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4 Steps for Organizing an Open Mic Night

1. Choose your venue.

When picking a place to hold your open mic night, you’ll need to ask three questions:

  • Does it have (or can you make) a stage area with plug-ins for microphones and speakers, as well as enough room for audience members’ chairs?
  • Does it care as much about your cause and supporting local artists as you do?
  • Is the space within your budget?

The first places to check for these aspects are locally owned coffee shops and bars. If they hold other live performances, they’ll have the seating capacity and audio equipment you’ll need, and they probably also want to help the community. But they usually need a decent size payment for anyone to use the space.

Even if you do have a tight budget, don’t think an open mic is completely out of your reach. You could check the regulations on setting up sound equipment at a local park and save money by telling people to bring their own lawn chairs or picnic blankets. Or, someone on your team who has contacts at another performance space or even a large backyard might be able to host the event there.

2. Find and sign up performers.

An open mic night works especially well in areas with a young, artistic population. If you have this type of community, you could print and post sign-up sheets around town (again, make sure to check local rules about posting flyers). You can also advertise the event and sign up performers via social media.

Whatever method you choose, you’ll want to leave a few performance slots open so they can be filled the night of the show. When some people see “open mic,” they’ll assume they can just walk into the venue and perform, so make sure the mic is actually open for them.

3. Decide on your main fundraising method.

You have a lot of options on how to bring in money through an open mic night. The biggest decision you’ll face, though, is whether to charge admission. If you’re paying a sizable amount for the venue and/or sign up popular performers, charging a small admission fee ($5-$10) will seem worth it to your audience.

You may also choose to let people in for free and post a suggested donation amount, no matter where you are or who is performing.

4. Set up the space in advance.

On the day of the event, you’ll want to get to your venue at least an hour before the doors open. When you arrive, go through this checklist:

  • Set up and test the sound equipment.
  • Arrange the chairs so everyone has a decent view of the stage.
  • Review your list of performers to make sure you can transition between acts easily.
  • Check with your team and the owners of the venue (if needed) that everything is running smoothly.

Once your space is set up, open the doors for performers and audience members, and let the show begin!

Open Mic Night Best Practices

Make rules for the event and stick to them.

Even though it’s called an open mic, it’s still a show, not a free-for-all. Hosting a well-planned event will make your organization and cause seem more credible. You also don’t want to have one performer kill the mood for everyone.

You’ll want to cover these areas in particular when you make the event rules:

  • Artist setup/tuning. Confirm with all the performers who sign up in advance exactly what equipment they’ll need (number of mics, music stands, stools, etc.) so the stage is ready to go for them when it’s their turn. Also, make sure that musicians know to tune their instruments before the show starts to help the event run efficiently.
  • Content warnings. Limiting what subjects performers can address in their acts will make them less inclined to share their work. But they may want to give a quick content warning before their acts if they bring up a potentially sensitive topic, which is a great way for them to be considerate of audience members as long as it’s not overused.
  • Cell phones. You’ll probably want to tell the audience to silence their cell phones unless there’s an emergency so as not to disrupt the acts. But at most open mics, it’s up to each performer whether they’re okay with people taking pictures or videos while they’re on stage, and they can let the audience know before they start if they aren’t.
  • Time limits. One of the biggest mood killers at these events is a performer who overstays their welcome on stage. Set a time limit between 5-10 minutes for each act, and let performers know that they’ll be cut off if they go over time.

Build in a few breaks between acts.

Besides the performances, an open mic is also a place for the community to come together. Putting one or two breaks into the flow of the event will allow audience members to socialize with each other and the performers, as well as getting food or drinks if your venue allows. This idea will also give you more time to set up for upcoming acts that may need extra equipment.

Point people back to your cause throughout the night.

Since your open mic is a fundraiser at its core, remind people of the cause at the beginning and end of the show. Announcing the breaks in the show is also a great place to plug donations so people can take those opportunities to give. If you advertise your cause well before the event, you may get a few performers who center their acts around it.

Other Fundraisers to Pair with Open Mic Nights

  • Restaurant fundraisers. If you host your open mic at a coffee shop or bar, talk to the owners about donating part of the proceeds from food and drink sales during the event to your cause.
  • Raffles. Sell raffle tickets during the breaks in the show and pick winners at the end.
  • T-shirts. Either design a t-shirt specifically for the event and sell it there, or sell general t-shirts with your organization’s logo.
  • Text-to-give. Display your organization’s text-to-give number at the event to give attendees another option for donating.