Ask A Cabaret Question Wednesday At McElrath Cabaret–How Do You Find Songs For Your Cabaret Show? Join the Conversation!

The great Kaye Ballard singing the Fanny Brice classic, “My Man.”  If you would like to learn more about Ms. Ballard, there are several resources listed at the end of this video, and she has an excellent official website.  Enjoy!


Wednesday is the day of the week when we at McElrath Cabaret will post a cabaret question for the consideration of our readers.


The questions will have something to do with cabaret, in all its many aspects. The question may take the form of a poll, to which we encourage you to respond, or it may be a question posed to the cabaret community, to which you can leave your response in the comments section at the bottom of the page.


We encourage you to send us any cabaret question that you have that you would like us to pose to the group! You can leave a question in the comments section below, or you can email it to us at kjandathenacabaret [at] Just fill in the [at] with the @ symbol—we need to foil the spam bots, don’cha know.


Today’s question is this:  How do you find songs for your cabaret show?


I definitely don’t think there is one “right” way to go about finding appropriate songs for your act, but you will likely use a variety of methods for finding the right songs for your new cabaret show.  These are some of the aspects of song selection that I think about when I am on the search for songs for a set:


  • I look through my long list of songs that I’d like to sing but haven’t had a chance to add to a previous show (Keep a file folder of your song ideas, and when you discover a gem, add it to the file–it makes these times when you need to find a good song easier)
  • I think about the venue where we’ll be performing, and their reputation.  What types of acts have performed there, and what types of material did they use?  Not to be a copycat, but to help narrow the focus down to songs that could be right for you to perform at that venue.
  • I also think about what the audience is like, and what they would enjoy hearing.  If you have repeat customers who come to hear your shows, you’ll want to add several new songs, or they will start to feel like they are being ripped off if you only do the same handful of songs over and over.  (That’s unless you’re Barbra Streisand or Judy Garland or an entertainer of that ilk–then everyone wants to hear your hits!)
  • You will want to look for some standards–familiar favorites that a cabaret audience would recognize.  It makes the audience relax and feel comfortable when they hear something that they already know–they recognize it, and can relate to it in some way.  Your job with these songs is to put your own spin on them in some fashion, through your acting choices primarily and perhaps vocal choices, but my preference is to not get too crazy on re-writing the melody–that is for the jazzers the second time through the song!
  • You want a song with lyrics you understand
  • You will also want some new material–even if you do mostly standards, you will likely want to include a select few newer songs or lesser-done standards with which the audience might not be familiar.  This helps to keep the audience interested, and it also gives you an opportunity to really make a particular song your own–a “signature” song for you.
  • Consider looking outside your regular genres for music–you might be able to put your own unique twist on a rock ballad, for example, even though you typically sing jazz standards.  It all depends upon if the music and lyrics, not as they are usually performed, but how you could perform it, and if the material speaks to you in some way.
Here are some ideas for places to look for songs:


  • Scores from classic Broadway musicals–I have found that the local large-city public library has several for check-out
  • Songbooks by favorite composers and lyricists
  • New songs by composers and lyricists that you like–some cities have showcases where these writers perform their songs, and you can approach the ones that you like to find out about obtaining a copy and performance rights
  • Old songbooks–you are looking for songs by the masters before they became famous.  The Gershwins, Irving Berlin, almost all of them have very early Broadway and non-Broadway musicals, some of which may yield potent songs for a new cabaret show.  
  • CDs of favorite singers
  • Biographies and autobiographies of your favorite composers and lyricists–these often contain handy lists of all the songs composed or written by that person
  • Old sheet music–you never know where this will pop up–I’ve seen it at yard sales, thrift stores, even at farm auctions!
  • Radio stations–online and brick-and-mortar–you might hear something that catches your ear.  You can call the station to find out the name and composer of the piece, and even the label that produced it.
  • The library–this is what the reference librarians are for.  If you know a song title, or a composer, ask for help in finding some songs as well as music CDs for check-out.  They can often direct you to library resources at their home library as well as through interlibrary loans.
  • The Songwriters’ Hall of Fame website also lists all of the works by several famous song writers


So how do you find songs for your cabaret show?  I truly look forward to your joining the conversation with your comments, and any help or suggestions you have on this topic! We value each of our readers very much, and hope to entertain you and give you a place to come and learn more about cabaret.


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ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party is still going strong–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog or cabaret website link from now through Thursday.  Link is below.


Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:

Mondays:  Cabaret Soiree Cabaret Blog Link Party

Tuesdays:  Cabaret Tip Tuesday

Wednesdays:  Ask A Cabaret Question

Thursdays:  Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer

Fridays:  Cabaret Through Time

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About Athena at McElrath Cabaret

Athena McElrath is an entertainer with a love for theatre and singing. She enjoys delving in the area of historical cabaret, researching the singers and clubs that were in business from before 1920 to the present, in New York and beyond.
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4 Responses to Ask A Cabaret Question Wednesday At McElrath Cabaret–How Do You Find Songs For Your Cabaret Show? Join the Conversation!

  1. Karen says:

    Hey great question! I have several young students and they always open my eyes to new or lesser known singers! One of my current faves is a Pink song, I just did it for a wedding and it is beautiful! I NEVER would have thought I would sing any of her material but that’s the key, I guess. Keeping an open mind!

    • Glad you like the question, and thank you so much for leaving a comment! I will now have to go listen to some Pink, because in all honesty I haven’t heard any of her music. When I was teaching, I learned quite a bit from my students as well! Thank you for participating!

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