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Tips for Hosting Open Mic

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Tyler L, Nov 9, 2017.

  1. Tyler L

    Tyler L

    Aug 16, 2017
    Urbana, OH
    Hey Everyone, hopefully I'm not on the wrong board for this (can I still use the Talkbass "newbie" card?)

    So back from about 2008-2011, my small town was a flourishing hub for open mic talent. People would come from miles around to play, the culture was friendly, the music was hot, and the crowd turnout was ample. The venue, a coffeehouse, ended up discontinuing the open mics due to laws/regulations against live covers of songs without some BS license. That combined with a burnt out host pretty much killed it off

    Fast forwarding to today, my wife now owns a new coffeehouse and we are considering firing open mic back up with me hosting. As a bassist, I'm super excited to have fun and stay sharp with some local talent. I've never hosted open mic before, so for those who have either been to or hosted open mics, any suggestion to hosting? Would monthly be too frequent or too sparse? How did you find out about local open mics in your hometown? Do you typically play open mics on weekends or weekdays? Anybody know anything about these laws/licenses about bands playing cover songs? Is this all just a terrible idea that I will regret for generations?

    Thanks everyone for your input!
  2. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    It can be great, especially on a slow night. I would include the following:

    1. Think about a theme. Some places are for originals, some for acoustic music, etc. If it's a coffee house, you don't want death metal.
    2. You need a house band of musicians who are not in it for ego, but are flexible, and understand that other than playing a few numbers to open things up, their job is to be backup for musicians who want it.
    3. Get organized. Figure out how you are going to arrange the order of performers - have the rules posted - how much time does each person get, etc.
    4. I would think that monthly is good to start. Talk to the people there and see what they want to do - more often if warranted.
    5. Keep the night consistent, so the people know - first Tuesday of the month - whatever.

    Others will chip in more with regard to licenses for covers - one more reason to keep it to original music.

    Good luck.
    DirtDog and Tyler L like this.
  3. 3Liter


    Feb 26, 2015
    One of the better ones around here follows the following format:
    1. 8-11 every Tuesday
    2. Covers/Orginals it doesn't matter (many/most people play covers at this)
    2a. A rule he was going to put in place but never did was you couldn't/shouldn't play the same songs every week.
    3. A couple of house musicians are around (bass/acoustic drum kit/electric drum pads) for those that want them.
    4. Dedicated Facebook page for the OM. Host takes photos of every act and posts them. You can learn performers names that way and it develops community for those that are not as good in the flesh.
    5. Limited to 15 minutes or three songs.
    6. They used to do sign ups in advance through the FB site, but it kinda got out of hand with people signing up at noon for 8:45 and the general management of it. I liked it because I knew when I was on. Now it's in person sign ups.
    7. For a while, they were video recording the performances and posting on the FB site. It was pretty cool but the lady doing it had to stop.

    That bar changed hands but they kept this. The OM brings in a number of people on a sleepy Tuesday that the bar probably otherwise would not. There's a lot of the regulars joining in other's performances. I have had folks join me and specifically picked stuff where I could have the band join.
    Tyler L likes this.
  4. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Suspended Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Literally a Google search link. I am NOT an expert.

    13 Common Questions About Music Licensing for Businesses

    The two main organizations I have heard of for music licensing are BMI and ASCAP. There are more I'm sure. Here's the thing. I can't go into too my details about this because of nondisclosure agreements. But my company has many locations. Those locations have recently had spies from both BMI and ASCAP to see if music was playing in "common areas" of those buildings. We got busted in a big way and had to enforce no music rules in our company. It's a big deal.

    Pretty much the music industry sees using others' works for free no differently than streaming for free or "stealing" music. Artists get paid by BMI and/or ASCAP for "spins" and album/song sales.

    I used to play in a club that was owned by a guy who refused to pay the fees. There were two top PA cabs flown from the ceiling that hung on each side of the stage about eye level. There were literally lists of songs we were not allowed to play taped to the backs of those speaker along with legal notices claiming that the band, not the venue, was responsible for any infractions resulting from the playing of those songs.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2017
    Tyler L and Jimmy4string like this.
  5. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Most of the open mics around here don't really provide any sort of backline or even musicians to support you. They are usually geared towards acoustic music. Sometimes they might have a digital piano. So essentially the host just sets up a PA and mic(or two) for the most part.
    Tyler L likes this.
  6. What's the music licensing cost?

    You will find yourself busy on bass if you have an ear. If you don't have an ear you will find one quickly.

    Some performers can be better off without backing, particularly when they have ''busker'' gaps in time keeping.

    Now and again you get some kid who never had a band jump up and you make his year jamming out his three chord ditty.

    Best of luck.
    Tyler L and 3Liter like this.
  7. Tyler L

    Tyler L

    Aug 16, 2017
    Urbana, OH
    You all have been quite helpful so far and I thank you!!

    I agree 3liter, 15 minute sets should be good I'd think. Also, we have a good pool of musicians to make a nice, small, fun house band.

    So because we are a non-profit coffeehouse, we probably won't go for covers. Thank you twofingers for not only the info, but also the personal experiences on the covers. I was thinking about trying to "stick it to the man," but your experience and my guilt for not supporting artists did that idea in. I think the limitation of only doing original materials will actually bring out the true sound of our rural county.

    After talking with my wife, I think starting out with a quarterly open mic will be our initial approach and we'll see where we go from there. Though it may go awry, but I'm going to start off with NO SOUND SYSTEM. Because the space can hold max, maybe 50-75 people, only acoustic, including vocals. I think that will really cut down on the transition time between musician. I have some concerns though which I'll include in my questions, including this essentially eliminating the option of piano (which I hate doing).

    buldog5151bass mentioned picking a theme and I've been mulling that over. So because of our location, we get jazz cats, classical, folk, bluegrass, and the occasional pop/rock/pop punk musician. I'd love to rope in all of the previous mentioned, but I'm struggling with a theme that would encompass all. Maybe even do a Prairie Home Companion-style ending with a larger combined ensemble at the end.

    Additionally, we're going to rope in some local businesses to get a food truck, local ice cream, bakery, or whoever to come in as well. Food always seems to bring people in :thumbsup:

    So a few more questions:

    1) I tried some internet research and it seems pretty vague regarding standards and other performances. So for example, let's say we wanted to wanted to play around on Minor Swing by Django. Would that require licensing? I guess I'm asking how far are people able to toe the line before you're too far.

    2) Regarding the theme, would you recommend making each quarter a specific theme to bring people in? Or just stick with "acoustic" and bring everyone in? Would that attract or deter listeners do you think?

    3) Why does it seem that every open mic is on a Tuesday? I know most of the ones I have been to have been on a Tuesday. Is there scientific evidence to back this up?

    4) So two instruments come to mind as a concern: piano (as mentioned before) and drums. Should I bring a SMALL 2 piece set with brushes? Or provide a djembe or something? Also, the lack of keyboard could really limit options. Which leads me to my last question...

    5) Is not having a sound system a terrible idea? Again, it's a small space, I'm expecting a small(er) crowd. No bar so shouldn't be too raucous. Thoughts?
    Jimmy4string likes this.
  8. I will only address #5, but yes - having no sound system is a terrible idea. Especially if you are thinking of having percussion. Most people are not going to be able to project over a guitar (and maybe something else) unless the room is almost dead silent. You can get a cheap PA but you should have at least one vocal channel and the ability to plug in an electric acoustic.
    3Liter and Tyler L like this.
  9. Tyler L

    Tyler L

    Aug 16, 2017
    Urbana, OH
    Thanks for being the physical manifestation of that devil's voice inside my head... See my other issue is that I know we will have a trombonist, saxophonist, and a violinist. What are your thoughts on a condenser? Maybe a vocal mic or two? I just HATE the hassle of 1/4"s breaking, needing replaced, the inevitable guitar that has a bad plug, and of course that person that brings in the cheapest (make) guitar with teeth-grittingly bright tone.
  10. Well, for the second part of that - yes there will be some painful moments related to the open mic. It's part of the price of the good stuff that comes with it.

    As to the first part, I'd probably have one condenser available for instruments without an amplified output (in addition to 1 vocal and a guitar input). I would not worry about having too many though. The more inputs needed the fewer options you will have for a inexpensive PA option. Most powered speakers have at least 2, some have 3 - beyond that and you're looking at an 8 channel mixer in addition to whatever speaker. In the instance you laid out I would not amplify either horn and try to get the violin with the condenser (difficult but probably doable).

    I would start relatively basic for the first one and then take it from there. For the first night, try to line up some of the performers in advance, let them know what you will be providing and they may cover any additional needs they may have at least for the first time. Try to get enough known quantities, if possible, to fill the first half of the timeslot. That way at least you know the first half will be of a certain quality.

    Also, do what you can to encourage attendance from non-performers (some sort of special or something). Ultimately what will make it worthwhile for the performers is some new people to play for (in addition to the networking part).
    Tyler L likes this.
  11. You don't need no condensors unless you plan to take it all to Carnegie Hall.
  12. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    First things first, you need to distinguish between an open mic and a jam.

    At open mics there are no support musicians. People show up and play what they know. Most all of them are beginners and/or marginal musicians. Many of them won't be comfortable playing with other people suddenly when they've spent the last month learning 3 songs for solo acoustic guitar.
    Restricting to originals can work, if there's a healthy singer-songwriter culture in the area, but you'll be cutting your participants by half at least. Those are usually called a "singer-songwriter showcase" or something along those lines.
    There is no house drum kit or anything like that at an open mic. The players who show up are responsible for bringing all instruments. It's common to restrict people from bringing amps and drum kits, because of volume issues and setup times.

    At open mics, the PA, instrument cable and vocal mic are always provided by the host/venue. If you can't do that then don't have the event. Period.

    At jams there is the expectation of a house band that people will get up and play with. The musicians will know that coming in and prepare accordingly.
    Jams are always all covers. Always. Otherwise how are strangers going to play together??
    Host/venue provides backline. Drum kit, bass amp, usually two guitar amps, mics and stands, PA and monitors.
    Generally speaking the house band does a short set at the start, 3 or 4 songs tops, then other people start rotating through. Always keep at least one house band member on the stage.

    Licensing is sort of a non-issue, in that an open mic or jam at a place that doesn't have live music on a regular basis isn't viable. If the venue ever has live bands, they will already take care of the licensing. If they don't, then don't try to get people to play music there.

    Every successful open mic I've ever seen has been weekly. Monthly and quarterly ones don't get the traction they need to be successful, either in terms of drawing a crowd or making money for the venue.

    Don't do themes, except maybe Christmas music at the last one of the year. Themes usually require people to learn songs specifically for that night. Most people who go to open mics can't or won't do that. If you're doing originals-only and a theme, you would be requiring people to write a new song to your theme. That will not happen.

    The only time I've ever seen a themed open mic work was one that was primarily a showcase for students from a music school. The school's lesson plans were themed (for some reason), so they had a pool of people learning themed songs every month.

    Open mics are on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays because those are the slowest nights for venues. Nights where they won't make money booking bands they have to pay for. The open mic format of early sign-ups and lots of people waiting around for their time slot puts butts in seats and the people attached to those butts buy beer and coffee and food while they wait. The most successful open mic in my town is at a coffee shop two blocks from a large university. The sign up sheet is filled to capacity at 7:30, the last slot doesn't go on until 11pm. The place is packed the whole time. Every Monday night.
    getbent, 3Liter and Tyler L like this.
  13. Seems to me that I read somewhere in here (TB) that fees run around $800 a year. This was a while ago so they might have gone up. The fines are MUCH higher than that. Pay the fees if you are going to allow covers.
    Tyler L likes this.
  14. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Just an FYI. Hosting only original content may obviate the legal necessity of getting a venue license. But it won’t necessarily prevent you from getting harassed by licensing organizations who “just know” somebody, somewhere, on some night will play a phrase from a copyrighted song while on your premises. So I suggest you get some competent business/legal advice about that.

    Some towns have also drunk the music industry kool-aid and require you get content licenses before they’ll issue your business a live entertainment permit.
    Omega Monkey and Tyler L like this.
  15. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    I actually don't think you need a PA if acoustic acts are in mind. For example if you are expecting acoustic swing and bluegrass, then no PA is necessary. The only issue is that any folks that want to come to the open mic that would actually need a PA won't have one. For example a keyboard player who sings.

    Another consideration for sound system is that if less experienced acoustic players are trying to do the acoustic guitar/signing thing, they may not have the volume to carry in a large room. So you'd want the audience to be seated close enough to the "stage" to actually hear it. Alot of this depends on the physical layout of the room.

    lz4005 also has a good point about whether this is really turning into an open jam rather than true open mic. Again, my experience with open mics is generally solo acoustic guitar players who also sing, maybe a duo of folks at best. Tends to be no supporting musicians and no full bands show up the get on the list.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2017
    Tyler L likes this.
  16. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Thinking about it, an acoustic jam might be more entertaining and worthwhile than an open mic anyways. Open mics can sometimes get incredibly dull and just downright bad. A jam might actually entertain someone.
    Tyler L likes this.
  17. Tyler L

    Tyler L

    Aug 16, 2017
    Urbana, OH
    You all have been super helpful, thank you!!! I appreciate the fact that you all pointed out that it really may be more like a jam than an open mic. My brain didn't even go there for some reason. That will help me with marketing and planning this event. Big stuff for a county of 30k!

    Update: our community has been ridiculously supportive and I've only asked about interest on Facebook of all places. With the warnings issued above, I may go ahead and get the license but still market it as mostly original material. A few people may even be throwing money at me, so thank you for the general estimate, sharkbait130. We may even be hosting it at a little larger restaurant/venue in town.

    I hope you all don't mind but I might revisit this thread as it gets closer to the date (early 2018). Super excited! Thank you all!!
  18. Omega Monkey

    Omega Monkey

    Mar 8, 2015
    Not having a PA is a recipe for disaster. Think of every business meeting/conference where someone tried to address more than 10 people in anything bigger than a small room. Could you ever hear everything they were saying. It's extremely pretentious to think that just because you're doing "acoustic" music that everyone in the place will be absolutely dead silent and listening to a given act on the edge of their seats. We're talking lots of inexperienced beginner musicians with poor writing skills. The audience may have the best intentions but there WILL be talking. And even without audience noises, clinking silverware, sales transactions, kitchen sounds, etc... if you're in anything bigger than an average bedroom, you need amplification.

    And don't try to cheap out and spend 200 bucks on some piece of crap. Buy good pro gear from respected brands. If you're not spending close to $1k you are probably throwing money away, because cheap crap will break and it will sound horrible until it does. A couple of JBL EON 12s or 15s should be sufficient for speakers. You COULD cheap out and get like a $100 yamaha mixer (ie MG series), BUT, you will be a lot happier if you get something digital with a little more processing. For a long term investment, this is not that expensive. Even something like a Soundcraft UI series that's basically a stage box you can control with any laptop, tablet, or phone would work. I think those are 300-500 or so depending on model. If you make people sound good, people will want to come back and that's how you grow your event. If every night is a horrible mess of feedback, muddy vocals, and tinny guitar, because all you have is a $150 behringer powered mixer and a couple of cheap kustom 10" "pa" speakers, who will want to come back after the first time? And at any rate, good quality pro gear can always be sold for a decent amount. With the cheap crap, you have to find someone more desperately broke than you were when you bought it (yet has money to spend on PA stuff).

    Also, only doing quarterly is a recipe for disaster. By the time the next one comes around, everyone has forgotten about the previous one and your marketing effort has to be fresh every time. Nobody plans that far ahead and putting all your eggs in one basket means less people are likely to make it. Monthly is a better choice starting out if you don't want to do weekly. Before you pick a night out of a hat, you should see what else is going on in a given week in your area and try to pick a night that typically has very little going on (especially things that would draw away your expected demographic of performers and customers).
  19. Tyler L

    Tyler L

    Aug 16, 2017
    Urbana, OH
    Thanks for your input! I have a set of K12s and three or four low-end Blue mics (can't remember the model.) I think we can get a small A&H 12fx board. Do you think the K12s would be too much? Where we're considering is not a huge space (maybe 30-50 people max). My fellow house-handers have done a decent number of church gigs, et cetera, so at least we have some experience there.
  20. markoc


    Jan 6, 2014
    North San Diego
    sounds like you are looking to do more of a jam.
    Lots of good advice so far.
    A theme was mentioned. I think a genre theme is a good idea, be it Blues, Bluegrass, Jazz etc. It gives jammers a reference point to working out a few songs to play together.
    Managing a jam is far more work than playing a gig. Think herding cats. Have a house band and have at least one of them on stage at all times to keep control.
    I have more but my post is to long already.

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