I hosted another Open Mic last night; it was perfect in many ways. It was chilly, so I wasn’t sure everyone who said they’d come, would, but they did and even more people showed up to sit in the audience, saying they love to listen to the variety of talent that takes the stage.
For those of you who don’t know what an Open Mic is, it’s where musicians show up at a venue and play a few songs, usually only 3. It’s a great way for new and seasoned souls to hone their skills in front of a live audience. Sometimes, people listen, other times not so much. Last night, we were blessed with a great crowd, outside of some screaming kids playing nearby, it was a great setting. When you play at restaurants, you have to deal with the hand you’re dealt.
A student asked me what makes for a great Open Mic Night, for me #1 ~ The turnout ~ after all bottom line is the venue has to make money to support the event. It seems that friends and family love to come to support their player, cheer them on and capture the moment. #2 is the level of fun felt by the performers and the audience, it’s the gathering together of what I affectionally call, “My Open Mic Family.” It’s kinda like church, but without the Pews.
As the Host, I get there early, set up the sound system, put out the sign-up sheet and then play a few songs before turning the stage over to the players, while running sound for each performer. One thing that I do, is put out a tip jar, so that each player can get tips. I love handing them their crinkled dollar bills, exclaiming, “There now you’re a professional!” it adds an element of surprise and humility to the night. Some performers try to give me back the money, others say, “Let it roll to the younger players”, which to me is super cool.
It’s nerve racking for the performers, you sign-up and wait your turn, hoping that you aren’t following kids, they always steal the show. Last night, the youngest performer was 4 years old, she sang “Jolene”, imagine a 4 year old singing a song about someone stealing her man, you just have to smile in amazement.
One thing that I try and stress with my players is to make sure everything is set before you start, check the microphone placement, the music stand height, make sure you’re comfortable, make sure your instrument is tuned, make sure your volume is turned on, introduce yourself. Take a breath, relax and do your best.
Someone asked what happens if we run over our time limit, I reassured them that we’d play late if needed, after all, each performer matters.
I like to set standards for my Open Mics’ such as:
* Performers in wait are asked not to play along while sitting in the audience, give the artist their due and wait your turn.
*No joining a performer on stage, unless invited (sometimes too many adult beverages creates false courage)
*3 songs is about 10 minutes in length, if you’re performing a medley then watch your time ~ a medley of 3 songs plus 2 more songs equals 5, see I can do math.
*Bring your own instruments ~ it strikes fear in my heart when a perfect stranger asks to use my guitar.
*Keep your banter to a minimum, talking for 3 minutes is the length of a song, players are waiting and your story about your Uncle Charlie buying you a harmonica back in 1992 and how your cat buried it in the sandbox, really isn’t that interesting.
*Players must smile at least once during their performance; after all, this is all in good fun (optional but encouraged)
*Don’t adjust the sound system, the host is in charge of sound, you break it, you buy it. (Let me come to your house and mess around with your stuff, tit for tat)
*Don’t play too loudly. You’d be surprised how many guitarists bring their own amps and then crank them up. It’s not your house, it’s not about you forcing people to listen, if you do, watch them leave, then watch me lose the gig.
*Communicate with the Host, if you need to change you place in line, let me know, if I can adjust things, I’ll do it.
Bottom line is we go to Open Mic gigs to have fun, to share the magic of music, to hone our skills, to network, to have our 10 minutes of fame. It’s a great way to practice in front of a live audience, to get approval for all your hard work.
Granted, sometimes after a song, the only sound is that of crickets, that’s okay too. For in the end, we’re really playing for ourselves, applause be damned.
Today’s Musing: “Play for one, play for a million, but above all, play for yourself” ~ Katrina Curtiss