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An open mic or open mike (derived from open microphone) is a live show where audience members may perform at the microphone. Usually, the performers sign up in advance for a time slot with the host or master of ceremonies. These events are typically focused on performance arts like poetry and the spoken word, music, and comedy.
Poetry and spoken word
Poetry and spoken word open mics feature a host, who is normally a poet or spoken word artist, poets and spoken word artists, and audience members. A sign-up is done before the show begins, so that the host has a list of names to call from. Poetry/spoken word open mics are laid back, serene, and contain lively conversation in between readers and/or performers. They are usually held in libraries, coffee houses, cafes, and book stores or bars. Each poet or spoken word artist is often asked to keep their performances to a minimum/specified time slot, giving each performer enough time to share some of their work.
Comedy open mic nights can be held at established comedy clubs, but are more commonly held at other venues with or without a stage, often the upstairs or back room of a pub or bar. Such nights give newer acts an opportunity to practice and improve, with a view to getting paid work. More experienced acts get an opportunity to work out newer material where the audience is not paying in anticipation of seeing their normal act. In a typical open mic night, newer acts will get three or maybe five minutes of stage time, but more experienced acts may get ten or more minutes.
Open mic comedy nights are most widespread in larger English-speaking cities with a well-established stand-up comedy scene, especially London and New York. In these cities, with a plethora of aspiring comedians, the greatest challenge may be in attracting a worthwhile audience.
These shows provide an opportunity for musicians to gain experience performing to a live audience without having to go through the process of getting normal music gigs, which is very difficult to do without experience of live performance.
Open mics for musicians have gained popularity in recent years providing a much-needed outlet for singer-songwriters. Prior to their popularity, the only outlet generally were folk clubs, which were not always friendly towards creators of new music, preferring traditional music. They also suggested that music performed by acoustic musicians or solo artists in this manner would necessarily be folk music, a misconception that still commonly exists today. Some organizers have chosen the title "acoustic night" or "acoustic club" in an attempt to indicate an event run broadly on the lines of a folk club, but with a much wider range of musical styles.
Open mic events are most commonly held in the middle of the week or at the very end of the weekend when footfall through venues is low. They rarely occur on the hallowed Friday and Saturday night time slots when venues are busy with weekend revellers and any live performance is usually specifically booked, professional artists. The most common night for a UK open mic event is Thursday, followed by Wednesday and thirdly Sunday.
In the United Kingdom, the largest ongoing open mic-styled music contest is Open Mic UK, which regularly attracts 10,000 participants of all genres. The grand prize for the contest is an investment up to £30,000. The size of the event has necessitated that all participants sign up for performance slots beforehand, instead of simply walking onstage.
A popular open mic arrangement in the United States is the “Blues Night”. In this format a bar or club will dedicate a particular night, usually in the middle of the week, as being “open mic blues night.” The establishment will then supply a house band, typically guitar, bass and drums and performers who wish to play will sign up, usually with the mastsr-of-ceremonies, who is tasked with getting the performers on and off stage in a polite and productive manner. Since the songs chosen need to be simple enough so that a band of musicians who has not played together can perform them without practice, the blues format is the most often used. Songs might be announced as a “12 bar fast shuffle in C”, or similar phrases that should be familiar to all concerned. The guitar, bass, drum backing is the foundation of these events, but harmonica (“harp”) players, lead singers, keyboards, horn players, (usually saxophones) and various percussion instruments, conga drums, shakers, cow bells are common additions.
Rarer niche variations
The terms "open deck" (where deck refers to the kind of Turn table used by a DJ) and "open reel" (where reel refers to a 35 mm film reel) are used for more niche open mic events where keen amateurs can meet to exhibit and critique their skills/artform. A decrease in the cost of consumer video technology combined with the powerful editing capabilities of modern PCs has caused an increase in the popularity of DJing and amateur film making but still these types of events are very rare.
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- Almroth-Wright, Indy (December 6, 2008). "Twleve year-old 'Birdy' wins UK talent contest". BBC (Hampshire). Retrieved 2011-04-15.
- Aldredge, Marcus. "Negotiating and Practicing Performance: An Ethnographic Study of a Musical Open Mic in Brooklyn, New York."
- Aldredge, Marcus. 2013. Singer-Songwriters and Musical Open Mics. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.