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Before the mic: Do’s and don’ts for performers at an open mic night (part 1)

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Want to perform at your first open mic but don’t know what to expect? Or rather, don’t know what’s expected of you? Long-time musician, composer and open mic night organiser Az Samad has advice on how to best prepare for and behave at these events. 

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already: mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out”

                                                                                Lose Yourself – Eminem

Hip hop artist Eminem was super nervous for his first rap battle in the semi-biographical film 8 Mile. This is something that many performers can relate to. On an open mic night, this is one of the many scenarios that a performer can experience. The beauty of an open mic night is that anyone can sign-up and perform. However, if it’s your first time playing at one, you might not know what to do or expect.

DON'T get caught unprepared

DON’T get caught unprepared

In this two-part series, I share some do’s and don’ts so that you, the host and the audience have a great open mic experience.

General rules for good behavior

Whether you are a performer or an audience member, open mic is a lot more enjoyable if you:

  1. Don’t talk when others are performing
  2. Don’t simply appear, perform, then go home immediately
  3. Are friendly, reasonable and respectful to the host, venue staff and fellow performers
  4. Don’t bring in outside food and drinks to a venue that relies on F&B sales to make money

This last one is a lament of poetry open mic organizer, Melizarani Selva. She says, “Featured acts and open mic acts bringing in drinks and food from 7-11 into a gig at a café, restaurant or other venue with F&B. Lack of support to the venue by the acts especially sets a terrible example to the audience members who think it’s totally acceptable. This lack of support ultimately leads the closure of event venues.”

So basically rule one of good behavior for open mic is the same as it is for everything else: Don’t be a douche. Now let’s talk about you as a performer and start with preparation. What should you do (and not do) before you go on stage?

Before the event starts

Open mic is about more than being prepared musically. Way before you step up to the mic,

Don’t:

  1. Forget to check if there’s a dress code for the venue. Some venues have strict dress codes and will not let you in if you are wearing shorts, slippers, etc.
  2. Come late. Or rather, don’t arrive late and then complain if you don’t get a slot. Especially if you’ve never been to a particular open mic and you’re eager to perform, don’t leave this to chance! I’ve met many performers who feel entitled to perform just because they showed up. The truth is you need to show you’re serious and plan accordingly. People are always watching and if your attitude is negative, you may close future opportunities without even realising it.
  3. Borrow equipment if you can help it. This means prepare to bring your own guitar, keyboard, strings, tuner, capo and cables. Remember, using your own gear makes it possible for you to perform at your best ability.

DO arrive early

DO arrive early

Do:

  1. Plan to arrive early to sign up
  2. Dress appropriately for your style of music and the venue
  3. Tell you family and friends to come and support you
  4. Bring a tuner, your own cables, extra strings for your guitar etc.
  5. Make sure your equipment works (pickups, guitar)
  6. For anyone playing acoustic guitar, if possible do use an electro-acoustic instrument with a pick up system. It’s easier to plug and play than to mic up the guitar for most open mic venues.

Right before your set

DO tune your own instruments

DO tune your own instruments

Congratulations, you got a slot! Now just a couple of things to remember before stepping onto the stage,

Don’t:

  1. Don’t get someone else to tune your instrument, learn to tune your instrument yourself

Do:

  1. Get all your gear ready to bring on stage with you
  2. Warm up your voice and tune your guitar

That’s not it, of course. There are things to do (and not do) on stage besides sounding good. Watch out for those in the second part of this article coming up next week.

 

Did you miss part two of this article? Read it here. Read what else he has to say about open mic in his article Open Mic Nights: A Stage for All Musicians.

 

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Az Samad
Az Samad

Having performed in the United States, Europe and Asia, guitarist-composer-educator Az Samad has also appeared on 22 CDs, including his 11 solo releases.