It’s a significant jump from rehearsing in your parents’ basement to playing in front of a packed house at the local bar. However, as with anything audio, I’m here to assist. I’m talking about what to anticipate during an open mic, so dust off that portable amp and restring that electric-acoustic guitar.
Before going to your first open mic, here’s what you should know
If you have the time, go ahead and check out the venue a week before you plan to perform there. Worst case scenario, you sit and listen to a few budding musicians while cheering with a friend or two. Best case scenario: you have a good idea of what to anticipate, from the venue’s layout to the kind of people that come, to the drink specials.
What should you do if someone interrupts your set?
For better or worse, you’ll most likely be performing in front of a gathering of people that are looking to be amused rather than engaged. That’s OK, and it could even help to relieve some of your tension. Yes, a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden could be the ultimate goal. That is, however, end-game territory. If you repeat a phrase or make a mistake with the chord progression, your open-mic audience won’t notice. Their lack of focus is actually freeing. It gives you the freedom to make mistakes.
A compelling performance is one that is engaging. Even the greenest of us can put on a performance worthy of attention. As watchers of America’s Got Talent know, it’s the shy ones that make the most impact. They may not have a lot to say, but they certainly have a lot to show. As a one-man act, stage presence is key to putting on a captivating presentation. It doesn’t imply you have to be the loudest, most avant-garde voice in the room; rather, it indicates you’re confident in yourself.
To be fair, some people are born entertainers, while others have to work hard at it. If you identify as the former, that’s fantastic; if you identify as the latter, that’s fantastic as well. Those who are more reserved should take solace in the fact that the person they are on stage does not have to be the same person they are at the coffee shop down Main Street. It’s for this reason that theatrical personalities exist. You’re intentionally and clearly you, whether you’re secure in your coyness or boisterousness. Fake it till you make it,’ as life coaches say, is more than just a phrase.
And keep in mind that this is as much for you as it is for them. As exciting as it is to work the audience and earn continuous applause, you should be proud of yourself for committing to a public performance. Even if you have an awkward moment, one of the best things about humans is that we don’t notice other people’s faults nearly as much as we notice our own.
Hecklers aren’t only for stand-up comics
Though most people are nice, there’s always the potential that you’ll run into someone who likes giving others a hard time. It isn’t personal if they interrupt your set with nasty digs or yell obviously terrible things. However, there’s no need to linger on this because such instances are uncommon. If anything, you could get the odd individual trying to seduce you, but these are typically harmless and make for entertaining anecdotes.
What should you do after your set?
It’s been a long night, you’ve had a good time socializing, and your adrenals are exhausted from the pre-show nerves. But don’t, or at least try not to, leave right after your set. Staying after your set is simply polite. It’s disappointing to watch how everyone was only there for themselves, departing one after the other soon they finished their performance.
Open mics are a kind of haven for hopeful amateurs, though there are always exceptions. They’re a place for us performers to mingle—if not with one other, then with their friends. Being kind and helpful generates politeness and helpful vibes.
Now take out that instrument, put those picks in your pocket, and sing and strum your heart out.