Performing at an open mic is an excellent opportunity to share your music and showcase your talent to an audience. Whether you’re a singing enthusiast looking to sing to a crowd for the first time or an experienced singer looking to promote your music, knowing what to expect at an open mic can undoubtedly help with having a good time.
Want to avoid getting caught off guard? Go in prepared and confident so you can enjoy yourself while dazzling the crowd! Here are 21 essential things you should know before singing at an open mic.
1. How to pick a song for an open mic
Choose a song that you feel comfortable with, you’ve rehearsed and are proud of. For your first open mic, play it a little safe and try not to perform something too new – even if it’s an easy song for you. Singing in front of a live audience can be nerve-wracking. When you’re anxious, a song that you feel is easy can suddenly seem difficult onstage. So pick a song that you know you’ll do well!
Many musicians wonder if they should perform an original song or a cover song. And the answer to that is: both are fine! Again, it’s more important that you’re comfortable with the song and that you enjoy singing it rather than just finding songs that are crowd-pleasers. If the venue allows for 2 songs per singer, you can first sing a cover song then finish off your set with an original song.
2. Find the best open mic venues in your area
In some cities, there are a lot of open mics available and a lot of them are held on different days/nights. Find out where the open mics are and which ones are worth going to. You want to find open mic venues that have regular customers and musicians actively participating. Try searching on google or ask other musicians where the best ones are in your area. You can also look through Facebook groups or Instagram to see what’s available around you.
Once you’ve nailed down a venue to sing at, find out which days they host an open mic and how many songs you’re allowed to sing. Knowing all this information will help you be more prepared for your first open mic performance!
3. Make sure you’re well-rehearsed
I can’t say enough how important it is to properly rehearse your music before you decide to go on stage. One thing that singers rarely anticipate is how common going on stage and freezing in front of a large group of people is. I’ve had that happen to me before and let me tell you, it’s the worst feeling in the world! So thoroughly rehearse your songs. Here are some things you should do to properly prepare yourself for your open mic:
- Practice your songs daily for at least 30 min per song.
- If you decide to play an instrument and sing at the same time, master each element individually before deciding to put them together.
- If you’re playing an instrument – memorize your lyrics and chords so you can play freely.
- Make sure you practice standing up if you decide to perform standing up on stage. There were countless times where I felt uncomfortable playing a song while standing because I short-sightedly practiced the song while sitting.
- If you want to play it safe and have your lyrics on hand while you perform, you can transfer your lyrics and chords to an iPad, rest the iPad on a tablet mount, and attach the mount to the microphone stand.
4. Prepare stage banter for your open mic
Many musicians look over this part, but knowing what you’re going to say on stage is a big part of your performance. It allows you to give an excellent first impression to your audience. You only have one shot at that, so make it count!
Write down what you’re going to say and keep it simple. If the audience notices that you’re talking too much, the audience will be less engaged and lose interest in your performance. If you’re not quite sure what you should say on stage, you can check out an article I wrote, Stage Banter: What to Say Onstage Between Songs to get some ideas on what you can talk to your audience about.
5. Prepare everything you need before your open mic
Before you leave your home to the venue, make sure you have everything you need for the open mic. There’s nothing more stressful than forgetting something at home and having to chase other musicians to lend you their music gear. You can make a checklist of all the essential things you need to bring.
List of things you can bring at an open mic:
- USB containing your backing track
- Tuner (check out this awesome multi-instrument tuner on Amazon)
- Guitar Pick
- iPad (with lyrics)
- Tablet mic stand mount
- Lyrics & music sheets
- Pedals and Effects for your instrument
Read Next: 5 Best iPad Mic Stand Mounts in 2020
6. Wear clothes that are comfortable
Make sure you wear something that you feel comfortable in. Choosing an outfit based on how it looks rather than comfort can make your performance THAT much harder.
Consider what shoes you’re going to wear on stage as well. If you’re going to wear heels, make sure to practice your song while wearing those same heels at home, so when it’s time to sing, there won’t be any surprises.
Also, consider the “heat factor” for when you’re on stage. Expect that there are going to be a set of lights shining directly at you, not to mention the heat from the audience. If the venue isn’t a well-ventilated place, it can feel uncomfortably hot. So wear something that’s well ventilated and not too constricting.
7. Get to the venue early
It’s always helpful to get to the venue earlier than needed. Often with open mics, the earlier you arrive, the more spots you’ll have to choose from. If you get there late, you’ll be left with either being the first or last to perform, which aren’t the best spots for your first open mic.
Getting to the venue early also allows you to meet the host and fellow musicians. You’ll get a chance to join the music community, which, in my opinion, is one of the best reasons for joining an open mic. If you see the host is frantically running around and being busy, wait until they are free before introducing yourself. They’ll definitely appreciate it.
8. Be respectful of your fellow performers
As a performer, hearing someone in the audience talk above your singing isn’t encouraging or supportive at all. Seeing someone play on their phone the entire time is just as discouraging. It’s especially unnerving when it’s a slow and emotional song where you’re pouring your heart out for the audience.
It’s such a distraction for the performer as well as audience members who are trying to listen to and enjoy the performance. Basically, you show the respect you’d want when you’re singing on stage.
9. Don’t eat or drink too much
Make sure you don’t drink so much that you lose control of yourself while others are playing. It won’t look good for you if you get kicked out of the venue!
Some singers might need some “liquid courage” to shake off their nerves before singing. I can say it definitely does work! But drinking too much alcohol can also negatively affect your performance. You should drink in moderation before heading on stage because alcohol can dry up your voice before you sing. So do so, sparingly.
Also, hold off on eating a lot of snacks before you sing. You want to avoid feeling bloated, which can force you to uncomfortably burp on stage!
10. Relax and enjoy yourself
Being on stage is one of the best feelings in the world. So remember to enjoy every moment of it! No matter how nervous you are, know that everyone performing that night is just as nervous. You’re not alone!
Just be proud of yourself that you’re actually going through with performing at the open mic. It’s more than what many other people would dare to do. No one expects you to be perfect, so don’t be hard on yourself. The more relaxed you are, the better your engagement will be with the audience.
Remember to take deep breaths! When I’m feeling nervous and about to go on stage, I focus on my breathing by inhaling deeply through my nose and exhaling slowly out my mouth. It helps me reset and controls my breath work for when I need to get on stage.
11. Listen to other singers
One of the best parts of going to an open mic is being able to watch and learn from other performers during their set. Pay attention to the way they interact with the crowd, the techniques they use, and how they carry themselves on stage. You can learn a lot for your own set and future open mics.
Paying attention to how the crowd reacts when singers make mistakes can also ease your fears. If you’re a singer who’s a perfectionist, you’ll find that the audience will still cheer and support singers who make mistakes on stage. You definitely don’t have to be perfect!
12. Be aware of your set time
Make sure you know what time you’re going to sing. Stand by when it’s getting close to that time. You don’t want to be away from the stage and have the host and audience wait for you because you left your seat at the wrong time.
Usually, the host will announce 4 to 5 names at one time so that performers can prepare in advance. If you need to leave your seat and warm up a bit, don’t go far or for too long. Get back to your chair and get ready when there are 2 singers ahead of you.
Also, make sure you’re performing within your allotted time. Going over your set time will make others wait longer for their turn and extend the entire schedule for the rest of the night. Or worse – shorten another performer’s set time!
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13. Tune your instrument
If you play the guitar, tuning it right before you play is the most essential thing for you to do. Suddenly having to deal with your tune sounding completely different on stage to when you practiced is unnecessarily stressful.
When you get on stage and plug in your cord, play the first chord of the song and check if it sounds right. If you notice one of the strings is out of tune, tune your guitar and make the changes. I personally like to use this tuner made by Fender (Amazon). It tunes not only guitars, but also other string instruments like bass, violin, and many others. Make sure you’re not taking too long to tune your guitar while you’re on stage, or else you’ll quickly lose the crowd’s attention.
14. If you make mistakes, just keep going
All singers make mistakes regardless of whether they’re a professional or an amateur. But the best performers know how to cover their mistakes without drawing any attention from the audience. One of the best ways is by simply continuing to play. You don’t have to stop and say “sorry” or even explain why you’ve made a mistake. Just keep playing.
Whether you forget your lyrics or play the wrong chord, forgetting about it and continuing your song will help you deal with the mistakes that you made. Half of the audience that is paying full attention might be able to pick it up, the other half might not even see or hear it. And those who picked it up, won’t remember it if you brush it off and do an excellent job for the rest of the song.
15. Don’t just unplug your instrument
When you’re finished your set, take a look at the sound person before you unplug your instrument. Or you can find the mute button on the amp, and mute it before pulling the plug. Pulling the plug too early can cause a screeching feedback sound that will totally turn your audience off.
Before your set begins, find out who the sound person is and discuss with them if they’re going to give you a signal like a “thumbs up” to let you know that you can safely unplug your cord.
16. Be humble and appreciative
If you know you did a great job on your performance, make sure you show appreciation for the crowd’s great reaction. Thank the audience, and be humble about your performance. Singers are a tight-knit community, so treating other singers with respect is extremely important.
No matter how well you performed your songs, there’s always room to improve. So ask for feedback and find ways to make your next open mic even better!
17. Promote yourself
It’s definitely ok to promote yourself and your music at an open mic. Just make sure you don’t go overboard and talk about you and your music for too long during your set. If I’m about to play an original song, I’ll begin by introducing my song and what it’s about. And at the end of the set, I’ll briefly mention where they can find the song and what socials I’m currently promoting for my music on.
It’s crucial to approach mentioning your music lightly rather than hard-selling them. The crowd is there to listen to music – not to a sales pitch. So, if you say what you need to without sounding too pushy, your audience will more likely find your song and follow you on social media.
If you want to know more about promoting yourself and making a living from your music, you can check out my comprehensive guide: 21 Ways To Promote Your Music Online. You’ll definitely pick up some great tricks to get your name out there.
18. Stay for the whole show
After you’ve finished your set, don’t leave! Stay for the rest of the night and talk to some musicians. Open mics are a great way to make friends and join in the music community. Networking with other singers and musicians can also lead to really cool collaborations in the future.
If you’re a singer who uses instrumentals for your sets, you can meet someone who plays piano or guitar and ask them to join you for your next open mic session. It’s an opportunity to start a band or have someone to write songs with. There are so many possibilities.
19. Take notes
If you’ve noticed something you did or said on stage had a great reaction from the audience, remember to take note of it so you can refer to it in the future. It’s beneficial to jot down all the notes that are in your head while your performance is still fresh in your mind.
The same holds true if there’s something you thought didn’t work – take note of it. When you prepare for your next open mic, you can look over your notes and make sure you avoid making the same mistakes again.
The road to becoming a better performer can be done only through experience. So taking notes of things that work and don’t work will make you THAT MUCH better the next time you’re on stage.
20. Keep in touch with other musicians
Don’t forget to get other musician’s contacts, whether it’s their number or their socials. Some musicians that you meet might be professional performers for events and may record music.
If you’re looking to push your singing boundaries, having contacts who are professional musicians can be an excellent opportunity for you to play at more venues. You can even make an income out of it! Just make sure you keep practicing and becoming better so that you can showcase your talent in front of all your peers.
21. Think about your next open mic
If you had a good time with your first open mic, think about doing it again! I always feel that being onstage is thrilling each time. The preparation, the nerves before you sing, and the audience’s reaction to my performance make me want to continue singing. So ask yourself if you enjoyed it and, if you do, think about your next open mic. Figure out what other songs you want to perform and what you want to do differently next time.
As you sing at more, different open mics you’ll notice yourself slowly getting better each and every time. It’s quite gratifying to be able to entertain and perform for other people.
Open mics are meant to be fun and enjoyable! So make sure you have a good time with it. Don’t stress too much about your performance or psych yourself out. Be yourself. Make sure to practice enough, and do your best. The crowd is going to love it, and who knows – it might just be the start of something bigger!
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