BWW Blog: Bob Marks - Building Your Book of Audition Songs

By: Aug. 23, 2016

What is your "book"?

Even when an audition provides specific music to be prepared, you might be asked to "bring your book." Every performer requires a collection of songs that are ready to be sung at a moment's notice. In our industry, your "book" is a physical binder that holds all of these songs, and is also the term for this repertoire of pieces that you have mastered and can perform with little or no preparation.

Your book is one of the few variables in the audition room that you have any real control over, so it is worth your time to put a great deal of love and care into its preparation and organization. You want every advantage walking into the audition room; entering with a well-thought-out portfolio of your best work can be quite emotionally empowering. It also relays a lot of information about how seriously you take your work as an artist. As they say, you don't get a second chance at making a first impression. Just as in a job interview, the professional level of the materials you bring says a lot about you as a potential employee. Spend the time and the small amount of cash required to make it a great one!

Assemble your book

If you've ever been to a New York City open audition, you might have seen actors toting around giant binders of sheet music, bursting at the seams with every song that they have ever learned. In addition to being cumbersome (probably weighing twenty pounds) and impossible to navigate quickly, these books often say more about the ego of the performer than provide any indication of how versatile a singer they are. As with everything, quality over quantity is the way to go. There are many singers out there that successfully use the same handful of songs over and over again at auditions because they know from experience that these are pieces they perform consistently well, and are the most likely to achieve the principal goal: a callback.

Instead of one giant volume, I prefer that you start with three smaller binders: one for performance-ready pieces, one for works in-progress, and one (or more) for storage. Be careful when you start to sort your music that you only put pages from the same song back-to-back, so you don't accidentally remove the first or last page of a song whenever a piece moves from one binder to another.

Your performance-ready binder, which you will bring to auditions, should not be larger than 1 to 2 inches, and should be made of quality, durable materials; these are often marked "Heavy Duty" at office supply stores. "D"-type rings usually last longer than round ones; however, once pages start snagging on The Edge, they need to be replaced. Your other binders can be larger, as you want them to house the remainder of your music library.

Having your music in a hard binder automatically presents it in a way that allows it to stand up firmly at the piano. I've played countless auditions where a singer brought in a handful of loose photocopied pages and accidentally put them in the wrong order (because music books are larger than the 8.5 x 11 paper we photocopy music on to, things like page numbers are often cut off). Loose pages flying all over the room whenever an air conditioner turns on will certainly hinder your performance. Some actors will also opt for "accordion-style" taped pages, which I actually prefer to play from, but nowadays 3-ring binders are the accepted industry norm. Remember, the easier you make it on the accompanist, who has probably been sight-reading inconsistently prepared music for hours on end, the better the music will sound, and the better your performance will be.

For some reason, the use of plastic sheet protectors to house your music is very controversial among Broadway accompanists. Some prefer matte or "nonglare" protectors, others like the lightweight transparent ones. I believe it doesn't really matter what you use, as long as the pages are protected, and easy to turn. You can skip protectors entirely if you copy your music double-sided on strong paper, and carefully hole-punch all of your pages.

Actors develop different systems for organizing music in their books; some prefer to order by genre (Pre-Golden Age, Golden Age, Contemporary, etc.), others might use an alphabetical system. Often, actors will use colored tabs from office supply stores to file their music into sub-categories, which can make music very easy to locate in a pinch. Whichever you choose, you should be able to locate pieces immediately if a casting director asks you for another song you weren't expecting to perform that day.

Noted vocal coach Bob Marks specializes in helping singers showcase their talents to their best possible advantage. He is in the process of writing a new book (with Elizabeth Gerbi) about auditioning for musical theatre. Until the book is published, is pleased to offer weekly bits of audition advice. Please feel free to submit any specific questions you'd like to have answered in these blogs.

Bob Marks maintains a busy vocal studio in New York City, working with performers of all ages and levels of experience. He also teaches performance workshops throughout the US and Europe. He was a pianist with the original Broadway production of Annie, and spent two seasons as the Associate Conductor of the St. Louis Muny Opera. For several years, he was the host and musical director of the acclaimed Youngstars performances of professional children in New York City. His well-known clients have included cast members of almost every current musical on Broadway, and stars such as Ariana Grande, Lea Michele, Natalie Portman, Laura Bell Bundy, Constantine Maroules, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Debbie Gibson, and Sarah Jessica Parker. He holds a degree in speech pathology, and has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, the Professional Development Program for the New York Singing Teachers' Association, and at Nashville's Belmont University as a special guest artist. As a vocal coach, his clientele ranges from beginners to Broadway cast members, as well as singers of cabaret and pop music. He is an expert in helping performers present themselves to their best advantage in auditions and onstage.

Elizabeth Gerbi, currently a Visiting Lecturer of Music Theater at American University in Washington D.C., is well known across the Northeast as a singing teacher, voice coach, choral conductor, and music director/pianist (150+ productions). As a singer-actor, she has appeared in regional productions ranging from Annie Get Your Gun to I Pagliacci to The Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. Recent projects include musical directing The Chris Betz Show at Rose's Turn and The Sage Theatre in NYC, Side Show and Tommy at Westchester Broadway Theatre, The Sound of Music at the Wagon Wheel Theatre of Warsaw, Indiana, conducting Dreamgirls and Seussical at Debaun Auditorium in Hoboken, NJ, adapting Starmites 2000 with Broadway composer Barry Keating, and accompanying master classes for Broadway veterans Ken Jennings, Lindsay Mendez, and Lisa Howard. She is also a former consultant for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Music Library, and currently serves as a both New York State School Music Association Solo Adjudicator and a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. She attended Ithaca College (Bachelor's of Music in Voice Performance and Music Education) is a Level-III graduate in Somatic Voicework: The LoVetri Methodô, and completed a Master's in Music Education from Boston University.