Navigating through a new music scene when just starting out:
When you first move to a new city as a singer-songwriter, or are just beginning to want to share your music with others, open mics and music jams can be a great way to start getting out there, enhancing your perform chops, and above all, meeting other singers, musicians, and songwriters, and starting to build your community. A community is of utmost importance to us, because being a singer-songwriter can often seem like a very lonely thing. Most of us probably feel most comfortable at home songwriting on our favorite instrument, and enjoy keeping our songs contained to our apartment. But if you ever want to have the chance is doing this professionally, you are going to have to start getting out there! Make sure to be honest with yourself about whether you have put in the work and prepared your songs well enough to have them viewed by others. The impressions you give out in the music scene are very crucial.
Once you do start getting out there, the loneliness factor still may be an issue. In the beginning, you haven’t built your community yet, so you will be taking the train by yourself, coming home late at night by yourself, sitting alone at open mics by yourself, busking in the subway alone, and at the end of the day, one can feel pretty exhausted by it all. But if you are consistent and start showing up at the same open mics week, after week, you will begin to be recognized (especially if you are very good at what you do) and you will begin to make connections. Some will become business connections, and others will become friends. Some open mics will not feel like your vibe, but the more open mics you do, the sooner you will start to find the kind of communities you are looking for, and soon you will begin to feel at home. Here are some tools you will need when you start getting out there.
Nowadays, most folks have smart phones and you will find that information swapping mostly occurs in the moment, during the open mic or jam. “Oh, are you on Facebook? Do you have a music page? Great, lemme get your info.” All these things tend to happen in the moment. But there are also enough instances, when there is not enough time to do that, and having your business cards handy and ready to pass out is very important. You can find some good deals on business cards. Make sure to have a design you feel represents you best and that the lettering is neat and organized. I would recommend not to order too many of your first business cards, because things will change, and you don’t want to spend money on business cards you won’t find as useful anymore ( and it’s more environmentally friendly that way). You may end up creating a new music page, or developing a website, or a blog, and be in need of new business cards in just a few months, so don’t spend a fortune on your first business cards.
I am always surprised to find folks at open mics playing their tunes out of tune! This is a big no-no. Nowadays, there are very compact little tuners that go directly on your instrument, and that tune to the vibrations of the instrument (rather than the audio) which makes it possible to tune while being in a crowded, loud venue, as you wait for your name to be called. Try to be all tuned up before you get onstage. You will look much more professional this way.
For guitarists: your own guitar cable
Although most venues have their own cables, it is always best to be prepared and bring your own. One time I went to a jazz jam, and didn’t bring my own cable. I stupidly assumed they had one, but their guitar cable had actually just been stolen the night before and there I was with my guitar and no way to plug-in. How embarrassing! I had to ask for a second microphone to mic the guitar itself, and the whole process took way too long, and by the time I started my songs, I was embarrassed and distracted. So, all that being said, it’s always best to be prepared with your own equipment!
Some singer-songwriters prefer to sit, but for those who prefer to stand, make sure to have your OWN guitar strap. You don’t want to go to open mics asking people to borrow their things. It is just not good etiquette. I personally prefer to stand because it is technically better to be singing standing, to get the most use out of your deep breathing and your best friend, the diaphragm (more on singing techniques in future posts).
Now You’re On Your Way
Now that you have the tools you need with you, start getting out there and make your songs and voice be heard!