Hosting an Open Mic, A Practical Guide

So you’ve decided to take my advice and host an open mic night of your own. Great! Let’s get started.

Below is a three step check list to get you off the ground in an informed way. Familiarize yourself with each idea and you’ll be well on your way to making your own event a reality.  

Step 1  Understand the format

Let’s start at the begining. What is an open mic night?

An open mic night is an event in which amateur performers are allowed the opportunity to share a short set of their material on a public stage. Open mic nights commonly feature music, comedy, or poetry. For our purposes, we will focus on the idea of an open mic featuring music. Here’s how a typical evening goes down:

  • The event is usually staged in a bar, coffee house, or other type of performance venue.

  • The host arrives early and provides a sign up sheet.

  • The sheet is placed in a prominent place and interested parties sign up on a first-come-first-serve basis.

  • At start time, the host kicks off the show by providing a short set of music.

  • Then the host starts inviting the registered performers to the stage to perform a short set of their music; usually just two or three songs.

  • The evening continues in this manner until all of the performers on the list have had a chance to perform.

Step 2  Understand the open mic from a business perspective

When you start your own open mic and enter into a partnership with a venue, you need to understand the business imperatives at work:

Open mics are generally conducted on “off” nights when sales are slow. Open mics can provide a major increase in traffic to paricipating venues on these otherwise unprofitable evenings.

Let’s say on a given night you attract ten performers and they all bring a friend or two to watch them play. Then you’ve got 25-30 new customers in the house.

The venue will likely be quite happy becuase they’ll have more customers and a whole night’s worth of entertainment for one low price.

The bottom line is you must be providing a consistent customer base to the venue if you expect them to keep handing over money to you on a weekly basis.

Never forget this reality and you’ll be well on your way to success.

Step 3  Procure a venue

Now that you understand what an open mic is and what motivates a venue to harbor one, you need to find an establishment that is right for you:

  • Scope out some local clubs, coffee shops, or bars and get a feel for which ones could use your services.

  • Make sure that the space will accomodate your event and that the feel of the place will be conducive to the type of music you’ll be attracting.

  • Once you’ve decided on a spot, find out who you need to talk to. You can do this in person by asking an employee or you can call the establishment during regular business hours and ask to speak to whomever is in charge of entertainment.

  • It may take a few tries to get a venue owner or manager on the phone. These folks are busy and are generally working late hours while juggling a lot of different duties, so be patient and courteous with whomever you talk to in your quest to get the right person on the other end of the line. Be patient but persistent.

  • You can also check the venue’s website for information on who to contact. There may be an email address or phone number available there.

  • You will need to negotiate a nightly fee with a venue in exchange for the service you provide.

  • $50-100 is the range in which you will probably be working.

  • In addition, you may also be able to talk the venue into providing you with free food and drink as this is a relatively inexpensive way for them to offer you more incentive without handing over hard cash.

Once you’ve got your event started, you can check out my article, 10 Ways to Supercharge Your Open Mic Night, for tips and tricks on making your open mic event the best in town!


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