You've been playing your instrument for a few months now and you're ready to show the world what you've got.You may not be ready for stadiums, but you figure your local coffee shop's Wednesday night Open Mic Night is a good place to start. But before you head out the door on your way to stardom, here are 7 things you should keep in mind at an open mic night in order to avoid embarrassment, make friends, and maybe even get invited back to play again.
Show Up EarlyMost open mic nights will have a sign-up sheet or a person that each musician needs to sign up with in order to play. Often there will be a sign-up time designated and they won't take any new sign-ups once the performances begin. Best to show up early and get to know the person running the show, the other musicians, and the members of the audience. If you can make your first impression (and make a good one) off-stage, people are more apt to like you on-stage. Even if you're not very good...
Bring Your Own InstrumentUnless otherwise stated (and drummers, this usually doesn't apply to you), you will be expected to bring your own instrument. Many open mic nights have a host that may allow you to borrow their instrument, but don't count on it. Bring your own and have it primed and ready to play. New strings, your capo ready, and the strap attached are all good things to take care of before you get to the establishment. The more professional you seem, the more people will view you as a professional.
Tune Up!Another lesson in preparedness: Tune your instrument! After you arrive and sign up, give your instrument an initial tune up to get you in the ballpark. Then when it's your turn, quickly make whatever last minute tuning adjustments are necessary and hit the stage. What you want to avoid is a marathon tuning session that leaves a dead space of 15 minutes between the previous performer and you. And don't make the first notes you play on stage for tuning. Again, act professional, be prepared and you will be perceived that way.
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Have a Game PlanThis is important. Know what music you're going to play.The time you'll get at an open mic night will vary wildly, but often you'll be allotted 3-4 songs or 20 minutes (or something similar). Make a list of your 5-6 best songs, then designate which of those you'd be willing to drop as time dictates. Always have too much music to play as opposed to not enough. Then, put the tunes in the order you plan to play them and write it down. I can't stress that enough: write it down. Nobody wants to watch you sit up there and think about what song to play next. Those are precious performance minutes slipping away! A few more helpful hints about your set-list: start with something uptempo, only play songs that you really know (use lyric/chord cheat sheets if you have to), and end strong.
Don't Make ExcusesIf I had a nickel for every time I've heard a performer at an open mic say, "I just learned this song today, so I'm not sure if it's any good," I'd have a lot more nickels. :-) When you preface your song with an excuse, you've instantly lowered your perceived professionalism and you may not be able to recover your audience.
Don't Leave EarlyThis rule requires a little more tact. Just because you're playing at an open mic night doesn't mean you need to stay all 5 hours as everyone plunks out their tunes. But, don't be the person that walks off the stage, loudly gathers their gear, and jets out the door. At the minimum, stay for the entirety of the next performer's set. It's only courteous to listen to others as you would have them listen to you. Remember, it's their big moment in the spotlight too. So be a good audience member.
Have Fun!All this talk about professionalism doesn't mean you should act like a snob. Be gracious with your host. Be engaging with your audience. Be open with your peers. They all constitute your local music community and if you want to have more than a one night stand as a local musician, you're going to be playing for, with, and to all of these people again. Be the one that everyone remembers as being wildly easy to get along with.
Armed with this info, you cannot fail. You'll only get out of open mic nights what you put into them, so make sure you give it your best and have fun!
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