Open Mic Nights: Everything You Need to Know

You’ve practiced and perfected a few songs and now you want to share them with others. To do so, you have two choices: social media or open mics. Although posting your bedroom performance to social media can be rewarding and fun, nothing beats the thrill of playing live in front of a crowd of people. In this article, we’ll learn everything you should know about open mic nights.

What exactly is an open mic night?

An open mic night is an event that is hosted by a professional musician or band at a bar, cafe or restaurant. The host usually plays an opening set (a set is short list of songs) to get things started while the guest musicians (that’s you) arrive and sign up to perform. After the opening set, the host will look at the sign up sheet and call the first name up to the stage to perform. This continues until everyone has performed. If there is time left over, the host may ask a guest to perform more songs.

16143765_1323276264382339_1406937756842350795_oDifferent formats

Open mic nights come in a variety of formats. First, you need to know if it is a music open mic, or just spoken word. Some open mic nights focus on spoken word performances, like poetry reading. You don’t want to show up to those expecting to perform music. Be sure that the open mic supports music performances.

Second, be sure you know which instruments are allowed. Some open mic nights cater only to acoustic instruments, others support electric instruments too. Some allow drum kits, others don’t. Be sure that you know your instruments are supported beforehand.

Third, open mics tend to reflect their hosts. So if you want to play some punk music, for example, it may not be a good idea to go to an open mic night hosted by a folk musician, who has attracted the participation of other folk musicians. Although you’d be welcome, you may feel a bit out of place.

Lastly, know how many songs you’ll be expected to play. Some hosts will allow you to play five or six songs, or as little as one or two.

Recon mission

The best way to figure all of this stuff out is to go to the open mic that you’re interested in and watch. Get there early, introduce yourself to the host and explain that you’re planning on attending a future open mic. Ask about the format and learn all you can from the person that has all of the answers. Then, grab a drink and some food and enjoy the music. Remember, open mics are supported by patrons who attend, eat, drink and tip. So be sure to do those things while you’re there. As you watch, keep an eye out for all of the format questions we talked about.

A nice side benefit of your recon is a psychological one. Playing an open mic can be a nerve-wracking experience. Your recon mission will help you figure out a lot of the logistics beforehand, like where to park, where to store your instrument, where the sign up sheet is, et cetera. As a result, when you do attend the open mic with the intention of playing, you’ll feel more comfortable.

What to bring

  • Guitar.
  • Picks.
  • Tuner.
  • Extra strings, string winder, string cutter.
  • Two Guitar cables (one as a backup).
  • Guitar strap.
  • Stomp Box Effects However, try to minimize how many stomp boxes you bring. You want to be able to set up and tear down quickly.
  • Amplifier, if the format allows it.
  • Lyrics or sheet music, if necessary.

The list

When you arrive at the open mic night, put your name on the list. Most hosts will make it clear on their website when the signups begin. Usually, the list goes out an hour before the host’s opening set. If you want to perform sooner rather than later, be sure to arrive early, perhaps even an hour before the list goes out, so that you can be one of the first people on the list.

Write your name, which instruments you’ll be playing and how many songs you plan on performing on the list.


Open mics are friendly, casual experiences, but there are a few things you should know.

  • Be courteous to the other performers. Apply the golden rule liberally. Remember, you’ll be performing soon, too.
  • Know where you are on the list so that you can be prepared to jump on stage as soon as the last performer clears his or her gear.
  • Do not tune your instrument or do any other prep work anywhere near the stage. You could be a distraction.
  • Do not ask the host to move up the list. Wait your turn. Relax and enjoy the performances.
  • If you happen to be one of the early performers, stay a while after your set to support the other musicians. It’s not cool to play and run.

Your performance

Do your thing. You’ve rehearsed a ton ( you did rehearse, right?) and now it is time to trust your preparation and go for it. Be sure to greet the crowd, introduce yourself, and tell them that this is your first time performing. The audiences at open mics are generally going to be filled with friends and families of other performers, so they’ll be supportive by default, but telling them that this is your first time will make them especially attentive and applaud generously. It will give you a huge boost knowing that you have the audience on your side.

Keep your song introductions short and sweet. This isn’t Storytellers. Tell the audience the name of the song and who wrote it. That’s all you need.

If you want to say anything promotional, like “Find me on Facebook at” do so before your last song. Oh, and uh, save your best song for last.

When your last song is over, thank the audience and the host and clear the stage quickly.

Meet and greet

Open mic nights are great places to meet other musicians who are in similar situations as you. If you are looking to jam with other people, or start a project, open mic nights are filled with people with similar interests. If you hear a performance that you like, be sure to introduce yourself to the performer. Who knows, that simple gesture could be the start of your next band. Or at least a fun musical friendship.

How to find open mic nights near you

Google baby!

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s