An open mike long-listed on this site just ended – at The Mainstage in Seattle. For most of that run, the host was a band called Dave Hates Chico. They used to its fullest, keeping their listing updated (and therefore often on the front page, hint, hint) and supplying frequent “DHC Open Mic Tips”. Since the open mike is now history, those tips have vanished from the site. I thought it was worth collecting them here.

  1. when the host tells you “one more song, make it short,” that means a little ditty under 3 minutes. It does not mean a 17 minute extended version of American Pie. If you don’t have an under 3 minute ditty, learn one.
  2. bring your own gear. Hard to overstate this one. As kind as it is for some hosts around the country to loan you a guitar, and it is indeed very kind, the host is already (usually) providing microphones and cords, mic stands and a PA, and if you’re lucky, a monitor. Come to the show like you mean it, and bring your own guitar, or whatever you play, and be tuned up and ready to go.
  3. All you hosts out there, don’t disappear once the musician has begun. Random hums, screeches and screams from the speakers can be really unpleasant for both the musician and the crowd, and if you’re off on a smoke break, that means there is nobody fixing stuff when it gets off kilter. (Dave Hates Chico is occasionally guilty of this one - we’re working on it.)
  4. Call-in signups vs. People who show up at the venue at the appointed time. This is a tough one. DHC is of the mind that those who show up should get the first priority slots, but on the other hand, regulars who give you the courtesy of telling you that they’re coming out to the show help to eliminate the guesswork. It’s up to the host to figure out the balance. How’s that for a non-tip? Either way, go out planning to stay late. Are you rockers or a knitting circle?!
  5. Don’t bring your emotional baggage to the sign-up. If you have to be up at 5AM for work, and you didn’t get the first slot, please don’t try to whine your way up the list. Lots of people want to go early, and not everyone can. Besides, open mics should always rock late night. Plan on sticking around, call some friends over, and make your set worth the wait.
  6. Go start a new open mic. Every city in America should have a list of open mic nights on this site as long as New York City’s. Any venue with a stage, or even a corner that can be cleared out easily, can handle an open mic on a slow weeknight. If you can convince a bar or cafe owner that you can bring some folks in, they will likely give you a shot. Come join our army of the night…
  7. amidst all the griping about hosts “signing up their friends” and how “unfair” that is, we may be losing touch with a little concept called “paying your dues.” This isn’t Sunday school, folks - it’s a cutthroat scene out there. Those “friends” of the hosts are the regulars who have kept the open mics going through the years, especially during the lean times, and they deserve a little special treatment. Just because you got there an hour early to sign up you, your friend, your friend’s lover, and some dude you met in line for coffee that morning, that does not guarantee you the first four spots on the list. If you’re not prepared to play late, don’t come.
  8. Be an Applause Starter. If you see a song being finished, clap. You don’t even have to love the song. But it keeps the momentum going so much better when there is applause between the songs, and often, without an Applause Starter, people will just sit there self-consciously, not wanting to be the first to break the silence. Be the Thunder-Giver.
  9. False endings suck. Those songs that seem to finish off, and just as the audience starts to clap, the song kicks right back into its 5th verse - DHC hates those. If you’re really good, and you can project to the crowd that the song has not yet finished, and THEN bring it home, that’s different - otherwise, if you employ the false ending and get your audience to applaud too early, you will make them look foolish and piss them off. Then they won’t want to clap for the real ending. Nobody is a winner here. If you must do it, do it well.
  10. Holidays. They can be unpredictable. Hosts should always keep the people informed of changes to the schedule. With that being said, DHC will not be hosting the open mic on Tuesday Dec 25 or Tuesday Jan 1, as these are both big national holidays.
  11. The best open mics are in constant motion, and this motion relies on everybody being on their game. Hosts must command the room and build the anticipation between acts while the musicians are breaking down and setting up, and make that microphone on the stage the center of attention. The players should be in tune, of course, and know the songs they’re going to play. The audience - well, what can you do with an audience but appreciate them for being there at all? If they talk loud and don’t listen, don’t sweat it. They could just as easily hang out in another bar or coffeeshop down the street. Love your audience and let them love you back.
  12. Is your friend going to come up and accompany for a song or two? No problem, as long as it’s not too much of a hassle to set up. But that does not mean extra songs. And from DHC’s experience as guests at other peoples’ open mikes, griping for one more song after already going overtime is one of the easiest ways to get on a host’s “no list”. It pushes everything off schedule, all the players before and after whine about how this person got more songs, and it becomes a headache. Always leave the crowd wanting more.
  13. Depending on the venue, there should be no expectation of silence or respect for your performance. Some of the quieter coffeehouses develop a vibe of shut-up-and-listen, and that’s fine, but more often the musician needs to go out there and earn the silence from the crowd. If you can’t handle people having a quiet conversation within your earshot, stay in your bedroom and work on your act until you can handle playing for real living breathing people. Nothing more annoying than getting shushed and scowled at for ordering a double tall latte during someone’s set. Of course, loud hecklers and drunks are a slightly different story, but they can also be kind of fun in a perverse way.
  14. If you host an open mic, or know someone who hosts an open mic, and their (your) open mic is not listed on, for crying out loud, get it on there! I bet there are lots of great shows out there that nobody can find - they need to use this resource. It’s like being a plumber and not having your name in the yellow pages.
  15. Outros are as important as intros. I don’t know if it’s just Seattle audiences or if it’s like this everywhere, but the crowd is often hesitant to break the silence of the room with applause. Like they don’t know if they’re supposed to, “because nobody else is clapping, and if I clap, will everyone look at me like I’m a dork?” This is the job of the host - to bring the performers to the stage, introduce them to their audience, and after they play, thank them for coming up. This lets the audience know when to clap. When a host brings them up but neglects to thank them off, the people often will not respond, although you can tell that they want to. It’s embarrassing. Work the intros and the outros with fervent delight.
  16. Generally, charging admission to your open mic sucks. True, two dollars isn’t going to break anyone, but it’s the principle at stake. At the same time, it also sucks when someone comes in with a guitar, buys one coke and nurses it for 2 hours while they wait for their turn. There are arguments on both sides, but it comes down to this: open mic nights are not meant to be big moneymakers, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. They are generally held on slower nights, when there is less expectation of big crowds anyway. If you have a room full of people playing music, eating and drinking and having a good time, and all you can see are dollar signs, maybe you’re in the wrong business. And again, for the musicians who want their open mic nights to stay free, pull your head out and buy a few drinks, coffees, sandwiches, whatever it takes to help the venue stay strong.
  17. Do what you can to let the public know when there is going to be a guest host. For instance, Dave Hates Chico is off to NYC tomorrow morning, where we will be using the network of connections provided by to rock that city to its structural core. We will not be returning until Wednesday the 27th, but we will have a guest host, Andi Francoeur, taking our place on Tuesday the 26th. So now you know - the show will go on, and she will also be bringing it live to the Web-based masses.
  18. Drums. This is another one of those areas where the space determines the appropriateness. Drums are hard to fit into most open mic venues. If they can be set up beforehand and moved out of the way, that’s great. If not, they will either sit up on the stage and take up space, or the set-up time will eat up your entire slot. That being said, I have seen some of the best sets played with no more than a simple snare drum head, cymbal and a pair of brushes. All right there on the drummers lap, easy up and easy off.
  19. Just relax and have fun.
  20. Bring friends. I can guarantee you, at least at the Mainstage, that bringing a group of your buddies to come watch you play will earn you immediate cache with the hosts. If you have 8 or 9 people at your table, and all the other musicians brought nobody, you will get your choice of slots, and probably an extra song or two.
  21. Leave the people wanting more. If you have one more song left, and you have the choice of 1) a really long and emotional song, or 2) a short and snappy little number that usually gets applause, choose option 2. It is more memorable, and in a good way.
  22. Don’t ask the audience whether they “want a fast one or a slow one.” Or whether they want a new or old one, or an original or a cover. If you have two or three songs in your slot, pick the songs that will have the greatest impact and play them the best you can. The audience does not want to choose for you.
  23. Know when to call it a day. DHC has been hosting the Mainstage Open Mic since the summer of 2007, and is now going to pass it on to a new host in May. The spring’s transition into summer should prove for some excellent summer rock, so we hope to see you there, as we fight you for a spot on the list.
  24. For the final tip, in a message string that may be gone by tomorrow, I guess all I can say is “do your thing and do it well.” I would love that sentiment to be all flowers and rainbows, but it’s actually not. In our travels we have encountered a LOT of musicians who don’t quite have it down. There is potential, but it’s just not ready for the stage. That’s cool, everyone has to have a first time performing in front of people, and nobody expects a stellar performance. But it is when those beginner acts complain about not getting respect from the crowd that it becomes a little bit ridiculous. And when that “first-timer” sound is coming from a performer you have seen dozens of times in the past, and the sound just doesn’t improve, it makes you wonder. To keep people’s attention, the songs need to be good. Period. People come to the open mic to hear and perform music, and good music is always preferable to bad music. But for people to say “you should all sit quiet and still and respect my courage,” that’s a little bit silly. Nobody came to see a display of courage. Or maybe they did. Maybe that’s all that anyone cares about and I don’t know what I’m talking about.