Dos & Don’ts For Open Mikers

The large number of open mikes in the Boston area provides unprecedented opportunities for performers at all levels of skill and experience. For an exhaustive list of local open mikes, check out singer/songwriter Sam Bayer’s website, sambayer.com.

One of my studio’s services is making multi-track recordings of open mikes, so that those who want can get a high quality, studio mixed copy of their set. As a result, I’ve seen over 20,000 open mike performances! That, plus having performed myself back in the 1980s, at both open mikes and concerts, qualifies me to have some possibly worthwhile opinions, and, well, here they are!

  1. An open mike performance consists of 3 parts; the setup, the intro, and the song. All 3 are important, and should be planned and practiced with equal diligence.
  2. Learn to set up quickly, or you’ll lose the audience before you’ve even started. Practice at home with anything you can rig up to simulate a couple of microphones on stands. If you use a direct, check your cord and battery before you leave home. Don’t bring effects boxes, amps, or other outboard gear. Be in tune before you get on stage.
  3. Rehearse your intros. Keep them short and interesting. Don’t say “This is a song I wrote last month about….” First of all, we know it’s a song, you needn’t tell us. Second, we don’t care when you wrote it. Third, if your song needs to be explained, re-write it. Good songs explain themselves.
  4. Keep your songs short. Time your songs. Except for a few classics, any song longer than four minutes would be a better song if it were shorter.
  5. If you have a cheap pickup, use the mike instead. You’ll sound much better.
  6. Learn how to use microphones. Stay close and don’t move around. Practice this at home.
  7. Pay close attention the other open mikers. Analyze what the good ones do and what the bad ones do. Compare yourself to them. Learn. Grow. Improve.

It’s mostly a matter of attitude. Don’t come to open mikes to show off or dump your stuff on others. Come to entertain, share and learn. You’ll have a good time, and become a better performer.

Steve Friedman of Melville Park Studio records the Roslindale and Club Passim open mikes. He also recorded for years at the famous Old Vienna and Colonial Inn open mikes. Two CDs of these recordings have been released (one on Fast Folk) and his live recordings have been used on albums by Vance Gilbert, Lori McKenna, Kevin So, Scott Alarik, Jess Klein, Kerri Powers, Patti DeRosa, Chris & Meredith Thompson, Danielle Miraglia and others.

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