Open Mic: Behind The Scenes

An open mic night might look like a simple feature, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. Find out what the details are!

Learn the ins and outs of an open mic night.

open mic
Photo courtesy of Bruce Tyler.

What is it like to work an open mic? How long does an open mic last on any given night? Who is responsible for setting up? What is involved during an open mic set-up? What genres of music are performed during an open mic? Who participates in an open mic? Where are open mics hosted? These are seven key questions about what, when, where and how open mics are conducted.

For those who are not familiar with the behind the scenes work that goes on, you might be surprised at just how much working an open mic can involve.

The answer for me to the first question is: it depends on the venue. What musical format they have, and what the evenings protocol is also has an impact on this answer. Sometimes it is as simple as showing up and putting a sign-up sheet out and for the next three or so hours, and you call them up to play. In some other cases, there is usually a core rhythm section that starts it off with a four or five song set, after which they start to call up the musicians to play.

The average time length is anywhere from two to three songs and or 10-12 minutes per musician or group. The point here is to make sure everyone gets a chance to play.

The second answer depends on the venue, because open mics range from three to five hours. Some sign-up sheets can have as many as 25 musicians, which can include singles, duos, trios and full bands.

It is always good to let the musicians (especially Guitarists) to tune their instruments prior to them coming on stage. Not being in tune and connecting a lot of electronic sound effects can eat up a lot of time and in some cases be discouraged. I always stress the point of being in tune and be set-up ready. You don’t want to end up taking 10 minutes to set up, especially if you have a huge call up sheet.

The host is usually responsible for setting up and preparing for the night. Preparing for an open mic can involve nothing more than setting up a couple of amps, a small PA to setting up drums, turning on the  house PA, setting the sound levels and  preparing the sign-up sheets as well. In other venues, you may not be responsible for the rhythm section or the PA. As a host, you most likely will be responsible for how smooth the open mic runs.

There are many places in and around Montclair where you can either take part in or view a great open mic night, such as Trend Coffee and Tea House.

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