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News & Perspective

Preparing Audition or Competition Submissions by Alexis Cole

Yes, music is not a competitive sport, and you got into it because you love music and now someone wants to judge you, why should you participate in that? Because people don't know what's good. When you win a competition it tells them "I'm good, people who know said so." And then the people who don't know anything about jazz or music, with tin ears, will hire you for things and it'll grease the wheels in many areas.

I have won and lost many competitions. My favorite was the Jazzmobile Best of the Best Vocal

Competition, which at that time was held "Survivor style" over the course of 4 rounds on 4 different nights! The last night my Grandfather, who is deaf, was in the audience, so though he'll never hear me sing, at least he knows I'm good, and my career in music is probably not a horrible idea! He rushed up to the stage to hug me with tears streaming down his face.

My least favorite was the Sarah Vaughan Competition when I didn't make the final round, and had to go out on stage and sing and smile pretending like I didn't care. Then when it was over, my car got locked in the parking garage, and I had to spend the night at a friend's with no PJ's and only a mini dress and stilettos. But despite the sleepless night, that competition introduced my music to WBGO, and since then I've appeared on air there numerous times, and they always play my new releases! So even though I lost, I won something of great value.

Last year I got to judge a major competition for the first time, and I learned so much! After listening to dozens of submissions of varying quality, including those of my own incredible students whose singing I knew well, I came to realize some best practices that really helped people's chances of progressing.

1. Make sure the sound quality is at least close to professional. It’s very difficult to distinguish a beautiful sound captured by a microphone vs. a beautiful tone on the instrument/voice. If you have a beautiful tone, and it’s clouded by an insufficient mic/ recording method, then that strength is now meaningless. If they accept video or audio, it's much better to send a video, assuming the audio on the video is adequate.

2. Strategize how you can fit all your strengths into the songs allotted. If your strength is lyrical playing and they only want swing tunes, play a rubato verse or ending out of time. Try to show off, without being “show-off-y”

3. Make sure the musicians playing with you are supporting you and not getting in the way. No long instrumental intros, people listening are busy, and the only one auditioning is you!

4. Have a section where you’re very minimally accompanied so the adjudicator can really hear you. Also, if there’s a chance to perform in swing feel unaccompanied, so they can hear how you swing, that can be to your advantage.

5. Get all the words/notes/chord changes right. Any mistakes you make are magnified by the fact that it’s only a few songs, and since it’s a recording you had a chance to do a retake. It seems very lazy/arrogant to submit a take with mistakes.

6. Submit and then try to forget about it. Get busy with practicing and other things while you wait to hear back. Keep a journal of what competitions or audition opportunities you've submitted for, so you can have perspective. Rejection can feel so huge and discouraging, but if you take a step back and try to be analytical, you can realize that the more times you submit yourself, the better chances you have at placing in something.

7. If you make it to the competition or live audition, use it as a great networking opportunity. I know you want to win, and I hope you do, but there are many ways to win, and the connections you can make through your presence can be almost as good as a trophy. So always make sure to comport yourself like a professional, people are watching.

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