Sunday, July 4, 2010

Starting An Open Mic

Jessie asked me a good question "Do you have any tips on starting an open mic"? Yes, there are some basic rules for Open Mics, no matter who, where or what they are, and these are what I have learned and worked for me the past two years. I began in my cafe in the health food store on Monday nights, and then we moved closer in to Princeton, and now have three locations each month.

Either works- once a week, twice a month, or just once a month. I do all three with each, people will come.

If you're interested in music and entertainment, love people, late-night crowds and lots of fun, an open mic night might be something you want to consider starting. The open mic format can vary from comedy to bands playing music and even poetry readings. Think about what you want the event to feel like and follow some of these suggestions to make it run as smoothly as possible.

LOCATION- One location decided without telling us they wanted it to stop thirty minutes before they closed, and that only gave us an hour and half for open mic. So consider, traffic and people who work. If the location is not as visible, somewhat popular, or doing well it will affect the open mic. Scope it out well on each night of the week, and that helps to spread the word to their locals. 
  • When you approach them, have two Date and Time options, and you may not want to compete with other established Open Mics in the area, so they can attend yours as well. Give them a print out with your ideas and demands ideas, then set an appointment to confirm everything.
  • Bars: People who come are not their to listen, not a good place for poetry, only music.
  • Coffee Houses: Typically a good place for anything- poetry and music
  • Diners: In this economy they are hurting, so they may have a section they will give you, and do not be surprised if they say "Let's try it out first".
  • Other: Check gourmet shops, art houses and galleries, or even empty strip mall spaces. We actually had our Cafe Improv begin there, and then it moved to the new building in Princeton.
  • Libraries and community centers: I attend several poetry readings in Libraries from time to time.
 RELATIONSHIP WITH OWNER: This is very important! I have found the most relaxed atmospheres are when the owners have no qualms about the open mic. They usually want you to do it on a slow night, make sure no one brings in outside food or drink, and periodically during emcee stands, give them a shout out/credit for your success.
    PRESS- Make sure you find out the local paper contacts and send in your brief bio and contact info at least a month before you begin. Papers are glad to list happenings around town, but keep it current. You may find some do not change info and you still get calls about another location from time to time.

    GUIDELINES, or otherwise known as 'Open Mic Policy'-

    1. Establish your authority. If you have a powerful stage presence, you're in luck. The key is make sure everyone knows who's the boss of this show, in a friendly way. Don't be afraid to make tough decisions.

    2. Prepare the venue. Make sure the stage is set up properly and that the mics are checked ahead of time. Get to know the sound mixer, so that you can adjust volume on-the-fly during a performance. I have seen some open mics not have a microphone, and reality is- that juicer or espresso machine begins to grind and sputter, some people hard of hearing, or annoyed attendees will not come back. Look professional.

    3. Always have a sign-up sheet and predetermined idea of how many can perform within the time limit

    4. In general open mics give freedom of speech in respect to children/minors being present we ask performers to restrain from usage of harsh/foul language in poetry, songs, or any spoken word content.

    5. Each performer (depending upon time start/end) two to three pieces to perform, whether musician to poet

    6. Keep equipment (bags, guitar cases, amps, etc.) off to the side and not out in open- under and around tables as to keep down accidents/casualties of guest and attendees from tripping or seemingly cluttered space

    7. Have materials ready/chosen as you are called to the microphone- dead silence is not pleasant

    8. Music Equipment must be tuned and ready- Not many people want to wait as you tune your guitars

    9. No liquids are allowed at or near electrical equipment such as mic or speaker areas- hazardous

    10. Keep the vibe of the open mic live and electric. Quickly and smoothly follow one act with another. Don't let the mood go wildly up and down. Keep a steady curve to the mood of the night. You can do this by stalling for time as the host when necessary, or by shooing off someone who is trying to monopolize the mic. Engage the audience by encouraging applause, as you go up to introduce the next performer.

    11. Make sure all performers know when they are supposed to go up to the open mic. If they know which act they are to follow, that's even better. It gives them prep time so they can get onstage and start performing when their time slot opens up.

    12. There are always going to be complaints, and those people who like to tell you how to run the open mic- be gentle and let them know that you are doing the best you can, thank them for their suggestions, and you will consider it. People come and go, numbers go up and down; it is just the way of any business or social aspect of life- do not let it make you feel like you are doing something wrong, just go with the flow...

    Optional Ideas:

    Offer Performance Art Instruction at least once a month- this helps beginner and nervous performers feel more comfortable behind the mic, and should be given by various seasoned performers, or Emcees of open mics.

    Offer Open Mic Set-Up Instructions to young adults who perform at the open mics to get them familiar with set-up, equipment usage of all spectrums of running an open mic, and if volunteers are needed each night. Use Interns from colleges to your advantage- you might want a night off, or find yourself sick, so have open mic covered with an assistant organizer.

    I run three locations of open mic in my area, and now have started WAMPP- Wine Art Music Poetry Project, so its been different each time, but still the basics are the same. Chose your location wisely!


    Rachel Cotterill said...

    This is a great set of advice - almost makes it feel like something I could do! (though the last thing I need is another project...)

    Hope you're enjoying the holiday :)

    farmlady said...

    All good ideas and advice. They have to be organized or can get out of control.
    I use to go to poetry readings in Berkeley,CA. back when they were mostly in Coffee houses. It was very intimidating but really good experience reading poetry in front of strangers.
    Brings back great memories though. Hope all of your "Open Mic" venues go well and that you inspire lots of budding artists.

    jessiecarty said...

    i knew you'd deliver with some great tips but you went above and beyond! thanks!

    Toon said...

    I once went to hear a reading in a bookstore. Those little independent bookstores are generally run by very cool people.