know have been invited to a private audition (as have I). I believe it happens in every city they hold an open call. The way the producers find musicians to invite to the private auditions is mostly through YouTube. And they aren’t just looking for YouTube stars with millions of plays or subscribers. They’re just looking for good talent. It should go without saying, but if you’re a working musician you need some great videos of you performing on your YouTube channel. It’s also helpful to have a BandCamp profile (easiest way to search for artists in designated locations) and of course a Facebook Page.

+9 Essential Things Every Musician Must Have In 2016

How To Rehearse

Now that you have the logistics of your audition worked out, you still need to prep! You should rehearse your songs until you can sing them in your sleep. You should film yourself performing them and critique your video. Setup two cameras (phones), one close on your face and one pulled out to see your entire body. If you’re not a veteran performer, it will take a bit of work to look and feel natural performing. So you’ll need to work extra hard at this.

Don’t fake the performance, though. The judges will be able to tell. Feel the music. Be the music. Get to the core meaning of the song. You should ooze personality when you’re performing. Whatever your personality is.

What’s the old joke? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice practice practice! Same is true for Team Adam!

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

8 Responses

    • Jaleel Jack

      Ive done this show 3x. Twice ive made callbacks. But never advanced from there. All 3x i went was to say “hey, hear how pretty my voice is!!! Put me on the show” But this time around, i realize the “the voice” is not only about “the voice” its also about “the personality”, “the confidence”, and “the song choice”. Great article my friend!!!! 🙂

      Reply
  1. IMNRTST

    I got anxiety butterflies while reading this. Great narrative and tips!

    Reply
  2. JRoger

    Another excellent article Ari! My 19 year old son was called for one of those “invite” auditions and plans to go, even though he (and I) do not think “The Voice” is any place for his often melancholy acoustic singer/songwriter style. But we also both feel it will be good experience for him. He is a great musician, if we can trust the many unsolicited accolades he and his parents receive at performances, but like many musicians, he never thinks he is good enough. Hopefully the panel at his audition won’t tear him apart! I always tell him what you made clear in your article: “Be totally authentic, feel as deeply as humanly possible, every word you sing and don’t hold back anything. Pour your totally vulnerable heart out to your listeners with no fear.” Thanks again Ari. You are my go to man for relevant information about the REAL music biz.

    Reply
  3. jr

    You may want to read the contracts they hand to everyone before going on these auditions. By the time you have given up all rights to yourself and your songs and any interpretation of songs, you may find that you are much worse off than before.
    The rates they pay are well below that of any other reality tv show and the label and management contracts are the worst. No one has had any meaningful traction from this show, the failure rate for the Voice is 100%. American Idol fares a bit better, but the contracts were not nearly as bad either.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Jr, I have made it to executive call backs. I haven’t signed any of the contracts you mentioned but was wondering from your experience, when do they contract you to let you know when you fly out. The paperwork they gave me only says I will be notified by the day I am supposed to fly out. Do they usually wait that long to tell you? Or should I contact them?

      Reply
    • M and M

      Jr, I have made it to executive call backs. I haven’t signed any of the contracts you mentioned but was wondering from your experience, when do they contract you to let you know when you fly out. The paperwork they gave me only says I will be notified by the day I am supposed to fly out. Do they usually wait that long to tell you? Or should I contact them?

      Reply
  4. Mickey

    Great read and defiantly gonna follow this route. I’ve been called back for private auditions. Not sure what that means.

    Reply

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