If you’ve been struggling to figure out what songs you want to have ready for your upcoming auditions, this article is for you! In this piece, the talented musical theater actor and coach Julie Galorenzo will show you ten types of songs that should be in everyone’s audition book.
I’m a professional musical theatre actor and audition coach and this is where I START when working with clients to build their audition book. Before we dive into the list, here are some things to keep in mind! This list is available as a free download on my website – you can also book a session with me to review your book and work on new songs or songs you’ve used forever!
- Everything in the arts is subjective. People may have different opinions on this and that is ok! Do what works for YOU.
- By “audition book” I really mean yes, your physical book with copies of your songs, labeled, and in a binder. However, I also mean that with the era of Zoom and self-tape auditions, it is also in your best interest to create digital copies of piano tracks cut as you like for auditions. Did you know on the Musicnotes app you can change the key, tempo, and even the instrumentation of an accompaniment track?!? Amazing resource to learn!
- At the end of this list, I will share the “nice to have’s”!
- As you curate or update your book, make sure to have songs that also show varied parts of your vocal ability! Do you have a huge Broadway “belt” a la Ethel Merman? GREAT! Make sure you also have an option or two that show off some higher soprano tones in case you are asked for it.
- Yes, change keys if you need to! Especially acceptable for POP/ROCK!
- It is a good idea to avoid EXTREME emotional states. Over the top “angry” or “sad” can be off-putting unless that is required of the role in question. (I use quotes because I do not typically speak about acting in terms of emotion… but that is a blog for another day!)
- These songs should traverse a wide range of emotional depth and objective. Things to consider: “I Want,” moments of discovery, reflective/contemplative, decision making, point of no return, recall, realization, fighting for love/declaring love, or working through an obstacle.
- And finally, keep in mind – that you should be culturally and racially aware when selecting songs. There are many shows that are about race or written for people from marginalized groups.
THE GOAL OF YOUR AUDITION BOOK IS TO CURATE A DIVERSE PORTFOLIO OF YOUR ABILITY TO TRANSFORM.
1 & 2: CLASSIC/TRADITIONAL UPTEMPO AND BALLAD
I define CLASSIC/TRADITIONAL as a show written and produced BEFORE 1966. Uptempo means a brighter tempo and usually lighter in narrative! Be sure to have an uptempo that still shows off range and the ability to sustain notes. A ballad is a song that moves at a slower tempo that usually has long legato singing lines. These tend to be more serious in nature and can show another side of your voice and acting ability!
3 & 4: CONTEMPORARY UPTEMPO AND BALLAD
I define CONTEMPORARY as a show written & produced after 2000. These songs should not be from jukebox musicals if possible – those songs are from the pop/rock cannon and should be used in those sections below! See definitions of up-tempo/ballad above.
Within the first 4 song types listed above, you should cover different registers of your voice and be varied in acting style. Please keep in mind that there are MANY CONTEMPORARY musicals that SOUND like they are classic or from another era. Contemporary shows like THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE or THE DROWSY CHAPERONE sound like the music is from the 1920s even though they were both first produced in the 2000s.
5 & 6: POP/ROCK RADIO MUSIC
I recommend having TWO Pop/Rock songs in your audition book. I find that most people are good with a fun, up-tempo song and then a brooding, more rock sounding song. Musicnotes has an amazing collection of AUDITION CUTS by Sheri Sanders so if you need a jumpstart, have a look here.
These could also be songs from jukebox musicals, but for me, I avoid using those. We really want to hear your pop/rock sound and not influence by a musical theater sound. Now, “pop/rock” is a very general term. Make sure that you have selections that cover the types of shows you may audition for. Appropriate audition songs for ROCK OF AGES are not going to be the same songs that are appropriate for MEAN GIRLS.
In addition to POP/ROCK we also need something that has a FOLK sound. Exactly where on the folk scale you want is totally up to you. There are plenty of contemporary artists who have more folk sounding songs. These types of songs would be good for WAITRESS, BRIGHT STAR, SPITFIRE GRILL, or VIOLET auditions to name a few!
This song may be covered in #1-4 but this category has a little more freedom. Comedy is very subjective so aim for a song that is amusing and rhythmic. I would encourage you to find a musical theater song from a show that either isn’t very popular, or from a musical theater writer who writes funny stand-alone songs! Great resources for these are the 54Below or FamousInNY YouTube channels!
9: TRANSITIONAL/MEGA MUSICAL
HERE is where you will get to sing your 80s/90s SWEEPING POWER BALLADS from shows considered MEGA MUSICALS. These types of songs are only useful for auditions that are also for MEGA MUSICALS. The Secret Garden, Once On This Island, Jekyll & Hyde, Dreamgirls, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Ragtime, etc. This is also where you could have songs from Pippin, Godspell, and Jesus Christ Superstar! Some people loop 70s-90s in with CONTEMPORARY and I just think they need their own classification. These shows don’t sound like the Broadway shows of the last 20 years like Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, Kinky Boots, Something Rotten, Fun Home, and Hamilton. Additionally, most SONDHEIM falls into this category and not classic or contemporary.
This can be anything that showcases something you do that may be needed for specific shows or roles. Do you rap? Scat? Have whistle tones? Have WILDY low notes? Find a piece that showcases this. If you don’t have a skill to showcase, you can use this slot with a song that you LOVE that maybe doesn’t fit in a category already listed.
NICE TO HAVE
These are additional categories that may be needed based on show type! I would advise not to worry about filling these slots unless you’ve got the first 10 covered. I have all these songs below as well, but I keep them in a separate book and pop them into my main book as needed.
- Sondheim: something challenging and patter-y
- 50s rock n roll, doo wop, swing
- 60s rock ballad, r&b, pop
- 70s disco/80s dance
- Song from a show on Broadway in the last 5 years (not a revival)
- Kander and Ebb jazz sound for shows like Cabaret & Chicago
- Cole Porter/Gershwin/Berlin for shows like Anything Goes, An American In Paris, etc.
Hope this is a helpful way to start creating or reinventing you audition book! At the end of the day, SING WHAT YOU LOVE.