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How to Run an Open Mic

By Will Conley ; Updated September 15, 2017

Running an open mic night is a production. If you have ever been to one, hosting may seem like a no-brainer job, but that's an illusion.Chances are, if you have seen a badly run open mic, the host was weak, and if you have seen a well run open mic, the host was so good that his or her job looked easy. Certain techniques exist to ensure that a host affords his audience a good show even while giving musicians, poets and other performers a chance to develop their performance chops. Do not fall into the trap of letting performers run your show. You have to artfully take control when you run an open mic. Read on to learn how to run an open mic.

Choose an appropriate venue. Location is key. So is atmosphere. If the place is large enough to warrant the use of microphones, make sure the venue is properly equipped.

Prepare the venue. Make sure the stage is set up properly and that the mics are checked ahead of time. Get to know the sound mixer, so that you can adjust volume on-the-fly during a performance.

Establish your authority. If you have a powerful stage presence, you're in luck. The key is make sure everyone knows who's the boss of this show, in a friendly way. Don't be afraid to make tough decisions. If there are too many people who want to perform, you are simply going to have to say no to someone. Introduce yourself. Smile. Be actively involved in signing people up, placing them in the order you feel works best, and so on.

Determine the sign-up method. If there is a piece of paper for people to put their name and talent on, make sure everyone knows where it is, and do not lose track of it. You will need it when introducing performers to the stage.

Keep the vibe of the open mic live and electric. Quickly and smoothly follow one act with another. Don't let the mood go wildly up and down. Keep a steady curve to the mood of the night. You can do this by stalling for time as the host when necessary, or by shooing off someone who is trying to monopolize the mic. Engage the audience by encouraging applause, but don't try to bully them into clapping long and loud for a performer who just wasn't all that exciting.

Make sure all performers know when they are supposed to go up to the open mic. If they know which act they are to follow, that's even better. It gives them prep time so they can get onstage and start performing when their time slot opens up.

Keep things balanced between loose and tight. Too loose, you've got yourself some anarchy. The night will end before all scheduled performers have gone up, or worse yet, the night will drag on until there is no one left in the audience. Too tight, and the "open" in open mic will seem like fraud. Keep things jovial and good-natured. Just don't let anyone step on you.

Tip

Always keep the audience in mind. This is, first and foremost, a show. Giving performers a chance to shine is a close second.

Promote the open mic you run. Create flyers and postcards, establish a Web presence, and get word-of-mouth working for you. The more popular your open mic is, the more fun it will be.

You can charge at the door if you think people will pay. Just don't do this unless your open mic is entertaining. Offer a discount to performers.

Warning

If you do a great job of running an open mic that people will want to return to again and again each week, you will make some enemies. Repeat: do a good job, and some people will hate you. Yes, feelings get hurt. People will get over it. Your job is to coordinate a well run, exciting, fun, open atmosphere.

Telling performers what to do can be likened to herding cats. Be patient but persistent.

About the Author

Will Conley's writing has appeared in print and online since 1999. Publication venues include Salon.com, SlashGear.com, National Journal, Art New England, Pulse of the Twin Cities, Minnesota Daily and ThisBlogRules.com. Will studied journalism at the University of Minnesota. He is working on four fiction and nonfiction books.