How I Would Run an Open Mic

I’ve played at dozens of open mics and I’ve seen the good, the bad, the dead, the crowded, the annoying, etc. There are a few things the host should always do when hosting an open mic.

  1. The sign up sheet should be available well before the show starts. Ideally the open mic has an Internet sign up, but I understand why venues want the people to come out in person.
  2. The host should always be on time (20-30 minutes before the advertised start time). This prevents anything from slowing down the start of the night.
  3. The host should play no more than the other performers and should either go on first, last, or not at all. When the host treats the open mic as a weekly gig, don’t be surprised if people don’t show up to do his sound check.
  4. The host should make sure performers know when they are going on. Many hosts do not do this enough and it creates a show where you hear a lot of tuning and stage preperation. This also includes the host asking what the performer needs (sitting or standing? Does his guitar plug in or need to be miked?).
  5. The host should make sure the performers know how long they can play. I have been to open mics where they would have limited Bob Dylan to two songs but let your average teenager playing Indigo Girls covers railroad the host into playing three.
  6. The host should encourage the crowd to support the performers. Jason Wheatley @ the Living Room does this better than any host I’ve ever seen.

If a host follows these rules and the venue has a decent sound system the open mic will be a success. Is that enough? I think the open mic format can go beyond its typical form into something more interesting. One thing I have never seen at an open mic is a theme, although I’ve heard the Point does a Bob Dylan night on his birthday. I think it would be fun if the host said, “Next week let’s all play songs with the word ‘death’ in the title” or “Blues songs.” They’d always be optional, but how would you encourage people to participate? I would bring a large notebook with me to each open mic and write down the name of any performer who hadn’t played there before. Each time they came back another night I’d put a star next to their name. If they participate in the theme they get an extra star. “What the hell good is a star,” you ask?

  1. 3 stars and I’ll post a link to your site from the open mic’s webpage (oh yes, we have one of these with lists of who played each night).
  2. 15 stars and I’ll sign up you early so you don’t have to come down, but you may get put in any spot on the list.
  3. 25 stars and I’ll sign you up early on the list wherever you want.
  4. 50 stars and you get invited to play at some sort of “Open Mic Regulars” gig.
  5. 100 stars and you some sort of status when introduced. It could be “Legendary”, “Notorious”, “Infamous”, “Critically Acclaimed”, etc.

There are obviously tons of things you could do with this idea. If you sign up early and don’t show up, I’d have to take away some or all of you stars since that is the ultimate in rude open mic behavior. I’d also give bonus stars to anyone who covers another regular artist at the open mic. Maybe I’ve give a bonus to the artist being covered, too, since she wrote such a good song.

Maybe this star idea is lame, but that’s how I would do it.