Rock the Mic: Open Mic Etiquette
What you need to know before you step up to the mic.
Have you written a song or two or three, but only play them to your mirror? Would you like to perform publicly and get inspired? It’s time to try an open mic!
Chances are there are quite a few open mics in your area. The best ones in my opinion are dedicated nights with no cover charge. Every one I’ve been to is generally supportive.
When I went to my first open mic, I didn’t know how to plug in or even properly adjust a mic. Here are some tips to start you off:
These events are first come first serve or based on a lottery. If you arrive late to a popular spot you may not be able to play.
Bring your own instrument
Please don’t ask strangers to borrow guitars, wires, or tuners. It’s uncomfortable to say no, and when you say yes, you’re afraid of a broken string, a bruise, or worse, a totally bloody guitar. This happened to my bestie. White guitar with blood all over.
Tune before you go
Hosts usually announce 2-3 people ahead. Unless there is a tuner on stage, tune before AWAY from the performances. If there is a tuner on stage its probably to avoid noise during performances.
Stay and support the other performers
It’s really bad form to play and leave. You may have a 9:00 am job in another town and the open mic goes late, but you can stay longer. And you should. It’s really disrespectful to leave.
Practice in the dark
Clubs are dark, stage lights are all different. Get used to playing in situations where you can’t really see the fretboard that well.
Listen to the host
Wait until they tell you its okay to plug in or out. You want to avoid busting ears including your own.
Many of us are broke musicians and can’t afford to drink all night. But it is a venue, and in order to keep the nights going, they have to survive. Get a drink, and stay out of the way of the servers. It sucks for them to carry trays all night and get around 60 guitar cases. Don’t forget to tip.
This is how you move to the next level of getting gigs. Some places will have little cliques that have formed. They may be intimidating, but really they just know each other and probably arrived on the scene at the same time. Your new friends may lead to collaborations and group shows.
It’s okay to be nervous. Open mics are great for trying out new ideas. Do not get discouraged if some jerk-off happens to say something hurtful. It rarely happens, but dust yourself off and try again. It happened to me. I came back after three days of depression, and then rocked the mic and got my first gig.
Don't be afraid to check out an open mic with no intention of playing. You'll get a feel for how that venue handles their open mics, and the performers love an audience, so your presence will be appreciated.
In NYC, songwriters who play instruments and play originals are respected more than a singer that comes in with a karaoke track and does a cover. That’s a different kind of open mic. That’s more for singers. Different genres may require beats, but this takes more time to set up.
Keep in mind how important it is to know even a few chords on an instrument. If you already play, keep learning. Don’t just rely on three chords and a capo. Grow and experiment. You will have more fun, write better songs, and be a better artist.
Good luck and rock the mic!!!
Dorit is a rock singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and Middle Eastern Dancer. She has performed internationally on concert stages, TV, film, and theatre, and has inspired many students to find to their own expression through music and dance. Dorit’s current goal is to self produce her album and complete an acoustic guitar she hand built as a teenager at the Bronx High School of Science. Her influences include Led Zeppelin, Middle Eastern music, Latin music and old school hip hop -- anything with great rhythm. Find out more about Dorit here>>
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