Open Mic Night Etiquette

Have you ever been to an open mic night, ie. the kind where musicians or even comedians go perform on stage?

If so, you’ll know that they can be a lot of fun, but they can also be frustrating. People show up, play, and leave immediately after. Or people show up and talk loudly directly in front of the stage, facing away from the stage. OR one of my personal favourites…. People will show up to watch a soccer game on the tv, and cheer, mid song, because their team scored a goal.  This is the style of the open mic at The Kiwi, Cambridge, when there aren’t enough people there specifically for the open mic.

music open mic nightOn the other hand, some open mic nights will have everyone seated facing the stage, listening attentively while you perform. This is the attitude of the open mic at the Moonshine Cafe, in Oakville, Ontario. If you are on your phone texting too much, someone will even come and ask you to step outside with it until you are finished, as it can be distracting as well as disheartening to performers. I love it.

Not all open mics need to be that strict, as performing gigs in some bars will be a nightmare after being treated like that, but people should always be treated with respect, at the very least, by the other performers.

I’ve listed five, count ’em FIVE easy ways for music open mic goers to create a nicer atmosphere at their local open mic!

1. Show up for other artists!

open might nights for musicDo not show up, play, and leave.  

If you know you have to leave early, show up early and check out a few other musicians before you play. Listen to other artists. Clap when they finish a song. Encourage them! They could be your future favourite artist just starting out, and you could be the person to encourage them to keep playing, or to make them never want to play again.

2. Listen to the other artists!

music open miic nightDon’t show up, ignore the other performers, play, and then ignore the other performers again. Don’t turn your back to the stage and talk loudly. Don’t forget to clap. Don’t be an @$$#0!3!!!

I’m not saying sit silently staring at the performers, but, at the very least, if you’re going to chat while they’re playing, chat quietly, at the back of the room, and face the stage so that when they finish performing you are ready to applaud.

3. Don’t get hammered on stage

drunk singer on stageMost open mics are in venues that serve alcohol…. If you are going to drink, don’t drink so much that you will make a fool of yourself on stage, or treat people on stage unkindly.

One of the worst (and greatest, depending on your idea of comedy) events I’ve been to included a girl I knew getting extremely nervous before performing on stage… She took shot after shot to ‘calm her nerves’, and a few hours later she was on stage yelling every curse word she could think of, while a number of people asked her to stop and get off stage because the 8-year-old playing drums behind her didn’t need to hear that. She would remember the girl was playing drums, apologize, and then attempt another song (horribly), before forgetting again and yelling insults at people asking her to get off stage.

I think it was hilarious, but it made people very uncomfortable, and at the end of the day really upset me because she shouldn’t have put these people in a position where they needed to drag her off the stage…..

So, moral of the story, no matter how nervous you think you might be, don’t get obnoxiously drunk and things will turn out fine.

4. Respect the artist on stage

This is a huge one for me. Whether you are there for the music or not, you need to respect the artist. Hearing people applaud a ‘great goal’ in the hockey/soccer game they are watching on tv, while you are in the middle of a song, is upsetting and distracting. Don’t be that @$$#0!3!

If you are witnessing that @$$30!3, don’t start a bar fight, but keep in mind that the person on stage might be feeling insecure. Listen more closely during this song, and be sure to applaud well after! Cheer! Tell them you love the song. Apologize on behalf of the drunk sports fanatic!

5. Communicate with the audience

The audience will easily lose interest (especially if people are just there to drink, rather than to listen to the music), if you are just playing song after song. You will fade into the background if you do not communicate with them. At the very least, tell them the title of the song. Thank them for their applause between songs. If they do not applaud, thank them for listening! Tell them a story! Why did you choose this song? What is it about? If it’s a cover song, tell them who wrote it! Is it one of your favourite artists? Tell them! Have a funny thought? Share it!

Talking with the audience really adds to the show, and it makes it easier for people to listen attentively. I guess it subconsciously encourages them to listen to you.

Ultimately, respect goes a long way. Show up for each other, listen to each other, applaud each other, don’t be a $#!TtY drunk, and when you see someone failing to meet these basic needs, step up that much more. No need for conflict, but know that they are lacking, and you can make things better for this performer. If you are the performer, know that sometimes there is nothing you can do to make the audience listen. If you try communicating with them, and get no response, make an effort to respond to the next musician. Show the crowd how to be better.

Good luck! 😀

liv gains ontario musician

3 Comments


  1. Also don’t bring a rock star attitude to an open mic.

    I used to host an open mic for a few years. The house band was very good so we could make open mic participants sound good even if they were not-so-good.

    For the most part the people were gracious and behaved themselves. BUT, every once in a while people would play a decent set and then show up at the next open mic with a huge attitude. They’d request extra time and boss the band around.

    Additionally, these are the people who would leave immediately after their set.

    If you’re rude to the band, the band doesn’t want to make you sound good. Also, your stage time gets cut short. Also, next time you show up you might not get to perform at all.

    Open mic is for beginners to get experience and have fun. If you’re a “rock star” you should be playing a big venue.

    Reply
    1. admin

      Garth – very good point. I’ve witnessed the “rock star drops by open mic” phenomenon myself. Something to behold, for sure! 😀

      Reply
    2. liv

      Open mics are not just for beginners! Open mics are for any musicians, having fun and gaining experience are great reasons to play an open mic, but also to meet other musicians, and share your music with people without having to drag them to a show!
      This can be especially beneficial if you are playing a show in a town that you do not have friends in! Going to an open mic, and if people enjoy your songs, inviting them to your upcoming show can be a great way to get people out 🙂

      Totally understand where you’re coming from with the hot shot, holier-than-thou attitudes some people get. It’s a shame when you meet a good musician and they get a big head about it!

      Reply

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