Jam Session or Open Mic – What’s the Difference?

This is a common question, especially if you have only been going to one, and not the other. The fact is they are very similar in some ways, yet very different in others. Rather than give long-winded explanations of each, I’ll compare them “side by side”.

Jam Session Open Mic
How is it organized and who is in charge? Usually a host band, who will perform the opening and closing sets. Usually an individual host musician, who will perform the opening and closing sets.
When will I perform? Sign in with the host and you will be told when it’s your turn. Same
What is performed? Music – usually in a specific genre, such as Blues, Rock, Jazz, Etc.Each ‘band’ agrees on the songs and keys. Music – usually all/multiple genres, covers and original songs. Spoken Word – poetry, drama, comedy, original script
How is it performed? The host will assign players, as a band, for each set. Singer, Rhythm & Lead Guitars, Bass, Drummer, Harp, etc. Usually solo, but can be duo/trio if you come with other players
How long is each performance/set? It varies by host. Some do a certain # of songs, some by time (15/20 mins., etc.) Same
What equipment is provided? PA, Mics, Drum Kit, Guitar & Bass Amps, Cables, Keyboard (sometimes). Always call ahead and ask if it’s OK to bring your own amp. PA, Mics, Cables, Music Stand, guitar rack (sometimes), often a stool.
What kind of instruments are usually played? Just about anything, based on the format/genre. Just about anything, but usually NOT electric  guitars and NOT drums.
Do I have to bring my own instrument? YES. Drummers bring sticks. You can also bring snare and throne, but don’t have to. YES
What if I sing, but don’t play an instrument? Check with the host. Each set needs a singer, so you may take turns leading a song with another player/singer. Check with the host. You may sing Acapella, with a CD backing track, or the host or other musician may back you up (if you bring lead sheets).
What if I’m a new performer Let the host know and he/she will try to match you up. Make sure you tell the other players so they know what to expect and you’ll be fine. Let the host know. There are several options. Open Mics are usually a ‘safe’ venue for new players. Some hosts may be willing to play/sing with you if they know the song and you bring a lead sheet.
How do I find out where they’re held? Local newspaper entertainment/calendar section, music societies or online forums, ask at local music stores. Same plus you can search by zip code at www.openmikes.org
Do I have to pay to play? Usually NO, but it is expected that you will buy food and/or drinks to support the venue. After all, it’s a business and the host is usually getting paid. Same.
Anything else I should know? Yes. Always have your instrument tuned and ready to play before you go on stage. If you take 5 minutes tuning, it will come off your stage time! Same.

The bottom line is, if you’re not sure, call ahead and ask to speak with, or email, the host. Many times the staff at the venue will only know the date and time of the Jam Session or Open Mic and won’t be able to answer other questions. Worst case, ask when the host will arrive and call back to speak with him/her. The host usually arrives ½ hour to an hour early to set up their equipment.

To sum it all up, if you want to play in a band setting, then you want to look for a Jam Session in your genre. If you prefer playing acoustic and solo, you’ll be better served with an Open Mic.

If you need help finding a Jam Session or Open Mic in the Orlando/Daytona Beach, FL area, feel free to email me and I’ll send you info.

I host two Open Mics. Open Mic Fridays in Lake Mary, FL and Open Mic Sundays in Deland, FL. Click Here for Details

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All the best!



8 thoughts on “Jam Session or Open Mic – What’s the Difference?

    • It all depends where you live, Josh. Many comedy clubs have open mic nights. Many comedy-only open mics will be downtown in a city or near college campuses. You can also contact venues that advertise open mics and ask if comedy and/or spoken word are allowed. You can use the Open Mic Directory link in the article and specify spoken word in your search. It’s always a good idea to make sure the open mic you’re looking at online is still running. Often the hosts/venues will forget to delete the listing when they cancel the open mic.

      I hope that helps a bit,

  1. Hey Steve, I’m a working musician from the Jersey shore, visiting for a couple days in Orange City. Looking for a band to see, or a jam to attend locally, today or tomorrow. Any suggestions?

  2. My wife and I are looking for other mucions to jam with in the local area of Ocala, Fla. We run Karaoke on Fri. & Sat. nights at Lake Bryant and would like to sit down with other muicons on our off days just to play . Vick & Cheyenne Nozzi / Lake Bryant RV & Moblehome Park

  3. Good information! I want to organize an jamm session in Maracaibo, Venezuela and i would apreciate if you could send me information about the organization of the event. my email is saulfajardo88@gmail.com thanks for the help!

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