Open Mic Nights - How To?


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I have seen many discussions that mention Open Mic nights, but I don't know how they work.

As a drummer, do I just show up and hope there's someone to play with? Also, I play left-handed. Will they let me switch the kit around? Do they have a kit?

Some information would be very helpful :)

you just go .

some you have to sign in and they call you up

if you can play and the people running it dig you then keep going and you will get more playing time.... great way to meet good players if you go to the right ones

.... but honestly the lefty thing may be a slight pain in the tail for you

I used to go to a lot of jazz jam/hangs

some are great and the players just burn and we would go until 4am then all go to breakfast talking about how we couldn't wait to play together again...

and some are absolutely terrible where they would want me to sit back and play nothing but time while 45 mediocre sax players blew 20 choruses each over Take the A train changes

so maybe go have a beer and check one out before you sit in
I believe WhoisTony is describing more of a jam night instead of open mic. There is usually a kit provided although bringing your own sticks is a good idea.

The open mics around here usually don't involve a bunch of musicians looking to play with other players. It's usually a singer with a guitar maybe with another player of some kind (cajon shows up sometimes). Open mics can be good but some are just awful. I have a regular monthly gig where I am paid to come play with an actor who likes to play, is actually pretty good at guitar and singing, and is happy to pay the band to make sure he has a good time. We play at a little well known dive in L.A. We play right after the open mic so I hear some REALLY interesting stuff while setting up.

However WhoisTony is very right about some of these are good and some not so good. I guess that's OK since everybody has to learn somehow and beginner players are just happy to play with anybody. The lefty thing is an issue but you should talk to the organizer before the jam even starts to see if you would be allowed to move anything around and then back to it's proper place. Maybe even email before you show up if you can score the host's email.

There is also the other side of the coin where it's labeled as an 'All Star Jam' night (or something like that). That usually points to being controlled by someone who has a circle of players that he intends to put together in some format who are probably all pros. Unknowns may not make it up until late if at all.

You have to find one that fits. Doesn't have to be perfect but one that works for you preferably resulting in networking with some other players that work for what you want to do.


Great post Ant. I can relate with the 20 sax players and "Take The A Train" thing, only with bad guitarists and "Stormy Monday".

I went to blues jams because I knew I could play blues. If I went to jazz jams (and I should) I'd just be observing until I felt confident I could get through the material. So when you get there, just be a fly on the wall and evaluate to see if YOU like the atmosphere, players, music etc.

When you hear what's being played, you will either think to yourself....I can play this stuff, or I'm not too confident with this stuff. That's when you decide to stay there, or find another jam to evaluate. When you find a good one, be a regular, and play with whoever they stick you with graciously. (sometimes you get ahem, less than good players)

It takes some time to get entrenched in a good local jam but it's just the best investment of your time. Eventually you will get to be one of the A list players, and it all happens from there.

A few tips: People running the jam....usually a house's considered courteous if you show up to support the house band. Go see their set. Watch them close, these are the guys you want on you side. Alot of the times they are the best players as well. I always thought it was rude to show up 3/4's of the way till the end of the jam, stay for a 1/2 hour, play, then leave. That's not a way to endear yourself to the players, socially speaking. I used to show up early, and stay till the end. Always. I would also watch every player closely, not just hang in the back listening and shooting pool. I was serious, I wanted to be an A player. When the house band asks you to sub, you're on your way.

I consider open mic blues and jazz jams to be a form of community college for musicians.
I only go to the left-handed open mic nights.

Bo, you should host an open mic night. I won't have to mess up your kit! ;-)

I think I may try to find out more info on this concept. It might work - but then again, it might be a giant pain in the gluteus maximus!
Open mic and jam nights are a great place to play music with others.

Like Tony said, go check it out. Bring your sticks. Play if it feels OK or just see how the jam is run.

In my town there are a lot of jams and they are all run a little differently.

At my jam night the guy in charge puts together groups of players the best he can.
Sometimes the combination sounds killer. But sometimes it does not sound so good.
So don't get discouraged if you end up with a group of players that don't gel very good. Just go back the next week and it will be better.

The open mics I went to, they would clear out the crap players first, and save the better players till the end. I was relegated to the crap player list for the first 2 years, and I deserved it at the time, and I did it graciously, never complaing about being stuck with Ira again. I clawed my way out after a while.

Definitely bring your sticks like Hollywood says. The lefty the drummer a beer or at least offer. That is a bit of a hassle. You'd have to put the set back. Hopefully the drummer is pliable. Also don't bring a pedal or a snare, just sticks. Don't be difficult, the left handed thing is enough. Just use what's there.
Open mic and jam sessions are oodles of fun. I help run one every Thursday. Sometimes it's awesome. Other times it's painful. Depends on who shows up.

Ours is more of a jam session. If someone is on stage and you feel the urge, you get up and join in. Some players get scared by that at first, but once they try it they rave about it. We specifically don't want it to be a "eyes-screwed-tightly-shut-death-clutching-a-guitar-and-singing-hippy-folk-tunes" (koffkoffJewelkoffkoff) kind of lame-ass funeral. At the same time it must be said that solo acts are more than welcome. We don't get that many strangers, because we're an island. It's a small town. All the players know the other players.

I provide the drums. I don't think I'd let someone change from righty to lefty. Not because I'd have to change it back - I'm not THAT lazy - but because it'd be two 10-minute breaks in the show. 20 minutes of dead air is too much. And you don't want to be fannying about on stage while someone else is playing; that's just rude. But I'm not the guy running your open mic slash jam thang, so my vote doesn't count. ;-D
Don't be difficult, the left handed thing is enough. Just use what's there.

Side Bar:
I'm never difficult - unless you piss me off. With that said, why do lefty's seem to be so persecuted? We may be in the minority, but it doesn't mean we're less normal than righties.

I demand equal rights!

Any Catholic nuns out there wanna smack my hi-hat hand with a ruler now?

Carry on. :)
I don't think I'd let someone change from righty to lefty. Not because I'd have to change it back - I'm not THAT lazy - but because it'd be two 10-minute breaks in the show. 20 minutes of dead air is too much.

It's not like I would be re-stringing a guitar, here. I can move a couple of toms, snare, and cymbals in about 2 minutes. 3 tops!
You leftys....why do you have to be lefty? What righty isn't good enough? :p

Really being lefty must suck when everything is geared towards righties.

Ceily, you has my sympathies. (obscure movie quote)
You leftys....why do you have to be lefty? What righty isn't good enough? :p

Genetics…. or a genetic mutation, maybe? Those crazy recessive genes. Nobody in my family is left-handed.

Really being lefty must suck when everything is geared towards righties.

Yep. Except I'm really good with scissors and a computer mouse. :)
If your location coordinates are correct, you're in Albuquerque, yes? There should be several jam nights to choose from. Don't be concerned if they're called "blues jams", that's just what they call them for the most acceptance. The musicians may or may not actually play blues, and if they do, it devolves into oldies or rock or funk, stuff that everyone can agree upon when one guy turns around and asks "does everyone know..."

There's a jam I've been going to regularly on Thursdays for about 16 years, and I've met some great players and done a lot of gigs as a result, where I've met other players that I've gigged with. The jam is a terrific networking opportunity, disguised as a jam.

Some folks treat the jam as a place to cut loose and do stuff they don't normally get to play on paying gigs. May I recommend treating the jam like an audition, where you play like you'd play on a gig. The other players are listening, and showing that you're gigworthy carries a lot of weight when they need a drummer for a gig or session.

Open mic and jam sessions are two different things. At an open mic any musician is allowed to perform. At a jam session you are just jamming and it may be improvised.

Basically you just go and see what it is like. They might have instruments there already. There might be a sign up sheet so everyone gets a chance to play.

I like it at the end of the night when others have gone home and musicians are just freestyle jamming. Some really good stuff gets improvised then.
The left handed thing can be tricky depending on the kit provided. I have stealth racks and its not possibly to swap the snare and floor toms around, and I will sometimes bring a double pedal which makes it harder too.
In the past, we have had lefties sit in at our local blues jam. As the kit is a basic four-piece with a crash, a ride, and hats, normally we switch the floor tom and hats, move the snare over to the other side of the kick pedal, and that's it. Total time is less than five minutes.

To be fair, at blues jams it's never about chops, it's all about groove and it's 90% kick-snare-hats and ride. So as unwieldy as this setup sounds, it's sufficient for most lefties who venture on stage.