Have you been working tirelessly at perfecting your vocal technique and stage presence? Are you finally ready to showcase those skills in front of a real live audience? If so, Open Mic Nights are a great place to start! If you think you’re ready to make the plunge into the Open Mic scene, keep reading… this is a great start to everything you’ll need to know!

WHAT EXACTLY IS AN OPEN MIC?

It’s a live show where singers and songwriters perform, and can look a number of different ways. They’re held in bars/pubs, coffee houses, or even churches or wreck centers. There may be a stage, or participants could be tucked into a little corner of the room. They could be all musical, or some might even include dance, monologue or spoken word.

There’s generally an MC (or host) who’ll introduce the talent, and this person often handles the sign up & allocation of time slots.  Yep! You’ve gotta sign up! Open mics span a certain time frame, therefore only so many acts are allowed in the show. It’s best to check the night’s promo in advance to know how early you’ll need to arrive to get on the list! The PA System & Microphone are provided, but that’s about it. If you’re lucky, they’ll have a piano or keyboard available. If that’s your instrument of choice, always check ahead of time. You’ll want to bring anything else you might need, but keep it simple…this isn’t a full blown concert.

I highly recommend attending the open mic as an AUDIENCE MEMBER first. The more you know about how it flows, what kind of performers show up & how the room sounds and feels, the better off you’ll be when it’s your turn.

HOW MANY SONGS DO I GET TO SING?

Formats vary from venue to venue, but you can usually expect to perform 1-3 songs OR have a 10 minute slot to fill. Again, if you check it out prior to participating, you’ll know exactly how that particular show runs.

WHAT SHOULD I SING?

Keep in mind that Open Mic Nights are NOT karaoke. They’re for aspiring musicians who are most often showcasing ORIGINAL MUSIC, not cover tunes. If you haven’t written any songs yet, and covers are your only option, double check the venue is cool with covers ahead of time — and then you’ll need to think about creating special arrangements or versions of the songs to make them unique and stand out. Don’t show up trying to recreate a song just like the original artist. The audience can hear the real deal on spotify & will not likely be receptive to an underwhelming copy.

For inspiration on how to make cover tunes unique, check out Jack Garrett’s version of “Crazy In Love” by Beyonce:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6tYUFLU59g

Or Milky Chance’s version of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rL_r4v4ROpo

Open Mic With Guitar Accompaniment

Songbird Studios Performance

WHAT’S MY ACCOMPANIMENT?

Again, Open Mics aren’t karaoke. You can’t get up and sing to a track. If you don’t play an instrument to accompany your song, your best bet is to partner up with someone who can play for you. If you don’t know any players, mingling at local open mics is a great place to meet them! As recommended earlier, attending as an audience member can be super helpful. Compliment the musicians you enjoy and chat them up! It’s a great way to expand your network and get inspired!

HOW SHOULD I PREPARE?

Practice. Practice. Practice. Know your song(s) inside out, so that you’re not focused on the technical stuff when it comes time to perform. You want the freedom to fully express yourself when you’re on that stage, so make sure you’ve done the work ahead of time! Memorize the lyrics (and chords if you’re playing) & know the arrangement. Even though it’s a laid back event, having papers on stage looks tacky…

SHOULD I INVITE FRIENDS?

That’s up to you! Some people enjoy a squad to cheer them on, and bringing a group of peeps to the bar can surely help generate revenue to keep the open mic night profitable and ensure its future. Most times, there’s no cover charge, so the venue relies on food/beverage sales to keep these things afloat. However, if performing in front of friends makes you more nervous, then keep it on the down low until you’re more comfortable!

DO I HAVE TO TALK TO THE AUDIENCE?

Short answer is no. You can just let the music speak for you. Long answer is, yes….it’s a great time to try out some super basic stage banter. Have a couple one liners prepared to frame your time on stage. For example: “I’m xxxx, and this is a song I wrote called xxxxxx. I hope you like it.”  You should always thank your audience at the end, and it’s also a great idea to thank the host or give a shout out to the other performers of the night.

WHAT SHOULD I DO THE DAY OF THE SHOW?

Drink lots of water throughout the day, so you’re hydrated in advance. Drinking water right before you sing or during the set just makes you have to pee. Get to the venue EARLY, so that you can get your name on the list and have time to chill. The last thing you want is to be in a rush…this will just add to any anxiety that you might already have. Bring everything you need. Like I said earlier, only a PA and a mic are provided, so you’ll want to bring your instrument and possibly a small amp to accompany it. Keep it simple, but set yourself up for success in the room.

ARE YOU READY?

Here are a couple of awesome sources to find local open mics!

https://foursquare.com/top-places/san-francisco/best-places-open-mic

http://www.joerizzo.com/openmics/

Now, GO GET ‘EM SONGBIRDS!!

Written By: Christina Stogsdill, Associate Vocal Coach; Songbird Studios

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