Finding contemporary repertoire for ourselves and/or our students can be difficult. We’re always looking for new, ‘edgey’ songs that fit our personality, voice type, acting skills, ‘type’, etc. We also want repertoire that everyone and their brother isn’t currently singing. The goal of this post is to provide some resources and ideas for how to go about finding the perfect contemporary songs. Many of these tips will be helpful for finding other types of repertoire as well!
1: Know your Broadway doppelgängers.
Everyone is a unique performer. However, finding famous musical theatre performers who both look and sound like you can be very beneficial (especially when it comes to finding rep. and potential roles!). The best way to do this is to ask for suggestions from teachers, friends, colleagues, etc. who have seen you perform and know your personality well. Ideally, they’ll be able to give you a few names of performers you remind them of. They might also be able to give you a few song/role suggestions as well. Once you find your ‘doppelgängers’, you can search online for songs and roles those actors have performed in the past (research their understudies and replacements as well!). This method can provide quite a bit of new repertoire for you to start learning, but make sure to only ask for suggestions from people you absolutely trust!
2. Research composers.
When you find a contemporary song you like, don’t stop there! Research the song’s composer and try to find out as much about his/her works as you can. There’s a good chance that if you like one of his/her songs, you’ll enjoy more of them as well. Also, make a list of contemporary composers you find in your research and listen to samples of each one to figure out which songwriters you enjoy the most. Finally, look to see if the songs you like are part of larger works (musicals, song cycles, etc.). If they’re stand-alone songs, composers will often offer them in multiple keys on their websites. This has become increasingly popular for contemporary musical theatre songwriters to do because it allows their songs to be performed by multiple genders and voice types.
3. Utilize video/audio streaming sites.
YouTube and Spotify are both free online resources that can be extremely helpful for discovering contemporary repertoire. If you find a performance of a song that you like on YouTube, click the video’s author to see what other videos that person has uploaded. Also, look at the ‘related videos’ column to see if any of the suggested videos there might be interesting to you. A similar approach can be taken with songs you find on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc. To save you a little research time, here are a few exceptional YouTube channels that contain a TON of contemporary musical theatre performances:
(Note: Also look for YouTube channels run by the songwriters themselves)
4. Go to the experts.
There are online sites and communities solely devoted to contemporary musical theatre repertoire. Here are some great sites to check out:
New Musical Theatre
The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers
Playbill Picks: The Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers You Should Know, Part One
Playbill Picks: The Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers You Should Know, Part Two
These sites provide some great overviews and ‘top song’ lists for you to sift through to find excellent, new repertoire. Also, consider joining Facebook groups and communities devoted to musical theatre. They are often filled with experts who are willing to assist you. The groups can be a bit difficult to find, but the easiest way is just to search ‘musical theatre’ in your search bar on Facebook and see what comes up under ‘groups.’
5. Seek additional resources.
Now we move onto songbooks. The main problem with songbooks is that they are full of repertoire chosen by a small group of people and then utilized by many, many others. As a result, it can be difficult to find unique repertoire in songbooks because so many others are using them as well. Also, they usually don’t reflect the most recent music out there right now. The best songbooks are often composer compilations devoted to one composer at a time (like this one). These types of books will provide a TON of rarely performed gems. Here are some other general songbook suggestions that are also worth looking into (in conjunction with YouTube or Spotify to find recordings):
Broadway Today (Hal Leonard)
Broadway Pop/Rock (Hal Leonard)
The Contemporary Singing Actor Series (Hal Leonard)
The Off-Broadway Songbook (Hal Leonard)
The BMI Workshop Songbook (BMI)
Best of NMT: Male Audition Songs (NMT)
Best of NMT: Male Audition Songs, Vol. 2 (NMT)
Best of NMT: Female Audition Songs (NMT)
Best of NMT: Female Audition Songs, Vol. 2 (NMT)
Best of NMT: Duets (NMT)
The NMT Launch Concert Songbook (NMT)
Finally, if you live in an area that has a lot of musical theatre performances, GO TO THEM! Seeing live performances is the single best way to discover new repertoire!