How Open Mics Can Open Doors in Your Local Music Scene

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Mason Hoberg. Mason is a freelance writer who covers music-related topics and is a regular contributor to Equipboard.]


A hard truth of the world is that it’s never what you know. Rather, it’s almost always who you know. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, or how much time you’ve put into honing your writing or performing talents. If you can’t make valuable connections in your local music scene, odds are you’re going to have an incredibly difficult time in making any significant process in your career as a musician.

With that being said, there are a variety of different ways that you can open doors for yourself. This article is going to focus on open mics, and since this is the exclusive focus of the article we can get into the nitty gritty of how you can use them to help start your career as a musician.

1. Friends Talk To Friends Talk to Friends (Etc.)

If you’re looking for a talented musician, who are the first people you’re going to ask? Odds are, most of you are going to talk to friends who either are musicians or who are in contact with people in the local music scene.

Now believe it or not, the best way to take advantage of this, (aside from showing up and playing at least competently, obviously), is to always be professional and kind to those around you. Just about any band in the world would rather have a nice and dependable member than one who’s a jerk and causes the band problems.

Never talk down to your fellow performers, and for the love of God, don’t heckle. If you’re a musician who heckles your peers, get up right now and go look in a mirror. And then smash your face into it. The scars you gain from doing so will definitely add an element of mystique to your next performance. (Note: TuneCore is not liable for any heckler who smashes his/her face into a mirror. Even if it is kind of funny).

2. Networking With Other Musicians

While word of mouth is a powerful ally, it’s just as important to actually make connections with your fellow musicians. Imagine this scenario: You’re looking for a place to play gigs and you see a local gigging musician at an open mic night (which believe it or not, a lot of them do actually show up there to work on new songs or just to stay in practice with performing). You two get to talking and you mention that you’ve been having a hard time finding gigs, and then you ask if he/she would be able to recommend any venue owners who are pleasant to work with. Now you have a focused list of venue owners who host live music, and an idea of how it is to work with them. You can also ask about how the crowds were in different venues throughout town, giving you an idea as to which venues you should work on based on your genre.

While doing this once is helpful, doing it a dozen times is probably going to give you a pretty comprehensive list of the venues in the area, the type of music that works best in them, and how these venue owners treat their musicians. This is incredibly valuable information to have, because one of the most important parts of putting on a good show is finding a venue that works well for your music.

3. It Shows You What Type Of Music Is Best Received In The Area

Something many musicians don’t think about is how their audiences are going to react to the music they play, and not in regards to its quality. Rather, what is the demographic of listeners in your area like? Do they prefer metal? Soft acoustic music? Country? Folk? Do you have an idea of what these percentages are like?

While open mics are going to give you pretty skewed results due to the fact that most of the people who attend are likely to be more interested in acoustic music, odds are the overall reactions are still going to be at least somewhat representative. For example, if the crowd present likes Garth Brooks covers odds are that there will at least be some venues in town where country is well received.

Likewise, if the crowd loses their mind over a particularly inspired “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” cover for example, you can be pretty sure that there will be areas where Green Day will go over well.

4. You Get To Learn A Variety Of Approaches To Working A Crowd

Working a crowd is an art, and just like any other art there are a variety of different ways to approach it. Learning to time jokes well, figuring out how to introduce a song, and learning how to build a set-list are all fundamental skills for a musician.

While practice is important, so is being exposed to a variety of different approaches. You always want to be learning and trying new things, and there’s no better way to think up a new approach than to see what others are doing. Odds are they’ll do at least one thing that you never do that goes over well, and if they happen to be really bad at working a crowd, you get a few lessons in what not to do.

Wrapping It All Up

Being a musician requires a collection of several different skills, and open mics are a good place to hone them – aside from being an awesome place to make the connections that you’ll need to advance your career. They’re not always pretty, and the musicians who attend them may not always be the most pleasant to listen to, but there are a variety of things to learn and a huge population of musicians to network with.

How To Organize & Promote An Open Mic

[Editor’s Note: This is a guest blog written by Joy Ike, and it originally appeared on the Bandzoogle Blog. Joy is a full-time singer/songwriter based out of Philadelphia, PA. She is also the founder and primary writer for the music business blog Grassrootsy. If you’re building out your artist website, Bandzoogle has all the tools you’ll need to make it pop!]

Open Mic is about 3 things – Location, Hospitality, and Camaraderie. Whether or not you agree with that statement, it’s hard to deny the fact that musicians want to go to open mic so they can rub shoulders with other like-minded and talented artists, plug into their local music community, and be where the action is.

With that said, this post is for the person hoping to run and host their own open mic…or the person who wants to make their Open Mic better. Maybe you don’t realize this, but a lot goes into your job – especially if you want to do it well. Read the following tips for some Open Mic best practices for hosts and coordinators!

1. Pick a venue that cares just as much as you do

This is key. A coffee shop, restaurant, or space that cares about the local music scene will not only make more money off of patrons, but they will help your open mic become better. They will support you by offering drink specials and discounts to attendees as incentives to come out; and in turn visitors will become regulars.

A venue that makes Open Mic the focus of the night will become a destination spot for people looking for something to do on an off night. Good turnouts are all about the partnership of venues and hosts.

2. Create a Facebook page for your open mic

Your physical meeting spot is the venue. Now you need a virtual one. Yeah, Facebook pages are highly overrated, but musicians live and breath social media because they have to. So having a central online meeting spot where people can check for updates is essential.

Use this Page to announce when Open Mic is canceled, or if there is a special guest host on any particular week. It’s also a way to keep people engaged with the Open Mic so that when Tuesday comes (or whatever day you pick) they already know where they’re gonna be at 8pm.

3. Don’t fill up the sign-up sheet before the night starts

I once watched an Open Mic run itself into the ground by filling up the sign-up list before the night even started. If you are the host, and you happen to know 80% of regular attendees, make a rule that they have to show up 30 minutes in advance (like everyone else) to claim a spot on the list. Don’t let them text you, inbox you, or Facebook you to claim a spot the night before.

This particular Open Mic got so accustomed to filling the list up, that newbies stopped coming because they could never get on the list. Some had even waited outside the venue for an hour, but by the time doors opened the list was already full. That open mic quickly earned a bad reputation.

4. Pick a Feature

The typical open mic gives each artist 2 or 3 songs-worth of stage time. Pick a weekly featured artist and give them one or two extra tunes. Touring musicians especially love this. We often have off-nights that we just want to fill as we make our way across the map. Having a weekly feature can sometimes annoy the average attendee, but it can also spruce up the night and introduce the local music community to an artist they never would have heard otherwise.

In most cases, this artist is uber talented and more experienced because they’re touring (not always the case). What’s more, playing an open mic is a great way for a touring artist to meet fellow musicians they can split shows with when they pass through town in the future.

5. Make it Affordable

I personally don’t think an open mic should be any more than $5. Free is even better because it encourages attendees to buy drinks and food. If you plan to charge, just know that people associate money with quality. Is the quality of your open mic worth how much you’re charging? It’s easier to sell a free event on a weeknight – especially if some people work late hours and can only stop in briefly before their day ends. I’m not saying you shouldn’t charge, I’m just saying it encourages a higher standard. That can actually be a good thing. Talk it over with the venue.

Alternatively we suggest passing a hat and giving the collected money to the touring artists. It’s a roundabout way of helping the venue maintain good food/drink sales (for their own peace of mind), while also supporting working artists by the donations of those who want to give.

6. Be Hospitable

You’re probably thinking, “This isn’t some bed and breakfast! Be hospitable?”. Yes, that’s what I said. Most of the musicians (and even some non-musicians) coming to open mic are coming by themselves. If they’re not extroverts, the host is probably the only person they’ll talk to on their first visit. It’s your job to make them feel comfortable, let them know how things work, and give them a reason to come back. You can even introduce them to 2 or 3 people.

Take it from an introvert: I always want to return to an open mic when the host is nice and makes me feel at home. The best open mics are not about the best talent. The best open mics are about great music community. Talent helps too!

7. Be efficient. PLEASE be efficient!!!

Let me say it one more time: BE EFFICIENT. Open mics that take 20 minutes to get through one artist are a waste of my time…and everyone else’s. #sooverit

Make sure everyone knows to tune before they get on stage. Make sure they know that they will be cut off after 10 minutes or 2 songs (whichever comes first). Make sure people know who they fall after on the list so they are ready to go when its their turn.

There’s nothing that makes me want to rip out my hair more than an inefficient open mic. You don’t have to shove people off stage, but you do want to keep things rolling so the night doesn’t stretch on forever and that the majority of people actually get to play for an audience.

8. Be the ring-leader.

Like we said in #6, an open mic takes on the personality of the host. If you’re a jerk, attendees will care less. If you’re nice, others will be respectful. If you take it seriously, others will also take it seriously. If you don’t do your job, the night will be sloppy. Just make it look good. Just care.

And have fun!