Open Mic Night – Everything You Need to Know

If you’re someone who’s itching to step up to the stage for the first time, a seasoned musician looking for new opportunities, or simply a live music enthusiast searching for a night out, attending an open mic night is an experience you won’t want to miss. With open mic nights happening in almost every town or city, there’s bound to be one near you.

Understanding Open Mic Nights

An open mic night is an event typically held at a pub, bar, restaurant, or coffeehouse where both amateur and professional performers are invited to showcase their talent for a short period. The name “open mic” comes from the idea that anyone attending can take the stage, regardless of their skill level or experience.

Usually, there will be a designated performance area surrounded by chairs for other performers and audience members to enjoy the live performances. Some open mic nights provide amplification with multiple microphones and a PA system, while others opt for a more intimate and acoustic setup.

These events typically last a few hours, allowing each performer to have at least one opportunity to showcase their skills and giving the audience a chance to enjoy a diverse range of performances.

Securing a Slot at an Open Mic Night

As the name suggests, the microphone is open to all performers on the night of the event. However, it’s recommended to contact the organizer or host in advance to request a slot. Open mic nights are often popular, especially in cities with thriving live music scenes, so reaching out beforehand ensures you have a confirmed spot.

The host will provide you with a list of available slots, and depending on how early you contact them, you may have a few options to choose from. Generally, performers are allowed to choose only one slot to ensure fairness, but if there are still empty slots on the night itself, other performers may be invited to fill them.

open mic

Choosing Songs to Cover

Covering other people’s songs at an open mic night is generally acceptable. However, it’s wise to avoid playing overly popular songs that are likely to be chosen by other performers. No one wants to hear the same song performed multiple times in one evening, no matter how well it’s played. Some popular songs that are frequently covered include “Wonderwall” by Oasis, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, and “Sex On Fire” by Kings of Leon, among others.

Before performing, it’s a good idea to check the open mic night’s rules regarding covers. You can find this information on the event’s website or social media pages or by reaching out to the host directly. Most open mic nights do not have restrictions on cover songs, but it’s always better to be sure before taking the stage.

Showcasing Original Songs

For songwriters, open mic nights are an excellent platform to test out new material and gauge audience reactions. Some open mic nights may have an “originals only” policy or even dedicate specific nights to original compositions. These events encourage creativity within the local music community and provide an opportunity for songwriters to grow.

When performing an original song, keep in mind that the audience may not be familiar with it. To win over new fans, it’s crucial to deliver your original song with the utmost skill and passion.

open mic equipment

Bringing Your Own Instrument

It’s common for performers to bring their own instruments to open mic nights. However, some venues provide a “house guitar” and may even have other instruments available for use, such as bass guitars, keyboards, or drum kits.

If you play a portable instrument like a guitar, feel free to bring your own. Playing an instrument you’re familiar with can enhance your performance and eliminate the risk of accidentally damaging someone else’s instrument.

If you play a wind or reed instrument like a saxophone or clarinet, it’s best to avoid sharing instruments with other players for hygienic reasons.

Using Backing Tracks

Not everyone plays an instrument, and that shouldn’t deter you from performing. If you perform as a duo or group, having a musical partner who can accompany you is ideal. However, if that’s not an option, using a backing track can work just as well.

Before performing with a backing track, it’s essential to contact the host of the open mic night in advance. While most venues can accommodate the use of a backing track by connecting your phone or device to their audio system, it’s best to confirm that they have the necessary equipment.

Ensure you have the backing track ready on your smartphone or mobile device. For original songs, you may already have an instrumental version available. If you’re covering someone else’s song, browse YouTube for free karaoke-style backing tracks.

pianist open mic

Performace Tips: Lyrics and Timing

Memorizing all the lyrics may not be expected, especially for new performers. Most open mic nights provide a music stand for performers to place their lyric sheets on. If you use a tablet or similar device to read lyrics, check if the organizer has an attachment to connect your device to a microphone stand.

To ensure a smooth performance, follow these guidelines:

If using a lyric sheet:

  • Securely fasten or peg the sheets to the music stand.
  • Ensure clear legibility of the lyrics.
  • Title each sheet and arrange them in the correct order.

If using a tablet or similar device:

  • Safely attach the tablet to the stand.
  • Ensure the device is charged.
  • Have an internet connection or the lyrics saved offline.
  • Adjust the backlight to prevent the screen from turning off.

While having as much memorized as possible boosts confidence and minimizes reliance on external factors, it’s understandable to use lyric sheets or devices, especially for new performers.

Time Limit at an Open Mic Night

Each open mic event has its own rules, but generally, performers are given a time limit of three songs or around 15 minutes. This allows enough time for performers to shine while also giving other participants a fair chance to perform.

During your set, avoid rushing through songs, as this can result in gaps at the end of your performance. Additionally, respect your allotted time even if the audience is enjoying your performance. Honoring the schedule ensures fairness for all performers.

Occasionally, after all attendees have performed, there may be an opportunity for additional performances. If you have an extra song or a few minutes of music, consider sticking around until the end to showcase your talents again.

Etiquette and Behavior

While there may not be strict formal guidelines, basic politeness and respect are expected at open mic nights. Arrive on time for the event, or, at the very least, before your scheduled slot, as being late can disrupt the schedule and inconvenience other performers.

Open mic nights can vary in atmosphere, so observe the room and adjust accordingly. Some nights might require a quieter audience, while others may be more relaxed. Be mindful of what other performers are doing and avoid distracting behavior.

After your own performance, it’s best to stay for a few more slots to show support for fellow performers. If you must leave during someone else’s performance, do so discreetly and avoid walking in front of the stage.

Beyond Music: A Variety of Performances

Open mic nights offer more than just musical performances. While music remains a central focus, you may also encounter spoken word poetry, live dramatic readings, or stand-up comedy. If you’re interested in exploring other forms of entertainment, an open mic night is a great starting point.

Networking and Potential Gigs

Attending an open mic night presents opportunities for networking and potentially securing future gigs. Venue owners and other performers often attend these events, making it an ideal environment to connect with like-minded individuals.

Consider joining the open mic night’s mailing list or following their social media group. This allows you to stay connected with the local music community and learn about upcoming gigs and support slot opportunities.

By putting yourself out there and showcasing your talents, you never know where you might find a supportive collaborator or catch the attention of someone who can offer you a gig.

In conclusion, open mic nights are a fantastic way to embrace the thrill of performing and connect with fellow musicians and artists. Follow the guidelines provided above to ensure you make the most out of your open mic experience. Let your voice be heard, and who knows, it may be the first step towards a bright musical future.

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