6 Steps to Successfully Directing An Open-Mic

One of my students wrote an article on his experience being an MD or Musical Director for an open mic.  He provides some useful insight for musicians and/or DJs on how to direct a successful event.

6 Steps to Successfully Directing An Open-Mic

By: George Kilpatrick III
Edited by: Dr. William E. Smith

Performing at open-mics is a very popular way for up and coming artists to build a following and display their music for little to no cost.  An open-mic is where people sign up to perform in a cabaret style talent showcase. Often times a DJ and/or band are available to back up the artists, to play during interludes, and to ensure that a high level of talent is displayed.  A musical director is frequently employed to lead the arrangements of songs and to lead the band. Below are 6 steps to successfully direct an open-mic.

1. Play Upbeat Music and Open Big
When it comes to open-mic performances the one thing you cannot control is the talent that comes up. One day you may get three professional vocalists and award winning poets but the next week you might have to play behind a rapper with no rhythm.  However, when you open big you set the tone so that the audience still enjoys the show.  The other thing that you cannot control is the energy level of certain performers so you want to generally play upbeat music tokeep the audience engaged. These two general playing tips will set you up for a fun open-mic playing experience.

2. Pick the Right Interludes
To keep from having too much dead space after each performer there should be an interlude between each act as the host prepares for the next artist or if the current performer has an encore. The first scenario requires greater detail when it comes to choosing the interlude. If the performer had a low energy performance you are going to want to play something upbeat in order to transition effectively. If the person played a slower tempo performance you will often play a vamp while the host segues into the next artist. This is done by simply repeating the chorus of the song the previous artist sang and creating a vamp for the artist to possibly ad lib over.

3. Learn the Music for the Feature
At many of the various open-mic events there is going to be a featured or sponsored artist and sometimes they will ask for band accompaniment. This may sound basic but one thing that you should definitely do is learn all of the music for the featured artist. There is nothing worse than the guest artist having a bad performance because the band was not prepared and messed up their song.

4. Know When to Play and When to Cut the Act
Generally open-mics have a limited number of spots and time is limited for those spots. When an artist is taking too long to get set up or trying to do too many songs you cannot be afraid to cut the music. The final decisions on anything that happens musically lay with the musical director and you have to know when an act has gone on too long. Furthermore you also need to know when not to play and when to let the artist perform their work solo. For example if you are accompanying a poet you should ask ahead of time because their piece may be in an odd meter/form and would not fit well over music.

5. Talk to the Sound Man Ahead of Time to Make Sure the Sound is Engineered Right
An important part of every musical performance is an adequate sound system and depending on the format of your open-mic your sound necessities will vary. However, there are some basic requirements that you need to have confirmed with your sound engineer.  All of these things are going to affect your performance and the quality of the open mic. This is a general note that applies to every performance because well-balanced sound can make or break a show.

6. Collect The Check
This is the most important part of the process. The going rate for an open-mic performance varies but you should factor in the number of musicians you will need as well as the number of songs they will have to learn in your final price.  One mark of professionalism that keeps your fellow musicians happy, is effective distribution of the payment for the performances.  When it comes to money management, as a musician, you have to be disciplined and organized because there may be a time delay in payment depending on the venue.  Ideally you would like to negotiate payment at the time of the performance but sometimes certain venues like colleges may have timing issues.  You need to communicate all financial circumstances with your musicians so they are not left in the dark.  This also builds trust.

If you follow these six steps you will have a successful open-mic making it an enjoyable experience for the audience, the performers and yourself.

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