The critique that hurts actually helps the most.
Open rebuke is better than secret love (Proverbs 27:5).
A few years ago, a good friend of mine related to me what had happened to him during an audition for a prestigious company. After singing his songs, the panelists gave him immediate feedback. First, they made it clear that they would not accept him into their company. Secondly, they told him he needed to learn how to stay on pitch. That was a hard criticism for him to accept, since he had trained intensively in classical voice for years. As if that didn’t smart enough, the judges also advised him to lose weight—“At least twenty pounds”, they said.
Ouch. Upon hearing his story, I was glad to have foregone my own audition for that institution. However, in the years following that episode, I have come to value such feedback. Having gained more audition experience, I realize that criticism is the most valuable thing a performer can receive.
How can this be? Isn’t getting the part you want the whole point of auditions? Sure, landing a desired role or post within a company is more valuable to your ego and your wallet in the short-term. In the long-run, however, criticism drives the artists to improve far more than acceptance or praise ever does.
Why musicians take it personally
Since the very nature of music is emotional, it is very hard for artists to separate their performance from their egos. When someone criticizes your performance, it’s as if they were criticizing you. This is especially true for singers because the instrument is a physical part of oneself. If somebody tells you they don’t like your voice or the way you use it, it feels as though they’re really saying that they don’t like you as a person.
One solution to this dilemma is to avoid criticism altogether. To some artists, pleasing themselves is more important than pleasing their spectators. Either the judges like it and they’ll hire the performer, or they don’t, in which case the performer would prefer not to work with them anyway.
For performers who are only concerned with pleasing themselves, the confidential nature of the audition is very convenient. They don’t care to know the judges reasons for rejecting them. They’ll simply move onto another audition, and another, until a job is landed.
Why musicians don’t learn from auditions.
Unfortunately, auditioners rarely receive any feedback from the panelists at all. Most of the time, you go in there, show them your stuff, and they politely dismiss you. You never hear from them again. What they think of you forever remains a mystery to you.
As a result, most performers measure their success in a pass-fail manner: did they get the role or not? There is no in-between. Either the audition was perfect because they landed the role, or it was a failure because they didn’t.
How do you counter this? The real solution would be if all the panelists would offer immediate feedback. “Your singing was beautiful, but it lacked authenticity.” Or, “Your instrument is bright and clear, but we’re looking for a huskier sound.”
Sadly, we can’t count on that happening any time soon. To delve into the reasons would take up more space than the author is willing to dedicate in this article.
What to do about it
For one thing, the performer can learn not to take rejection personally. Since judges will rarely tell you why you didn’t make the cut, there’s no use in guessing.
To ease the pain of rejection, actor Trevor Nero[i] advises me to forget about every audition once it’s finished. “Auditioning is a way of life”, he says. “When you go in for a part, chances are, you’re going to get rejected. You can’t afford to stake your hopes on getting the gig. Rather than agonize over what you could have done better, forget all about it and move on.”
Since you won’t get it from judges very often, it’s important to actively seek feedback from other people. I always encourage my clients to rehearse their pieces in front of friends, family, and whoever is willing to listen. Do so with the intention of learning every awkward thing you do that distracts from the music making. After the performance, collect honest information from your spectators.
Auditioning for the sake of it
In a world in which most judges will never give you constructive criticism, we can take advantage of auditioning simply for our own benefit.
I sometimes like to audition for roles that I almost know I won’t get. These end up being the auditions I learn the most from. I like to throw myself into roles that are so unlike my previous characters because this forces me to think, observe, and fight with myself in ways I wouldn’t otherwise. The process of creating harmony within oneself where there is dissonance and lack of understanding is more thrilling to me than always auditioning for the same cookie-cutter roles I always have done before.
I recently auditioned for such a role that was outside my comfort zone. As such, I didn’t expect to get the part. My friends, upon learning that I didn’t get the role,, felt very sad and sorry for me. I told them they really didn’t need to, because the purpose of my audition was to gain experience.
Having said that, I wish with all my heart I could get some feedback on my performance—especially of these challenging roles. I wish a director would tell me, “You played that too vulnerably. I’m looking for indelible strength.” Or, “Stop acting! Show me the real you!” Or maybe even, “You’re very authentic, but you’re just too attractive.” Now there’s a criticism I would be keen to receive.
[i] Name has been changed to respect his privacy.