Open Mic Nights Exposed – The truth behind the hosts, the venues, the musicians and the listeners/fans

Are you here to read all the dirty and dirty little secrets about Open Mic Nights? Well, you came to the right place! So get comfortable and read on…..

Where shall I start? I am assuming that you know what an Open Mic is and know the difference between an Open Mic and a Jam Session. If you don’t, this post will help Jam Session or Open Mic – What’s the Difference? . My comments, observations and opinions here come from many years of performing at Open Mics, as well hosting a few and listening to feedback from everyone involved.

Let’s start with the venue. Assuming the venue is a place of business, their goal is to make money. From my experience, the only venues that usually make money on Open Mics are bars, for obvious reasons. For the most part, a venue should consider Open Mics a form of advertising because, there is only so much money people will spend while waiting to perform and listening for several hours. You will attract new potential customers to your establishment and, many will become regulars who will bring their friends and talk it up. Venues should understand that the folks coming to Open Mics genuinely appreciate your hosting it. For those of you attending the Open Mic, please understand that most venues are not making money from the one or two drinks you order. In fact, some venues will stay open later than normal and have to pay staff to be present. I only mention this so everyone knows what to expect.

OK, what about the host? This is usually a paid gig for the host. The host determines the “rules”, such as who plays when, how long each set is, etc. For more details, check out Open Mic Etiquette which I used at my Open Mics. Typically, Open Mics will run until the last person gets their stage time. If the turnout is heavy, the venue stays open and the host stays…. wait for it…. without any extra compensation. Hosts don’t get paid based on how many performers show up. They charge the venue for X hours and that’s it. The host also gets to be the brunt of complaints when a performer accidentally gets overlooked, cut short, doesn’t like the way they sound, had to wait too long to perform, the crowd thins out before their turn, etc. By the way, the host is also responsible for making sure there is music for the duration of the Open Mic. So if performers dribble in and listeners are there, the host will fill in the stage time. In short, the host is trying to keep everyone happy (including the venue) and coming back.

Ahhh, performers… an interesting breed. I know, because I am one! Performers will run the gamut from rank beginners to “unbelievable, I can’t believe I’m seeing this person for free”. Open Mics are typically a “safe place” for performers and many will try out new material. It is your responsibility to ask the host what the rules are. For a sample check out Open Mic Etiquette which I used at my Open Mics. So, what should you expect? You should expect a heads up before your turn and the host will either introduce you or ask you to introduce yourself. You should also expect the host to keep track of time and let you know when it’s your last song in the set. I promise there will be nights that are incredible and others that aren’t up to par, for any number of reasons. Try to roll with it and come back again. One complaint that is often heard is that people play their set and leave (also their friends leave). To that I say, you want an audience, you be an audience. You should also remember that this is a paying gig for the host and often, if the venue books gigs, they will have the host do the screening. If you are interested in a gig, please ask the host what the policy is.

Listeners/Fans….. we love you! Playing to a room of our peers is nice, but you folks really make the stage time rocof re. Open Mics are a great way to have a night out with live entertainment and not break the bank, which is so important these days, isn’t it? By the way, it really helps if you let the venue know how much you appreciate making their location available. They expect the performers to be grateful, but your feedback can make all the difference in keeping the Open Mic going when things slow down a bit, and it always happens at some point.

If you don’t know where Open Mics are in your area, check my post Jam Session or Open Mic – What’s the Difference? for resources to locate the ones in your area.

If you would like to host an Open Mic and want to know what is involved and what to expect, feel free to contact me and I will help you as best as I can.

Well, there you have it, Open Mics Exposed!! Leave a comment and let me know what you think or what your experience has been.

Taking you back to a simpler time… with music


Songwriter, Musician, Entertainer, Instructor

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Steve started playing guitar in ‘69, and has been performing regularly since ’90. His involvement with recording and sound engineering began in the early ‘70’s.

Steve, and his bands, have always given back to the community, supporting Special Needs Families, Christian Outreach, Food Pantries, Homeless Shelters and Medical Research.

As a songwriter and registered artist with BMI, Steve’s songwriting and gig sets span the Blues, Rock, Folk, Country and Christian genres.

2009 was the start of a busy solo performing schedule as well as sharing his love of music by teaching both Guitar and Live Performance Techniques. Steve teaches his guitar students to play the music THEY want to play, right from the start, without getting bogged down with music theory. With Live Performance Techniques lessons, students learn how to move from the living room to a live stage.

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