Visit a collection our performers' Local Open Mics.
One of the primary objectives of OMA is to support and
foster "brick and mortar" Open Mics. You can Volunteer
to help us with that important job!
Bob Dylan, in his "Chronicles" autobiography said
something to the effect that after he began performing live in small venues
he had a feeling of being a part of an invisible nation
, of people who
shared a culture of the songs and stories that were at the heart of our
nation. It really got its start in the Folk scene in the early 60's.
Greenwich Village, NY with the so-called "basket houses", are most commonly
thought of as the cradle of the movement. The music played at Open Mics has
now come to embrace a wide variety of genres. Most prevalent are acoustic
players, though instruments and vocals are nearly always amplified.
Those of us who have been at this awhile have probably experienced these
events in terms of "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly". I personally have
attended more than 500 Open Mics in dozens of venues from San Diego to
Vancouver, BC. For the exquisite, visit "The Artichoke" in Portland, Oregon
where there are candles on the tables, a stage with professional monitor
speakers and where no one dares make a sound during a performance! Many
venues are just "Bad" with miserable sound and patrons chattering away even
during a fine performance. The "Ugly"? I'm thinking of a certain event in
Tuscon where in front of the performer are 3 pool tables with games going
and the bar where people are bellowing at one another! Or think even of
the scene from "The Blues Brothers" where the band is protected with wire
mesh... some Open Mics are almost that bad. So we at OMA are all about the
"Good"! When it's done right, both musicians and audience (who
are mostly the musicians themselves) have a great experience!
TWO VERSIONS OF OPEN MIC
Generic Open Mic (The "Bad and the "Ugly"
A public event at which musicians of all skill levels are given the
opportunity to perform in front of a live audience with the use of a sound
system. No further organization or constraint is present.
1. No consideration whatsoever is given to room size or configuration. Huge
rooms dilute audience involvement with performers and audience feeling
disconnected from players... gives audience permission for chatter during
performance. "Shotgun" rooms can pose insurmountable sound problems.
2. The sound system can be of any quality and stage monitors may or may
not be used. A "sound person" may or may not be present. There is no real
commitment to optimum results. Sound is typically sub-standard and musicians
often cannot hear themselves. The musician says; "I cannot hear myself" or
"I cannot hear my guitar". The answer from those in charge is frequently:
"Don't worry, we can hear you out here". It is useful to remember why we all
started playing music in the first place... because we liked the way it
sounded! If the musician has a poor experience in hearing him or herself, it
is likely the performance will be lackluster. If a musician is asked to
choose between an open mic with a good sound system or one with a poor sound
system it seems obvious what that choice would be.
3. The Master of
Ceremonies is not necessarily someone well suited for the job.
There is no effort whatsoever to control audience talking during
performance. Those in attendance see the event as a gab-fest with music in
the background. Musicians are distracted by the noise and are discouraged
looking out over a crowd that seems disengaged from the performance. People
in the audience who actually are there to listen can't hear the song given
the crowd noise and they will become disenchanted with the event. Musicians
who do participate will more often turn to up-tempo songs played at higher
volume. Ballads will rarely be played in this atmosphere.
To see an
Open Mic that has succumbed to the above maladies is a depressing
experience. The sound system is not the worst but it's the lack of noise
control that is a glaring example of just how bad things can get. The
musicians themselves feel free to carry on loud conversations, including
tables immediately facing the stage... some with their back turned on the
stage while one of their "friends" flounders around on the stage totally
unheard and unappreciated. Witness the spectacle of people so wrapped up in
their conversations about music that they are totally ignoring that music...
live music, is actually taking place!
"Civilians" in attendance see that no
respect is given to the performance and they add to the din. The result is
instead of an environment that fosters artistry and musicianship, the event
is more a training ground for those who seek experience playing in a loud
bar or other setting where music is just background. Musician's
Open Mic (The "Good"
A public event at which musicians of all skill
levels are given the opportunity to perform in front of a live audience with
the use of a well-managed sound system.
Room size and configuration are important factors. The room can't be too large
or too wide. The audience should be concentrated in one area and immediately
contiguous to the stage area. Players should feel connected to listeners.
2. The sound system will be of good quality and stage monitors will be
in use to make sure musicians are able to give their best. A "sound person"
will make adjustments as needed for optimum result from each act.
A Master of Ceremonies will be in charge of the proceedings. The MC should
be a person with strong speaking voice and friendly manor.
Efforts should be made to control noise that can diminish the quality of
performance. This includes excessive audience talking. An occasional
(perhaps just one time per event) reminder by the MC along the lines of: "We
ask our audience to please respect the musicians and limit talking during
performance". It is understood that this is a social event and people wish
to interact. It is possible for interaction to take place without
compromising what the event is actually all about. The first line of defense
in this area is the musicians themselves. If musicians do not respect their
fellow musicians, the "civilians" in the audience will follow suit. Once an
Open Mic has established itself as a real acoustic show, crowd noise becomes
less of a problem. Accordingly, the MC's reminders to the audience can less
Examples of excellent "Musician's Open Mics" are Hub's Coffee
(formerly City Espresso) in San Jose, South Bay Folks in San Jose, GVA Cafe
in Morgan Hill, CA, Artichoke Music in Portland, OR, Mt Pleasant
neighborhood House in Vancouver, BC, BC Firefighter's Center, Vancouver, BC
and Art Beat On Main St in Vista, CA.
STARTING AN OPEN MIC IN YOUR COMMUNITY
OK, so you've got a little group of people that get
together to play music every once-in-awhile. But you need more room
and wouldn't it be great if "civilians" could hear your music! So
let's do it... let's start our own Open Mic!
1. Chances are, your
folks will mostly be playing "cover" tunes. So right here is a fork in
the road. If you go the local coffee shop route you will soon find
that if you want to play cover tunes, the shop will have to pay an annual
fee to the Performing Rights organizations such as BMi and ASCAP. More
often than not the fees are so high that the smaller venues simply cannot
afford to do it. Maybe some of your folks have deep pockets and you
can take up a collection to meet some or all of the obligation.
Or, you can choose a venue that is very successful and would not mind
paying. BUT, the more successful the venue, the more crowded and the
more you will have to reckon with patron noise. This is mostly the
case with bars. Maybe the bar has a separate room where you can
isolate from the noise. Be aware up front that a true blue
MUSICIAN'S OPEN MIC cannot flourish in a noisy setting.
You can mostly circumvent the issues with playing cover songs by choosing
a venue that is a NON PROFIT organization. Fire halls, church
buildings, civic facilities are a good way to go. There is no cover
charge, just a donation bucket for the organization. Bring in
coffee, donuts, pizza whatever. Another great benefit of this
approach is you will not be playing for noisy drunks or listening to
3. In choosing your venue, ROOM
CONFIGURATION is an important consideration. Huge rooms dilute
audience involvement with performers. Audience is disconnected from
players and gives the audience permission for chatter during performance.
"Shotgun" rooms can pose insurmountable sound problems. Rooms with
lots of glass walls or other reflective surfaces can make your Sound man's
the IDEAL VENUE would have a good playing area and a
good additional area... that serves as a "green room" where we go to warm
up before playing, or chat with others so as not to disturb the show.
4. You'll need an MC for your show that is really up to the
job. Often the person who is the primary organizing force simply
cannot accept the fact that they are not suited for the job of MC. The MC needs a strong speaking voice and a friendly manner and be
accommodating to players... yet he or she knows when to put the foot down.
5. You'll need a decent sound system. There are many options. The older analog units work fine using unpowered speakers. Digital
equipment will require powered speakers. It's extremely important
to have GOOD MONITOR SPEAKERS. Give your performers great sound on
stage and they will soar! It's beyond disappointing when you step
up to the mic, strum your guitar, sing a few notes to discover that you
sound like you are at the bottom of a dumpster! When you express
your distress, someone in the crowd says: "Don't worry, you sound great
out here". Not acceptable! We didn't start playing music so we could
sound good somewhere else!Performers should fight for good sound and
organizers of events should work hard to give it to them!
And so, it's important to have a Sound Person, someone who will pay
attention to the needs of the performer as well as what is heard in the
room. The Sound Person doesn't set up the system and then go gab
with friends, effectively a "one size fits all approach". Different
players and ensembles have different needs. A great Open Mic has
great sound and a great Sound person will become very popular among the
7. Establish a culture that is all about
performance! At a great Open Mic, all talking stops when the
performer begins to play. Folks at the tables may murmur to a table
mate something like "Wow this gal is great". He should not be
chattering away about the new pizza parlor that opened. When you
establish a culture of respect for the performer, outside folks that come
to the show (I like to call them "civilians") will instantly recognize the
nature of the event and will themselves stay respectful. After a
time, a show like this, what I call a "Musician's Open Mic" will magically
be transformed. Beginning musicians will quickly improve. Average musicans will soon be well above average and the better players
will start turning in stunning performances!
Best of luck
with your Show!
Capo Dave If I can help,
please feel free! dave@CapoDaveWilliams.com