Open mic nights are a great way for a venue to get new people in its doors, especially coffee shops and bars, but if they aren’t run correctly, they quickly turn from an exciting night of new music to a boring snoozefest. Here’s a look at some of the most common mistakes that music venues make when attempting to run an open mic night.
1. Too many songs. When you’re running an open mic night, keep in mind what an open mic night is supposed to be–it’s not a huge show, with each act getting 6-7 songs. It’s most entertaining for an audience when each act gets 2 songs, 3 at the most. That way, the show keeps moving. If someone doesn’t like a certain act, they’ll stick around, because maybe they’ll like the next one, and they don’t have to wait long. The best open mic I’ve ever been to had a strict 2 song rule; very occasionally, if an artist did extremely well, he’d get a third song. All of the artists shot for this, so everyone brought their A game. The six or seven song open mic nights are just lame, and if you’re worried about filling the time, remember that you can always just have people up to play again after everyone’s played their two or three songs.
2. No sign-up list. Every open mic night needs a sign up list. Even if you personally know all of the musicians playing, make them sign the list, because it gives the show a sense of order and you won’t have to worry about conflicts. It’s even better if you can put approximate times next to each spot on the list, so if a certain act needs to get out of the open mic night by a certain time, they can easily see whether they’ll be able to perform or not.
3. No incentives to come back. Open mic nights vary in quality from week to week if there’s no incentive for the musicians to return. Even if your venue just offers them a free beer for playing a few songs, they’ll be back, and in droves. With no incentive, you’ll have great open mics on certain weeks and terrible open mics on other weeks. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that musicians don’t need to be rewarded for their work, even at open mic nights.
4. No promotion. Open mic nights are just like any other type of show; yes, word of mouth is great, but it’s always important to promote what’s going on at your venue, especially if your open mic night is just getting off the ground. Get flyers made, or at least business cards that you can hand out that give information about the open mic night, including the when and where. Treat it like any other gig. Get people there.
Do you know of any other mistakes that venues make when running open mic nights? Post in our comments section below.