What does it take to win a coveted role on Broadway? Veteran vocal coach Bob Marks reveals how he helps singers prep for high-stakes musical theatre auditions.
Bob Marks started vocal coaching in New York in the 1970s and has taught a host of household names during his 48-year career. Ariana Grande, Britney Spears, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lea Michele and Jamie-Lynn Siegler are all past students.
He has also worked as a pianist and MD on hundreds of musical productions. So, what words of wisdom does Bob have to share? Here are his five top tips for helping students prepare for musical theatre auditions.
Singing lessons shouldn’t be formulaic
“Every lesson is different; I don’t follow a formula,” Bob says. “If you come in for your lesson with a song to learn for an upcoming audition, we [put everything to one side] and switch gears and go to the audition song. We do warmups, scales and exercises to ensure the voice is in good shape and healthy, and the rest depends on the student.”
A good teacher is a good listener
“The main thing is to do more listening than talking,” he says. “You must see what the singer wants and needs and deal with any problems they’re having with the music or their performance. A lot of it is enlightening on the meaning of the lyrics. If you don’t understand what the words mean and who you’re pretending to speak to, it’s hard to be an actor. And if you’re not an actor, why bother? You’re not there to just make pretty sounds.”
Avoid vocal strain
Bob’s advice is to “keep vocal health right in the forefront and be mindful that the cords are delicate things. If they’re belting a song, I’ll say ‘let’s do it a little softer. Let’s just go through it and get the notes, the words and the meaning before you belt it out’.”
Find the balance between preparation and perfectionism
“Nowadays [as part of the audition process], they’re going to send you a three-page song to learn, and you have to send a video of yourself singing that song. It’s wonderful to be in control of your own audition, but if you do it too many times, you’re going to start hurting yourself, and it becomes a negative thing. You just have to do the best you can.
“If you have a little crack or you miss a word, they’re not going to just turn off the tape. You need to show people who you are and what you look and sound like; they’ll know if they want to see you in person.”
Source great repertoire
Bob has a favourite saying: “Songs are like clothing – they have to fit and work for the occasion. You have to see what fits you, your character, voice and personality. Singers need to learn the players. They need to know what’s going on out there and listen, listen, listen and read.”
To find out more about Bob’s amazing career, listen to our full-length interview with him on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast.