7 Tips on How to Transition from Open Mics to Longer Gigs

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Microphone: transition open mics to gigsFor the purposes of this article, I’m thinking of an open mic as a performance event where each person is given time to play 1-3 songs, usually maxed out at 10-15 minutes. Sometimes the list of performers is settled in advance by an MC or booker, while sometimes it’s open to the public and you’re encouraged to put your name on a list– first come, first served.

An open mic is a great place to begin for 3 types of players:

* Musicians who are new to songwriting and don’t yet have enough strong original material for a 45 minute set.

* Musicians who may have songwriting and instrumental skills, but who feel they lack performance skills, confidence, etc.

* Confident songwriters/performers who are new to a town or region and don’t yet have a local fanbase.

But what’s the next step once you’re ready? Well– your own show, of course– a nice cushiony 30-45 set of original material, maybe opening for someone else in town who has an established draw. And how do you get there?

7 tips on how to transition from the world of open mics to the world of longer gigs

1. Play weekly at the open mics-

Whether you’re building your repertoire, building an audience, or building up your confidence, get out there as much as possible. Open mic audiences tend to be respectful and receptive, so this is one of the best ways to get live experience in a low-pressure setting. Plus, keeping it weekly will help you stay motivated on all the other fronts (songwriting, practicing, etc.)

2. Build your email list from the beginning-

It’s never too early to start gathering contact info for the people who enjoy your music. Even if you don’t have any recorded music, merch, or gigs to announce (besides your open mics, of course)– you will someday! And when you’ve got big news to share, you’ll have an audience for that news. Don’t be pushy about collecting contacts; simply mention that you have a signup list and that you’d love to keep people notified about your music.

3. Announce your name at the beginning and end of your open mic set-

It’s sometimes hard to get into the promotion mindset at an open mic. They can seem rather informal and low on the drama-scale. But a quick “Hey, my name is____ …..” and a concluding “Thanks, my name is ______ and I appreciate you listening; I have a mailing list….” at the end of your short set will help you, literally, get your name out there.

I’ve been to quite a few open mics where I’ve liked a performer and said to whoever I was sitting with, “What’s this guy’s name?” They didn’t seem to know either, and we dropped it there– since the evening and the drinks and the conversation and the distractions have a tendency to tumble onwards. So, announce your name! People might not have the time, courage, or wherewithal to ask.

Touring Guide 1

4. Stay for the whole open mic and make friends-

Your early shows will be attended by mostly friends. An open mic is one great place to make those friends. So don’t just pop into the open mic for your 15 minutes of glory and then duck out. Stay and get to know people. Trade info. See if any other talented folks might want to play in your band down the line (if you’re interested in fleshing out your songs with band arrangements). At the very least, get to know each other’s songs and styles. If you come back every week, you could be singing harmonies on one another’s tunes.

As you get to know more musicians, you’re also spreading your networking roots. Some of the people you befriend may have bands that you can open for; they may know booking agents; they may sign your mailing list too– and they may be your biggest early supporters.

5. Get to know the staff at the venue-

Most open mics are held at music venues. If you befriend the bar staff, the booker, the manager, the owner, and the patrons, it’s a short jump from a Sunday night open mic to a Thursday opening slot. If you’ve proven to be one of the popular performers week after week at an open mic, the booker will probably already be on your side. But don’t assume they’ll reach out to you first; booking agents have a hundred things on their minds at once. Make sure YOU ask THEM for the gig (once you feel ready)!

6. Balance your 3-song set- 

People love familiar songs. When you first start performing at open mics, stick to your best 3 songs. Even if you’re sick of them, repeat them for the first 2 or 3 times you play at a particular open mic. Then slowly work in newer material by playing 2 of the now familiar favorites, and one new one. Then the next week, play one of the oldest tunes, the newer one from the previous week, and one brand new tune. From there, you can keep churning up the dirt how you like, but return to the tunes enough so that the regulars can get to know them. When you finally bring all those folks out to your first proper show, they may just sing along to a few songs.

7. Morph an open mic into a songwriters-in-the-round-

Instead of putting ALL the pressure on yourself for that big leap from open mic to proper gig, why not round up 2 more songwriters you’ve met and do a songwriters-in-the-round set? That’s where 3 or more performers trade off on tunes. You can either rotate after every song, or give each person 2 or 3 tunes before you rotate to the next singer. Instead of one person’s draw, you’re potentially combining all three performers’ followings for one awesome night. That’ll please the booker AND give you the chance to win over some of the other writers’ fans.

—————-

Have you had success transitioning from open mics to gigs? How’d you do it? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Oh, and remember– if you’re going to an open mic every single week for a year to build your audience, skills, and confidence, there’s no rule that says alcohol is a must for every show. Have coffee, or water, or Kombucha, or tea. That way you’ll feel great most mornings, and can better suffer through the rare hangovers when you have a fuzzy night.

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[Mic photo from Shutterstock.]

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  • Triciadovidio

    great tips. Ive been doing most of these without realizing it! 🙂

  • Good article Chris. I’d like to hear how artists balance the weekly open mic(s) with writing/recording. I’ve struggled to do all 3 alongside a day job and family. I’ll bet I’m not alone. For the past few months I’ve stopped writing and playing open mics to concentrate on getting some good recordings made of my songs. Once they’re ready for release I’ll get back into the open mic / gigging / writing mode.

    I completely agree with the suggestion to stay for the whole show and not to skip out right after your 15 minute slot. One of the challenges I find with open mics, especially in bars, is when they run late and it conflicts with an early rise for work the next day. Most hosts are completely understanding but I’d like to find a more graceful way to excuse myself from the remainder of the open mic.

  • Robin

    Really good article – just one thing, as an open mic organiser, most venues put on open mics to try to make some money over the bar on quiet nights – it really hurts them when open micers come along and don’t buy alcohol, but sip water! And they end up stopping the open mic, which helps no-one.

  • that’s me – REALLY helpful post Chris!

  • Love this article. As someone who hasn't done any live shows this is a really great primer on how to break out of my shell. Thanks Chris!

  • Howard

    I played at one and the moderator, who was very involved with the local music scene, and I hit it off. He invited me to play with him and his group of friends. Eventually we began playing gig together and I began to play solo with my own gigs.

  • Thank you Chris, for taking time out for sharing this info…enlightening!

  • Sure thing. Glad it helped.

  • Awesome. Did you continue doing the open mics after that point? Or did you just move on to regular ol' gigs?

  • Hey Matt, glad to help. How things in your world? Really loved your history of intervals post, btw.

  • Good point. You don't want to piss off the bar. Well, maybe I could amend my advice and say– "You don't have to get drunk every night."

  • Well, if you attend often enough to have gotten to know the usual crowd, I'm sure they'd be understanding if you have to get up at 6am for work the next day. Just tell 'em. Also, I think it's pretty common for bands to stop performing (as much) when they go into recording mode. Rehearsing to record is way different than rehearsing for a show, so between practice and the actual studio time– it's common for bands to "go away" for a little while. On the other hand, if you're recording your own album a little here and a little there, you might as well keep doing whatever you can do on both fronts. Otherwise there might not be any end in sight to your "hiatus."

  • You are awarded 10 points for subconscious Common Sense.

    • Dcraver

      Well stated, Chris. I run an open mic company out of Atlanta. I’ve seen hundreds of musicians use open mics to transition from amateur to pro status. Many collaborations have been born. Lots of people tell me that their entire circle of friends was created at our open mics. While open mics can be a ‘stepping stone,’ they can also be life-changing. OpenMic.US lists 1,800 live-music open mics.

  • Lee Kitzman

    I am currently making the move from open mic to the real thing. Your shared information was very helpful, great tips!

  • I made a website for local open mics, it's been a great way to stay in the loop. I can't make it as often as I like but when I do people recognize me from the open mic site.
    openmicboise.wordpress.com

  • Good advice. Thanks for sharing.

  • Well, one thing that happens at a lot of open mics is that there will be a guest slot for a more established performer. So most folks get to play their 10-15 minutes. And then the name act gets 30 minutes somewhere in the middle. I think it's a cool thing to do; keeps a new crowd coming in each week; gives regulars a change; creates some nice opportunities to branch out and meet new people.

  • So see if any open mics in your area have that kind of slot– and try that first. If not, I don't see any harm in going under the radar and testing some material at an open mic.

  • Jessi n Brian Maxwell

    My wife and I made this transition some time ago. Now we’ve started a new project with a new direction, we’re already getting plenty of prominent gigs since we’ve got experience and connections from our previous incarnations, but I’ve been wanted to go the opposite direction and test out some new songs at open mics, especially ones where we are using new instruments or techniques (e.g. looping) that we are less familiar with. My wife seems to think songwriters/musicians who are obviously experienced and have some notoriety in the scene are less welcome at open mics, which are I supposed more directed at beginners. Any thoughts?

  • This is a great article, thanks for writing Chris! I think that the transitional time between playing open mics and playing full gigs is one of the hardest to navigate– there’s a real mindset change in addition to many logistical challenges. I myself got my first headlining show at the venue whose open mic I attended most faithfully.

    The best advice I can add to the ring is that if you handle yourself as a professional from the beginning, people will begin to see and treat you that way. Sure, the other attendees of the open mic may be old fogies with no aspirations beyond Monday night or beginners in high school. Not everyone there is going to want to transition from open mics, but YOU do. So don’t sweat the other performers (but do be friendly), treat your 5-15 minutes like a micro-show, and be professional about it. DO say your full name, even if you feel stupid doing so. I introduced myself consistently at open mics, and when the venue posted about my show on their facebook page, a few people actually wrote about having heard and enjoyed my music there in the past. Free press!

    Put in the time, stay humble, and take yourself and your music seriously. It will pay dividends.

  • I've been taking care, booking and hosting for the last 4 years a songwriter showcase every Tuesday in downtown Portland, Oregon, where singer songwriters get to play a 25 minute set (I book 4 each week): http://ericjohnkaisersongwritershowcase.wordpress

    I have met many artists from various backgrounds, places or walks of life, some of them have even become good friends. From my experience your article is totally relevant! If I could, I would also add that to give away free music (like a free EP for example if you have one) in exchange of signing up on a mailing list works well to build a fan base at this type of event. It could also just be a few clean recorded demo songs.

    Great article.

    Eric John Kaiser
    "French Troubadour" http://www.ericjohnkaiser.com

    • Hey EJK, thanks! I forgot to mention that part about giving away music. Good call.

  • Great article Chris…love the tips and as always the knowledge is appreciated. I think we, artists, forget about the power of relationship building. Relationship building extends beyond one’s name being on a flyer. Relationship building starts when the artist enters a venue or when an artist delivers his or her pitch to a website.

    The mailing list idea is grand, especially when artists do not have something tangible to give the fans.

  • Lorrainemorganscott

    Christopher,
    What a great sense of humor – and good articles. I appreciate your insights – and the comments from those thus far. This articles is not only full of excellent tips – it’s timely because I am soon doing my first open mic.
    But as an introvert – the idea of staying for a couple of hours with a bunch of people I don’t know – wow, mind-boggeling! But hey, they won’t be people I don’t know for too long right?
    Thanks again, to you and those who take the time to add their comments.

  • Glad the article found you in time. Break a leg on your first open mic.

  • Corey Koehler

    Good tips here. I've gotten a bunch of gigs and contacts from playing open mics.

    One tip I have is, of the 3-4 songs you have ready to play make sure they are different tempo wise (I a ballad, mid tempo, something humourous and a rocker for instance – maybe even an easy blues tune other artists can pick up with harmonica or lead guitar).

    Then pay attention to what the person before you played and do the opposite. If they do a ballad, or somethign that has the audience yawning start with a rocker or something more upbeat to energize the crowd OR if they finish with a rocker, do a ballad and build up from there to a rocking finish. You want the crowd thinking…damn who was that?

    Helps you stand out every time.

  • Stephanie Logan

    I totally second your apprehension about the general social aspect of open mics! When I first started going to open mics, I was more terrified at mingling with strangers than actually performing. 🙂 The good news is that it gets easier every time! Strike up convo with the equally awkward person sitting next to you. You'll soon be fast friends. Maybe.

  • Erdodge

    Somehow I was able to skip the open mic step. I started performing as a glorified karaoke singer. Once I started booking smaller shows I met other performers who could write. I started to learn to cowrite a little and finally got an album. This led to forming a band and getting even more shows. I still have not been to an open mic yet.

  • Thanks for the great article and tips Chris! There's been other great advice from previous readers as well!

    I think another great way to make a lasting impression at an open mic is to bring product! After your 1 song or even if you get a 3-song feature, it's very helpful to have either a demo CD, an actual released record, postcards, business cards, t-shirts, key chains, download cards, etc that help you "go home" with the audience. One never knows who's in the audience at an open mic and your performance + your information may help grab some great gigs! It definitely helped me when I frequented open mics, and now that I've released a project, I hope to continue that more very soon!

  • FakeNoamChomsky

    You don't have to drink. Buy a drink for a friend. Buy a drink for the sound guy. Buy a soda and a bag of chips. Just try to show a little support. And when you wrap up the set, introduce yourself again, thank the venue, and encourage the audience to support the business.

  • Suedonimm

    Good article, but I have to disagree with the last statement. It would be sad to have an active open mic replaced with a songwriters-in-the-round format. There are not enough open mics in some areas for this to happen. However, the owner may want to try the round robin on another night.

    • Oh, sorry if that wasn't clear. That is exactly what I was intending to say– play on ANOTHER night as a in-the-round lineup. NOT replace the existing open mic.

  • Totally. Debuting new material as an opening artists in front of 300 people might be nerve-wracking. You could test it out at open mics a few times before and work out the bugs ahead of time.

    • Last February I performed my original material for the Finnish national instrument, the 5-string kantele at a school with about 245 pupils plus about ten or fifteen teachers and it worked out nicely. I’ve been performing quite much + teaching music etc. so I’m not nervous in front of an audience nowadays.

      My project “The Runaway Kantele” is on FB, too, and, of course, on CDBaby…

  • Cool idea. Thanks.

  • Great advice about assessing the room and playing appropriate material. Thanks.

  • When I started I just closed my eyes and they loved it, when I opened them they was all still there and clapping, I was darn terrified, but now not so much now, they love original tunes and ones they know, I use all these ideas and they all work, if you mess up a popular song you can hear the audience set you right and you never forget it, and the most no.1 thing to do, is make sure the darn mike is on, I did that once and lost the music and had to catch up. Not good. also make sure you can hear the backing music, and that it is all good. Lot's to do you learn all the time !! Nothing is ever stable.

  • Bootlegpreacher

    In my experience, it helps to disappear from the open mic scene for a while before re-emerging. When you are comfortable with your material, go HOME and work on your 45 min setlist. This helps create a renewed interest and also helps when you try to get paid for something you've been doing for free.

  • Angela / Hot Water R

    Hello, my name is Angela and we are Hot Water Recipe!

    Thank you SO much for this article! I'm new to open mics. I'm a singer/songwriter, and collaborating with a guitar player has really helped, but it is still totally nerve wracking. I haven't found a great open mic though where I feel totally comfortable, and I have to admit that I am one who often has ducked out after my set (or a few later) because of feeling so painfully awkward after performing. I will continue to find a comfortable and cool environment, and will follow this awesome advice by everyone because I eventually want to piece together a cool rock band and perform 'real' gigs. This is great, really!

    Thanks for reading. We're Hot Water Recipe! Like us on facebook!

    🙂

  • Eloise

    Yeah, but I've been to open mics where, even if you bought something but didn't buy enough, they'd literally give you the evil eye like you were some dirty old bum that crawled in off the sidewalk. I would always buy something, but I'm tired of being treated like that. So, note to organizers…if you don't like music and musicians, don't put on an open mic *just* to make money.

  • Rob Roper

    I agree with all that. I just wanted to add something to Point 4, "Stay for the whole open mic and make friends".

    I've seen people at open mics come early to sign up, the leave for 2 hours, and come back 10 minutes before they go on, play their set, and leave. The message that sends is, "I'm great but everybody sucks, so I'm not going to waste my valuable time listening to all you losers."

    I call those people the "Open Mic Diva". That's not the image you want. It won't win you any friends or fans. Yes, there may be some beginners there. I've been one; I used to suck when I first started playing. So did you. Don't be self-centered. You have to give if you want to receive. Support the other folks.

    Besides that, you will miss out on hearing some good songs. You just might hear somebody who knocks you out.

  • Great article Chris and some insightful comments as well. I've got a couple more insights for what they're worth.
    1) Scope it out one week before coming to perform the next. You'll be more comfortable with the room and crowd and have a better idea of the expectations.
    2) Another benefit of staying late consistently is that you often get called up early, then again later.
    3) If you're a guitar player but also play bass, bring your bass and let the host know you'd be happy to sit in with anyone that needs you. Bass players are always scarce and it makes it easier to put together pick up groupings if that's the tradition at the venue.
    4) If someone's got a cool instrument or plays a lick you like, take note of it and get them to one side to compliment it or have them show it to you. Gives you something to talk about.
    5) I don't drink but always order several juices, sodas, etc. Tip well and get the bartender or waitress' name so you can encourage the crowd to tip them. Good allies to have both for booking and for getting the crowd on your side.
    6) Buy the host a drink – every time.
    7) Once you're comfortable with the regulars, invite them to sit in with you and never turn down a request to sit in with someone else. The more stage time you get, the better.
    8) Don't hog the stage. Play the agreed upon number of songs and keep them in the 3 1/2 minute range. If they want you to play more, they'll ask you.
    9) Tune silently before taking the stage, don't waste time. When it's time to get up an play, get up and play.
    10) Plan and rehearse 3 times the number of songs you'll need, just in case.

    There used to be more jams than open mikes. I played in the house band for several and attended many more. In a jam setting, always keep your volume out front matched with the majority of the players, only take one lead unless signaled to continue and encourage the other players, regardless of their skill level.

  • I don't think so. I've never played an Open Mic myself and usually play venues with my band. I think the key is finding a community of musicians and fans that like your music–however you do it.

  • bob obviously

    I think one of the worst things someone new to open mics can do is jet out early. I’ve been doing them for about 6 years, and made a lot of friends, fans and even bandmates through them. These are people that eventually helped me get not only shows, but tours, studio time and other stuff.

    Now that I’m more or less well known in the local open mic community, I’ve love to extend the same courtesy, but I see so many kids just come in and then run off after their set. Or, what is sometimes worse, the kids will bring a tonne of their friends and then have loud group chatter while other performers are playing.

    And make friends. One example is something you can and should apply to your ‘real’ shows as well; I like selling cds, mostly because I kind of like having money in my pocket, and it feels nice; no matter if you sold your first or your 1000th. But if someone actually wants one and is short on cash, just give them one. Why not? I like bartering with people, I’ll give them a cd if they like my page on facebook.

    Hardly anyone is ever going to say no.

    Have fun!

    • I am having fun with this discussion. I want to add one exception that proves the rule not to skip out.

      It seems to me that the trend in open mics is to have a featured act, and this splits the night into three sections: early, featured act, and late. When you are new, definitely try to stay as long as you can, and figure there is a two drink minimum, on the honor system. Tip well and your bartender and server will know you!

      But as you become a regular at an open mic, you will get to know the other open mic-ers and they will get to know you. My reality is that I have kids, and am not a night person anyway; so I try to get an “early” spot. In which case, I arrive at the beginning, do my best to stay for the acts before the featured, and catch a portion of the featured act. This seems fair to me, because it also seems that there is an even larger group of open mic-ers who prefer a “late” spot. They tend to arrive during the featured act, and presumably stay until the end, though I am not there to verify that.

      So, you want to give the establishment enough business that the open mic night is a success and demonstrate respect for the other performers. But after that, local culture and norms will take over. Slot preference and talent level will emerge as factors in who interacts with whom, who shows up and leaves when, and that’s just natural.

  • Gmsax

    Liked the article. This might sound like stating the obvious, but I’ve had success giving my card to the other musicians. I’m a multi instrumentalist, sax as well as guitar and writing, and sometimes the artists get a gig and need a horn player. That’s worked for me.
    If I’m really feeling creative and am at a place frequently, I print a few CD covers with the place’s name and logo on it, and give the discs away if I get a tip or an email address. The place usually likes it and people can remember where in the world they heard me. On this it’s best ask if it’s OK first.

  • Patdawson

    This was a great service, Chris. I am in a kind of weird zone — have not performed live for about nine years; released first CD of all original songs seven years ago, decided that’s all I wanted to do, Now, based on my CD, I have been asked by a promoter to drive 300 miles (Round-trip) in a few weeks to warm up or open for a concert by a nationally known group in a small venue (300 people), So I am doing almost all new material, because I like it. It has been suggested that I try open mic a couple of times to get back in the groove, test the waters, etc., but I have resisted, thinking, “They won’t get it, anyway,” or, “I have my gig and I need to prep for that.” But I could see the value of warming up with open mic, as long as I do not take their ignorance personally………..

  • Interesting, article! The perspectives are all so different. And mine is no exception:
    When I was more “new” I recognized I needed performing experience, so I attended a weekly open mic that was songwriter focused – original material only. The hosts were great – all 3 pro musicians and producers – and the caliber of musicianship quite high from the band and attendees alike. We (my partner and bassist) met tons of great players, and made long lasting musical (and otherwise) friendships. We went every week for a year or so, and ended up being the sub-hosts for that event when the regular hosts were busy. When that event ended, we started our own open mic and songwriter events. That was in 2006 – and we’ve been hosting at least one (PAID) weekly event since. I got to develop and improve not only as a writer and musician, but also as a host/entertainer. It is a ton of work, and requires a lot of patience but man is it fun! It does help to be a team (my partner does sound, I’m on names and MC duty) and it’s not for everyone but we LOVE it. It’s not only one of our main sources of income, but also our joy! And for the record – I was not into the idea of being a jam host one bit and had to be convinced.
    So – my advice? Go to open mics – find one where you feel at home, have fun and stay “open” to what might happen. The journey is the destination after-all, right?

  • Hewasacloud

    Great article, thanks! I’ve hosted many open-mics, and it’s definitely interesting to see how people utilize the format. I like that you emphasized getting to know the other players. A weekly open-mic is a community event, and it’s important to stick around and pay respect to the others who are coming every week. I do have to disagree with the idea of sticking to the same songs every week. Sometimes performers get a good reaction from a few songs and then get scared to stray from those. Then I have to wonder if they have any other songs at all. I always appreciate the folks that come every week with something new prepared. After a few weeks, I’ve heard a whole set worth and might invite them to be a feature. My other advice is to stay away from the epic songs. Don’t try to stretch out your time by playing 7 minute story ballads. Keep things concise with big impact that leaves people wanting to hear more.

    And also be aware of your venue. A coffeehouse, a gallery, a rock club, and a pub are all going to have very different atmospheres and missions. Some function as non-profit listening rooms, and some are trying to sell booze. Stick to the ones that suit your style.

  • Max Tollenaar

    I agree with all of the tips here, thought they sound to me more like “how to make the most of open mic” than “how to transition from open mic”.

  • Jake

    This is how The Wristband started, almost to the T, good advice here. Take these steps and you will find out if you have what it takes. Its that simple

  • We fall into category three: new in town. We did the open mic thing for about a year in our new town just as Christopher suggested. From making friends among the local open mic-ers, we also wound up learning where they perform gigs, and that was a clue as to what venues to approach. We have a fairly professional looking artist profile from our previous town, with CD and brochure packaged inside custom printed folder, and we submitted that to the venue that we thought best fit our style, offering to perform weekly on an off-night (Monday) in exchange for tips. The owner got back to us the next day. Two months later things are building nicely.

    The other thing I would add, however, is that if you offer to work for tips on an offnight, and the answer is “no thanks”, then it might be that you’re not ready. Years ago I performed with a different partner and we got maybe 2-3 gigs in as many years. The songs were great, I still perform them. But our execution was not good enough: off-key vocals, mindless guitar parts performed with minimal skill, cringe-worthy harmonies. Let’s face facts, open mic nights are filled with performers who are not ready and might never be ready. I would never advise someone to give up on themselves, until they themselves are ready to give, and even then only if I concur that they they really ought to give up! But someone needs to be our own most incisive critic, and that should be ourselves, informed by the feedback we are getting. If it’s not working, don’t automatically and forever assume it’s the audience, it could be you need to reshuffle the deck and try something different, or even give up music altogether. In my case, reshuffling did the trick.

  • I’m in that transition now, but here is what worked for me. The short version is – went to a local restaurant, noticed it was great space for music, and asked the waiter if they had live music. He said the owner was thinking about it, so I contacted her and gave her my CD. She invited me down to play one night, liked it, and now I play every Weds evening for 2 1/2 hours, get paid, get tips, sell a CD or two, free wine and food. If I found five restaurants a week like this one, I’d be fat and happy (actually, fatter and happier)

    • Very similar to what we did, Steve. I agree: after getting your act worked out, find a gap and offer to play. Since we perform on a very slow night night, Monday, we are content to work for tips and drinks. But in the process we are building a small following, as well as honing a 2-3 hour performance, which we can sell on Friday-Saturday.

      Here’s a tip I recall reading in an interview with Luka Bloom long ago. He came to America and changed his name as a means to escape the fame of his older brother, found a place to play, and asked for SUNDAY night! His reasoning was that by picking Sunday, people were coming to hear him, not merely coming out to hear music. That way, he was free to build the performance he envisioned, i.e. his own songs, and free from the requirement of playing crowd pleasers to satisfy the Friday and Saturday night drinking crowds.

  • LandRat

    Great articleMy question. What if you end up skipping the whole open mic thing and begin by playing venues with others bands? Is it unrealistic to be doing something like that? Any advice will do! Thanks in advance!

  • Robbie

    Commitment, drive, determination and perseverance will get you gigs. Just never give up and don’t stop calling until they say no. If you have the talent you will get hired but you have to pick up the phone, the gigs won’t just come to you.

    Robbie Hancock
    http://Www.robbiehancock.com

  • Rupertpackard

    This is really useful. Greatly appreciate this. I have been writing songs for a long time but new to being a solo artist. Look forward to applying these ideas

  • Really nice advice. Everyone of these things is almost a MUST DO 🙂
    The advice the other people shared is also worth looking into. Thanks everyone!

  • One of the best posts I’ve read, thanks!

  • Mathew Sydney

    Excellent article!

    I got my start at open mics and not only did I graduate to headlining my own gigs but I’ve also had the4 pleasure of being MC at various open mics.

    #4 is especially important. Too often have I seen an artist show up right before they’re scheduled to go on (along with their entourage of friends) and then watch them leave (along with the entourage) as soon as their 3-song set is over. This is not only disrespectful to the other artists but it also doesn’t endear the performer to the venue owner who has opened up the venue to performers with the expectation that the customers stick around and (hopefully) buy a drink or two. Venue owners have bills to pay so if you want them to support you, you have to show them a little support too.

    I’ve been to open mics where this behavior had become standard. All the customers sit around outside until their friend gets up on stage, they go inside 10-15 minutes and then leave. This results in every participant pretty much performing to only the 3 people who they came there with. This doesn’t help anyone at all.

    The best open mics are those where there is an MC who encourages an atmosphere of respect and support. (“Please turn off your phone. Please try not to get up in the middle of a performance. Wasn’t he great! Let’s give him another round of applause!”)

  • Indeed. Great article and replies! Just the motivation I need to get off my butt LOL!

  • Bdeana

    Great article. I have put many of these suggestions into practice. I am curious what you think about using things like a vocal harmonizer or a drum machine at an open mic event?

  • Dennis

    This is a great article. I was quite active in the small club/coffee house scene in Hollywood/Los Angeles several years back. Often, open mics were used as audition nights for the hour long sets booked on other nights. I wound up taking over hosting duties for an open mic when the regular host didn’t show up one night and became the host for the next 6 months until I moved from the area. I always got gigs at the open mic venues, sometimes sooner because the booker was there open mic night and liked me, sometimes later after I had proved I was dedicated to showing up week after week. A couple of times I even got to open for a nationally know act.
    I think that many of the reasons I was able to transition from open mics to full length gigs (while promoting those gigs at the same venue’s open mics) were employing many of the tips in the above article.
    The club staff and owners notice how dedicated you are and how you interact with others when you’re not on stage. Those who continued to come and sincerely tried to improve their performing/songwriting, etc, eventually earned respect and got booked. The early-come/early-go who felt entitled to a showcase booking typically had their phone number filed in the circular bin.
    Remember, you’re always auditioning. Be the musician (and person) that you would like to play and interact with.

  • D.R.Universal

    Its funny bc I’ve been using these SAME STEPS for the past 6 years and its worked! Was THRILLED to see my theory validated in this article! 🙂 Of course its a bit different for MCs but the principle works just the same..my BIGGEST pet peeves would be 3. Announce your name at the beginning and end of your open mic set- & 4. Stay for the whole open mic and make friends- ..Burns me up when ppl get on the mic and perform and we dont know who they are..or when they perform and leave, never supporting the rest of the acts! Good good stuff here..SALUTE

  • I'm no purist, so I always like when someone has an extra interesting element. BUT… not if it takes the person an abnormal amount of time to set up properly. If it's just as smooth a transition as every other act, fine.

  • Great tips to get you going. Spend some time checking out the other participants to see if this open mic meets your needs for growing as an artist. Match your skill level with those who show up often. You want to continue to grow as a writer and performer, so make sure there is a good mix of those further along in their skill level as well as those at or below your own skill level so everyone can learn from each other.

  • Scottjbrown

    Every bit of knowledge helps. Thank you. S.J.B.

  • Very helpful! Thanks for the advice. It motivated me to sign up for this week's open mic and build that confidence up again. 🙂

  • Somemightsay

    I played open Mic for years & found it a good starting point as well! I suggest playing at as many different ones as possible, to get use to different crowds / sound systems & how to adapt to different situations & remain comfortable (as possible). I build up a really good set of songs over time for a 25 min showcase or 45 min set….then started giging !! Cheers !!!

  • Somemightsay

    Another good point I see on the posst hear…YES, Buy something !! Open mic are done to bring in customers !! In southern Ca. I can't tell you how many times I see Musicians come a play tunes & leave early & buy NOTHING…(& play over time limits). Soon enough the open mic is gone !!! Very sad !!!!

  • SteveCapt

    @Peter Fitzpatrick… Good point you make about balancing a 24-hour work day. Most important to remember is that staying fresh and enjoying the music making is key. I do all these things that you speak of and then feel tired on some days… so if I skip recording or practicing my live set for one day, it's okay, no worries. Because I know that life challenges are going to be what they are, and that is life, pure and simple. I guess the amazing thing about making music is that it truly is an art, and art can't be forced out on to a conveyer belt or made with a cookie cutter. Good luck to you!

  • Myron, obviously there are exceptions in every case. Folks with kids or day jobs can't be expected to be there till the bar closes! 🙂

  • Guest

    Excellent article. I'd like to reinforce the wisdom of going to a venue to see what it's like prior to playing at that location. It's important to know your audience. Some places are quiet, coffee shop venues that are perfect for sensitive, folk songs and introspective music. Others are bars where people go to have a drink, watch sports on television, talk with their friends, and where they can unwind. If your going to play a quite coffee shop, you probably don't want to come in and do a full-tilt-boogie cover of an AC/DC song. Likewise, playing a gentle song about green fields and blue skies with soft fingerpicking won't get much attention at a bar filled with cowboys and bikers. Now this isn't anything to get upset about, it's simply the way the venues are so don't get your ego wrapped up in any of this. As much as you may hope to sway the public with your songs, there is only one of you and perhaps fifty of them. Recently, I was playing at an open mic in a neighborhood bar when a woman came in who broke about half the rules established in this post. She had the host sign her up so she wouldn't have to come in early. After the first hour and a half passed she came in with her entourage and took a table in the back. They ignored the singers and talked. When her time came she went on stage and performed two lengthily quiet songs. The bar, by the way, was in full stride with games on television, lots of conversations, laughter, and general chatter. Nobody could her her lyrics and the mood she was going for was completely alien to the venue. Then, prior to her third song, she put her fingers in her mouth and let out a very shrill whistle. It screamed through the bar and everyone stopped talking and looked over at her. "Now, I want you to be quiet for this next song!" She demanded. Well, as you can imagine, that quiet lasted perhaps 30 seconds and then everyone went back to what they were doing. She finished her set, put away her guitar, and she and her entourage left the building. From what I could hear, the songs were imaginative, and her guitar playing was lively, but she was in the wrong place for that kind of music. Know your audience, and be prepared to give them music that will enhance the evening. Also, and I think this goes without saying, don't tell the audience how to behave. It's their place, not yours. You'll get a far better reception.

  • MIchael Kennedy

    Checking out the venue before playing there is very important. If it is a quiet little coffee house you might want to reconsider performing your tribute set to AC/DC. Likewise, if it's a bar full of bikers and cowboys, your salute to Joni MItchell might not be the best choice for grabbing the audience. As much as we'd like to believe the audience will be drawn to our music, the fact is we are there to enhance their evening whatever that may be. Once your well known, you can play what you wish (although, even then you need to play to the audience if you want to remain popular). Until then, if you want them to actually like what your doing, know what to play so they'll actually pay attention. Oh, one more thing. Don't demand that the audience listen to you. Don't be rude. I was at an open mic the other night at a bar where people were talking, laughing, watching a game on television, and having a great time. A woman got on stage and did two soft folky songs. She was almost impossible to hear, and her words were completely lost in the room. Prior to her third song she put her fingers in her mouth and let out an ear piercing whistle. Everybody stopped talking and looked at her. She demanded they be quiet and listen to her song. Well, that lasted about 30 seconds and everyone went back to talking, laughing, and so on. I'm sure she sang a lovely song, and her guitar playing looked imaginative. But when she whistled she lost everybody. Don't be rude to the audience. Be sensitive to the venue. If your MIles Davis, you can blow them off, but until then, be aware of where you are and do your job with skill and communication.