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Making the most of Open Mics

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Here's an article from an article I wrote for the Music Producers Forum back in March.

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Open mics are starting growing in popularity around the Sydney pub and club scene. One theory is that with the anti-smoking law, club owners are having to find ways to attract their drinkers. For live music, this is a good turn of events.

It always is a massive quantum leap from being able to to perform a couple of songs to a performance-ready level, to having a full 3 sets ready (Around 30 songs). An Open Mic offers the chance for musicians and songwriters to test drive their musicianship to an audience (A real live one at that!) and build up that full gig song list.

The Surf Rock hotel at Collaroy (Northern beaches of Sydney) hosts an open mic every Wednesday which I have attended several times now. The format for this open mic is 3 songs, and you can fit up to 3 people on the small stage that is situated on top of the central bar.

As a member of the audience, you generally don't know what you are going to hear, but that is a part of the charm of the open mic. You really feel like you have the opportunity to be the first to discover the next big thing.

As an open mic performer, the experience is a little different. Now that I've played my second open mic, I feel like an expert (Well a bit more of an expert that what I was before). So here are a few tips that I've come up with to make the most of the open mic.

Check out the venue before the night

If possible, go to the venue to a prior open mic to check out what the environment is like. Is there usually a big crowd? (This could be intimidating for your first performance). Find out what kind of songs are played, as you want your selection to suit the crowd, as well as make sure that the song you plan to play is not already performed. At well organised open mics, a regular base of performers usually develop. Find out what the open mic organiser supplies, in regards to equipment, and if they have a house guitar, check if its a good one. If it isn’t up to scratch, you may want to bring your own. The guys who organise the Collaroy open mic supply a beautiful Cole Clark steel string acoustic (nice).

Preparation

Practice, practice & practice before you get there. Make sure that you have a few extra songs up your sleeve, not for the encore (These don't usually happen at open mics due to time constraints), but incase your cover song gets covered before you get your chance. If you have accompaniment, make sure that they have rehearsed with you as well.

What to bring

If you choose to bring your own guitar, make sure you have a spare set of strings, and your tuner. (Unfortunately, the untuned guitar rears its head every now and then). If you have your own music to promote, get some cards made with your Myspace account or website details, these open mics are invaluable in developing a fanbase.

What to do on the night

Drink room temperature water if you can. Cold water can tighten up your vocal chords. Tea with a drop of honey has been a recommendation I have heard but generally, stay away from carbonated drinks before hand as well.

Get behind other performers. If they have done well after their performance, let them know! You'll know how invaluable this feeling is once you have been the recipient of praise from your new found peers.

A good open mic generates a positive community feel amongst the performers, and make sure that you are a part of that, so don't let your ego prevent this from happening.

If all went well, make sure that you book yourself into another night, before you leave.

What to do after the night

Think of what songs you can play next. Try and get 3 new songs up at performance level. Now that your feeling that bit more confident about it all, invite some friends along for the next one.

This article was originally posted on www.musicproducersforum.com in March 2008.

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