Prepare and Succeed at Open Mic Night
Many musicians have their opinions about open mic nights. Some don't support them because the artists receive no monetary compensation for their performance. Others find the opportunity a valuable tool to hone their skills as artists. But, let's face reality. If you are a musician, songwriter, and/or performer, you have more than likely played at an open mic night. Most of the major artists out there selling out stadiums probably began performing at this type of venue. Open mics are a important part of the learning process and they give us a chance to gain some stage experience and share our music.
There are websites dedicated to listing all the open mic nights in your area and nationwide. If you are traveling on the road, it is easy to locate one. But, as a performer there are certain things you should know before putting your name on the sign-up sheet.
1) Do your research before showing up to the venue
Some open mic nights are genre specific, but most are not. Make sure before you play your classical masterpiece, you are not at a grunge metal open mic. This is the same for a simple plug and play venue. Don't bring your entire band, including a drummer to an open mic venue that is set up for one or two artists. Plus, if you are limited to only 2 or 3 songs your set up time just used up your performance time. Simply go on-line and check out the event. Call the venue hosting the open mic and get the contact information for whoever coordinates the open mic and ask them questions.
2) Be prepared when your name is called
If you haven't heard this before - take note. Tune up before you go up! I have personally set up and coordinated over 200 open mic nights with our songwriting organization. Every night there is always the person who is unprepared, walks to the stage, and begins to tune their guitar. We realize changes in the temperature, new guitar strings, or any other factor can cause guitars to go out of tune. But, if you know where you are on the list and the sound person gives you a 5 or 10 minute warning you are next, why wait to tune on the stage? Cell phones are a whole other issue. Before you go on the stage, there is a function on your cell phone called mute or vibrate. Use it. I have actually witnessed a person go on stage, her phone rang, she stopped and answered the phone, and carried on a short conversation with the caller. You can't make this stuff up.
3) Introduction to the Audience
Before your first song, make a connection with your audience. They may still be talking because of the break in the action, so bring them back to the stage. Introduce yourself with the first song, give the title, and a brief background on the song's creation if it is an original. Remember the 20 second rule! I have dealt with some talkers that would go on and on explaining every aspect of the song. Let the song speak for itself. The more you talk, the more time you take away from others waiting to perform. But, give the title and background with each song. It will help you connect with the listeners and make them vested in your performance.
4) Time is Precious When Performing
When you take the stage and begin your performance, know your time limit. If you are at an open mic and you can perform 3 songs during your time slot, keep those songs under 4 minutes each including the introduction. An 8 minute original or cover song cuts your performance time down to 2 songs and the audience will begin to lose interest as the song progresses. In addition, the longer the song, the more time you are taking from the performers who follow you. I have heard of some open mics that limit time slots to 10-12 minutes and once you hit it, they will cut you off - whether you are still performing or not. So, be courteous and have respect for the other artists there to play.
5) Support the Venue and Other Musicians
Many businesses are realizing the advantage of hosting live musical performances. The more successful the event, the more people will come and support local artists. Again, you can argue the businesses are profiting from open mic performers. But, if the performance leads to a paying gig for the artist - it is a win/win. As musicians at any live music event, we must support the business by purchasing food and/or drink. Purchasing power is a great thing. This will show the business how important live music can be to their bottom line. In addition to supporting the business, we must support each other. If possible, arrive at the beginning of the open mic session and stay until the end. Provide support and encouragement to those performing at the event. It's hard to get up on a stage and put yourself out there in front of a crowd of people you may or may not know. Someone once told me - friends don't let friends play to an empty room.
6) Make Connections and Network
I make it a point at each one of our events to walk around and talk quietly to other artists. Whether I know them or not, each one is an important part of the evening. As musicians, we must overcome the habit of sitting in the corner and waiting for our name to be called up to play. Networking is a strategic part of the music business. Be the person that goes around the room and talks to other artists. BE RESPECTFUL!! If you must carry on a conversation, keep it low as to not disturb other patrons or those on the stage playing. Always have a business card to pass out when you make a connection with another artist. You could meet some great people by putting yourself out there and this meeting could lead to a co-write situation, jam session, or musical collaboration for future performances. You never know who may be sitting in the audience.