An openmikes.org user, starting up a new open mike, asked for some hints on running an open mike.
From my perspective — watching nights come and go from the listings, and personal experience as a host and performer — a couple of hints:
- Have a regular schedule. Every week, every other week, first and third Tuesday, etc. "2nd tuesday except the third week, when it's on Friday, and an extra Wednesday if there's a fifth Tuesday..." will die, quickly, because no one knows when to show up.
- Spread the word — here, elsewhere. craigslist, upcoming, Facebook — everywhere musicians may look. Preferably a few weeks before you start.
- Make the rules and sign-up times clear — bad word of mouth comes quickly if people come expecting a different format, or show up too late to sign up. Singer-songwriters finding what turns out to be a full-band covers-only jam will not leave happy; nor will aspiring MCs who show up at a piano bar.
- Similarly, players will love you forever if you let them know what equipment is available / expected. Are amps available, allowed, or forbidden? Can guitars be miked, or must everyone be acoustic-electric and plug in? And piano players will flock if they know a keyboard or upright is available.
- The host can make or break a night. Encourage people to listen; praise one and all for having the balls to get up there in the first place; and please don't let your best buddy play his full 35-minute Seals and Crofts medley while everyone else watches and waits for their allotted "2 songs or 10 minutes".