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If you are highly experienced and have been invited to the audition on the basis of your resume, you can skip over this section. But given the current climate at auditions, chances are that sooner or later you will be required to make a taped/CD preliminary audition. This method of screening applicants is increasingly popular, so, like it or not, it will pay to learn to make a good quality recording.
After submitting your resume, you will probably receive material from the orchestra personnel manager detailing how your tape should be made. Follow all instructions exactly with particular attention to:
In order to make auditions as fair as possible, most orchestras will send the exact music required to be played on the tape. This eliminates confusion about which edition to use and where to start and stop. Most personnel managers are meticulous in specifying requirements, so don't bombard him with stupid phone calls explaining that you have seven seconds of space between each excerpt instead of five. Use your head.
For the taped audition system to be successful, the player needs to make a tape that is a reasonable representation of his playing. However, every audition committee knows that, in reality, each candidate had unlimited opportunities to get an excerpt right. There is no reason to settle for less than a perfect "take." The committee has no opportunity to ask to hear something again. If you let an excerpt stay on your tape that is out of tune or out of time, a committee will simply say, "That's the way that guy plays, since it's the best he could do." Perfection is a high standard, but given the opportunity to make as many takes as you need to get it right, you must settle for nothing less. Perhaps a bit of insight into audition tape listening will help you understand why.
As a member of an audition committee, listening to tapes varies between boring and hysterical. Most people will send awful, pathetic tapes with poor technical quality and poor playing. They are painful to listen to and constitute an utter waste of time.
Interest in a player is contingent on a high standard demonstrated from the very beginning of the tape. Tapes are not usually listened to in their entirety. Often a cut-off point is established, usually half way through the requested excerpts, at which time the committee is informally polled as to whether there is sufficient interest or need to hear more. At times, only one or two excerpts will be heard if a player seems beyond hope. If a player is great you know it after one excerpt, if he's terrible, you usually know it after three notes. Thetimes when a tape will be heard all the way through are when it is exceptional and the committee is relieved to hear someone who could actually win the job or when the playing is so awful that a full run-through provides much needed comic relief. The key, therefore, is to make your first excerpts "perfect" in order to capture and maintain the committee's interest.
Making your tape should be relaxing, enjoyable experience. If you're worried that you won't be able to make a good tape, then don't bother to make one. Making a tape is an audition. But instead of pleasing members of an audition committee, you have to please an even more discriminating critic - YOU. After years of listening to music, peers and role models, after countless hours of practicing and score study, after hearing dozens of live concerts and hundreds of radio broadcasts and records, you know what is good and what's not. Do not settle for less.
For this reason I recommend making your tape by yourself. Find a comfortable room in which to make your tape. Remember, follow the instructions your received from the orchestra. Any suggestions I make here are secondary if they conflict with the instructions you receive. Concert and recital halls and churches are usually too reverberant for good tape results; your living room will be too dry. Try a big rehearsal room or classroom at school or a fellowship hall of a church. Make sure it is big enough to give you some resonance and satisfaction when you play there, but not so big that your sound and rhythm get lost in the rafters.
Make sure your environment is quiet and free from outside noise (traffic, kids playing, telephones, elevators, flushing toilets, etc.). Set up your recording equipment in accordance with the instructions you received. If no specifics are given, I suggest the following: Use a high quality chrome tape such as Maxell XL-2 or TDK SA with Dolby B. Use the highest quality microphones and tape you can rent, buy or borrow. Set the microphones about 15 or 20 feet from you and about seven to ten feet high. Do not attempt any fancy stereo effects. Make sure you record on both channels. Single channel recording is annoying to listen to.
Set your recording level to peak at about + 3 dB, since any higher will probably cause distortion; any less will give you unwanted hiss in quiet passages. Experiment with various microphone settings while playing through the excerpts in any order you want, but make sure you play everything for each microphone/level setting. Keep your tape recorder on and do this for about 45 minutes. When you're done, make careful notes about the exact location of you, the microphones and any other large objects that might be moved. Then pack up and go home.
On the next day, play your tape back and decide what combination of mike placement and volume level sounds the best. Take notes on how you played: how was your rhythm, pitch and dynamic range? Did you project too much style into the excerpt, thereby distorting the rhythm? Be critical; analyze yourself carefully. A committee will.
Then go back to your recording site and make your tape. In a reasonable length of time (perhaps 20 or 30 minutes), play through all of the excerpts with the tape rolling. Stop playing at once if you make an obvious mistake like a cracked note (you don't want to waste your chops on a take that you know you'll never use), but keep playing through what you think are minor lapses. Don't get frustrated or paranoid, but continue to play things two or three times until you feel you have captured on tape at least one good representation of your playing for each excerpt.
When you get home, listen to your tape and choose the best take of each excerpt (no splicing, please) and with another tape deck of equal or better quality, transfer your final takes onto another tape. When this is done, listen to your finished tape critically. Ask yourself, "Would I invite me?" If not, repeat the process up to two more times. If you can't get it any better, then send the tape as is, or forget it and keep practicing for another time.
Do not waste your money on a professional recording studio unless you are specifically told to use one. Their rates are often outrageous (by the time you are done at some studios, you may find you could have bought your own equipment for the same price), their product is often not very good (artificial reverb sounds like artificial reverb) and most engineers do not have the faintest idea how to record a "legit" trombone sound. Because it is so expensive, you will be putting yourself under a lot of pressure to get done quickly. You will learn so much more and make a much better tape if you do it right yourself.
In 1984, I made an audition tape in order to be invited to the audition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra bass trombone position. I subsequently won that position in 1985. To hear that tape in mp3 format, and to get more insight on how I made it, go to the Douglas Yeo Boston Symphony Orchestra Audition Tape page of this website.
There are, of course, many different ways to make an audition tape and a lot of varying opinions on the best way to record the sound of a brass instrument. For some additional tips on making your tape, see this interesting article from Electronic Musician magazine by David Summer titled Record great brass sounds in your personal studio.
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