General Rules of Thumb
Before I get into the specifics, I'd like to go over some general rules of thumb. The first of which is that you need three different cuts of each song in your book. A full song cut, a 32-bar cut and a 16-bar cut. Dont be fooled, a full song cut and a full song are not always the same. If your song is particularly long and repetitive, you may want to consider cutting a verse or two.
The average 16-bar cut is 45 seconds to a minute, while the average 32-bar cut is 1 minute and 45 seconds to 2 minutes.
A good cut of a song does two things. It shows your vocal range, and it tells a story. Make sure your cuts meet both criteria.
Everyone has a diffferent opinion about cutting music. Some say that 16 bars means 16 bars, no exceptions. Others will tell you that as long as it meets the time limit, it doesnt really matter how many bars there are. Consider both opinions and act accordingly.
Musical Theatre Songs
When it comes to cutting Musical Theatre songs, its always a good idea to start at the end and count your way back. The end of the song is often the most vocally impressive while also being the most juicy acting bit. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, so if you feel like your cut at the end of the song doesnt work, consider the bridge or a particularly good chorus.
As always, make sure there is an arc or a journey for your character. If your character ends the cut in the same state that they started in, maybe you need a new cut.
Pop and Rock repertoire is always a little tricky to cut. The repetitive nature of most pop songs tends to ruin the whole "arc and journey" thing I just talked about. Proceed with caution.
If the song is recognizable, do a verse and a chorus or a chorus and the bridge. Otherwise, it may be benificial to start at the begining. It really depends on the song and what you want to acomplish with it.
As I said before, try to stay way from repetition. Remember the two criteria of a good cut.
Once you have a good cut in mind, then comes the actual marking of the music. Mark it clearly and simply. Leave no room for error or confusion. I like to mark clear brackets with a colored marker or highlighter. If you have any wierd key or meter changes in your cut, it may be a good idea to highlight those as well.
But what if my cut jumps from one part to another? Then you literally cut and paste the music to a blank page of paper, then re-copy it so it's clean.
Hopefully this was a clear guide to cutting music. Keep in mind that every song is different and if the cut doesnt feel right, you can always find another. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me a DM on instagram @emmaimholz.