So you’ve practiced a ton in your room by yourself, and you’ve worked up a couple of songs that you’re ready to play in front of people. It’s probably time for you to hit up an open mic to practice singing into a microphone and hearing yourself through the monitors. You can practice by yourself all you want; but if you want to be a performer, you’ve got to get onstage and in front of an audience.
- Open Mics - what to expect. Open mics are set up for amateur musicians and songwriters to have a place to practice in front of their friends and other audience members. Don’t expect to “get discovered” or even to have the audience give you their undivided attention. Expect to watch other acts of various talents and enjoy a night of hanging out with musicians. Go to the open mic to have fun and to practice honing a separate set of musical skills that you can’t practice at home.
- Pick your best song. When it comes time to perform you need to have a song that you can play almost without thinking. Even the most well-rehearsed songs can be forgotten on the stage, so be sure to pick your best one. Preparation is the most important part of performing music. If you care about the song and play it from your heart, others will care too. If you don’t care enough to perform it with confidence and feeling, why should anyone care to listen?
- Things will go wrong, but practice makes progress. Performance takes practice and comfort just as much as playing an instrument. Your first few times performing might be a slight blur between getting used to being in the spotlight and learning how to hear yourself on the stage. Note the mistakes that do occur during your sound check and performance so that you can improve on them for the next time. Make it a goal to improve a specific area every time you go onstage. For instance, if you tend to speed up because of nerves focus on keeping a steady tempo.
- Keep a positive attitude. Go into the experience with an open mind. Never get down on yourself for not performing well or making a mistake. Take it as a learning experience, go home and practice what you messed up, and come back the next time more prepared. Never think of it as a competition - music is not a competition. We are all in this together to share and enjoy the music. Never think that you aren’t good enough to be there. Just remember that learning to perform on stage takes time and practice.
- Stage presence. Stage presence is something that you have to develop. Try emulating some of the things your favorite performers do onstage. A good place to start is by making eye contact with someone in the audience, then build from there. Eventually, you’ll grow into your own style. Remember how long it took you to learn the instrument? It takes that kind of dedication and practice to learn how to perform and entertain people.
- Making friends and jamming. The camaraderie that can take place between the performers is a great part of an open mic. The people at an open mic are just like you, and they are probably looking for other people to play with and learn from. If someone asks you to play with them, do it. Suggest a song that you can practice and perform together at the next open mic. Pay attention to the other musicians (whether you like the music or not), and give feedback the way you would want them to do for you. Remember, this is the perfect chance to watch and learn from all the other performers.
Remember to have fun. The audience knows when you’re having fun, and they respond accordingly. You are all there for an enjoyable evening - so relax, make friends, and enjoy the music.
Contributed by Vince Brooks, Atlanta-based composer and guitar instructor.
Vince Brooks received his Bachelor's from Kennesaw State University in Jazz Guitar and his Master's in music composition from Georgia State University. Vince joined the Metro Music Makers staff in 2008, and he performs regularly in the local Atlanta music scene.