Tips for a Great Open-Mic Experience

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Open-mic nights (or days) are a great way to get performance experience, try out new material, meet other musicians and just have a great time. But like any live performance scenario, they also can be nerve-wracking and stressful. Here are some tips to enjoy participating in an open mic near you.

Arrivals and departures

Many open-mic events allow you to sign up that evening. Plan on getting there a little early so you can pick the time slot you like. Super-popular open-mic events often fill up or have online signups that can take weeks to get a slot. Do a little bit of research so you aren’t disappointed. Once you perform, it’s bad etiquette to duck out. Stick around and cheer on your fellow musicians. You might see some mind-blowing performances and meet a future collaborator.

Be prepared

The host usually will let you know when your slot is coming up fairly well in advance. Make sure your instrument is out and ready to go (not to mention tuned) — and you have everything you need at the ready, including your pick, capo and tuner. Nothing makes the crowd groan more than someone who spends time tuning and prepping on stage. 

Cheat sheet

A lot of players will try out new material at open mics, so it’s pretty common to see lyric sheets and iPads. Make sure you have whatever you need to read ready to go and sized for easy viewing. Don’t assume the venue has a music stand. It doesn’t hurt to throw one in your car just in case. 

Plugging in

If you’re a guitarist and don’t have a guitar with a built-in pickup, you can go two routes at an open-mic event. If the venue has an extra mic, they can mic your guitar. Or you can buy a soundhole pickup that fits snuggly in your instrument soundhole and can be plugged into a board or direct box. Most are easy to use and sound pretty good. Just try out yours ahead of time to make sure you like how it sounds — and you know how to use it. When you’re ready to unplug, make sure you get a nod from the sound person so you can avoid that loud “disconnect” pop.

Don’t touch the mic

It’s an open mic. Who knows how much spit the mic has on it. Sing without your lips touching the mic. ’Nough said!

Can I hear me?

One of the frustrating features of many open-mic nights is the lack of quality monitoring. If the venue has a good-sounding PA, it can make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to give the sound person a little direction if you need him or her to raise or lower the monitor volume; just don’t be too picky about it, as their job is to keep things moving along quickly.

Work the Network

Open mics are full of kindred spirits. Who knows, you might meet your next collaborator. So show up early, stay late, chat and ask questions. You might get some great feedback on your music and meet other musicians in your community. 

Try, try again

Every open-mic night has its own personality. Try a bunch of different open-mics near you and see which ones you dig the best. It can be terrifying to jump up in front of a strange community, but most open mics are attended by open-minded, cheerful musicians and onlookers.

Start your own

Not in a community with a great open mic scene? Don’t be afraid to start your own. Invest in a simple but great sounding portable PA like the Bose S1 Pro System. Find a local coffee shop with a slow night and spread the word. Want to go a bit bigger? Try the Bose F1 portable loudspeaker for an amazing sounding live room and your local community will love it. And remember, if you host it they will come!

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Laura B. Whitmore

Laura B. Whitmore is a music industry marketing veteran, music journalist and editor, writing for, Guitar World, and others. She has interviewed hundreds of musicians and hosts the She Rocks Podcast. As the founder of the Women’s International Music Network, she advocates for women in the music industry and produces the annual She Rocks Awards. She is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Positive Grid, making the world safe for guitar exploration everywhere! A guitarist and singer/songwriter, Laura is currently co-writing an album of pop songs that empower and energize girls.