How to Transition from Open Mics to Full Music Sets: 7 Tips for Success

Posted by Drew Stoga on July 2, 2012

microphoneOur friends over at CD Baby know a thing or two about helping out musicians. That's why we've invited Chris Robley, CD Baby Marketing Coordinator and prolific blogger at CD Baby's DIY Musician blog, over to share his thoughts about making the transition from open mics to bigger, better gigs. You budding stand up comedians might just want to listen up too...

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An open mic is great for 3 types of players:

* New songwriters that don’t yet have enough strong material for a full set.

* Skilled musicians who want to build their performance skills and confidence.

* Confident songwriters or performers who are trying to build a following in a new town.

But what’s the next step? How do you transition from performing 2 or 3 songs per night at open mics to your own 45 minute set at a club, restaurant, coffee house, or bar?

7 tips on how to transition from open mics to the world of longer gigs

1. Play weekly open mics

Open mic audiences tend to be respectful and supportive, so this is one of the best ways to get some experience in a low-pressure setting. Get out there as much as possible. Log some hours. Practice in front of people! Plus, keeping to a weekly schedule will help you stay motivated on all the other fronts (songwriting, practicing, etc.)

2. Build your email list from the get-go

It’s not too early to find out who your fans are. Even if you don’t have any recorded music, merch, or proper gigs– you will someday! And when you’ve got news to share, you’ll have an audience for that news. Don’t be pushy about collecting email contacts; simply mention that you have a signup list at your table and that you’d love to keep people notified about your music news.

3. Announce yourself at the beginning and end of your set

Open mics can seem pretty informal. But don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. A quick “Hey, my name is____ …..” and a concluding “Thanks, my name is ______ and I appreciate you listening; I have a mailing list….” at the end of your set will help you, literally, get your name out there.

If you don’t tell people who you are, they might not have the time or inclination to ask—even if they really liked your music.

4. Stay the whole time and make some new friends

An open mic is one great place to make friends who will be happy to attend your first real shows. So don’t just drop into the open mic for your 15 minutes of glory and then duck out. Stick around. Get to know people. Trade info. See if any other folks might want to play in your band down the line (if you’re interested in fleshing out your songs with band arrangements). At the very least, get to know each other’s songs and styles. If you come back every week, you could be singing harmonies on one another’s tunes.

As you get to know more musicians, you’re also spreading your networking roots. Some of the people you befriend may have bands that you can open for; they may know booking agents; they may sign your mailing list too – and they may be your biggest early supporters.

5. Get to know the venue’s staff

Most open mics are held at music venues. If you befriend the bar staff, the booker, the manager, the owner, and the patrons, it’s a short jump from a Sunday night open mic to a Thursday opening slot. If you’ve proven to be one of the popular performers week after week at an open mic, the booker will already be on your side. But don’t assume they’ll reach out to you first; booking agents have a hundred things on their minds at once. Make sure YOU ask THEM for the gig (once you feel ready)!

6. Balance your 3-song set

People love familiar songs. When you first start performing at open mics, stick to your best 3 songs. Even if you’re sick of them, repeat them for the first 2 or 3 times you play at a particular open mic. Then slowly work in newer material by playing 2 of the now familiar favorites, and one new one. Then the next week, play one of the oldest tunes, the newer one from the previous week, and one brand new tune. From there, you can keep churning up the dirt how you like, but return to the tunes enough so that the regulars can get to know them. When you finally bring all those folks out to your first proper show, they may just sing along to a few songs.

7. Tap your open mic connections to put together a songwriters-in-the-round event

Instead of putting ALL the pressure on yourself for that big leap from open mic to proper gig, why not round up 2 more songwriters you’ve met and do a songwriters-in-the-round set? That’s where 3 or more performers trade off on tunes. You can either rotate after every song, or give each person 2 or 3 tunes before you rotate to the next singer. Instead of one person’s draw, you’re potentially combining all three performers’ followings for one awesome night. That’ll please the booker AND give you the chance to win over some of the other writers’ fans.

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Also, if you’re going to an open mic every single week to build up your audience, skills, or confidence, there’s no rule that says you have to drink every night (though you should consider the fact that the staff generally only makes money when customers are drinking). So instead, or some food, have a coffee, buy a bottled water, or Kombucha, or tea. That way you’ll feel great most mornings, and can better suffer through the rare hangovers when you have a fuzzy night.

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Thanks Chris!

Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below and don't forget to stop by CD Baby's DIY Musician blog.

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