I played another open mic tonight. Open mics are interesting creatures. They are, in my opinion, essential for any singer/songwriter to take part in. Whether you are new at the craft and hoping to get some experience performing in front of an audience, or been at it for a long time and use the open mic as a chance to try out new material or just keep sharp in between gigs they serve a very important purpose.
There are two distinct types of open mics. Some nights you'll show up about 30 minutes before start time, and the place is packed. You search for the sign up sheet, a quiet place to tune up (good luck), and drop off your case and find a place to stand or sit while you take in the performers who got to the establishment several hours ago in order to get a good performance slot. Your time comes, you perform your two or three songs to a very noicey crowd, all kinds of conversations going on around you, the sound of the blender revving up just as you get to a very delicate finger picked passage. Then your done, the next performer standing just off stage waiting for his/her 15 minutes of fame. As you walk through the crowd back to your waiting guitar case you get lots of head shakes, "great job man", "really like your songs", etc.... As hectic and crazy as it seems to you post performance, it does serve an important purpose. It keeps you going. In the large crowd that is attending there are some people who are really there to listen to the music, and they will make themselves known to you. They seek you out, or maybe bump into you while ordering coffee and let you know whole heartedly how your music affected them.
The other type of open mic is what I attended tonight. I showed up about ten minutes before the start, walked upstairs to the performance space and met the host and one other performer. A few other people came by and took a seat as we chatted amoungst ourselves. By the time the host took the stage and welcomed everyone, there were about 10 people in the audience including performers. At first I felt disappointment, and thought that it was not going to be a great night, but I was wrong. I was at the Lifesong Cafe, which is on the second floor above Luna's Restaurant in Three Bridges, NJ. It was one of the most satisfying open mics I've ever played. Even though there were only about 8 people in the audience, they were very attentive. You could hear a pin drop, they were all there to hear the performers, and yet we were all strangers to each other. Myself and the other singer/songwriter, Carolyn Messina, each played about 5 songs, then jammed with the host on a few tunes. It was a great, easygoing, fun evening. Several of the attending audience members came up to me after and really had a conversation with me, delving into the songs I played, what they meant to them, etc..
So what am I saying here? It's simple, whether your playing to 80 people or 8, the number doesn't really matter that much. It's reaching people that matters. Sometimes, just playing to a sparse crowd can make all the difference in pushing your career/experience forward as a performing songwriter. So get out there and play that pizzarea, that church fund raiser, and that open mic.