Open Mic Nights – A Stage For All Musicians
One of the challenges for new performers is finding opportunities to, well, perform. For musicians, if you perform cover versions of popular songs, it’s often easier to get a platform. For artists who want to play original music it’s much harder. Az Samad writes about one place that gives everyone their moment in the spotlight.
An open mic show provides an essential platform in the music ecosystem. It’s usually a show during a weeknight, with a host where the acts are a surprise. Anyone can sign up and play a short set (usually 1-3 songs) to an audience. Regardless of prior experience or current ability, you get a chance to go on stage.
A little local history
Around 2001, Peter Brown and Markiza’s Acoustic Jam shows was one such platform, attracting musicians like Reza Salleh, Qings & Kueens and Tempered Mental. I too was among the earliest performers. Here, in a room at Commonwealth Club, Damansara Heights, original pieces were shared for the first time. The shows may have been small and intimate, but they fuelled the indie music scene.
Joe Kidd’s Unclogged series at No Black Tie was another influential acoustic show, along with Valhalla, Doppelganger Open Mic, Troubaganger, Troubadours and Pete Teo’s Songwriters Round. The last three featured acts and had an open mic segment. I hosted the Open Mic at The Venue, Pavilion that ran from Sept 2012-June 2013.
Now, we have open mics such as Feedback Open Mic and Barlai Open Mic. There are even nightly open mics at Merdekarya and Gaslight Cafe & Music.
Reza Salleh – a name to know
I managed to talk to singer-songwriter and Moonshine Series founder, Reza Salleh. He was one of the musicians who performed to an audience of strangers, of “not family and friends” at Acoustic Jam. Before that, Reza had performed in his school and college events. It was one thing to play for a supportive crowd of people he knew, but when strangers clapped and liked his music, he felt encouraged to do more. Reza turned monthly performances at Acoustic Jam into a personal challenge. He gave himself a deadline to write a new song each month and debuted it at the following Acoustic Jam. Some of these songs became the basis of his 2010 debut album, Realize.
From performer to organiser
Inspired by his positive experiences, Reza started his own series. Feedback Open Mic began as the sister show for the Moonshine Music Series.
Reza had already had some experience hosting open mics. He’d organised his first when he was a student at Monash University. As a residence advisor, he held open mic sessions once a semester from 2002 to 2004. The aim was to cross-promote culture and communication. This experience perhaps helped him to shape his future as an active gig organiser.
Now in its sixth year, Feedback was a rock oriented show at KL Jam Asia, Desa Seri Hartamas. True to the name, the show featured rock acts such as Oddity, Stonebay and Komplot. Later on, Feedback morphed into the open mic show at the then new venue Cloth & Clef at Changkat Bukit Bintang. After Cloth & Clef closed, Feedback found its new home at The Bee, Jaya One and later The Bee, Publika.
Playing it forward
Reza feels that an open mic provides safe platform for young aspiring musicians. Some come to the open mic as audience members then return to perform in future ones.
It is the musicians who keep coming back who grow and start developing their own music, style and identity. In this regard, Reza believes that the open mic should exist as part of an ecosystem. As an organiser of many different events and types of shows, Reza is looking for new acts to feature at his events. Reza feels that while there are a lot of open mics, few feature shows. For Reza, the open mic is good for addressing the first level; the tier preparing acts for higher level shows and festivals.
One open mic-rocosm’s demographics
At Feedback Open Mic at Jaya One, Reza says that the audience is younger, 16- to 25-year-olds. Most come from an English speaking, urban background and occasional Malay crowd. A few keep coming back and these performers will often improve over time. Since the show is a more intimate setting, it attracts acoustic acts rather than full bands. For open mics, it’s easier for one or two people with guitars to start performing together. A band requires more planning and logistics. That being said, it’s common for open mic acts to find future bandmates at these events.
“Open mics are very important, for any kind of scene,” says Reza.
A great equalizer
An open mic is important because it doesn’t discriminate based on experience. One night could be dominated by experienced performers, another by new young performers. Reza notes the importance of the venue and organisers to not exercise selection or deny certain performers in an open mic. Everyone should have the chance to perform.
Reza describes the symbiotic relationship of the open mic with the other shows he organises: “Everything kind of fed each other. When I started organizing shows, I only heard of acts. I had to cold call some people to come and play. So, having the open mic and having that mentality of you know having to develop these acts. It helps. It’s like I’m investing in human capital.”
Find out more about Reza’s Moonshine Series including Feedback Open Mic at https://www.facebook.com/moonshineklmusic/
New to the scene? Get some tips on making a good impression with ARTERI’s Open Mic Night Do’s and Don’ts