If you’ve been in the spoken word poetry scene for any amount of time, chances are you’ve probably attended an open mic. Whether you were dragged there by a friend, stumbled in by accident, or had full intentions of getting on stage to share your stories in front of a room full of strangers, you may not know it, but you have just stepped into someone’s home!
The venues and organizers that host these open mic nights are often lost in the shadows of the limelight as poets, musicians, and performers take the stage and dazzle the audience with their talents. Over the years many faces will pass in and out of the spotlight, but if you look closely, you will find the few who have listened to thousands of stories within the venue walls. Behind the scenes, you will find the few who know the VENUE’S story and can tell you how hard it is to start and maintain a safe space for the open mic attendees. They will be the ones stacking chairs and picking up trash at the end.
For those chair stacking enthusiasts who may be interested in one day starting your own open mic venue, Spit Journal’s phone interview with the Nuyorican Poets Café’s (NUYO) Executive Director, Daniel Gallant provides “8 Tips For Running a Successful Open Mic.
Shoot for your Non-Profit Status
“A non-profit status can greatly reduce your expenses, allows you to take more risks, and also makes you eligible for grants and donations. NUYO has received a lot of grants in the last few years. One in particular is a capital commitment grant of 6M from the city of New York. This doesn’t mean it’s sitting in our bank account, but it means that the city of New York is going to spend 6M over the next few years to renovate and upgrade our building. In other words this 6M can go toward more programs for the community.”
Having a great relationship with the venue (Or owning your own building)
“A non-profit status and the relationship with your venue or building are two different things. At the Café those are both really important and valuable elements, but they are separate. Having a reasonable lease, owning your space, or having a structured partnership with the venue is crucial. You don’t really want to have an arrangement that changes every year, this actually brings us to the next ingredient…”
Consistency Consistency Consistency (of Pricing and Location)
“Consistency brings together a few different key elements. Consistency of pricing: If you have to raise ticket prices every month or every six months you’re going to alienate people, this ties back to the agreement you have with your venue. It is also a good idea to limit your open mic events to one or two locations. It can be confusing for your artists and audience if the event is constantly switching venues. If there is no way around switching building or venues… work on creating a great vibe to the events. ”
“You want a venue that people like to visit because it has a good vibe. A venue needs to have a look and an ambiance that is appropriate to what you’re doing. Even if the only venue available is an open field or an alley, any space can be made into an appealing venue. What you really want to do is make sure that spoken word, the artists, and audience it attracts are welcome and feel welcomed. That includes the staff, whether it is the venue’s house staff or your own staff, you want to make sure they are into the art form and also get along with and enjoy working with those artists and spectators.”
Good audio and tech
“An open mic should have a good sound system and a staff that is familiar with how it (the sound system) works. Good ambiance, setting, and music can help to set the tone. This can be done by a dj that is also familiar with the ins and outs of an open mic agenda. The organizers should be able to focus on the event without having to worry about the technical aspects.”
Good Host (or set of hosts)
“A good host is immensely important and can make or break an open-mic over the years. The best hosts here at the NUYO are immensely charismatic hosts who are also great performers themselves. They’re skilled at engaging the audience as well as engaging the artists and are good at making people feel comfortable onstage even if they have never been onstage before. A host must be good at handling awkward moments after performances were a mess, or offensive, or if someone forgot their poetry. One or two good fill in hosts are always a good idea just incase the main host can’t make it. Keep in mind the personalities of the hosts are the cement that holds the event together.”
Featured artist or spotlight performer
“The featured artist is someone who can be called in to show off the art form. Sometimes that is the host him/her self. Generally, the host brings in the featured artist either at the top of the show or part way though just to make sure that the audience is still engaged and to inspire the artists that are waiting to preform. This allows the audience and artist to see what a top notch performance really feels like.”
“Social media marketing often goes under appreciated. Many venues don’t focus on the marketing or the outreach part of building a series (of open mics) because it feels too commercial. For NUYO, online marketing has been tremendously powerful and useful in terms of building ticket sales, audience, press focus, and artists. Having a solid online presence and voice can be immensely useful and makes it possible to do great art. If you don’t have the audience, if you don’t have the revenue, and if you don’t have a following, there is no one to receive the art. The key is to figure out a marketing plan that is also sustainable. You don’t want to have a plan that’s so exhausting that after a week you can no longer keep up with it.”
So there you have it. Whether you are about to launch a local open mic night in your community or you already have your Masters in Organizational Poetic Gatherings with a Minor in Chair Stacking, we hope that this will be beneficial in your journey! If you want to be great, follow the eight!