Tips for Pre-Screens and Recorded Auditions

Do the schools you’re applying to require pre-screens? Or are you planning to send recorded auditions to one or more schools instead of auditioning live?

These tips will help you stay on track and gain a better chance of making it from pre-screens to auditions to acceptance letters.

1. Every school or program has its own requirements. It’s your job to know what they are.

Carefully check all the requirements for sending pre-screens and recorded auditions for each school or program where you’re applying. Go over the details more than once. See if you can get a family member or friend to review them with you. Make no assumptions –– what works for one school may not work at all for another. The schools have no mercy when it comes to students misreading their requirements.

2. Pay attention to deadlines.

Most schools currently state December 1st as the pre-screen deadline but be sure that’s the correct date for each school you’re applying to. Note that these deadlines are firm and if a pre-screen is required and you miss the deadline, you won’t be invited for a live audition.

3. Don’t leave your recordings for the last minute.

Practice and hone the music you’ll be submitting well before the deadlines. A number of things can go wrong with the recording so plan ahead, figure out what you’re going to record with, get your questions answered, and fix any problems in enough time to meet the deadlines.

4. Create a recording you’ll be proud of.

Your recording may be the schools’ first impression of you, and it may be your only chance to show them something about who you are, what you can do, and why you deserve a chance to become their student. Really good sound quality is essential. (See recording tips below.)

5. Live vs. recorded auditions?

Schools that require pre-screens expect you to send recordings. The pre-screen information on their websites will indicate how they want you to do this –– through an upload company such as Acceptd, DecisionDesk, Slide Room, or through the mail.

If you make it through pre-screens, you’ll need to decide whether to audition live on campus, live at a regional audition site if available, or through a recorded audition.

What are some of the pros and cons of sending a recorded audition?

A live audition is ideal. It offers an opportunity for a two-way interview between you and the school. You get to experience the campus, hopefully get a lesson from a faculty in whose private studio you may end up, determine how well you fit in with other students, and much more. Some schools like Penn State School of Music, also evaluate you for merit scholarships at the live audition.

“It’s so easy to send recordings, particularly now that videos can just get uploaded from a central place. However, it’s increasingly more difficult to get a sense of whether or not a student really wants to come if they just send a recording,” says Amy Mertz, who worked as assistant director for admissions and community programs at Syracuse University’s Setnor School of Music in upstate New York.

If you are serious about a school but cannot make it to a live audition:

  • Read each school’s recorded auditions policy on their website before contacting the admission office to ask questions. If the schools you are interested in participate on, use the forms on their pages to ask your questions. Find out the following:
    • Will you be considered for scholarships if you don’t attend a live audition?
    • Are your chances for acceptance lower if you don’t attend a live  audition?
    • In addition to a recorded audition, are there alumni in your area you can meet with to demonstrate that you’re a good candidate for admission?
  • Contact any faculty you’re interested in studying with, and ask specific questions related to becoming their student or about the program. Find out whatever you can about their areas of expertise before you actually contact them.
  • Treat every email or phone call as if it were a mini-audition. Most schools keep a record of every communication a student has with them.

Do You Need a Professional Recording Engineer?

It all comes down to sound quality.

The cost of hiring a professional recording engineer may be beyond what’s affordable for you right now. No school wants to create financial hardship especially at this stage in the process. While some schools encourage applicants to hire an engineer, others actually discourage it if you can get good sound quality on your recording without an engineer. You’re smart to check each school’s guidelines on this and to ask them directly if there’s no clear information available.

  • If you do decide to work with a professional recording engineer, interview one or more of them to be sure that whoever you choose will serve you well.
  • Any recording engineer you decide to work with must fully understand the recording requirements of each school you’re auditioning for. Is editing acceptable? Is processing acceptable (i.e., reverb, equalization, dynamics, pitch alteration)? Your recording engineer must know and work within these guidelines.
  • Robert Bullington, at Front Row Seat Productions, emphasizes the need to find an engineer who is skilled in recording your repertoire. Classical repertoire has different requirements from jazz, popular, and other genres. “Discuss the requirements of the recording and your expectations candidly, in advance of the session,” says Bullington.  “Get as many technical details about the upload requirements as you can, and share that with the recording engineer.”
  • Want to work with a recording engineer but can’t afford it? Contact a local music school with a good music technology program. See if students will take on recording projects like these for experience, at low or no cost.


  1. It really can be quite difficult to make a good casting tape, so it is great to have some suggestions. I particularly like that your article focuses on the importance of not leaving the recordings to the last minute. After all, you want to make sure that you’re taking plenty of time to create a recording that you can happily turn over to the casting director.

  2. Ross

    Good info. I’m considering offering recording services for students. I do want to point out that in one of the paragraphs about hiring an engineer, it infers that the engineer should be aware of all schools guidelines. I think that is asking too much. Should it not be the students responsibility to know this information and pass it on to the engineer?

    • I record for music students and I remind them many times to send me those guidelines, or just links before rendering the video (which takes time). We wish that students take responsibilities to send us the requirements, but most of them don’t take it seriously until last minute and I had do emergency changes a few times to fit certain limitations (and I feel bad to charge more). If students don’t tell the engineer where they are sending the files, we can’t help them; I don’t have random free time for emergencies either. I might start to add policy to the contract to spare this trouble. Do your best to get that information!

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