12 Tips for Not Completely Sucking at an Open Mic

7 Jan

I’ve been spending a lot of time at open mics lately.

Let me rephrase that.

I don’t really ever go out, but when I do, it’s usually to an open mic.  Mostly because I have a musician for a boyfriend and an apartment that chucks a hippie in your face upon entry and my life has just sort of developed into this strange, artsy, music-y strangeness.  Yes, I said strange strangeness.  It’s technically legal to say that.  Just one more sign that English is failing us.

So because I tend to harbor unnecessarily strong opinions about things that I have little or no expertise in, I’ve decided to stay true to my nature and compile a list of tips for Open Mics.  That is, if you want to play at them.  If you want tips for being in the audience – I only have one: drink.

So here I give thee,

How to Not Completely Suck Playing an Open Mic

1)   Don’t have an expression on your face that is more intense than your song.  It’s a one-way ticket to douchebaggery.

2)   Tune.  And not into the mic, doofus.

3)  Try to avoid “jamming.”  There are few people in this world who can bring anyone joy with jamming: people who are already rock stars, and grandmothers.

4)  Pay attention to the sets that are played before you’re up.  Don’t follow a cover of  “Closer” (originally by Nine Inch Nails), for example, with an original song entitled “Lollipops, Babies, and Kitten Kisses.”  Which brings me to…

5) Consider your venue.  Consider your genre.  If they don’t match up, stay in the audience.  It will save you 10 minutes of performer’s hell. 

6)  Know when it’s your turn and have your big sack o’ stuff ready to go.  There is absolutely no excuse for lugging your guitar case up front in a crowded bar, unlatching it all the way around, taking out your guitar, and (ugh) tuning  [refer to tip 2]. 

7) Get to know the other folks playing up there.  Like their stuff or not, they’ll be your biggest supporters.  Even if you suck really, really hard.

8 ) Do not, I repeat, do not get drunk before you get in front of the microphone.  If this proves difficult for you, show up earlier and get higher on the list.

9) Write new songs.  People who go to open mics enjoy hearing fresh music from up-and-coming hopefuls.  Chances are you’ll get a group who comes every week, and after the 4th week in a row of hearing your working rendition of “Lollipops, Babies, and Kitten Kisses,” they’re going to get tired of your face.

10) Tell the audience if it’s an original.  Sometimes….rarely… but sometimes, someone actually writes an original song that’s really good and the audience will chalk it up as a cover unless you tell them otherwise.  If you’re lucky enough to be able to write something people want to listen to, make sure you take credit for it.

11)   There’s a difference between good musicians and good performers.  People want to watch someone who is both.  So make that happen.

12)   If you like something you see someone else do, figure out what it is and make it your own.  Sometimes, that’s what seeing the up-and-comers is all about.

So there you have it: my list of how-to’s, written from the perspective of someone who’s never done it.  But hey, I watch it a lot.  And I have a public medium with which to express my uneducated opinion.  And I’d like to think that counts for something. ♣


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