"How to prepare for a band audition or fill-in spot"

Recently I filled in for a local band ‘Wrath Of Fenrir’, after their drummer broke his hand 3 days before their show supporting Korpiklaani.  I hadn’t listened to their stuff in over 12 months so I thought I’d better get cracking! The scenario reminded me of a common and possibly more daunting instance – the audition. Here are a few tips that have helped me out in the past.  

If the band has any demos or releases, get hold of the tracks and have a listen through. Don’t get caught up on specifics – just listen. Get a feel for the style, and see if any similarities between the songs pop out. If there are any particularly difficult passages don’t worry too much, you’ll have plenty of time to nut specifics out once you’re familiar with the songs as a whole.  

It may seem strange to do this before you are really used to the songs, but it helps to take notes and have them as reference while you are listening. For my fill-in gig, I listened along to each track and jotted down a brief description of each part. I did this for each of the 5 songs, then went back to the start and listened through with my notes in front of me. I read along using the notes to anticipate the grove or feel of each section, and altered my notes where necessary.  

These are my updated notes for ‘Awaken The Frost’  

intro – steady double kicks, half-time snare  
verse – ½ time kick+snare on hats (x4) -> steady d-kick on ride  
chorus – same as intro  
slow change (big tempo drop) – ½ time kick+snare on crash  
fast change (tempo boost) – fast d-kicks, snare on down beat  
marching beat  
tom groove  
1/2 time groove on crash  
chorus (finish on crash or tom hit)  

They don’t need to make sense to anyone but you, so if you have nicknames for certain riffs or beats use them. The main thing is for you to understand them easily!  

Drummers and Vocalists might be fine to interpret what they hear, but melodic instruments will need to worry about riffs, notes, and chords. A well-prepared band calling for auditions should hopefully have some Guitar Pro files, or failing that some simple written tabs or notation. If not, do your best to familiarise yourself with structures and work out any parts you can. Then when you get together with the band you’ll be likely to pick up riffs and parts with a bit more ease than if you went in cold turkey!  

I wasn’t able to get on a kit that first evening when I wrote the notes, so I sat on the edge of my bed, put the notes in a place I could see them, put the ipod on and tapped on my legs as drums, and mimicked kick-drum movements with my feet. Sure it seems a bit silly, but it was enough to get see if I could translate my notes into actions. I didn’t stay on 1 song, I moved through the EP start-to-finish and repeated a 2nd time. I only had a couple of days, and between work and previous commitments I was strapped for time, so I thought it better to familiarise with the whole EP than be a wizard on only 1 song.  

It’s on your instrument that you’ll get the best feel for how you’re progressing. I got a chance to jump on my pads/electric kit the afternoon to have a couple of run-throughs. This was really cool. I breezed through the tracks with my notes in front of me, and my previous leg-tap practice. It’s also handy to turn the recordings off and see how comfortable you are without the vocals and existing drums from giving you cues. Give it a try, and add to your notes if you get lost. You might not have the best monitoring in a jam-room or at a show, and a singer might not be there for an audition.  

Congratulations! At this point you should be ready to jam. Make sure you bring all the gear you require to jam, and be prompt to arrive and set up. Bring a music stand for your notes, or make sure you’ll have easy visual access to them just in case. Don’t be embarrassed, then band should be happy that you’ve gone to the effort to be thorough, and will appreciate them when you blitz through the tracks 1st time! If you stuff up a part, it’s not the end of the world – keep plugging through the track and try and remember that part for next time. If there’s anything you’re unsure about in a particular song, ask one of the members for guidance before you play it and when that bit comes up they will provide you with visual cues to help you out.  

Whatever the scenario, use what you’ve got to prepare yourself! The band will notice, and you’ll be a lot more relaxed throughout the process.