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Audition season blues? This might make you feel a little better.

Every year November-December yields a swarm of Facebook posts commenting on audition season, with a statistically predictable ratio of overwhelming negativity and disappointment as compared to the happy announcements of being accepted into roles, programs, competitions, and master classes. I happened to be working at that time of the year with a very talented singer who was new to the audition scene. Upon not being accepted into one such program, she found herself in a place of failure and disappointment.

Without a doubt, audition season can be tough, and for most it doesn’t start with a welcome wagon. This can be quite difficult, especially for those who were easily accepted into college auditions or for those who have been praised (rightfully so) for their talent and are new to the scene. This particular client I mention is unquestionably talented – a beautiful, rich lyric voice and a lovely actor. I always rationalize the fact that, for 97% of performers, rejection is a big part of the career. You win some and lose a bunch. That’s normal for almost everyone, especially at first. But in this particular case, I wanted to help her understand that in any given audition, many fantastic singers are turned away simply because there are not enough available spaces. I set out to find some concrete numbers that proved what I was saying and just how tough it can be – I thought she would want to know, and I thought many other singers would want to know as well.

So – what are the real odds of being accepted to one of these programs? I gathered a cross section of actual data as provided by the companies themselves. Because many singers tend to gravitate toward larger named programs, either because of the popularity/prestige of the company or because it was recommended by someone, I am using some of those for this data. Below is a chart that lists the number of applicants within close approximation and the number of singers accepted into the program, followed by what that means as a percentage in terms of acceptance. Warning – while the numbers are abysmal, there’s important info that follows – don’t stop reading after the chart:

If you find this information depressing, I can empathize, especially if you have not seen the actual figures before. And if you were accepted by one of these programs, you realize you should be giving yourself a big pat on the back. If you were not accepted, however – these numbers should actually make you feel better, and here’s why: I don’t think it is even a question that more than 1-4% of singers who auditioned were talented enough to be in one of these programs. Even if only a quarter of singers who auditioned were actually at the level of the programs (are there’s a high likelihood the number is much higher) – that’s still over 20% of excellent, viable candidates who have to be turned away. And at that point it becomes about many things – voice type, roles to be cast, relationships already formed – many things. And let’s not forget those singers who were already in the program the year before who choose to return; those singers can take some of that 1-4% before the numbers even start – and so the actual statistical odds of acceptance may be even smaller.

Programs that are considered training programs rather than young artist programs seem to fare a bit better in odds, depending on the program. At Seagle Music Colony, the acceptance rate is ~ 9% (but only about 4% if you are a soprano). At CoOPERAtive, it lies somewhere between 25-30%. If someone has suggested that a singer audition for a training program as opposed to a young artist program, even if s/he is a more advanced young artist, the numbers might make it clearer as to why: there are normally better odds of being accepted. Similarly, if someone is suggesting a singer audition for young artist programs and one isn’t getting accepted, there can be several reasons, one of which being that the talent level is appropriate but there just aren’t enough spaces. There aren’t even enough spaces in the training programs.

If you are a singer that has faced this plight (or a teacher of those who might), there are a couple of things to take away from this:

1. You really need to make sure your audition materials represent you well. While recordings don’t have to be in some super expensive studio, they need to be of high quality, meaning your voice is being well represented and the essentials of pitch, rhythm, language, and style are solid. Your materials should look like they belong to someone who is part of the business. When hundreds need to be eliminated before one can even be granted an audition, you really can’t afford to send in materials that are “ok”. This doesn’t imply, however, that you need to be perfect, it just implies that what I refer to as Step Zero needs to be in place. More on perfectionism and Step Zero at another time.

2. You can be totally awesome and still not be chosen for one of these programs. In a world where the odds are 1-3%, having a connection is becoming increasingly more important. Start making them. You can’t just be a fabulous singer. There are many, many fabulous singers. That being said, you should really give yourself a break if you don’t get accepted.

Another interesting set of statistics came out of this research as well – while one might assume that the same singers always make up the 1-3%, that’s not the case. I asked a couple of singers who did get accepted into well-known programs about their audition seasons:

A singer who was accepted into the Apprentice Program at Santa Fe Opera was not granted an audition for Chautauqua and was not called back at Merola.

A singer who applied to many young artist and training programs was accepted for auditions at approximately half. She was accepted into five training programs and no young artist programs. Then Sarasota Opera called and offered her a contract for their Apprentice Program – some time after she had already received a rejection letter. She was not on any sort of wait list.

This illuminates a very important point: the greatest thing performers can do (besides the “Step Zero” things like being prepared) is to strive to be the best version of themselves they can be, and leave it at that. Just because a singer wasn’t accepted does not necessarily mean s/he wasn’t good enough. And as the above information proves, to each company its own. The true keys to a performance career (and not just for singers) lie in one’s ability to maintain a positive attitude, resilience, courage and perhaps most important of all, perseverance.

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