What are the best songs to sing at an open mic? Here, online teacher Liz T. shares her best tips for selecting a song and impressing the crowd…
If you’re a singer looking to get more experience performing your songs in front of a live audience, attending a live open mic is a great way to start! Open mics are becoming very popular these days, and you don’t have to live in a major city to sing at one. Many local restaurants, coffee shops, and colleges host open mic nights to build a music community and are very supportive of live music at their establishment.
Get to know the live music venues in your city and ask about their open mic nights, and how you can be a part! Keep in mind that some places will be free to play, but you will not be paid to play – or you actually may have to pay $10 or $15 to play one song. If you need piano or guitar accompaniment there may be a small fee for that as well.
Once you’ve found a good spot, it’s time to take the stage! Here are some tips for selecting the best songs to sing at open mic:
1. Pick a song you know. My advice is to pick something that you are very comfortable with singing at first. You might be nervous performing at a new space, and the crowds may vary from 2-3 people to 100 people. The best songs to sing are ones you know like the back of your hand. If nerves do start to kick in, you’re less likely to forget the melody or the lyrics!
2. Choose a cover song. Choose a song that another artist has made popular, a song that the audience will be familiar with already. Some of my go-to favorites are “Natural Woman” by Carole King, “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys, “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5, and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye. The crowd will really get in the mood, encourage you, and perhaps even sing or dance along.
3. Be yourself. There is no particular right or wrong style of music to sing at an open mic. Even when doing a cover song, try to be unique and individual as yourself. Just like on YouTube when you hear covers, you don’t want to hear them sing the song exactly like Alicia Keys. Give it your own interpretation, or if you are accompanying yourself, change the style or tempo of the song. You could do a country song maybe with an island/reggae feel for summer, or try doing a rock ballad a little more pop, with swing.
4. Perform an original Song. If you are a songwriter, open mics are a great place to start showcasing your original work, and to test if it works in a live setting. You can feel free to experiment at open mics, just make sure you are comfortable with the song before you start experimenting. Open mics should be fun, low stress, and truly for your and the audience’s enjoyment. It should be laid-back, but you still want to look professional on stage. Also, open mics singers usually perform with one instrument rather than a full band, either you and a guitar player or piano player, or you can accompany yourself. You can also use a background track, but then that tends to sound a little too much like karaoke.
So have fun, and enjoy performing for a live audience. Once you get comfortable singing at open mics, start keeping a book of different songs you could perform in the future. Good luck! You never know who might be in the audience; this could be your big break!
Liz T. teaches online singing, acting, and music lessons. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music, including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!
Photo by Richard Stowey