How to Rock an Open Mic Night
Have you ever been to an open mic night?
For years, open mic (or sometimes called open stage) nights have been a great way to check out up-and-coming local artists, get to know your local music community, and, if you’re a musician yourself, try out new material, and/or get your music heard.
As of this story, we currently have about 15 weekly “music based” open mic nights within an hour of the Mid-Ohio Valley (though that’s just what we found…there might be even more). If you’ve never been to one before, are curious what happens when you’re there, or you want to start participating in open mic nights as a performer, but didn’t know where to begin, just talk with Aaron Whited and Jeremy Mayle. Aaron hosts the weekly Monday open mic at Serenity Coffee House Cafe. He and Jeremy have both been participating in open mic nights for at least as many years as we have local open mic shows.
Michelle sat down with Aaron and Jeremy to ask about their experiences with open mic nights, and advice for how to get the most out of a show (as an audience member, as well as a performer).
They started off talking a bit about their history with the local open mic.
Aaron: So, back when I got my start, open mics were huge. You got the Front Row, and (the now closed) Bogarts…those were the big 2.
Jeremy: And Stoney Creek. Mike Smith was there.
Aaron: I remember it was on Thursdays. So Tuesdays and Thursdays were the 2 big nights. Smokestack Betty ran Bogarts, and she had the best of the best-Mike Morningstar, Jeremy (Mayle), Todd Burge would come every now and then, Chase Brady. Pretty much all of these people are still doing open mics except Todd.
Aaron remembered Smokestack Betty would stand up for Aaron, and fought for him to perform at open mic because he was underage (her open mic was at a bar, but she wanted him to be able to perform at her open mic). Betty still influences the way Aaron runs his show, with different guidelines we’ll share below, as well as his keeping an open heart for teenagers and younger artists, just getting their start in music. Aaron will fight for them, too.
Aaron: I named my band Good Tuesdays because I met all of my friends at Tuesday open mics. We partied every week.
Jeremy: I named my band Jeremy Mayle because I wanted them to say my name later in bed. There were no qualms about it. (laughter)
Aaron: We would become well known at open mic nights because we would have a returning crowd, and they would start singing along with us. They’d know the lyrics to my (original) songs, you don’t get that hardly, anymore. We’re trying to bring it back. It’s a free (cost) thing. If you own a musical instrument and you just wanna try it out, trust me, there’s some amazing musicians, and some not-so-amazing musicians, but every one of them has a place on the stage.
Jeremy: And we all started out at some point.
Aaron: Absolutely. When I started (shakes his head)…
Jeremy: I wasn’t (bad). (laughter)
Aaron: You (Jeremy) and Nick Hunter, and everyone would sit in the back of the room, and I felt like I had all these eyes chewin’ on me, the entire time. And I was like “I suck, and I’m horrible.” I’m seventeen years old and I had never been out of the house. And here I am, the kid, showing up and screaming, growling, trying to sound like Dave Matthews…
Jeremy: I tell you what, it takes a lot of guts for a kid to get on any stage at all. It takes a lot of guts for me to do it still, and I’ve been doing it for a very long time. I still get nervous.
HTN: So…what you do (both) feel the purpose of performing at an open mic might be?
Aaron: A lot of people might get offended because they want to get paid to play, but it (open mic night) really is a way to hone your craft, and you get experience. What I’m really (hosting the show) for is for the young people. Because this place (Serenity), they give gigs and opportunities to brand new people, sight unseen. You get three songs (you can perform in your time slot), and if she (the owner) likes you, she’ll book you to do something, even if it’s busking on a Wednesday, or a small gig on a Saturday, just to test the waters. It’s all about the opportunities for the young people…
HTN: For the people who may not have had the opportunity (to perform) otherwise?
*And this brought up a specific local gal who will be taking over teen open mic at Serenity, this coming Friday night. Join her there on the last Friday of each month from 6-9pm.
Aaron: There’s a girl who just came in the other day, her name is Sienna Stocky. She did the homecoming open mic. She’s now coming almost every week, and she has a 40 minute drive (to get here). She played last week, 2 or 3 different times, and she getting ready to finish recording her first studio album, and she’s 17 years old. She and her family are going anywhere they can to promote her. Even on a week like last week, when we only have a few performers, she stayed the entire time. She knew the etiquette. She didn’t pop her guitar out (when you unplug from your connection, and it makes a super loud popping sound), she knew what to do.
HTN: So with regard to musician etiquette, don’t pop the guitar…
Jeremy: Don’t take the cable out of the guitar until the channel is muted, because it goes “BAM” in the speakers, and it pisses everyone off.
HTN: And that’s something that the sound people will tell you (when it’s time to unplug)?
Aaron: Be respectful to the other musicians (listen to their performances/don’t talk over them, clap for them at the end of their song(s)). Be respectful to the sound guy, and don’t grab the microphone, unless you want to hear the squeaky sound.
Jeremy: Well, this is all diva shit, right here. (more laughter)
Aaron: Don’t lick my microphone (I can’t even believe this has to be said…oy).
Jeremy: And don’t come with a handful of Leonard Cohen songs until you know what the scene is (poor Leonard…always misunderstood).
*Which lead us to what you “should” do and expect:
HTN: So bring a variety of music to pull from?
Jeremy: Yeah. Play what you wanna play, but don’t do an NWA cover in a place you’ve never been.
*Note if your crowd is okay with swearing, and/or if you’ll be censored when you perform, for swearing*
Jeremy: If you go into an open mic, first thing you do is you find the soundboard, and find out who’s running it. And that’s who you talk to. You find out if you need to sign a list, or just tell them you’re there. Usually there’s a list or someone you gotta talk to. Usually the sound board is where you go to, because usually whoever is running the soundboard is running the show.
HTN: So when you come in, that part of the setup (the sound) is already provided.
Aaron: Sound system is ready to go.
Jeremy: Just assume it’s not somebody standing up there with (just) a megaphone.
Aaron: So you get here, you sign in and get your name on the list (if there is a list), and then (at least here) you get a 3 song limit, and then we do the rotating of people (keep going down the list and start over at the top, if there’s time).
With re: to the “3 Song Limit”:
Aaron: You know, we’ve had poetry, we’ve had stand up comedy…the jazz trio we had, Serenity ended up booking them for every weekend they would come in. They got a weekly gig every Wednesday night because they showed up for one open mic. (so don’t allow yourself to feel limited as to what you bring to an open mic…)
… Aaron: And there’s some open mic nights where they’re doing a featured artist, where they’re giving them an hour’s worth of material (to play) to help get people in the door…
*As for what else you should do:
Aaron: Check your egos at the door, cause we’re all just people in Parkersburg.
We’re not famous. We just wanna play originals or covers for the people of this area. You know, respect the scene, ask questions, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Especially when you’re getting ready to perform in front of a group of people you don’t know.
I’ve had some people come in with egos-even high school kids. I’ll still give them the same amount of respect as anyone else, but I’m not gonna ask them to come in and play.
*So keep in mind you can have a lot of fun performing at open mic nights. But if you bring an attitude or ego, it may mean the difference between getting a paying gig down the road or not.*
Such great feedback.
HTN: In closing, any other tips for anyone coming in to experience an open mic, that hasn’t experienced an open mic, before. How can they make the best experience, for maybe their first time playing?
Jeremy: For playing, forget where you’re at. Just get up there, and close you eyes if you need to. Just forget where you are, and play.
Aaron: Open your heart and open your ears, and accept that these people including Jeremy and I devote a lot of our free time and our heart and our souls and our tears and our sweat to the words that we’re singing. The words what we write-even sometimes the words that we didn’t write-and to a lot of people, what you're hearing might not be the best thing you’ve ever heard, but it means the world to the people singing. So be respectful to the performers, and we’ll be respectful back.
Jeremy: And the main thing to get them (us) out of their house (and onto the stage) is that they think they’re gonna screw up, that they’re gonna do something wrong. What you gotta understand is, 99% of the time, nobody is gonna know you screwed up.
Aaron: It’s all in your brain.
Jeremy: It is. You know you did (screw up), and maybe another musician might know, but that’s it. And if they do know, they don’t care. (So) Don’t worry about it.