Open mic nights, AKA open stages, are a lot of fun. They can range from from the very professional ones in Nashville, to a casual night in a downtown bar. For an unpaid performance, there are quite a few ways that separate the amateurs from the artists. This article will try to cover most of them.
Be “on” as soon as you are within a block of the venue. If someone’s artist persona is a well-mannered country sweetheart, she should not be shoving people out of her way to get the spot she wants. Even once leaving the bar, anyone from the event might be out on a cigarette break, and could potentially hear her “breaking character.”
Treat the staff well. Get to know the owner of the venue and the servers. Even if they don’t immediately offer your folk duo a paid gig after you finish, it’s a good connection to have, as well as decency.
Compliment specific parts of people’s songs. One of the best things about these sort of events is that we’re playing to other musicians, as opposed to bar-goers trying to get with someone, or worse, the restaurant crowd. That means that compliments should be free-flowing and sincere, artist to artist. Instead of saying “great job” or “you did well,” say something specific you loved the most about someone’s original song.
Network. Depending on the event, you might have to bring business cards. Even if you don’t, make a point of talking to other artists and forming connections.
At least order a drink. Friendly reminder that venues host open mic nights as a way to get people into the door. The simple act of ordering a soft drink after you perform will make you much more likeable to the bar staff you were so nice to earlier. I sometimes will order nachos to share with my table of performers.
Don’t go on if you’re too drunk. On the flip side of that, if your singer friend has had a drink (or ten) too many, do them (and the rest of the bar) a favour and convince them to forfeit their turn. Not remembering the lyrics to a song you wrote is one thing, embarrassing oneself under a literal spotlight is another.
Please introduce yourself to the audience. You may be sharing the stage with other performers tonight, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care about you. Say your name during your set, and yell out a social media handle, if that’s your thing.
Don’t make excuses about your music. How many times have you had to sit through a talented artist mumbling “here’s my song. It’s okay, I guess. I just finished writing it this afternoon. Let me know if you don’t hate it…”? It’s annoying! Serious self-deprecation doesn’t look good on performers. We came out tonight because you’re good. You don’t have to go on about how your song is the best one we’ll ever hear, but an objective story would be nice.
Stay within the time limits. The sign-up sheet usually has a time on each line – maybe in minutes, maybe 2-3 songs. And when they say 2-3 songs, don’t let your friend come off as really obnoxious with his avant-garde 20 minute masterpiece… as the first song. They mean 10 minutes, including set-up and tear-down. Keep it rolling.
Don’t leave as soon as your early set is finished. If you’ve got other commitments, that’s understandable, But don’t make a big demand to go on first, and then leave as soon as your done, not thanking the venue or talking to anyone. Happens pretty rarely, but I thought I should state it.
Don’t expect to be “discovered.” Very rarely in 2017 does an unknown singer-songwriter play their first open stage event, and ta-da, a record label CEO sitting in the back row wants to sign them, right now. Have a positive attitude about making friends and learning confidence, and let anything else happen from there.
Treat this like a performance. Dress up, have a positive attitude and have fun. Open mic nights are great places to try out new songs or performance ideas, and make new friends and connections.