Have you ever been to an open mic night?
Not to be catty, but it seems like sometimes people use their open mic slots to simply play as long as they possibly can, without regard to whether what they play is actually interesting to the audience. If each person gets a 20-minute slot, they play for 20 minutes. If each person gets three songs, they play threeee looooong sooooongs. And the audience, although supportive, consists of other people just waiting their turn to do the same. What a drag!
If you’re really new to the stage and you’re using the open mic night to just get stage time, fine. I can understand simply maximizing your time. But otherwise, why not use the open mic night to convert a fan or two? Sell a CD or two? Or at least try out different song arrangements and presentations to see which way goes over best?
I went to an open mic night in Boulder last week. I was one of the last people to play. When I went up, there were about seven people left in the room. But I still introduced and played my song the way I had planned. A few days later, I got an email from someone from the other side of the country saying they had dropped in to the open mic night while they were out in Colorado for a conference: They loved my song and wanted to know if I had a CD they could buy.
So here are some ways to take advantage of open mic nights –
…and I don’t mean just by playing as long as they’ll let you play.
– Try different song arrangements on different nights. Does the song go over better with or without a spoken introduction? Does it feel better if you use a track behind your playing and singing, or does it feel better without? Does it feel better if you open with a particular riff or a cappella section? There are so many ways to perform a song, and the way you develop the feeling for what works in front of an audience is by trying things out.
Last week I played with a spoken introduction and with my rhythm section tracked, and I played piano and sang live. Next time, I am going to try a different track arrangement, and after that I may try just solo piano with no track. I’ll also try the song without a spoken introduction, or with a shorter one, and see if it still connects with people.
– Play to the vibe of the room. That means, be open to making adjustments to your performance based on what’s appropriate for the room, the crowd, and the stage.
I saw one performer with a complex set of freaky dance moves that might have looked in place in a music video, or maybe on a stage with a full band, smoke and lights. But it looked embarrassingly out of place in a chilled-out singer-songwriter-dominated venue on a small stage, with only a single guitarist as backup. This artist’s performance screamed a total inability to read and connect with audience.
– Have business cards, download cards, or other promo on hand. Fans are made one at a time, and you want to be prepared to make a connection each time there’s an opportunity.
(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn