While there people out there who have been hosting open mics for far longer than I (Ken Safety and Shawn “Chewy” Chua, to name two), I have been running a last-Wednesday-of-the-month Acoustic Open Mic with Don Briggs of dB AUDIO at the Country Tavern in Guilford for five years, and, since June of 2015, an electric open mic at the very popular venue Donahue’s Madison Beach Grille. And while I learn something every time, I do have a few ideas about what makes them become successful.
Wikipedia says this about open mics:
These shows provide an opportunity for musicians to gain experience performing to a live audience without having to go through the process of getting normal music gigs, which is very difficult to do without experience of live performance. – Wikipedia
In my area (the Shoreline in Connecticut), I find that there are additional reasons why someone would attend an open mic. Many of the local venues host these events for the purposes of finding new acts to book on the weekend, so the open mics, if run well, can attract local, working bands looking to get booked in that venue. One of the reasons I like to attend an open mic is that I get to try working with musicians who are unknown to me. Then, in the event that I need a substitute band member on a gig, I have a list of musicians that I’ve already played with on whom I can call. It eliminates the awkward audition.
All of that said, here are what I consider some key elements that make for a successful open mic:
- It’s a little bit out of control.
- It feels like anything could happen.
- The microphone is really open to anyone… opera singers, rock bands, flamenco guitar players, Zydeco accordion players, crazy-ass original artists who scream into the microphone, and very young musicians, to name a few.
- The venue has something going for it: great food, great service, good prices, welcoming host, good backing musicians, or a listening audience, to name a few. I find that the more of these characteristics that the venue owner is interested in cultivating, the more inviting the scene.
- There’s some feeling of a community of musicians who know each other and like to play together.
- The playing field is truly level: the same rules apply to beginning and seasoned musicians alike.
- There is opportunity given to play with other musicians.
- You attract a steady stream of unknown artists thus getting “the dark horse” every so often who brings the house down unexpectedly. (This requires constant promotion!)
- The MC takes time to learn each artist’s name and give them a welcoming introduction.
- All measures are taken to get artists on and off the stage in a quick, efficient manner without offending anyone. (I swear I’m going to remember to remind people to tune their guitars BEFORE they get on stage!)
Now I would be curious to know what ideas each of you have in addition to these about what makes for a successful open mic.