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Open Mic Events – Euphonious, Cacophonous, or Both!

Open mic events are aptly named – it’s an event (usually recurring), hosted at a venue where any musicians can sign up to play a few songs (usually 2 or 3) in front of a live audience.

Musical history lore includes legendary open mic events in regional musical hubs like LA, Chicago, Nashville, or New York’s Greenwich Village (especially in the early 1960’s folk music scene), where the pool of talent is deep, and these events can actually launch a career.

Depending on the community (and the weather and the day of the week), there may be a lot of signups and only the dozen or so can be accommodated. Others, if lightly attended, may only feature a handful of performers in a given evening.

At their best, open mics provide an exciting parade of performers with new surprises coming at you every 15 minutes or so.

At their worst, there can be a dreary sameness as solo performers (usually guitarists) get and play the songs of their choice – covers, or originals.

They can be a great place to learn how to play music in front of people, and just as importantly, develop a stage presence. The best musicians are not always the most fun to hear or watch – you can be amazed!

As with karaoke, some musicians prefer these solo shots over ensemble gigs, and just like karaoke, some musicians are consistently entertaining and inventive within that short-window format.

Martinez had some events in the past that featured a hybrid event – sort of a live karaoke, where a backing band in whatever genre (there were long-running active Blues and Bluegrass events) would support the solo or duo that signed up to play. If you’re a less experienced performer, having a competent band supporting you is liberating and a confidence booster. For more experienced players, it’s a great way to hone your chops or break a new song without the pressure of a regular gig.

Since there’s no audition process, open mic events can sometimes feature some excruciating moments. It comes with the territory. But there are a few things that performers, venues and audience members can do to help.

Venues: Your open mic event will be MUCH better and more consistent if you make sure someone is running it with rapt attention (that means they have no other duties there that night).

Make the sign-up process simple and keep the line moving. Make sure whoever’s playing next knows they’re up next, in time to get in tune and prepare mentally. Don’t stick to a three-song format if an artist is struggling or playing songs that are too long. Run the show!

Musicians: Do your part to prepare – know your songs well. Keep your head in the moment - know when your turn is, and while the person before you is playing their songs, slip out to make sure your instrument is tuned and you’re ready when your time comes.

Don’t play 3 songs all in same key or with the same rhythm – mix things up to seize the audience’s attention. If you’re playing covers, have a spare song in case someone plays what you were going to play, rather than duplicating. Nobody needs to hear “Landslide” twice in the same seating.

Be courteous - don’t show up just before your turn and leave right after it. Stick around and listen and support the other musicians. Don’t be rude (don’t talk too loudly or too much or do anything to draw attention away from the person is performing). Clap after every song!

Audience: Come expecting to have fun! If you’re coming to mainly see one particular performer, stay long enough to enjoy at least 5 acts. Clap politely after each song. Never groan or laugh if someone hits a bad note or forgets a lyric.

Spend some money – if it’s a coffee shop, buy some coffee, if it’s a pub, have a drink, if it’s a restaurant, buy something to eat. Tip generously. It’s rude to take up room at a business unless you’re helping the business.

There are cynics that deride Open Mic events as simply a way to exploit musicians and avoid paying or booking a “real” band. On some level, that is true. But if the community has musical artists that enjoy playing at open mics, and those events help your business, then all the power to you. No musician plays there in less they want to!

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