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On a Songwriter's Mind This Week #13: Open Mic Nights

Heya folkies! Today I'd like to explain to you the importance of open mic nights for your artistic development. When I first started out performing live I was probably a bit too quick to try and get myself gigs. I realised that I wasn't that comfortable in front of an audience (let's face it, most of our first experiences of performing are in our bedrooms!) and I came to the realisation that I needed more practice on the basics. So I started going to open mic nights.

For those not familiar with the concept, an open mic night is where a host venue put on an event where you can just turn up with your instrument (e.g. guitar/keyboard/mp3 player) and sing a couple of songs in front of the other guests at the event. You won't be paid for your performance. However there are some other benefits you can get out of it:

1) Free exposure. Most places will let you promote your latest CD to sell during your time up on stage - just make it a snappy sales pitch. Tell people where to find you online if you have stuff on iTunes/Soundcloud/Spotify etc.

2) Potentially free video/audio recordings. Some places I've been to record your performance through an audio device and send it to you via email after the show (make sure you give them said email address though!) A good place for this locally in Kent is the Flowerpot in Maidstone. Also you might like to ask a friend to record you a video on their mobile phone, which you can then promote online after the show. Here's a great audio recording of a recent open mic performance of mine:

3) Good practice in front of a live, different audience each time. It will help to settle your nerves the more you do it. It's also good to try different venues out so you don't get too familiar with one setup. This will inevitably help you when you come to get paid gigs.

4) Free feedback. If one song seems to get a really positive response (people nodding along, smiling, coming through from the other part of the bar to see what's the rumpus, NOT going out for a ciggy, enthusiastic round of applause afterwards) you know that's one to keep in your future setlist. On the other hand if it doesn't go down so well you will have to be ruthless and cut it.

5) If you cock it up, nobody cares. The landlady won't be after you for forgetting the words to her husband's favourite song. The regulars are just happy to have something other than the crackling fire for company. It's not paid, so the expectation is far less. Best to make your rookie errors here and now rather than when your reputation is at stake at a full gig!

6) Networking. It's a great idea to mingle as much as possible at open mic nights. Share ideas for promoting music, listen to feedback from other musicians. You might be invited to join a band or form an acoustic duo! The landlord might like you and invite you to play a full, paid gig even. You've got to be in it to win it!

So that's my take on the whole open mic thing. Hopefully that's been of some use to you. If you are a music fan, why not check out your local open mic night - you might discover the next Ed Sheeran or KT Tunstall in their infancy. Imagine telling that one to the grandkids one day!

What are your experiences of open mic nights? Let me know by replying below (via Facebook) or email me on -------------------------------------------------------

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