I love going to open mic nights. I enjoy meeting and networking with other musicians, I like hearing original material as well as artist’s personal twists on classic covers, and I especially like the fact that every open mic is different. It’s like filling a bucket with several different colours of paint without paying attention to the colour ratio….it will always be different.
Over the years I have attended many on a weekly basis. Some have been great fun with a friendly, open atmosphere where you are greeted with a smile and the musicians are all enthusiastic about all abilities and styles. I am sad to say that I have been to some that have been awful because some of the more experienced artists had little patience for the newbies. Many musicians do not appreciate other musical genres and styles, and some people simply do not understand the etiquette of open mic nights.
“There is an etiquette to open mic nights?” Not officially but there bloody well should be.
1. How long should I stay after my set has finished?
One the things that really pisses me off about some musicians is the naïve and/or arrogant way they think it is perfectly acceptable to leave after their set has finished. I have seen musicians sit on their own in a corner, scowling at people and refusing to engage in conversation (you know who you are Erwin), play their set and then leave straight after. This is possibly the rudest open mic behaviour I have come across.
I know that sometimes people only have time to stay for a set before they have to get back home to the wife and kids, or have to dash off to work etc., but it really is poor etiquette. Personally I think that after your set you should stay for the sets of at least two more musicians and for most open mics this constitutes no more than half an hour of your time. Oh and here’s a novel idea…talk to other musicians too.
2. Can I join in and make it a jam?
There is a clear distinction between an open jam and an open mic. At an open jam there are no set rules to who can join in. You can jump in and out as you wish and have the opportunity to play different instruments. An open mic is directed towards musicians who have rehearsed specific material whether that be originals or covers.
At an open mic it is poor etiquette to pick up your guitar, tambourine, cajon, harmonica or whatever other instrument you may have and start jamming along uninvited. Even if you know the song, even if you are doing it quietly so no-one can hear your input. You should always wait to be invited to join in. A lot of the time the musician who is about to play may ask if someone can “do some percussion” for them or would like some bass or a guitar solo. Don’t assume people want their set taken over by a self-righteous fuck-wit who isn’t as good, or as popular as they think they are. For me it’s like someone cooking you a meal at their house and you bring your own food and start serving it at the table…it’s just not on.
3. Electric or acoustic?
For me, Open Mic nights should be acoustic. If you want to bring a drum kit and electric guitars with numerous foot pedals and amps then I suggest Open Jam nights for that. You will be appreciated more and you won’t take up the time of other artists while you faff about with the gain on your Marshall amp, fumble around to change batteries for your pedals or wrestle with the untangleable (Yes I made that word up) mess of leads to hook them all up.
I am not averse to Keyboards but prefer the person who uses it to arrive before the open mic starts to get it set up. Once their set is done they can take it down as it takes a lot less time to strip down a keyboard equipment that to set up.
I have been to many open mics where whole bands come in and set up (which takes more than half an hour once equipment has been placed and sound checks completed, and therefore wastes the time of other performers) and end up playing more than the other open mic performers. Also once the band has finished then some poor solo acoustic artist has to go on afterwards and is usually ignored while everyone’s ears are still ringing from the band.
Establishing an ‘Electric’ or ‘Acoustic’ theme for your open mic is important as it informs musicians and audience members what to expect.
4. Borrowing other musicians equipment
This is a controversial one as many musicians, including myself, prefer not to lend our instruments to people unless we know who they are. Instruments are not only expensive but they are like children to their owners and if they get mistreated by others it is likely to cause an explosive response.
Recently I lent my guitar to a young lad who shall remain nameless but I had seen him around on the scene a few times so knew he could play. During his set he broke one of my strings. No big deal, its easily done and they are easy to replace. What pissed me off was that his apology was half-hearted, and he didn’t even offer to restring the guitar for me or replace the string with one of his own. Now I know that strings are cheap but surely it’s the principle of the thing. You break it you buy it…or at least replace it. I recommend taking your own instruments to open mic nights. That way if you damage your own equipment you only have to blame yourself.
5. No backing tracks
Open mic is not karaoke! Save that for Friday night at the Dog and Duck, Queen’s Legs or wherever you else you may frequent. Using backing tracks for me is an insult to musicians who spend hours practicing.
“But I’m a singer and I don’t know any musicians” I hear you wimper. In today’s multimedia day and age there really is no excuse for not finding what you want. Use Facebook, use Twitter, use Google. Just don’t use a backing track at an open mic, save that for your ex-factor audition!
Lastly, please, please, please leave your egos at the door. You are playing at an open mic night not the Royal Albert Hall. No one will be impressed by you wearing dark glasses inside or demanding that you get an earlier slot so that you ensure you have a larger audience. You are more likely going to alienate yourself.
Remember open mics are about having fun and networking with other musicians. Let’s keep it that way.
Have you had any interesting open mic experiences? Can you think of other pieces of open mic etiquette that needs to be addressed?