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What an Open Mic is Good For
I have done I don't know how many open mics throughout the years. Some were good, some were bad, some had their purposes and others served no good purpose. So how do you know if one is worth your time? I can give you some of the deciding factors for me.
First of all you have to think of what you are trying to achieve by performing at one. When I did my first open mic ever, my intention was just to go out and see what the local music scene was all about. That's obviously good to do if you are considering getting out in that local music scene and playing for money. You will also get a chance to meet other musicians who you may actually want to work with.
When I did my first open mic, it was a very positive experience for me overall. I played acoustic guitar and sang. It was actually the first time I had ever done anything as a solo act in front of an audience. Prior to that I had only been a guitarist in the various bands I had played in. So this was a first for me and the reception was very good. So I obviously was encouraged enough to want to come back again.
My intention at the time was to hopefully get together with other musicians and form some kind of band. So I figured I'd play a few other open mics at various venues in the area to kind of announce my existence to the world and hope someone would want to form a band with me. I eventually met a keyboard player at an open mic and we formed a music duo. We then played a good number of gigs together and made a good amount of money along the way.
Whenever we wanted to check out a new venue, we would do their open mic. Often the person who would do the bookings would be present. So we would kind of use it as sort of an audition. This worked out rather well a number of times and we had scored a number of gigs by doing so. Later on I went solo and sort of took the same approach when trying to gig solo gigs. Again, it all worked out rather well.
Over time, as the economy kind of took a downturn a lot of places stopped having live entertainment. For some of those places, the only live entertainment they had was their open mic. So obviously playing at those open mics did not help in scoring you any gigs at any of those places. In my case, as a solo act, there was no reason to try to meet other musicians for the purpose of forming a band. So basically, there was no real reason for performing at those open mics.
When I was putting together a repertoire for the purpose of playing gigs, I used the open mics to try out the new material to see how it would go over with the audience as well as to kind of get over the nervousness of playing something new in front of an audience. As performers, we sometimes do a lot of the same songs simply because we feel more comfortable with them and so we may put off playing that new song in front of an audience for the first time.
So the the good reasons for doing an open mic are: to try out new material for the first time, to try to meet other musicians to form a band, to check out the music scene in the area or the establishment or to try to score a gig in the establishment hosting the open mic. When none of those things are being achieved, there really isn't much reason for doing an open mic.
When you go to an open mic, you buy drinks. Even the price for just a coke is ridiculous in some places. So you are spending a significant amount of money in some cases. For what? Really, think about it. If you are not achieving anything by doing an open mic, why throw away your money?
I did an open mic once at this one establishment that I never went back to again. The drinks were very expensive and the person who hosted the open mic didn't really care how the performers sounded. So that person made no effort to properly mix someone and, as a result, most of the acts sounded terrible. I have been to other open mics where the host would make the utmost effort to make the performers sound good as far as the mix would go. He believed that if the performer liked how he sounded, he would come back to the open mic again. He was basically right because his was the most popular one around, no matter where he hosted it.
Now that one open mic with the expensive drinks and the poor mix, as it turned out, did not do their own booking. They relied upon a booking agency. So doing the open mic at that establishment was an absolute and complete waste of time and effort. Obviously I never returned to it. What would have been the point? Expensive drinks, really bad mix and no opportunity to score a gig.
Now, I had done a number of open mics where the drinks were cheap and the mix was good. Those I didn't mind doing once in a while, even if they didn't normally book bands for live performance. Every now and then it's nice to just get out and have a little fun. So you call up a couple of your musician friends and ask them if they want to meet you there and hang out. But I generally don't make a practice of that. It's just fun to do every now and then.
So, as you can see, open mics do have their purposes. And if one does fit those purposes, then, by all means, do it. But if you really think about one and you can see no real good reason for doing it, you might as well just stay home.