This Spring we’ve enjoyed seeing more and more of our local music venues open their doors to live performances after a difficult couple of years. You might have spotted an increase in the number of “Open Mics” locally too. But what are they? What happens at an Open Mic? Can anyone take part in one? What’s in it for the audience?
With This is Brentford – a fantastic local Open Mic coming up on Sunday 8th May at the Musical Museum, we were curious to find out more so we put our questions to local singer songwriter and organiser of Open Mics in the borough, Elaine Samuels. Organised by Creative People & Places, This is Brentford is a community Open Mic free and open to all.
What exactly is an Open Mic? What happens at most Open Mics?
An Open Mic is an event where the audience can take part in the show. Sometimes they have “slots” (usually around 15 mins in length) which are booked with the organiser in advance and sometimes (like my own) you can just turn up to the open mic and put your name ‘on the list’. Some open mics will only allow live music, whereas others (like my own) are open to any kind of performance (so long as it isn’t offensive); so including things like comedy, poetry or dance.
How is it different from Karaoke?
Karaoke involves the participants only singing along to a backing track (usually with the words available to read). Open mics usually involve musical instruments as well as singing, although some people bring backing tracks to sing along with. So an open mic is – well – more ‘open’!
Who can get involved? Can anyone play from any age?
Anyone can get involved. The only age restriction is whether the younger aged person is allowed in the venue. For example, if the open mic is taking place in a pub, children under 18 might only be allowed to stay in the room until around 9pm. These things vary depending on the venue but, in principle they are open to all!
How can you prepare for performing at an Open Mic?
Playing at an open mic is a great way to get used to performing in public, as the other performers are also, usually amateurs and less experienced at performing. This means that the audience is likely to be hugely sympathetic, encouraging and friendly! To prepare for an open mic, people will often come along and watch what goes on. I had one performer who came along and watched for over a year before plucking up the courage to ‘have a go’! Once you have seen what others do, you can prepare a few songs to perform. If you don’t want to learn them, you can bring the lyrics and music along and make use of a music stand, which will be provided.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved backstage (e.g. sound or lighting or promoting, photography, streaming online?)
I would certainly be happy to instruct anyone wanting to learn how to set up / operate a PA / lighting, at my own open mics. This is not usually offered though. Photography and streaming online is also useful as this is a great way to reach out to people who like to take photos and post them on social media.
Do students find it useful to help out (e.g. music tech students or simply those who love music and want to help in their spare time?)
We believe it would be a great opportunity for students interested in audio and video recording of events, producing short videos with highlights from open mics etc.
Can Open Mics bring music lovers together whatever their age?
Absolutely! Open Mics definitely bring music lovers and musicians of all ages together. They encourage tolerance, respect and collaboration. They are great places to make new, local friends, have a fun time and potentially even form a band!
What sort of performances are there? Is there usually a theme?
Some open mics have various themes, for example near Christmas they might suggest participants bring a Christmas song. More usually, they are open to anything. Occasionally, at one of my open mic nights, I hold a “Songwriting Competition”. The last one we had was to include the phrase “You crossed the line”. In this case, we announce the theme a month or so in advance and give people time to create their song before coming to perform it ‘on the night’!
Who comes to watch? What are the audiences like? What can they get out of coming along?
These nights are usually free and anyone can come along and watch. Performers will often bring supportive friends and / or family with them. You never know who will be coming to watch and what opportunities can arise. Performances at open mics can lead to offers of paid gigs and even record deals potentially.
What would you say to someone who was thinking tentatively about taking part? Why should you take part?
I would say, if you want to perform in front of an audience, coming to an open mic will be enjoyable and helpful. You are likely to be warmly welcomed and received and you will most likely meet and make new friends! The more you attend and perform, the better your performances and stagecraft will become too! Open Mic hosts are often music professionals, who have various contacts and may be able to help you to get local gigs too!
If you’re feeling motivated to go along to your first Open Mic, why not pop along to This is Brentford? Organisers are hoping to create an inclusive and encouraging environment with a real mix of experience, showcasing a wide variety of local musicians, comedians, poets and dancers at the event. The aim for This is Brentford is to create a creative safe-space where anyone can come along and show what they’ve been working on. There’s a real mix of experience levels in those signed up. Experienced performers will be sharing a stage with people who haven’t taken their act to stage before, or for a while owing to the pandemic. The hope is that the event can help build up performers’ confidence so they can go on and keep performing.
Free tickets are available
Although there may be tickets available on the door on the night, it’s best to book to avoid disappointment.
It’s too late to sign up now to perform in this Open Mic, but who knows, maybe you’ll feel inspired to stand up to perform at a local Open Mic in the near future? And let us know how you got on!
Future Open Mic Details
Open mics nights are regularly held by incredible songwriter, Edwin Addis, at the Gunnersbury Park and Museum
Open Mic Nights | Gunnersbury
The Cross Lances Pub, 236 Hanworth Road, Hounslow, TW3 3TU
Third Sundays of the month, from 7pm
Ian Rogerson who plays guitar and a, more unusual (and fascinating) instrument; called the ‘Chapman Stick’. We don’t just have guitar players at our open mic nights!
A exciting night of music with an “End Jam” number, where all are encouraged to come up and join in, perhaps with backing vocals or instruments, which are given solos during the piece! It is a lot of fun and brings everyone together.
You may recognise Richard Stephenson’s face as he was featured in the recent television series “Rock ‘Til We Drop”. He passed an audition to form one of two bands of over 64 year olds, to show that you are never too old to rock! The band he played with, “The New Young Elders”, were mentored by Martin Kemp and only had a few weeks to prepare for a spot at the Isle of Wight Festival, performing to a crowd of around 60,000, in September 2021! Richard is a regular visitor to our and other local open mic nights.
UniqueT and Piers Hogg
Unique Technique is a rapper, who travels all the way from Plumstead to come to our open mics. He would normally perform to his own backing track but he now collaborates with Piers Hogg (also my “Kindred Spirit Band” electric guitar player). Piers is a very versatile player, with a large and eclectic range of effects pedals. Piers is very happy to play with anyone at the open mics but providing backing for Unique Technique is a particularly tricky challenge, especially when the rapper says, “You start this one” and he has no idea what speed or feel to adopt! Ha ha!
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