Step-by-step to signing up for an open mic at a coffeehouse


David Zavesky performs at Shady Coffee and Tea.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. All eyes are on David Zavesky as he sits on the stool placed on top of a wooden stage. The microphone is too close for comfort and the air smells like coffee. The room is mellow, and silent. And then he begins to play.

Singing at an open mic can be a little nerve-racking,especially if it is the first time. But from personal experience I know sharing a talent is well worth the preparation. Half of the performance is just being prepared, and here is how to be ready to get onstage, no matter what open mic you attend.

STEP ONE: Pick your performance place. This all depends if you are prepared to sing for a long time, or if you have no clue if you will even make it through the first song. Some open mics in the area like Shady Coffee and Tea have 10 minute time slots that need to be filled with music, while some like Ginger’s restaurant will let you perform as many as you wish as long as you do not go over a selected time amount. It also depends on your basic schedule, because open mics are set on different days and different times. While Shady Coffee and Tea’s is on a Friday from 7-10:30 p.m., Ginger’s is at the same time on a Tuesday. Most open mics are held every week, but some like Origin Coffee and Tea’s open mic are only held every month. Location is a concern as well. If you don’t want to drive to Sacramento to go the Coffee Garden, you could choose a closer location like Ginger’s or Origin Coffee and Tea.

STEP TWO: Gather your songs. Yes, songs. Even if you only have one good song you can sing or play, it is important to have a couple up your sleeve. Some open mics will be just fine with performing one song, but if you want to get the most out of the night, having two or even three songs that you want to perform would be the way to go. This is because if all of the performances have gone through and played, most open mic hosts will call for another go-around. Your third song or even fourth song is what you would play for this.

STEP THREE: Practice before you go. A couple days of practice is always good before you get on stage for anything. Even if you’re an expert at the guitar, anxiety can slip up on you at any moment, and when your confidence slips your fingers can slip as well. This where practice really comes in handy. Get comfortable with your lineup of songs, so that way you will be prepared for anything.

STEP FOUR: Get there prepared and sign up early. Even if the place isn’t as crowded and cramped Shady Coffee and Tea, you still want to sign up early that way you can choose what time slot you would like to perform. Especially with Shady’s, spots can fill up extremely fast and before the first performer starts the whole lineup is filled. Also, sign up for a spot in the first 10. Personally this always a must for me because if I wait too long I get anxious. Getting the performance done early leaves you feeling confident about your decision and also leaves you first on the next go around if they still have more time at the end for more performers. Also, bring a portable instrument if you would like to play with your own accompanied music.

STEP FIVE: Inhale, exhale and play when called. When the host calls your name, there are three things you need to remember.

  1. Your guitar or instrument if you need one. That would be really awkward if you went up to play and your instrument was sitting on the couch 10 feet away from you. You can also bring a phone to plug in if you are just singing to an instrumental version.
  1. Get situated before you start to perform. Being in an awkward position and trying to shift around will be difficult if you are trying to move someone with music.
  1. Don’t worry. Open mics are one of the most supportive places to share a talent. Especially at Ginger’s and the Coffee Garden, the audiences are always extremely supportive and clap no matter the outcome of the song. And as confidence builds up it becomes much easier to perform the next time at the same or a different open mic.

As I performed I found all these steps to lead to a confident performance and a drive to perform again and again.