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Ready? Set: Do’s and don’ts for performers at an open mic night (part 2)

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In part one of these open mic dos and donts, professional musician/composer and open mid night organizer Az Samad wrote about preparing for your set. Here in part two he writes about those little things that you should do on stage and immediately after.

When I reached out to friends who often attend open mics, I found we shared some of the sentiments. Basically, it’s important to realize the open mic is still a show and to respect the audience.

“Also, if you mess up a performance, keep going, move on. Smile if you can, people are more receptive to mistakes if you grin it away. Don’t spend the remaining time onstage looking upset – it’s still a show,” says Lainie Yeoh.

DO get to know your organizer and fellow performers

DO get to know your organizer and fellow performers

Photographer and frequent gig-goer Tang Chun Cheah says, “Performers holding their cellphones and repeatedly glancing at it for lyrics is a major turnoff for me. I’d rather a musician forget his/her lines and improvise than look like they didn’t rehearse at all. At the very least, use a music stand.”

So here is my (our) list of things to do and not do…

On stage 

Do:

  1. Set up as quickly as you can, don’t waste everyone’s time by taking 10 minutes just to set up
  2. Respect the song and time limits you are given
  3. Keep song introductions to a reasonable duration
  4. Perform to your best ability and enjoy your time on the stage
  5. Thank the organizer, sound engineer and the venue – after all, they don’t have to provide you with this opportunity to perform, but they do it anyway!

DON'T take too much time setting up - the audience is waiting to hear you sing and other performers are waiting for their turn.

DON’T take too much time setting up – the audience is waiting to hear you sing and other performers are waiting for their turn.

Don’t:

  1. Call your first song a soundcheck song as a sneaky way to sing an extra number
  2. Cheat and perform a 3-4 song medley to beat the song limit
  3. Be upset (or at least don’t show it!) if you make a mistake during your performance
  4. Read the chords or lyrics from your cellphone
  5. Think you’re a rock star – on the open mic stage, everyone is the same
  6. Destroy or damage any gear on stage or at the venue

After (but also before) your slot: 

This is just a list of do’s that will make organizers and fellow performers love you for more than your musical ability.

Do:

  1. Buy a drink or meal to support the open mic venue
  2. Stay till the end of the show (or for as long as you can) to catch other performers
  3. Listen to the other performers
  4. Clap and cheer for the other performers! An open mic is intended to be a supportive environment to help grow and nurture new talents. Clapping and cheering helps!
  5. Talk to other performers before and after the show (or if you need to, outside the venue if the show is still going on) 

DO hang back to listen to your fellow performers

DO hang back to listen to your fellow performers

Bonus tips for featured acts

Open mic shows are generally different from bigger featured shows usually in terms of budget. Most open mic shows tend to aim for longevity, and keeping the show lean helps sustain the show over the years. So, for open mic shows with featured acts – it’s more about connecting the community and introducing the featured acts to up-and-coming musicians. If you happen to be invited to be a featured musician at an open mic show,

Do: 

  1. Respect the venue and organizer requirements, if it’s an acoustic open mic – don’t bring or use electric/electronic instrument
  2. Come on time for the sound check if there is one and complete your sound check on schedule
  3. Prepare a stage plot, equipment list in advance to help the organizer prepare for your slot.

Don’t

  1. Be too demanding for your gear and backline equipment
  2. Don’t make life difficult for the organizer by being a diva
  3. Don’t agree to the gig and suddenly turn it down because you have a better paying gig

Thanks to Lainie Yeoh, Melizarani Selva, Tang Chun Cheah, Viv Adram, Zaim Zaidee, Brian Gan, Boey Yin Yin, Daryll Edwin Nathaniel, Wei-Ming Wong, Elaine Foster, Kevin Teh, Lori McKinney, Brian Gomez, Alan K Lipton, Abu Ameera, Taylor Roberts, Derek Patrick and Doris Lim for your invaluable feedback on this topic!

Did you miss part one and our sneaky link in the opening paragraph? Read Az’s Before the Mic tips 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.