Tips on Auditioning for a Band

Posted: June 17, 2013 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

PinheadsOn the left is a picture of an audition I didn’t get, we were just too darn loud. Can you find me?

Every audition is different. Sometimes the band members are your friends, or you know one or two of the guys. Other times they are strangers. They may have an amp there for you, or sometimes you’ll bring your own amp. It could be at a rehearsal studio or a band member’s house… it’s always different. I’ve done a lot of auditions over the years, a few gigs I got, most I didn’t. Two I didn’t get were Alice Cooper and Ozzy.

In retrospect I blew the Alice audition, I wish I could do this one over. Alice wanted a musical director and I should have gone in and taken charge. I was intimidated and very nervous, I was such a huge Alice fan and there he was, four feet in front of me singing “I’m Eighteen”. Also, I had only one night to prepare so I was not as ready as I wish I had been. 

After this audition I went to my doctor and got a prescription for Propranolol. It’s a beta blocker usually used for blood pressure, but it helps with stage fright too. It’s not mind altering, you’re still nervous, but your hands don’t shake and you can think straight. If you have a problem with nerves, and music is your living, you might want to discuss beta blockers with your doc. 

I think I did my best at the Ozzy audition. Sharon Osbourne told me they’d have a Marshall there for me, but it wasn’t my amp, and I’d never been to that studio before. I decided to cancel all the lessons I was teaching and practice Ozzy songs twelve hours a day for two weeks straight with a bad amp sound. Instead of sitting I practiced standing up as I knew I would be at the audition. I wanted to be able to blow through the tunes perfectly, even if it didn’t sound great to me. Well It worked, I played my best. I also got along well with the drummer Randy Castillo, we were both friends of Carmine Appice.

I’ll never know exactly why I didn’t get that gig. After my audition Sharon and Ozzy decided to use their replacing a guitarist as a promotion with radio stations across the country. That’s how they found Zakk Wylde. 

I did get gigs with Vanilla Fudge and Andy Taylor (guitarist from Duran Duran). In each of those auditions I knew somebody, I was prepared, and I was up against only a few other guitarists. That’s the best situation, competing only a few other guys, but no matter what, you’re under the spotlight and there’s pressure.


Be prepared. Nothing can ease the stress better than being comfortable with the tunes. Pete Thorne, a top LA sideman, told me before an audition he will spend days getting all the parts down and duplicating the record perfect. (For more of his tips check out the Boss Tone Radio podcast interview I did with him). Pete also told me he has on occasion rented a rehearsal studio when preparing for an audition. He’ll set up his gear and rehearse the band’s songs by himself singing background vocals through the PA. This is a great idea! Also putting yourself in a different environment other than your home is good. You’ll be in a new environment when auditioning.

Pete also said he hires profesional cartage guys to bring in and set up his gear. The band will appreciate this, it looks pro, and it looks like Pete really cares about doing his best. I don’t know if this is necessary unless you’re at Pete’s level, but bringing your own gear and having it just right for the band is a good idea. Even if they say they’ll have an amp there.

Btw, it may not be a good idea to have a friend set up your gear. Only do it if he can act professional and only speak if spoken to. Also have your friend leave after set up. Have your friend abide by the old second-engineer and tech’s rule: never comment on the band, and keep your mouth shut! You don’t want your friend to make you look stupid. Leave wives or girlfriends at home too.

Don’t play too loud or too soft. Take cues from the other guys. Vivian Campbell told me when he was auditioning for Def Leppard, Phil Collin kept asking him to turn down. He kept his volume low and decided he needed a smaller tone to blend with the band. Vivian was used to a big sound… so many years playing as the only guitarist with Dio.

I once auditioned for Cher’s daughter, Chastity. She had a band and herself and another girl were the singers. They were signed to Geffen so it was pretty big time. I brought a Marshall half stack and wore a leather jacket. Her band had combo amps and wore grundgy clothes. Oops, I was a square peg in a round hole. I should have figured this out beforehand and brought my Fender Combo and dressed in a flannel shirt and blue jeans. Try to see pictures of the band and their gear and try to be who they are looking for. Do some homework.

Bottom line:

Don’t force it! If it was meant to be, it will happen. If not, welcome to the music biz! Relax, don’t talk too much, don’t talk to little. Be sure to keep it light, laugh and try to enjoy the other band members. Don’t try to impress them, be yourself. Try to find some common ground: sports, movies, favorite bands etc. Not only are they looking for a good player but they’re looking for someone they like. This may be even more important than your playing!

Now go get that gig!


  1. RoKh says:

    Paul, it’s Zakk Wylde (not Zakk Wild) :) . Great article! “Back To The Future” and “Crossroads” movies were what originally inspired me to play guitar. So, it’s awesome to see you in Marty’s McFly band!

    Generally, I’ve found that band chemistry is one of the most important elements of any music situation.

    • phanson says:

      Thx!!!! Oops, you’re right, Zakk Wylde! I think Sharon Osbourne came up with that name.

      Btw 1, I think his real name is Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt. Zakk is a way better stage name though! All the best to Zakk, in his new life without of Ozzy’s band!
      Btw 2, One of the classic solos at is the Crossroads movie solo.
      Btw 3, I remember high five-ing with Michael J. Fox because Michael looked more like he was actually playing in BTTF than Ralph Macchio in Crossroads.

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