Open Mic | Ultimate Guide

Find out everything you need to know about performing at open mic events...

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Open mic events can be a brilliant place for artists to cut their teeth as performers, showcase their music and meet new friends and potential collaborators. 

London is home to numerous such nights thanks to the huge array of pubs, bars, cafes and other venues that house them. They can also be great platforms for new artists to launch their careers. Big name artists such as Ed Sheeran and James Bay are among those who used these gigs to start out. 

From the Blues Kitchen in Camden to the Record Shop in Wood Green, there are plenty of opportunities out there - but how do they work? And how do new artists get the most from them? Read on for more…

What are open mic events like and how do they work? 

Open mic nights are lively events of live music that take place in venues such as bars or pubs. They are held once a week, once a fortnight or once a month and invite performers to attend and sign up to perform a song on the night. 

One of the best aspects of these events is how everyone who signs up has the opportunity to play. It means they can be an amazing way for new talents to get themselves and their music heard, often for the first time."

When do you know if you’re ready for an open mic?

It makes sense to perform at an open mic night when you feel you’re ready to perform your music or a cover song in front of an audience. 

If you have been working hard on your music, and practising on your technique and musical delivery, then it could be the right time to take your music out of the rehearsal room or studio and onto a stage. If you’re unsure, then it could be worth attending a night in advance to watch others perform and allay any concerns you might have. 

What happens at an open mic night?

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An open mic night will usually be hosted by a performer or musician. They take charge of introducing and thanking acts for their performances and ensuring the event runs smoothly. These sorts of events are usually relaxed and informal, offering a safe space for new acts to perform. 

Usually you can just turn up on the night and ask to play although some venues do request that you sign up ahead. Just make sure you check in advance of attending to avoid disappointment. 

Can you perform cover songs at open mic nights?

Yes, you can play a range of music, from cover versions to original material. Some nights might be dedicated to a specific period, style or genre. Before attending, you can get in touch with the organisers to make sure there are no rules about what you can and cannot play. 

It’s always good to make sure you’re prepared ahead of the event so you know what you’re going to perform before you arrive."

How should you prepare for an open mic night?

It goes without saying that you should practise any songs you’re planning on playing. Do as much rehearsing as you can so you know the song and any lyrics as well as possible. Being prepared like this should hopefully take away any potential nerves when it comes to taking the stage. 

You should also make sure you’re aware of the event details. So make a note of where the venue is, how you’re going to get there, any timings around performances and if you need to register to perform on the night in advance. There’s nothing worse than getting yourself ready for the stage only to miss out on the opportunity to play due to travel disruption. Give yourself enough time to get to the venue (comfortably) on time. 

How many songs should I rehearse for an open mic night? 

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Between one and five is the usual number of songs performers get to play. Make sure you know any material as well as possible before arriving. You should also get in touch with the event organisers to check how many tracks you’ll be expected to play as every event or venue can be different. 

What should I play or sing?

This is obviously up to you but you need to play music that you know well and are comfortable in performing. You should also make sure that whatever you choose to play will work with the feel of the night. For example, if jazz is a musical theme, then it’s probably best to avoid arriving armed with an array of guitar heavy songs. 

You should also consider performing your own original artist material. These spaces can be a brilliant place to road-test any of your own music.

How do I beat stage fright?

If you know you’ve done everything you can ahead of a performance - whether it be getting your gear ready or arriving at the venue in good time - then if something does goes wrong, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel guilt or any imposter syndrome.

No matter how anxious you are, you can only prepare so much. Sometimes things happen that are totally outside of your control. Try and roll with the good and the bad and chalk it up to experience."

How do I find open mic nights?

A good place to begin is by searching online but you can also ask any peers or fellow musicians for recommendations of open mic events they’ve attended. It can be tricky to work out if a particular event will suit you and your musical style, so it is sometimes worth attending a night as a member of the audience first before you arrive as a performer. 

Are you prepared for an open mic night? 

Tick list:

  • Find out where the venue is and how you’ll get there 
  • Practice more songs than you need
  • Take all your gear - and double check it’s working
  • Get to the venue in plenty of time
  • Try to relax
  • Meet some new people and fellow musicians
  • Introduce yourself to the host
  • If anything goes wrong, then try and learn from it for next time
  • Enjoy yourself

Take the first steps in your music career with ICMP

We've been developing and delivering contemporary music education for over 30 years – longer than any other music school in the UK. With a proven track-record, countless music industry connections and unrivalled access to facilities, it's easy to see why hundreds of students choose ICMP each year. 

To completely immerse yourself in your music career, chat with our friendly Admissions Team via email enquiries@icmp.ac.uk or give them a call on 020 7328 0222.

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by Jim Ottewill
July 29, 2022
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