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So I am about to embark on holding auditions to fill out the rest of a line up for a blues band. What can I do to ensure the best chance of acquiring the best musicians for the job?

I have plenty of experience of interviewing Software Developers, never musicians, but I am aware that a successful audition will in part be down to me and how I organise things.

For example:

Should it be just a jam? Should I ask them to learn a piece and then perform it by themselves? How can I make them relaxed so that I get the best out of them? Should it be structured or informal?

  • I don't have a full answer for you, but please don't forget that music is a very personal thing. (Especially blues!) When interviewing for software, you'll sometimes find people that aren't much to talk to but can code their way to the moon. In a band, you need someone you can laugh and cry with. – corsiKa Nov 3 '14 at 19:47
  • @corsiKa Yes they are very different in that respect. I can be hard to get a talented coder to talk about his talents, musicians are normally the other way around though – CurlyPaul Nov 4 '14 at 13:33
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This is just my opinion, but I've hired and fired a number of musicians in my time. The way we have always conducted auditions is as a jam. We don't even invite people to an audition we just say, "It would be cool to jam with you."

At the jam, we first start off with a couple of chestnuts, then we move on to solos, group improvisations and new material.

We score the musicians on personality, technique and musicality. Improvisation and listening is extremely important in our group.

The audition is like a little music party. Frequently beer is involved. We treat the applicant like a guest. We evaluate them after the jam and if we like them, we invite them to sit in on a gig. If the gig works out, we invite them to join the band.

The musician community is like a small town, so we're as kind as possible to people. You never know when you might be auditioning for somebody you didn't hire.

  • Nice answer, and this was generally the way I was planning to go I think. I like the last point as well – CurlyPaul Nov 3 '14 at 17:02
  • Thanks, @CurlyPaul! When I interview software developers, it's a similar process only we use a whiteboard and don't drink beer. :-) – pro Nov 3 '14 at 17:06
  • If only we could drink beer in interviews. I'll put it to my boss.. – CurlyPaul Nov 3 '14 at 17:17
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In general you need to figure out what you want in the musician you are hiring and a few other basics about them. I would consider asking yourself a few basic questions to figure out exactly how you should conduct the audition and what you should look for.

What should they know about their instrument/music in general?

If you are going to have a musician be apart of your band there are probably some basic things they should know. For example if you use lead sheets to write/notate music for your bassist, guitarist, or keyboardist they should know at least the basics of how to read it and probably give them one to read/play. For blues I would assume the bare minimum of a guitarist/bassist/keyboardist would be to know chords and know how to improvise over a progression. Just try and make a bare minimum bullet points and a "Nice to have" bullet points for skill/knowledge they have so you have an idea what they know and what they don't so you'll see if they would work for the band.

How do we sound together?

This is where the jam comes in. Even the most talented musicians don't always sound the best together due to how they play. Listen and hear how their feel fits with the rest of the band. Don't expect them to be perfect, but do listen the general feel.

Can I/the band work with this person musically and professionally?

This is very important. You need to be able to work with the people in your band. If they come in and there are obvious personality clashes with you or your band then they should not be in it. It will cause a lot of problems in the long run.

  • Again a good answer. We need to think about what we actually want first. – CurlyPaul Nov 3 '14 at 17:18
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It's quite a wide question.

-Things to establish before even getting to an audition :

-What kinds of music they play/listen to/won't play.

-What gear they have/may need.

-How often they are happy playing/rehearsing.

-How much experience they have in similar bands, etc.

-How much travelling they are happy to do getting to gigs/rehearsals.

-Whether transport is going to be an issue.

-Age/sex. This may OR may not be an issue.

-Establish whether them playing with others will get in the way of the future band.

-The audition:

-Choose 5 or 6 songs that need to be gig-ready for everyone.

-Choose another number that may/may not be known by everybody (to find out how well everyone learns and gels together).

-Play 'in the round' so everyone has eye contact, even the drummer !

-Elect one person to orchestrate it all.

-Allow min. 30 mins, max 1hr. for the audition, plus set up/break-down time. (There may be others following).

-After auditioning :

-Establish protocol for gigs, rehearsals, and giving notice prior to leaving.

Obviously the list is not exhaustive, but I could have done with some of these points not being ignored at auditions I've attended.

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I think the most important point when holding auditions is knowing what your own goals are for the band. It sounds as though you are looking for more than one player, which makes me think you are starting a new band from scratch, or maybe picking up the pieces from the last one.

If this is the case, what is the band going to be doing? Do you have gigs lined up, or do you plan on learning some tunes and then getting gigs? Or is it more a just for fun thing?

Whatever your plans, you probably should make sure that anyone you invite to audition has the same goals as you, and this, of course, means you must know what those goals are and be able to clearly state them. A lot of bands fizzle because no one really knows what the goals are, or even if there are any. Oh, sure, they jabber about maybe someday getting this gig or that one, but no one ever really does anything about it. ;)

If someone you audition wants to play in a just-for-fun party band, and you want to go gig ASAP, chances are you wouldn't get along for very long, because you would not be working toward the same goals. Or if you get an experienced player who just wants to get out and play gigs, they probably aren't going to be interested in coming to rehearsals for several weeks while everyone else learns their parts.

As to the other things, I think asking someone to learn a piece and then play it for you by themselves is definitely not the way to relax them and get the best out of them. :) In most cases, their ensemble playing is going to be far more important than their solo playing, anyway.

For the auditions themselves, I would sort of go with a structured but unstructured jam. Structured in that you keep goofing off and noodling around to no purpose to a minimum, but unstructured in that you don't need a setlist or anything like that, just pick some standard tunes everyone knows and play them; see how you sound. If it becomes obvious after a couple of tunes that it is not going to work out, don't be afraid to tell them so, politely. Thank them for coming, tell them goodbye. Don't feel obligated to play with them for hours; they are there to audition, and not as your guest.

The other answers here bring up a lot of good points that definitely should be considered, but in my experience having the same goals is most important and most often overlooked.

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