One of the largest growing sections of the live music industry in Australia and around the world today is the Open Mic scene.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an “Open Mic” is a forum for performers to showcase their material in a performer friendly environment.

You put your name on a list and when your turn comes around, you get the opportunity to play a few songs. Simple as that.

These events (held mainly on a weekly basis) have been the breeding ground for talented performing songwriters by creating a space for them. You don’t get paid as such but the exposure for the beginning singer-songwriter is invaluable.

Heres why…

As a performing songwriter almost any opportunity to perform your songs is a great opportunity however when starting out you’re faced with an initial “catch-22” situation.

You see, there are not many gigs for singer/songwriters with no performing experience but how can you get the experience unless you actually perform gigs?

This is where the Open Mic come into the equation.

An Open Mic then becomes the performance forum that a songwriter needs to gain their much needed performing experience from.

Bear in mind, Open Mics are not just for beginners either. From time to time I use an Open Mic to either showcase my best stuff or road-test new material to an audience that is there just for the music.

For me I see an Open Mic as a sonic sampler of my music for the purpose of selling my CD to the audience (that’s if the Open Mic organiser allows this – always get their permission, never assume that you can do this)

For those of you just starting out, here are my suggestions for tackling an Open Mic:

1. Make the decision to show up

It sounds a bit obvious but for someone who hasn’t experienced an Open Mic before you need to build up some courage beforehand. You say you’re ready but then your inner critic tells you not to.

Physically going to an Open Mic session is a major win in the ongoing battle you have with your inner critic. Just do it.

2. Don’t initially put yourself under any pressure to perform

Take your instrument along but never beat yourself up if you don’t perform that night. Sometimes it’s a good idea to soak up the scene, meet with the organiser and network with some really nice people.

It will be the people you meet that will give you the encouragement me to eventually get up and perform.

3. Make sure you are prepared

If you are going to perform make sure that you know the songs beforehand. If you need to use a music stand so you can read the lyrics then bring one. Its ok to do that.

Being musically prepared gives you one less thing to worry about on the night.

4. Make yourself known to the MC

Open Mics have an organiser (the MC) that introduces the acts and keeps the night running smoothly. Get to know them. The more they know you the better your experience will be.

The person who runs an Open Mic is someone who cares about nurturing new talent and is always a good person to have on your side.

5. Allow yourself to be nervous

Nerves are not a bad thing. It means that you care about what you do and you want it to go well.

Personally, I have been performing for over twenty years and I still get nervous. I know that if I stop being nervous before performing then that is the time for me to stop performing altogether as it means that I have stopped caring about myself, my art and my audience.

In time you will learn how to channel your nerves in a positive way however, deep breathing and trying to relax before you go on is still the best thing to do.

Don’t compare yourself to the other performers and don’t think too much about what you are going to do. Just focus on the here and now and do the very best that you can.

6. Enjoy yourself

You’ve waited for this moment to perform and now you are about to do it so try to enjoy the experience and remember, an Open Mic audience is there for the music, they want to be there and they want you to do well, play to them.

I can’t stress enough how invaluable Open Mics are to your development as a performing songwriter. Do yourself a favour and find out where the open mics are in your area and go to all of them.

Check them out, get to know the people involved and most of all, have some fun because you never know where the Open Mic experience might take you.

Until next time, keep on writing,

Corey Stewart
All About Songwriting