10 Tips for Open Mic Performers.

Feb 10th, 2012 | By | Category: Entertainment

Matty Sheets hosts Open MicHere’s just a few things that may or may not help your next open mic performance.  I’m no expert, by any means, but I have hosted an open mic here in Greensboro for almost 10 years.  I’ve seen the best and the worst performances from the best and the worst performers, and I loved them all.

1. Pace yourself. We all like having a few drinks before performing in front of other people, but you gotta know where the sweet spot is.  I’ve seen many excellent performers play crappy sets (I’ve done the same, for the record) due to being a bit too drunk.  Alcohol slows down your motor skills, and you need those to play your instrument.  Pace yourself until you get up on stage, the rest is up to you.

2. Everybody’s fine.  You rarely have to ask the crowd, “How’s everybody doing tonight?” or “Is everybody having a good time?”  Believe me, if they weren’t doing ok, they don’t want to discuss it with someone on a microphone.  Chances are, the people who weren’t having a good time already went home.

3. Sing into the microphone.  There is usually someone running sound at an open mic.  They have the power to turn up or down your microphone accordingly.  Sing into the mic!  If you don’t like microphones, or you don’t like your voice, you should seriously reconsider performing in front of people and stay on the porch.  No offense intended to folks who prefer to stay on the porch- that’s fine.  Mississippi John Hurt was like that and he was amazing.  But you are performing in front of a crowd and you need to be heard.  Get on that mic.  I suggest two or three inches away- and sing straight at it, unless you are belting or screaming something, then back up a bit.  A bit.  Not a lot.  Let the sound person handle the rest.

4. Try out new stuff.  Sure, covers are fun.  If you don’t write your own songs, learn new covers.  If you do write your stuff, try to think of open mic as a place to showcase songs.  People like hearing something new- especially if it’s yours.  There’s nothing wrong with telling the crowd (quickly) that you’re about to play a new song you wrote.  It usually gets their attention, and you’ll learn what you like and don’t like about performing that song.  Next time will be better.  Do not despair.

5. Less talk and more rock.  Blah Blah Blah- Just play your songs.  Most performers mumble what they say between songs anyway, and it’s really not necessary.  A quick word about what you’re playing is fine, but as Jack Bonney used to tell DJs at WUAG, “Less talk and more rock.”  You usually have a limited amount of time at an open mic performance, so use it wisely.  A long, drawn out story about your week is usually not going to grab people’s attention- in fact, it may turn them off.  If you have to say something, make it interesting.  Treat the whole time you are on the microphone as a performance, and try to entertain the audience.

6. Be nice.  Your fellow performers, your host, your bartender, and the crowd, are all on the same team.  Try to treat everyone with respect and be polite.  It really doesn’t matter how great you think you are, being nice to other people, and supporting other artists is a very important aspect of being a part of something like an open mic.  I’ve seen it happen-  nice people get better applause than cocky rockers, despite skill level.

7. Get there early.  If sign up is at 8, get there at 7:30.  You’ll have more time to settle into the room, tune your instrument, and get a good spot on the list.  You’ll be able to watch more of the other acts and mingle with the other performers.  If you show up four hours after sign up started, don’t be mad when you don’t get to perform that night.

8. Tune your guitar (or whatever) and get a drink before you get on stage.  The host announces you.  You get up there and get situated.  “Hey, I’m Billy,” and then you proceed to tune your guitar for five minutes.  No.  Tune up, get a drink, and get ready to do your best BEFORE you get on stage.  You’d be surprised how many times people tune on stage, then ask someone to bring them a water or a beer.  I understand forgetting your drink every once in a while, but come on.  As soon as you know that it’ll be your turn soon, get a drink and tune up.

9. Don’t get mad at the audience.  They may be talking to each other.  They may not be giving you the undivided attention that your mom gives you when you play for her in the kitchen.  They may be having a good time at the bar.  That’s ok.  Really.  Just play your best, and when they clap for you, thank them.  Don’t demand silence, or yell at the audience for not listening.  You are not the center of the world.  Play your best, and show respect to those listening  (or not listening.)

10. Show other performers the respect they deserve.  A big part of open mic is listening to the other acts.  Make connections with other musicians, or performers.  They may help you more than you could imagine.  Many bands have formed from open mics, and many friends have been made.  Pay attention and applaud.  I personally enjoy hollering during a great song, or clapping when someone messes up to show my support.  I’ve seen many amazing performers at open mic, and I’m glad I was paying attention.  It doesn’t hurt to tell someone they had a great set either.

These are merely tips with the intention of helping.  Think I’m an idiot? Have your own tips?  Please post a comment below.  But keep in mind number 6 above.


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14 Comments to “10 Tips for Open Mic Performers.”

  1. Sarah parker says:

    Good article!

  2. Matty Sheets says:

    thanks, Sarah.

  3. Bill Kenny says:

    Thanks for the article Matty, and many thanks for hosting this. I have witnessed a fantastic increase in Avalon's confidence in her music since she began playing the open mic at The Flat Iron. That is what an open mic is for. It is a chance for musicians to play in front of a crowd and other performers. This, more than anything, will help an artist learn if they have what it takes to play in front of a crowd or just in front of friends and family at home. Thank you and all the other people involved in what is a very special music scene.

  4. stephen says:

    Sound advice (as it were). Haven't played an open in mic in forever and a day, but all of what you offered here is spot on.

  5. Bryson Lightfoot says:

    ^ Excellent points

  6. Donna says:

    This is perfect advice for open-mic, Matty! It's the Tuesday Ten Commandments.

  7. Toni Tronu says:

    Open mic night is one of the best things I've discovered since moving to Greensboro and this is really good advice for everyone! Thanks Matty!

  8. Claire says:

    Thanks! About to go do my first open mic tonight and needed a little boost! So thanks, hopefully it goes well 😉 Thanks for the great tips.

  9. Peter says:

    Great points…loved reading this!
    I have open-mic’d twice…in Charlotte, NC….both good experiences…still have nerves

    This makes me want to go to your OM.

    Thanks again…

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