One of the biggest and most important steps when learning to play music, is performance. Somehow, when people are listening to us play, everything changes. Songs that we can play perfectly and effortlessly in an empty room, become much more difficult when someone, especially someone unfamiliar, is listening.
Of course the first step is to play in front of family and/or friends. Just say, “Hey, I need to practice playing to an audience. Can you listen to this and tell me what you think?” And if you have friends or family who play music, do them a favour and ask them to play for you.
The next step, is to find an unfamiliar audience. And the best place to do that is at an “open mic” (also commonly called an “open stage”).
Now don’t be scared… they’re not a bad as you think.
People who go to open mics don’t go to be critics. They go to encourage. Most are participants, and the ones that aren’t are usually trying to work up the courage to participate. And yes, your first performance may well be a “train wreck”. But it won’t kill you. And that which doesn’t kill you…
Here’s how to prepare for your first open mic.
Check it out.
Find out as much as you can before you go. Are you allowed a certain number of songs, or a certain amount of time? Is it a “themed” open mic (i.e. bluegrass, celtic, etc.) or is it truly “open”. If it makes you more comfortable, go and check it out once before you perform, but take your instrument, just in case. If someone asks you to play, its okay to say, “I’d like to listen a bit first.” But if they ask again later, don’t say no.
Decide which songs you’re going to play and practice, practice, practice. If you want to perform standing up, practice standing up. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice blindfolded. Videotape yourself. Watch the video. And practice some more.
Play your best song first. It’s not a concert. You don’t need to save the best for last. Playing your best song will maximize your comfort level.
Don’t bail out. Even if your first tune goes horribly, stay with it. The longer you’re up there, the more comfortable you will get.
Stay until its over. If you can, stick around and listen to other performers. On top of being courteous to the other performers, there is a very good chance that someone will come around and thank you for coming out and encourage you to come back. If this doesn’t happen, its not you – it’s them. Find another open mic. Also, try to complement or encourage at least one other performer.
You will probably be your own worst critic. Don’t wallow! Try to pick just one thing that you will try to do differently next time. Think about what other performers did that you liked, or didn’t like and try to apply those things to your next performance.
Finally, no matter how well, or poorly, it went. Try again. If you didn’t like the “vibe” of that open mic, try another one. But make sure that you try again – it will be easier – and it certainly won’t kill you. And that which doesn’t kill you…