Types of Open Mics
Not all open mics are created equal. While most open mics are for music performance, there are some that are created only for poets, comedians or dancers, so make sure you call before going to a new open mic that you or your friends have never been to make sure it hosts musicians.
Some open mics will be very simple with no amplification or stage when held in public places like community centers or schools. These open mics are typically going to see more acoustic musicians than ones who bring amplified instruments.
Other open mics might be held at an actual live music venue, and at these you can often count on being able to use the house equipment including guitars and amps, and in some cases an open mic might employ a full house band to back you up when you perform.
Be aware that not all music-specific open mics will cater to your style of music. Some open mics are tailored specifically to jazz, singer/songwriter, and even metal.
You don't want to show up to an open mic where they play jazz standards expecting to shred out your latest neo-classical riffs as the crowd might not be too interested in a different genre than they are used to hearing at that particular open mic.
How to Find Open Mics
You can find a good open mic on various resources. One of my favorite websites to use in the US is openmikes.org. Although the URL spells mikes incorrectly for this context, you can rest assured this site does list the majority of active open mics in US cities.
Another good resource is meetup.com, and still yet you can find venues on Twitter and other social networks posting about their upcoming open mics.
Additionally, networking with area musicians can help you to find the most fitting open mic for you.
Covers Versus Originals
Some open mics refuse to allow you to sing cover songs, expecting only original songs.
This is a nice rule in general to force people to be creative, however it's probably not going to be easy for them to know every song in the universe, so there is a chance you can get away with playing a more obscure cover when covers are frowned upon.
Most open mics, however, don't have a preference on what you play and at some musicians will play only covers and never any originals.
Again it depends on the open mic and who is attending it, so call ahead and ask which they prefer.
Singing to Backing Tracks Versus Live Instruments
If you don't play an instrument and don't have a friend who does, you might want to know if you can bring a karaoke backing track to sing over. In some cases this is acceptable and is the norm if the open mic is set up this way.
At many open mics, however, singing over backing tracks—even if the track is an original you write and recorded yourself—will be frowned upon. It all depends on the people who run and attend the open mic, so call ahead and ask if it's OK to bring your tracks to perform over.
If not, ask if
they have a house band knows the song or can if they can read from your lead
sheets. At worst you can always sing a capella.
How you conduct yourself at an open mic will determined how you will be received. Follow these tips to ensure you are a welcomed musician at any open mic.
How to Arrive and Exit
Try your best to get to an open mic before the signups start. Most open mics will have a signup sheet that goes into effect about an hour before show.
The sooner you get there the sooner you can choose the time slot you want to play, plus you won't interrupt any artists already on stage if you were to arrive after the start time.
When you leave the open mic, try to wait until at least five or six more artist have performed after you. Coming in and leaving right after you perform is considered to be very rude and self interested and although it may not prevent you from playing at that open mic again, you may not have everyone rallying around you.
Always be as quiet and as non-distracting as possible when you leave so that you don't bother the performers on stage or get in the way of the audience's line of sight either.
Avoid Disturbing Other Artists
When you are waiting your turn to perform, do not do things like tune your instruments, talk loudly to others or move around the venue a lot. You wouldn't appreciate it if the other musicians did that to you as it is distracting, so show respect and quietly listen to all the other artists who are performing both before and after your performance.
Try to tune your instruments before you arrive to the venue if you can. If you cannot then do your tuning between sets so you don't throw off anyone performing on stage.
Try to tune without any amplification even between sets at it is very distracting to the audience to hear all the extra noise. Don't be afraid to make little tuning adjustments on stage, it happens to all players, just don't let it take up a lot of your allotted time on stage.
Everyone goes to open mics for different reasons, some to network, some to only to practice performing.
Why People Attend
Networking at an open mic can be fun and rewarding in some cases, or a dull and non-productive waste of time for others depending on what your goals are.
Some people go perform simply for practice and not to make new friends, gain new fans or to find players to jam with, while for others these are the exact reason they go.
Go slowly and feel everyone out, don't expect to make solid connection the
first night but keep going as often as you can so you become more familiar.
Before long your goals of meeting the right people will be attained as you find out about other open mics and events in the area.
Dealing With Open Mic Cliques
Some open mics have regulars that form cliques h can make you feel like an outsider. Very few open mics can have a pretentious feel, with all the love and attention going to the local artists and cliques.
The site openmikes.org has a comment section where people have complained that they went to an open mic, signed up early, but were never let on stage because all the locals dominated the open mic.
This problem is hopefully a rare one and it is one that will be made obvious in reviews about the open mic, so the chances of you running into a less than friendly situation are low.
Be aware that the
issue does exist in extremes and if it does happen to you, don't take in personally.