I’ve now been to three open mic nights. This, I know, in no way makes me an expert of how to do an open mic, but I have started writing down a few notes that, I hope, could be helpful to newcomers. Since I have been performing music, and not dancing, poetry, comedy, or rants, the tips will be geared towards that medium, but pretty much all of these tips could be applied to any medium.
When Going to an Open Mic, Do:
1.) Call ahead: Every venue is a little different. One of the places I went to had microphones, amps, a drum set, and back-up singers. Another place I went to didn’t even have a stage or a microphone. It helps to go into a situation knowing what to expect. If they don’t have a microphone, it’s best to give yourself time to practice projecting your voice (though, usually when they don’t have a microphone, it’s because the venue is going to be smaller and quieter, so the audience will have an easier time hearing you). Another reason to call ahead is to learn how the sign-up process works. A venue may say that the open mic starts at 8:00 PM. However, as I learned the first time out, this meant that sign ups started at 8:00 PM. The actual performances didn’t start until about 75 minutes later. Other places may start the performances at the exact time listed, meaning you’ll need to arrive at least 30 minutes beforehand to reserve a spot. Many open mics may also have a certain time limit. Based on what I’ve seen, the average tends to be about 10-15 minutes, though it really depends on how many performers show up that night.
2.) Practice: This is probably a given, but it’s pretty crucial. Most likely, you will have a few quickened heartbeats (or, in my case, many, many quickened heartbeats) before you step up on that stage. You don’t want to be worrying about the audience’s reaction while also trying to remember your act.
3.) Drink something shortly before you go on: If your act involves using your voice, having some water or tea can help soothe your vocal chords. Calming teas may also help you relax, which can lead to better performances.
4.) Stay for as much as the open mic as you can: Since a lot of open mic nights are during the weekday, it can sometimes be hard to stay for the whole thing if you need to go to work the next morning. But, for those who are going on last, it’s nice to know that not everyone has left the building before they have even played the opening chord. Having the support of other performers can be really nice. Plus, you might get to see some great acts.
5.) Say something before or after your act: This can be a hard one, especially if you are already full of nerves and just want to get through your performance. But giving a quick speech, either about who you are or the personal meaning behind your piece, can help the audience connect more to you and to your art, and that’s never a bad thing.
When Going to an Open Mic, Don’t:
1.) Prepare too much: I know I just said to practice, and you should, but there is a certain point where you need to let it go. While it is important to know what you are doing, practicing too much can sometimes rob you of the emotional edge that is crucial to making your piece come alive.
2.) Get Wasted Before Your Performance: We’ve all seen karaoke night at the bar. Please don’t turn into that.
3.) Anticipate That You Will Mess Up: If you keep on telling yourself, “Don’t trip” or “Don’t mess up that high note”, you will probably end up tripping and messing up that high note. If you start having these thoughts, turn them around. Instead of picturing yourself giving a lousy performance, imagine yourself doing everything right.
4.) Stop the Show After One Mistake: As they say in show business, the show must go on. Everyone messes up. There are plenty of videos you can find online of professional, sometimes legendary, performers who have fallen down, sang a note way out of key, or forgotten the lyrics. It happens, but it doesn’t matter. If anything, it just makes other performers feel better about themselves. In all honesty, especially during an open mic night, most people are not going to even notice when you mess up. Unless, of course, you stop the set, throw down the microphone, yell, “Son of a bitch, I messed up!”, and walk off the stage. Then they might notice.
5.) Treat These Tips As Rules: In the end, everyone has to do what they feel is right. If you want to brush past all of these tips, feel free to. You can come on as a late, dehydrated, nervous, drunk performer and you could be a total hit.
Photo Courtesy of jantoo cartoons.