I’ve had the pleasure of leading literary open mics in my writers’ community in Raleigh since 2009. After a few years’ break, I co-host the monthly Main Street Rag Raleigh Reading Series at So & So Books in downtown Raleigh a block from the historic Krispy Kreme.
I’m also been singing/playing a lot on stage at musical open mics and at my own gigs. So I’ve got 5 helpful tips for literary open mics and 5 things for what not to do at a musical performance. Enjoy!
- Know Your Audience
If you’re an author giving any kind of reading, know your audience! This goes far beyond open mics. Is your audience familiar with your work or are they completely new to it? If they are new to it, warm them up by telling them why they’ll love your work and use humor (that you’ve practiced before)! If you’re the first reader, you won’t have a lot of material to riff about except complimentary stuff about the venue, the hosts and the crowd, but if you’re performing after others, talk up the folks who have gone before you and give them a little love. Doing so will endear you to your audience. If there are children present, no f-bombs—unless you’ve conferred with the parents of said children and they’ve said it’s okay. I’ve given my consent before and I really appreciate the performer asking me.
- Don’t shuffle papers or dig in your purse while folks are reading
Some venues echo every sound you make, even if it’s just reaching into your purse for a pen (oops, I’ve done this!). Try not to shuffle your papers while someone else is reading. And that includes not crushing your water bottle or eating loud food like potato chips. Do your self-aware best to turn off your cell phone, gather your notes before or in between readers and make sure you turn off all beeping digital watches (my son was told to turn off his noisy watch a few years ago by a fellow audience member, much to his embarrassment. I wasn’t surprised since I had told him to turn it off three times already. He knows better now.)
- Prepare by reading your work beforehand so you know it’s 5 minutes or less
Most open mics have a 5-minute time limit. Rehearse your talk and material ahead of time—mark your pages if you’re reading from your book so you’re not thumbing randomly. Don’t think “channeling” your presentation is going to get you out of steadfast preparation. Check to see where you’re stumbling and adjust. Time your talk so you know if you’re going to be over or under on time.
- Do try to stay till the end of the open mic
If you signed up first on the open mic list and you’re now breathing easier because your turn is over, don’t leave before the event’s over. Plan to stay at an open mic a minimum of an hour and fifteen minutes. It is good manners and proper courtesy. How would you feel if you’re the last reader who only has the MC, the venue owner and their sister in the audience? Also don’t pop in for the open mic portion AFTER the featured reader has already read. It’s good etiquette to come on time and listen to the feature, especially if the feature is first and then the open mic portion starts. This is how we have things set up at our open mic.
- Dress well for photos
Wear comfortable, yet spiffy clothing that’s not too tight (you don’t want your buttons popping when you sit down and skin showing for photographs). Also make sure your shoes are comfortable so you can think while up at mic. And if for some reason you don’t want your photos published on social media (maybe you’re hiding from the CIA), tell the MC. Organizers of open mics need to take and share photos so social media recognizes the open mic really took place. Plus, photos help bring more folks out to the next open mic.
Now for the musical open mic don’ts:
- Don’t say “We’re Having Technical Difficulties…”
because your technical difficulties are your fault: you need to know your equipment inside and out and how to troubleshoot in any scenario. Are you too close to the amp? Did your battery die in your guitar? Is said battery inserted backwards? Did you forget your mic cord? Fix the problem and then on with the show!
- “I Forgot The Lyrics…”
The best way to not put yourself in this embarrassing situation is to bring a music stand and have your lyrics (printed in at least 14-point font) on it. When I’ve forgotten my lyrics I’ve kept rolling on, sometimes making up new ones!
- “I’m Sorry…”
Don’t ever apologize on stage; it dilutes you and your performance. Also don’t say that you haven’t played a song in a long time and might mess up. Just do it or don’t do it. Own the stage. Own the room. Own your set. Or don’t show up.
- “Any Requests?”It’s your show so don’t lose control of it. Play your set as is. But if you do get a request that’s one of your songs/poems or a cover you’ve down before, there’s nothing wrong with performing for that audience member.
- “How Does It Sound?”
This is a slap in the face to the sound technician. Never ask the crowd that, it should sound amazing. If it doesn’t, then it’s either your fault or the sound technician’s fault.
Now relax and give your best performance to the people who have come to see you!
What points do you have about giving it your best at an open mic that I’ve left out? Please share!