I'm a violinist and I have some auditions coming up which I'm feeling prepared for musically, but I nosedive in the interview section. I can't think what to say and I get really nervous. What should I work on before I go into the auditions? Thanks for your help.
What a great question! I'm really pleased to hear that your musical preparation is on track and that you are thinking beyond the notes about the choices you can make to be best prepared for the whole process on the day.
Nerves are normal! There are a lot of ways to practice making good choices about our fears, which I won't go into here but can answer separately if you're interested. Performance anxiety continues to be a significant part of my musical life and I would be happy to share this journey with you, let me know on this one.
A really easy and simple tip is just to record and view yourself role playing the interview, much the same way as we do with our performance practices. Set up the room in the same way it will be for the audition and wear the same clothes and shoes so know what the panel will see and hear. You might find that you come across far more confident and assured than you feel! And if not, neuroscience tells us that 'fake it til you make it' works through triggering the sympathetic nervous system and the amygdala, so fake a smile to positively affect your physiology (heart rate) and emotions (mood).
Now we have your heart rate under control and your energy at the right level we can prepare for some common interview questions. If you have been shortlisted for an audition, the panel is already confident that you should have the musical chops for the gig, so the interview is an opportunity for them to determine three key issues:
- Can you work with each other?
- What can you offer beyond the notes?
- How will this opportunity benefit you in the future?
The panel will hear plenty of great auditions, all at a very high standard so the interview is your opportunity to stand out as a compelling candidate.
Here are three standard interview questions and my thoughts on preparing a response.
1 “Tell Us About Yourself”
This is your chance to address all three of the criteria above. The panel will want to see that you can do more than perform at a very high standard and that you have skills and interests beyond the stage so that you can build a career for yourself and be a valuable employee within an organisation.
Here's a cheat sheet to prepare your answer to this question:
- RELAX! The panel is really interested in getting to know you, and want to hear you speak with confidence about yourself and your future. Take a big breath and smile.
- Start with your current work/study life including your hobbies, non-music jobs and voluntary work
- Share the performance and non-performance projects you are working on right now
- Share your life and career goals and how you plan to achieve those goals
- Share how this opportunity would be a great boost to achieving those goals
Recording yourself will help you work out if you've got the amount of content just right, not too light on detail but not so detailed that you lose their interest and attention.
This will show the panel that you have thought about how to build your career and that you are taking pro-active steps towards your goals. If you speak with confidence, the panel will be assured that they can use you in their traditional communications and social media platforms, which are a major part of the job for 21st-century musicians.
You will have shown the panel that you are a well-rounded individual, you never know how you might connect. Maybe someone else on the panel is an AFL tragic or Tarantino fan or passionate Middle Eastern foodie. Give them a chance to connect by being open and honest about yourself, your life and your goals, after all, if they choose you then you're going to have to work together and they want to work with musicians who are interesting and easy to get along with.
This also means that if you aren't the right fit for this opportunity, they know enough about you to know what else might be a good fit or to remember you when something else comes up. Networking and building relationships is just as important as how well you play your instrument if you want to build a music career.
You will have given the panel enough interesting stuff that they will easily follow on with questions, so the next part of the interview should flow on smoothly. If you are still feeling anxious, then think about scheduling a few practice runs. If you are studying, there will be a Careers Centre at your university who should provide this service for you. If you're not studying, then find a couple of experienced family or friends who could do this and make sure you follow up with a thank-you email or call for their time.
If all of this has freaked you out because you have been focussed on practising and haven't yet given much time and attention to your career, fear not! Now is a great time to start.
An awesome book which will help you figure out the WHO (am I), WHAT (do I want), HOW (can I get it), WHEN (should I start) has just been written by Cellist Dana Fonteneau of The Wholehearted Musician.
I can't recommend this book highly enough for EVERY musician.
2 “Why Should We Choose You”
Start by making a direct connection between the opportunity and your career goals, then lead into how this opportunity is not easily available to you.
If it’s an orchestral opportunity, perhaps your university orchestra doesn’t play this type of repertoire. Or your regular orchestra only works under one conductor and you need experience playing under different conductors. Maybe access to the particular expertise of tutors at the camp isn’t easily available to you. Think of one thing that this opportunity would give you that you can’t easily access.
I spoke earlier about the need to show yourself as a well-rounded musician, not just a great operator of your instrument. So what else beyond the Violin could you bring to this opportunity? Can you demonstrate how you have shown leadership and then speak about how you want to use this opportunity to build that skill. Are you passionate about a community music project? Then you could use this opportunity to build a network of like- minded musician citizens who want to use their music for the benefit of their community, not just for entertainment.
What else about YOU can you bring that will either help the organisation, or build your skills in a unique way, or elevate the experience for others?
3 “Do You Have Any Questions For Us”
Always a dreaded question from the panel but this is a great chance for you to show that you have thought about what the opportunity can offer to build your skills beyond the stage. This shows the panel that you understand the need to build a portfolio of skills beyond the Violin and that you are willing to invest your time and energy to acquire and refine these skills.
In order to create a sustainable career, we need to have multiple income streams, not just rely on gig money. What are your other interests and talents that could be used within this organisation or opportunity to build your skills and network? If you love writing, you can ask about getting involved with the marketing and communications team on their campaign or program notes. If you love photography or videography, you can ask about getting involved with their social media campaign and rehearsal/performance recording and broadcast. If you love organising things, you can ask about getting involved with administration and production. If you are passionate about education and community development you can ask about getting involved in their education and engagement program.
You can take control of your preparation for this part of the audition and use it as an opportunity to think about what you want for your career and how to communicate this to others. Knowing what you want and feeling confident to talk about it is essential for life and career satisfaction, especially for musicians as we are primarily self-employed and lack the structured career paths of our colleagues in STEM.
Embrace the process, keep in touch and let us know how you get on!