Author: Campbell, Bruce

Open Mic Night at the Local [fill in the blank]
We have seen some passionate discourse about freebie gigs on the Message Board over the years. Any time a prospective proprietor posts a note announcing a Great Opportunity for a band that promises no pay but Great Exposure, there are howls of protest. But there is a free gig that is not so exploitive – and that’s Open Mic Nights.

There’s nothing quite like Open Mic Nights. I don’t think they exploit musicians, because the venues don’t necessarily get a free show that would attract patrons. When I’ve gone to Open Mic events, the audience is about 90% other musicians waiting for their turns. I played an Open Mic Blues Night here in town recently, and I actually relished the “stage fright” of going up on stage to play a form of music I haven’t performed in public for about 15 years.

The format is simple – you sign up and when your turn comes, you get about 10-15 minutes to perform onstage. If there are a lot of acts who sign up that night, that may be the extent of your performance that night. A lot of times, though, in the course of the evening, they’ll cycle through at least twice.

Who goes to these things? Musicians who are new to performing, mostly. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good musicians. There are lots of musicians who just haven’t had the opportunity to perform in front of people much, and Open Mics are a great introduction to the experience. Open Mics are also a good place to debut some new material in a intimate duet or trio formation.

Playing at an Open Mic can be a confidence booster, or it can be a rude awakening! Be prepared to endure some fairly awful performances and also be prepared to be surprised and amazed. Invariably, your turn will come right after some budding superstar and you’ll expected to take the stage even before his applause has died out. Yikes!
Generally one of two things will happen: The musician may discover that the playing and singing that sounded so good when he’s alone at home does not travel well. He or she may discover that they need to work on their skills or their ability to project their talent to a room properly. Or, they will discover that they’re on to something, if the audience reacts well. Unless you have experience in public performance, how can you know how your music will affect others?

Believe it or not, a good appearance at an Open Mic can lead to good gigs. My buddy Red Rick and I played an Open Mic at a coffee house in Benicia, and a fellow there caught our “show” and we have played about 8 well-paying gigs for him since.

Open Mic is a pretty general term, and some events are pretty low-rent. If the venue is a tiny, cramped place, it probably won’t be too much fun. Larger coffee house or other places that offer ample room and perhaps a raised stage and sound system are much more fun, for the musicians and the audience.

I mentioned earlier that the “audience” is mainly other musicians awaiting their turns onstage. The other attendees need to be into it to make it fun. The size of the crowd is not as important as the energy. And since you will part of the audience most of the time, treat them like you’d like to be treated. Don’t talk over their performance, avoid visible wincing at bad notes, and applaud enthusiastically after each song. And above all: HAVE FUN!
Posted:  3/19/2008

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