But first, let me tell you a story before you go back to playing for your dog. A friend of mine encouraged me to take the leap and went with me to my first open mic night, at a very popular place called the Opening Bell in downtown Dallas. I was all nerves, the people who performed before me were AMAZING and I was thinking my original songs didn't come close to measuring up. Still, I got on stage, decided to start with a song by a local boy who had made a name for himself. Turns out, the guy who's song I was covering used to work in that coffee shop and the owner of the coffee shop was there and recorded me singing the song and sent it to a dude who is now fairly popular (David Ramirez). I just about fainted when she told me.
The owner then told me she wanted to book me and that was that. I went on the perform at multiple venues in Dallas, including several times at the Opening Bell. Then I got married and had a kid, but that's another story. The point is, if I hadn't gotten my nervous butt on stage, none of the rest that followed (which was amazing and fun), would have happened.
So let's talk about what you can do to make your first open mic night a success, because that's why you're reading this.
1. MEMORIZE!!!! I cannot stress this enough. If you are doing covers, no biggie, but OWN them and KNOW them. Please don't take sheet music on stage.This isn't a concert, it's 2 or 3 songs.That's 15 minutes max, 3 choruses, 6 verses, 3 bridges, more than likely. Find the chord progressions in your songs, memorize them, sing the lyric till you are almost sick of them. Why? Several reasons, but the biggest one is nerves. You WILL be nervous, and that will cause you to forget. If you don't know a song perfectly, you will make mistakes. Granted, mistakes are an inevitable part of performing (more on that later), but you can eliminate most by memorizing your songs.Your confidence will increase the more comfortable you are playing and singing the material you are going to perform.
2. Play your easiest song first. Don't come out of the gate with vocal acrobats and crazy riffs, this isn't The Voice. Your nerves will be the highest in the first 5 minutes, so if you pick something that is easy, you will get through the hardest first few minutes without many mistakes and ready to tackle the second song.
3. Show up early and get your name on the list. Again, the longer you sit there, the more people you watch, the more likely you will be to chicken out. Get your name at the top of the list and you will be able to relax and enjoy the rest of the performers. Also, newbies are expected to go first, as the "usuals" like to come later and take the late spots (not always, but pretty typical).
4. Warm up, avoid food, alcohol, cold drinks and sugary drinks. This one may not be obvious, but you want to go to the bathroom and warm up 2 performers before you are set to go on. A meal on a nervous stomach is guaranteed burping on stage, caffeine will make you jittery, alcohol ...well, it might make you relax, but you need some tension to perform well. Sugary and cold drinks affect your voice. So drink room temp water until after you've performed.
5.Talk to the crowd, explain your song or song choices. Not everyone does this, but I personally like to, because it makes me at ease with the audience, people like to hear why someone wrote something or picked a certain song and it keeps you from being a zombie that goes up on stage, plays and leaves.
6. Confidence. This is so important, but so hard to do. Visualize yourself performing perfectly. Take deep breaths before you get on stage. Bring a friend who can cheer you on. Believe that you have something to contribute, that you have a talent people will want to hear. Lastly, if you make a mistake, the most important thing to do is NOTHING. Act like nothing happened, don't grimace, don't stop playing, don't miss the next word or chord. Just continue the song as if no error had occurred. Many times, no one will notice and if they do, they'll be impressed with your ability to act like you didn't make a mistake. Mistakes happen to everyone, they will happen to you, it's how you respond that matters.
Those are my biggest tips for your first open mic night. Any question?? Have you performed and want to add your own tips and tricks? Comment below.