Auditions: How to Cut Your Music

So you’ve found the perfect song for your audition. You love it, you sound great singing it, and it’s perfect for the show for which you’re auditioning. (If you need to recap the process for finding the perfect audition song, check out Choosing the Audition Song That Lets YOU Shine by yours truly.) What’s the next step? You need to cut your music, but you must find the right cut of the song to take into your audition.

I know what you’re thinking. Songs are our dearest morsels of theatrical merriment! How could we cut them? Scissors? Machete? Are they not our children?

“Wishes are children.” -Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

You’re right. Songs are beautiful and we love them but, let’s face it, it isn’t called “show butterfly-kisses,” it’s called “show business” and mama’s got to make a dollar. The point is, if everyone at the audition performed the entirety of “Meadowlark,” auditions would take forever, and the accompanist would lose his/her mind and end up like the woman pictured above.

You’re going to need four different cuts of your song for auditions: full song, 32-bar, 16-bar, and 8-bar.

Full Song:

This is the entire song from beginning to end. You will probably never need this for an audition, but it’s a good idea to have it in your book just in case. You never know when a callback could happen on the spot and they want to see how you handle a full song. Always keep a copy in your book and make sure you know the whole piece in case you are asked to sing it.

32-Bar and 16-Bar Cuts:

These are industry terms that provide a guideline for the length of your audition. They don’t mean that you need to count the measures of the song and sing exactly 16 or 32 measures. You want to make sure the length feels right: 16 bars should be less than a minute and 32 bars less than two minutes. Remember that less is more and an extra 15-30 seconds is not going to inspire someone behind the table to suddenly take interest in you. If you’re having trouble discerning the appropriate length of you cut, ask a vocal coach or teacher.

8-Bar Cut:

These are often painfully short for the actor, but there are occasions that make them necessary for casting teams. This cut should be short. It should be less than 30 seconds and showcase as much as possible within that constraint.

It was when Augustus sang 17 bars of “Maria” instead of 16 that they took him to the town square for public humiliation. Say it soft and it’s almost like praying.

Here’s a few more questions to ask yourself when choosing a cut:

Does my cut make sense contextually? If your cut starts in the middle of a sentence or phrase, then it probably doesn’t make any sense. You want to make sure that you can still tell a story within the borders of your cut so that you can curate a successful audition.

Does my cut make sense musically? If your cut jumps from key to key in ways the original song does not, it doesn’t make sense. If your cut jumps between tempos in a way that the original song does not, it probably doesn’t make sense. Use your judgment to make sure that the cut is something you’ve tailored for the audition and not something you’ve thrown together just to put something in your book. Sometimes “good enough” is simply not good enough.

Does my cut make sense for me? If your cut isn’t your best part of the song, then scrap it and do the best part of the song. Remember, the entire point is to showcase your strengths and book the role.

There’s no shame in asking for help with this process; that’s exactly why we hire song coaches, work with music directors, and attend workshops. Auditioning is a complicated and delicate art, and you should prepare for it with the same focus and preparation as a role or performance. Now go out there and show them your best 16 bars!

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Patrick Burns is a playwright, composer, actor and activist who has performed off-Broadway, regionally, and in national tours. You can check him out online at patrickburns.me and fromfostercaretofabulous.com or follow him with the handle @CantPatThis

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2 thoughts on “Auditions: How to Cut Your Music”

  1. 16 bars is NOT 1 minute, it’s 30 seconds. And 32 bars is NOT 2 minutes, it’s 1 minute. I don’t know who told you your times were correct but every NYC audition I’ve been to has been saying 16 bars = 30 seconds and 32 bars = 1 minute.

    1. Dear Sarah,

      You are correct that the guidelines are closer to 30 seconds and 1 minute. You’ll notice I said “less than” in the article. Often times we stress about meeting a guideline exactly (i.e., 30 seconds) when in reality there is no stopwatch in the room. Sometimes 30 seconds feels like 45 seconds and vice versa. What’s tantamount is to remember that less is more, to showcase yourself well and to use good taste when making one’s selections.

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