How to Not Suck at Open Mics

Open mics are a great way to try out new material as a solo artist or someone new to the city.  The people meet at this event (bar staff, mic host, and fellow musicians) can easily lead to your next paying gig.  This is especially relevant for artists that normally play with a main band.  Your side project can generate buzz and get your friends out supporting your new style.

Don’t stay a bedroom artist when a whole new audience awaits you!  (How are you supposed to have strong web-content like videos, photos of you performing or cool poster art if you don’t get out there?)

How to Use Open Mics to Get Future Gigs:

Do a little research.  If an open mic is being offered in a bro-popular bar or entertainment district, and you want to debut some original music, this may not be the right place.  Your best bet is to try the cute little art café or gallery for that style.


Call ahead.  Find out if there’s a sign-up list on the day of.  You can also ask if there’s a drum kit or piano available.  You may be surprised as what’s available to performers.


Dress for the show.  This is still you representing yourself and artistic vision on stage, even if it’s not your target audience.


Treat it like a real gig.  Even though you’re not getting paid, you’re playing.  Be professional.


RehearseRemember your lyrics, gear and how to set them up quickly.  You can be your own Llewyn Davis, but warm up those vocal chords first.


Get to know the venue owners.  Let them know you’re available for future gigs by 1. Thanking them for hosting the open mic 2. Having a CD/contact info to hand to them


This is not your personal private living room.  The venue is being kind enough to offer a free space for you to express yourself.  Bring some friends and get them to order a pitcher of beer.  This makes a huge impact on the general energy of the room and your willingness to return.


Don’t be a brooding artist.  Don’t show up solo, not interact with others and leave as soon as your 3-song limited set is over.  There are open mic regulars who are eager to meet newbies like yourself.  Message them within a week after to let them know you dug their stuff or become Facebook buddies for future shows.


Start or end with a crowd-pleaser.  This is one of the few times that you’ll ever see YouRockRed encouraging you to play a cover song.  But make it your own!  You’re performing to a group of strangers who, most likely, love cover songs in the Ani DiFranco-Jewel-style, so if you bust out some American Pie, they’re going to appreciate the sing-along factor.


Talk to your audience during your set.  Don’t just tune quietly and listen for that awkward cough in the audience.  Let them know where you’re performing next, where they can download your music. 


Get to know the host.  Juno-nominee Amanda Rheaume used to host an open mic in the basement of a mall restaurant that would be packed regularly.  Chances are the people running the night’s program are very passionate about music and can connect you to other opportunities.  Suggest a jam session as many are open to collaborations.  Bonus:  ask them to play the tambourine or bongos during your last song if


Get international. Another tip is to play open mics when you are traveling if you can!  Headed to a cool part of New York like Williamsburg or London, England?  Borrow a guitar or grab your laptop! This is a real gig! As long as you have something resembling a stage and an engaged audience, you have now played internationally.  Publicists and promoters take note of these, as they set you aside from all other local groups.


Got a tip from your own experience?  Let us know in the comments below or send us an email!