The Importance of Open-Mic in the Modern Music/Art Scene.

What is an Open-Mic? How does it work?

Open mic is an event which encourages musicians and spoken word artists to converge to share a creative space, and  their performance art. Such events create a productive outlet for these artists, opens up one up to new ideas, encourages productive collaboration among creative types, and lets folks connect to other like minded people. Oftentimes artists collaborate on potential new sounds/ideas with others who happen to be at the same event(s).

Set and Setting.

Historically, many different type of venues have been known to host open-mics. These are including (but not limited to) coffeeshops, cafes, bars, winerys, gallerys, art centers, and even shopping centers. Taking this into account, one very important aspect to consider is the overall nature of environment itself.  An open mic occurring at a bar will be a much different experience than one taking place at a coffeeshop, or library. It’s all up to creative/personal preference where each artist will find their niche.

The very feel of an event changes along with the nature of the venue, as does what the venue will allow, and what it won’t.

Licensing, Permits, and Allowing/Disallowing Non-Original Music.

General rule of thumb is that folks should always come prepared to only play ORIGINAL MUSIC if their venue of choice doesn’t pay P.R.O fees each year to the big 3 – if the venue in question is in the states (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC), other countries have their own P.R.O groups.  P.R.O groups (while not perfect) are important and serve a good purpose, if it wasn’t for such groups musicians would not be able to collect royalties when their music is played in film, radio, television, plays, etc.  We must respect these groups.

Knowing all these dynamics helps us get a better idea as to how to approach playing at a venue with/without P.R.O licenses, or even if you are a venue asking yourself if such a gathering is right for your establishment. While some folks are agitated by not being able to play covers in some locations, others report that the original-only locations turn out a lot more original music from local artists, to the stage. I recommend each venue pays their dues to open up more technical/creative-possibility for developing artists. If such a venue does not pay money into these P.R.O organizations (and as a result does not have license to utilize music protected by said organizations) it is wise to not allow non original music in your establishment, or on it’s stage.

The Author’s Own Experiences with Open-Mic.

Back in 2003 I had a close friend that used to host a great weekly open mic at a local cafe. Each Monday he’d show up around 6pm – lugging a P.A system, mic stands, and a guitar (on an old metal wagon) up the then newly-built ramp going in to the back of the cafe. Sean Fitzgerald was a true Detroit indie blues master, who introduced myself, and many talented artists in the metro-detroit area at the time to a new/very organic way of approaching our connection(s) with other musicians. Sean approached his unique style of hosting events in the most genial manner of kindness, ever. Unfortunately, Sean passed away in 2009, and while this article isn’t about my late great friend per se – it is about the tremendous lesson i learned from him in regards to the important place open-mic has earned in our music/art culture.

When I was a teenager, I asked my buddy Sean if open-mic was similar to karaoke – he laughed and corrected the sentiment. He reinforced that while karaoke has it’s place, open mic is totally it’s own thing about bringing artists together and making art. It was a great way to network, as well. A good open mic will always feel welcoming (like an old friend you get to see once in a while). The thing that defined the way Sean used to run open mic (to me) was that if you didn’t have your guitar on you – he would let you use his – no questions asked, he just wanted you to get out there and be on stage, even if it was just once and you didn’t know how to sing in front of people yet – just for the experience of it. He extended this gesture to many artists, and folks loved him for it.

He encouraged me to go home, work out a routine, and return with my guitar – so I did, and it was amazing.

Over the years of attending various open mics: I made many many friends, industry connections, and experienced tremendous creative/spiritual growth in part by being in such a setting at least once each week. My experiences at these gatherings have had a profound effect on how I approach art altogether, and even other artists when initiating possible collaboration. I was able to meet + experience new bands, speak with other artists, find common ground among other like minded folks.  Open-mic creates regulars and sells product for the venue by attracting a wider crowd – while bringing artsy/creative types into the community at the same time. People are (with proper planning and implementation) collectively working to build culture, and an even more attractive environment – in the host-venue, setting the stage for new potential guests and repeat visitors.

It takes effort on the venue AND host’s part to make a successful event, if either side falls short then the whole production suffers.

Food for Thought.

Lastly, open mic type programs keep folks of all ages busy, out of trouble, and creating positive works of art in their community. Such events have so much capacity to help people do/feel better at their lives by improving public speaking and communication skills, helping folks build stronger relationships with local business owners, and providing a safe space for artists to solidify many of their creative ideas into tangible works of art. The connection open mic (and it’s culture building characteristics) has with our local music/art community is profound. I hope to see many more venues pursue their own such programs and events, in the days/years to come.


Easily find open mic(s) near you: OpenMikes, Project: Union-Street, and Google.
More information about PRO’s (relative to the USA) – such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.

Remembering a True Detroit Legend.

Luis Hirschlieb

Luis Hirschlieb is the founder of the Project: Union-Street artisan community, and it's subsidiaries. He began to play acoustic guitar/piano at the age of 3, and has a passion for writing, friends, composing/listening to music, good food, exercise, adventure, and building worlds.

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