Jumbo Sunshade - Blogpost
|How to play an acoustic
open mic night - tips, tricks, what you need and what to expect.
|In every city in America, from West coast to East, open mic (open
microphone) nights are running from Monday thru Sunday, giving amateur
musicians a chance to get out and perform in front of an audience, all
without the pressure associated with playing professionally.
I'm writing this to hopefully help make the experience more enjoyable,
and also to maybe push those who are just thinking about doing
it, to just do it!
First let me
start out by saying that this blogpost is intended
for a very specific audience: those who play
acoustic guitar and sing.
Open mics will always vary depending on the host and the venue. "Listening"
audiences are very quiet and everybody pays close attention while other
places may be louder and more crowded.
You should know what to expect because you should have already found
some in your area and started going to watch others play. If you
haven't yet done this then you need to get out and do it, not just
because it's enjoyable but because it will give you a sense of
familiarity and comfort, which will increase your confidence level.
||How do open mic nights work?
Open mics usually take place in a bar, coffee shop, or restaurant, but
lots of different venues host them. Typically there is no cover
charge; most of these events aren't meant to be money-makers, and some venues
make money from the food and drinks they sell. Some hosts are paid
while others do it for free; it's fun and a great way to meet other
There is a sign-up time that is usually 30-60 minutes before the
event, and players will go on stage in the order they signed up (first
come, first serve). How much time you get to perform (or how many
songs) depends on the host; but the more people that sign up, the less
time you would expect to get on stage. Some people don't use their
full time, instead doing maybe just one or two songs. On nights
where there are very few performers signed up, everybody takes turns
getting up extra times.
Diversity is king! You don't have to worry about what age
everybody else is, or what kind of material they're playing. Open
mic audiences are very kind and open-minded; you could really get up and
do anything - folk, classical, country, blues, pop, cover songs,
When it's your turn, the host will call you up to the stage, ask what
you need, and answer any questions you may have. He/she will
get you situated standing or sitting, adjusting the
|microphone(s) as needed.
Let him/her know if your guitar has a built-in pickup so you can get
plugged in; if your
guitar doesn't have a pickup the host will place a microphone in front
of the soundhole of your guitar.
You may or may not be asked to do a "sound check", where
you just strum your guitar and maybe talking into the microphone
("check, one two three") to make sure that it sounds good out front,
and also to make sure that it's not too loud
|or quiet for you on stage.
You'll be introduced, you'll play your two or three songs, the audience
Many of the people who really want to play an open mic are held back by
thoughts such as:
* I'm not good enough.
* What if people don't like me?
* What if the crowd is hostile or somebody heckles me?
* What if i forget the words?
* What if i screw up the guitar parts or forget the chords altogether?
* What if i break a string?
* This guitar sucks; maybe i should wait til i get a good one!
Don't let fear stop you from playing an open mic! I'm not
saying that you have to be fearless; i have been playing in front of
people for over 30 years and i still get nervous. The
cool thing about an open mic though, is that the absolute worst possible
things that could happen are just not that bad. Some of the most
talented and experienced players i know forget words and chords; it happens
to everybody - we smile and move on. :)
||Here's how it really works:
* Not good enough? I don't care what your level of
experience is; all of us can look at ourselves and know that there is
room for improvement. One of the main reasons open mics exist is
to serve as a public performance platform for those who are
less-experienced. There are all different levels of talent
throughout the night and if you're lucky enough to see somebody at the
top of his/her game that's great; but that's not what open mic nights
* People might not like you? Of course you already know
that no matter what you do and how well you do it, there will be those
who dislike it. There are performers that you don't like;
that's life. Just remember that you're not there to please
everybody in the room; you're there to have fun and for those who dig it
* Worried about hostile crowd (or a heckler)? In all the
years i've been doing this, i can say that the only time i've ever seen
a crowd get sour is when somebody has gotten up and done something
stupid. Examples: cursing up a storm at an open mic that was
hosted by a church; doing political commentary between songs;
etc. In addition to that, i have never personally seen anybody get heckled at an
open mic... ever.
* You might forget the words or mess up the guitar part.
You're damn right you will forget words and you will absolutely forget
chords or forget if you're supposed to go to the chorus or do another
verse. Some people are blessed with this crazy ability to get
everything right on stage, but for the rest of us, mistakes are a part
of the experience of live performance. Embrace it; own it; it's
* Strings break, and sometimes it happens on stage. This is
another annoying reality of live performance. It's nothing to
worry about. It happens to me alot because i'm a heavy-handed
player. If it happens to you and you can't finish the song, just
stop and laugh. If you don't know somebody there who will lend you
a guitar to finish your set, you can always use the host's guitar;
that's what it's there for.
* Think you need a better guitar? Ok, now you're just
making excuses, lol! Seriously, some of the best performances i
have ever seen have been done on the cheapest guitars. A few hours
spent on youtube looking for new music will bare this out as well.
Sure a more expensive guitar will likely be easier to play, but other
than that it really doesn't matter for the purpose of playing an open
What do you need to play an open mic?
There is a big difference in what people think they need, and
what they actually need.
Not only do you not need a good guitar; you don't necessarily
even need to bring your own guitar. The host will have a
guitar available to anybody who needs to
There are other things you can bring if you want to (charts, your own
DI/preamp), but all you really need is to just sign up, get on
stage, and play.
The thing i think that will help the most is to just be as prepared as
possible. Figure out what you want/need to do and make a checklist
to help you avoid forgetting things like picks,
strap, capo (if you use one). Make sure you don't have a dead
battery (for guitars with a built-in pickup)!
> Tune your guitar at home before you leave; tune it again at the
show right after you've signed up; and then do a quick check on stage
before you start.
> Charts. Some people will tell you that practicing with
charts is a bad thing because then you "rely on them too much".
There is nothing wrong with using charts on stage unless
you personally have a problem with it. Professional musicians
have been using charts at gigs since the beginning of live performance!
Doesn't matter whether it's an orchestra in front of thousands, a
keyboard player backing a pop star in front of tens of thousands, or
some guy playing acoustic guitar at the local pub in front of 20 people;
if having a chart on stage will be helpful to you then for God's sake
bring it to the gig!
Most open mics will have one or two music stands already on stage, but
in case they don't; don't forget to bring your own.
||Tips from an old sage (hehe)...
Overcoming stage fright. I still get nervous before some gigs;
for me it's like waiting to get on a rollercoaster - scary but fun!
The anxiety of stage fright is obviously in direct relation to the
people you're playing in front of. My advice is to ignore these
people. Take off your glasses if you wear them; don't even look
into the audience; concentrate on your charts (even if you don't need
to) or your guitar neck. DO NOT consume a large double caf drink
while sitting there waiting to get up on stage; this will not help you,
The best thing you can do is just play as often as possible in front of
family and friends any chance you get.
Practice the songs you're going to play til
|you and your family are sick of hearing them. Muscle memory is
a real thing, and sometimes when your brain blanks on where to go, your
hands will just go there on their own.
Keep it Simple! Maybe instead of trying something cool
but difficult for your first several performances, it would be better to
just play whatever is easiest. As you get more comfortable
on stage and with your material you can always start dropping the boring
songs and bringing in the songs that kick ass :)
Sitting versus standing. If you're used to playing while
sitting down at home, then you might want to reconsider standing up and
playing at the open mic (and vice versa). If you
perform standing up then you should practice that way at home.
There will most certainly be a few chairs on stage, but if there isn't,
or if it's just tall bar stools, feel free to grab a chair from your
table and bring it up on stage (i do this sometimes).
Practice with microphones.
One thing that throws some people is the experience of singing
and/or playing into microphones after having never done this at
home. In addition to having to keep your mouth close to the
microphone while singing; if a microphone is used to
amplify your guitar you will have to be aware of how you move
your guitar while performing. I know this sounds silly but it
would actually be helpful to practice at home with real or even fake
microphones; just to get used to it.
That's pretty much it!
Open mics are a great place to gain exposure to other local musicians,
and the experience of performing is unique and satisfying for players of
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