Simplicity and the Open Mic

There’s really too much for me to say on the topic of open mics. I spend so much time at them that I get the opportunity to sit there and think about what’s going on. And I know what I want to do at an open mic (it isn’t that different from what I want to do at a show or on my website) but that isn’t what most people want to do. And I know how I feel about open mics but that isn’t how most people feel.

I look at it this way: I get 5-10 minutes or a limit of songs. The whole thing is a minimalist experiment in performance. Even though I’m a fan of simplifying everything, this is still a bit nerve-racking since I feel like I’m under the gun (most performers at open mics don’t seem to feel this way at all). It took me a long time to get to this place, but a few weeks ago, I decided not to bring my main guitar (which has a pickup) to the Gypsy Den open mic.

Though plugging in to the PA helps my volume, it doesn’t always help my sound. And the volume at the Gypsy Den open mic is pretty loud through the PA to overcome all the noise in the room. I can control my vocal volume by moving away from the mic (pro tip to all you loud singers, you don’t have to have your lips on the mic) but I can’t control my guitar’s volume once I start playing. A couple of weeks ago at Gypsy Den, I launched into Worst Taste In Men and saw John leap for the PA to pull my guitar level down.

So the last time I went, I brought just the baby Taylor. I feel a bit naked without my usual booming guitar but I’m all right with that now. I think it went much better. And I certainly felt good about not having a heavy guitar case with me.

This is obviously not how other participants feel. A group of three (two women and a man) got onstage. Then the man set his guitar down and then walked off-stage to get his pedal board.

A quick sidebar, John has a few rules for his open mic: no cursing, be tuned before you’re onstage and you have 2 songs or 8 minutes whichever comes first.

So, once this guy gets onstage, he plugs in, creates instant feedback, and then starts tuning. Meanwhile, the woman with the violin is tuning also. So that whole “be prepared” rule is out the window. Then their first song runs over 5 minutes so there’s no way they’re getting two songs in under 8 minutes. Still, they proceed.

There’s all sort of things I could say about that, but what I’d like to focus on is the whole complexity of it. If you only have 2 songs or 8 minutes, why bring all that gear? Why not be prepared? Why bring the violinist if she doesn’t play on one of the songs?

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

You’re already going to feel naked up there. Why not just let it all hang out?