10 Types of Open Mics You Will Encounter as a Singer/Songwriter 

I've been singing in LA for a while now, and let me tell you, some of the things that we singer/songwriters have to put up with are ridiculous! . If you are a singer/songwriter like me, please read! It's about my thoughts on Open Mics. smile emoticon

1.) The open mic that is only popular because a couple legendary acts have played there.

The food is a bit crusty and expensive, it’s loud, and the sound system isn’t the best. You can’t really make out what the singer is saying because the speakers are distorting and they are placed in a really awkward part of the room. The venue claims to have kickstarted the careers of several famous acts including Janis Joplin, Norah Jones, and John Mayer and now you will have the opportunity to play in this musical holy ground! You can brag to your friends about how you played next to Bob Dylan’s 50 year old beer stain!

2.) The open mic that selects acts out of a hat to play.

You show up super earlyat 7pm. (The open mic doesn’t start until 8pm but you want to make sure you get a spot). You stand in line for 30min and put your name in a hat. At 7:30, acts are selected at random. You get chosen as number 35 and you wait for 4 and a half hours to play two of your most heartfelt songs to an empty room.

3.) The loud bar that has a football game playing in the background

The bar is packed and you show up thinking it’s going to be a great night! There are tons of new people to meet and share your new music with. You finish playing your new song and then all of a sudden the crowd stands up yelling and screaming while clapping. You realize someone just scored a touchdown and they aren’t really clapping for you.

4.) The open mic you have to pre-book a week ahead of time

Maybe they are asking people to pre-book because they want to make sure everyone is good, or maybe they want to make sure that they get your sound right before the show. Perhaps they want to keep the show running smoothly without going overtime. Who knows! All you know is that you’ve shown up and you can’t play because you didn’t know that you can only pre-book. Luckily, one of the acts cancelled and the sound guy said he would squeeze you in at the end.

5.) The open mic that only old people go to

You are new to LA, so you research open mics in the area that an run on a Wednesday night. You find one at a folk music store just outside of town. So you drive about 15 miles out and show up to this place wearing hipster glasses and skinny jeans, with your guitar at hand, ready to make a statement to the room. You notice that there are only 5 people in the there including the sound man who is half asleep.

You don’t want to drive home so you introduce yourself to an old man named Billy who is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and incredibly short shorts. He says he plays the banjo. Next you talk to a relatively plump man in his 60’s named Steve who plays anti-war and peace songs on ukulele. Then there’s Ted in his 50’s, conservative and Christian, who only plays worship songs, and Donna who plays the kazoo and writes kid’s music. They tell you that you are lucky to have shown up early for sign ups and that the open mic ends at 9.

6.) The open mic that also allows comedy and spoken word

Most of the acts that show up are musicians who play guitar, but now and then a comedy artist will show up and crack really bad jokes about their girlfriend and then revert to toilet humor when no one is laughing. The spoken word artist who shows up plugs in backing tracks of squealing dolphins and to add to the intensity of their poem, they do an interpretive dance at the end of their set.

7.) The bar that isn’t set up properly to have an open mic.

The bathrooms and the entrance to the venue are right next to the stage. Normally when you enter a room, the stage is in the back and you come in watching a show. This venue on the other hand, just wanted to make a little extra money in beer sales and attract customers so they set up a mic stand and PA and called it an “open mic”. Everyone has their backs turned from the stage and the performer looks like background music in the room. They might as well have set up a karaoke machine instead.

8.) The open mic that feels more like a singing competition than a community

There is an air of pretentiousness in this venue. The open mic is very popular with musicians but most people end up playing to an empty room because none of the other musicians stick around to hear the other performers. Musicians who play here don’t even buy a beer, bring people or network with anyone else. The venue starts to impose a rule that you must bring at least 2 people or buy something.

9.) The open mic that the host booked so that they could be featured artist and play in front of an audience.

The host wanted to find a way to play a show in front of a packed room every week. They tell each performer that there are too many artists and that they can only play 2 songs each or do a 5-7min set. The host on the other hand gives themselves a 6-8 song slot in the middle of the night. All of their songs sound the same and they play the same thing each week.

10.) The open mic where you meet your best friends and form a band.

There’s something special about this open mic. Everyone is friends with the sound engineer and each person who plays who plays is very talented. You all hang out after the set and get tacos at the food truck outside the bar. You end up chatting with a piano player and another guitarist and decide to jam over the weekend. You then form a band and play as featured artist next week.


11 People You Will Meet on the Street  

I've come up with a list of archetypal people I always seem to encounter while busking.smile emoticon


1.) The Old Veteran Musician Type: 
Maybe he never quite made it in music but thinks he can help you out. He's in his late 50's/60's and claims to have played with some top musicians from the 70's like WAR or the Grateful Dead and that's he's toured and lived in Europe for x-amount of years of his life. He's says he'll get you a "real" gig and pass your CD along to the bar owner just around the street who will give you the opportunity to play. Then he says you'll thank him later for his help.

2.) Mom's with Toddler's and Young Children

These ladies will park their strollers next to you while you "babysit" their kids. You sing the baby in her arms to sleep while she texts her husband and sends emails on her iPhone. Then she sends one of her two toddlers to put a dollar in your case.

3.) Hyper Teenage Girls
These girls will come in packs, find a seat nearby and take tons of photos of you while you are performing . They are starry eyed and giggle uncontrollably as they are overwhelmed with excitement to see you play. The take selfies with you and post to Instagram.

4.) The newly engaged couple who falls in love with you.

Ok, maybe they aren't even engaged yet but they see you singing and ask if you would do the honor of playing at their wedding of private event. Usually it's the girlfriend who has a huge crush on you and the boyfriend wants to make her happy.

5.) Homeless people, people with problems, and socially awkward people. I call them "the crazies" although they might just be lonely.

If they are socially awkward, they like to stand abnormally close to you while you are performing and usually talk to you while you are singing.

The ones with problems will come up to you after a song and tell you their life story. You either stand there and listen compassionately or realize they are actually just crazy so you start singing another song while they are talking to you.

The homeless people will try and take your tip jar or give you a stare-down for setting up on their turf. If they are nice, they will start dancing to your music.

6.) Tourists from some foreign country like China, Japan, Russia, or Poland.

They will snap photos with you, and buy your CD. You have no idea what they are saying to you so you just smile the whole time and say " Thank You". They are some of your biggest fans and you feel like a celebrity in their presence.

7.) The single guy who thinks he has a chance with you because you just gave him eye contact as you were singing a deep emotional song.

He comes up to you, buys your CD and leaves you a HUGE tip. You wonder why he would do such a thing. He probably thinks you are cute. You just roll with it but hope you don't get creepy messages on social media asking for a date.

8.) Event planners and Music Industry Professionals

You are just doing your thing playing on the street while no one notices you sing your sad depressing song about how your boyfriend dumped you for another girl and then BAM! Some dude in a suit buys your CD and says they work for some top of the line production company or publishing house and they want to hear more of your original music so they can book you for a gig or license you. You give them your card and make sure they get your number. You hope something happens... Good or bad. Someone noticed!

9.) Policemen and shopkeepers asking you to turn it down because your amp is too loud and it's scaring away customers.

You end up moving down the street because of their complaints and because you don't want to give up your tips to pay the ticket the officer threatens to write.

10.) Other local musicians who want to jam with you.

These guys are either amateurs who play guitar as a hobby or they are actually good. If they are an amateur, they pay you $30 to use your microphone to sing a song they wrote about their dying goldfish.

If they are amazing, you jam some more with them, get their number and become friends forever.

11.) The old couple who gives you a huge tip because you just played their favorite song from the 1940's and that was the song they got married to.

They end up buying your CD and telling you they will give it to their grandson who is an aspiring musician.


Strangers in the Dark  

Everyone deserves love. Music is my form of giving love. It's really the only way we can truly understand each other when words can't express emotion.

People ask me why I busk. I can't say I do it for the money. I do it to feel a sense of connection with the world. I really can't stress how important it is to give without fear. Get to know the strangers around you. They aren't really strangers at all.

Tonight I was playing on the promenade and a young man about my age sat and listened for a while. When I stopped for a break, he threw some money in my case but I noticed that he was crying a bit. He pulled out this AA coin and told me he wanted me to keep it because he wasn't coming back tomorrow.

I felt like something was wrong. I'm not going to go into details but I spent the last hour hugging him and convincing him not to take his life. He said he had a relapse, and the military left him with nothing to live for. I really hope he's going to be ok.

It just pains me to see people feeling so alone. No one should ever feel like that.

The Golden Ticket  


I feel like I'm on a treasure hunt right now. I decided to drive out to Santa Monica and play on the pier. I parked several blocks away on Idaho and 2nd street because there's free parking and I thought to myself, "I don't mind pushing my little cart half a mile. I'll be busking for 2-4 hours anyway". I got here around 12:30 all sweaty and tired and as I was pushing my cart down the boardwalk a scruffy hippie looking man tells me I have to get "a lottery ticket". I ignored hi
m because I thought he was trying to hit on me. So I kept pushing my cart down the wooden planks and saw a performer playing keyboard in front of a picture perfect view of the ocean. Even the seagulls looked like they were painted in the scene. I thought to myself "ok I should ask this guy what the rules are to perform on the pier".

So I waited till he was done playing and shook his hand and introduced myself. He said his name is Terri. Then he told me I do indeed have to get a lottery ticket at the Carrousel at 2:00pm. Musicians will be chosen out of a hat to perform on the pier. So I thanked him for the heads up, waved goodbye and pushed my cart back down to the entrance of the pier where the carousel is. I tried to find this ticket booth he was talking about. I looked all around and then decided I should ask the hosts in the restaurant next door for some help. They told me to go to another info booth across from Bubba Gump. So I pushed my cart up there and found a tour bus booth and then they told me that he info booth I need to go to is actually next to the carousel where I was in the first place. By now I started getting frustrated. So I went back to the carousel and this time asked a woman working in he ice cream booth where the ticket man is. She told me that I was supposed to get here in the morning and there is indeed a man with a hat who gives out lottery tickets to a long line of musicians to play. Then I decided to sit down because I was tired... Then a Russian man on a bicycle asked if I had a lottery ticket and I said "oh are you a musician performing today?" He said he was waiting till 2pm to get his ticket. So now I'm just sitting here across from the carousel waiting for the mysterious ticket man to show up. I thought I might try and get a tan instead.  

At about 1:30 I saw an old man with a chest roll up next to the ice cream booth. I thought "ok that has to be the man with the lottery tickets" so I walked over to him and asked if he had lottery tickets and he responded "tickets?... No no los tengo" so then I said "no tienes boletos?" And then he started saying something to me in Spanish... Said he was a painter "yo pinto con los dedos" he said. Then I said "¡oh como los niños!" Then he began to laugh. He opened up his chest and he showed me the little paintings he made. I fell in love with the blue one and I unrolled a $20 bill and bought it. I said I would hang it on my wall in my apartment. We shook hands and he said his name was Miguel. I then looked over to my left and saw a line of musicians around another man with a bucket so I walked over and said " ok this must be the lottery ticket line." I stood in line and then heard my name. I turned around and it was my friend Peter Su. I knew I was in the right place! We started talking while standing in line. He said he was going to play on the pier today as well. I opened up my guitar case and showed my permit to the ticket man and he threw the yellow piece of paper into a plastic bucket. 10 min later he swirled it around and pulled the first one from the bucket. "Katie Ferrara" you are first he said.

Ecstatic. I clapped my hands and ran over to him and picked a spot to play at on the pier. Apparently number 5 and number 14 are the best spots. I chose number 5 since the most foot traffic passed by that location. Then Peter and I were approached by two policemen named Chris and Frank. Chris asked me if it was my first time performing and he explained the works. You have to stand behind a designated star on the boardwalk. You can't go in front of the star and you can only take up 7 planks. You also can't be louder than 65db. Apparently the rules are slightly different from the promenade. I can't "sell" my CDs, I can only ask for donations. So after the talk Peter got his ticket and he offered to help move my stuff closer to the pier since I parked almost half a mile away. Then we got lunch at Subway and I bought a lemonade so u could use my cup as a tip jar since it was so windy on the pier. After lunch I was ready to play. I said goodby to Peter, wished him good luck and headed over to my car. I unloaded my gear: my rocknroller cart, guitar, suitcase, guitar stand, bungee cables and guitar stand. I started pushing my cart up the ramp to the pier but then my cables came lose and I had to reposition my gear on the cart again. I absentmindedly I left my subway tip jar on the ramp. A little upset, I decided not to turn back. It wasn't worth it. Halfway to star number 5 my cables came lose again and in frustration I yelled "Arrgggh". People started to look at me but I didn't care. The only thing on my mind was to get to the star before 4 o clock. I repositioned my gear again and pushed my cart into a sea of pedestrians as quickly carefully as I could. I saw the railing in the distance where Terri was playing earlier. It was beautiful. By this time the sun was setting. I made it. I finally made it. I won the golden ticket. The End. 
smile emoticon

Flowers and Motorbikes  

At 8:30 my cellphone buzzed and I hit snooze. I don't want to get up. I'm tried. I had a long day yesterday. Got up at 6am, went to work and subbed for a spanish class, got home and the hit the shower, got ready for the Monrovia farmers market , drove for an hour, played for 3 hours and then went straight to the studio to record a new track with Patrick. This month is an exciting time for me. I'm finally recording my song called "Jackets". I've had this song for a while in my back pocket and now it's finally coming alive!
Last night I came home at 1am and went to sleep. Today is a new day. I opened my eyes again at 9am. I heard my flatmate shuffling around, jingling her keys as she shut the front door. Time to get up. I drank a cup of coffee and then curled my hair and put on a sundress, then grabbed my gear and loaded it onto he car.

I decided to go to target to buy a new tip jar. My last one ruptured and I hadn't gotten a chance to buy a new one. I wandered around the store looking for a plastic container, something that wouldn't break. The night before I grabbed a vase that someone gave to me last year but as I was loading it in my car I accidentally smashed it. I decided that a glass vessel was too delicate to use, and I didn't want to have to deal with cleaning up shards of glass every time I got ready for a gig. So I went into the stationary section and found a basket and some thank you cards. I thought "ok this would look cute. All I have to do is attach one of these cards to the side of the basket and now I have a "thank you basket"for tips! Classy. Nice work Katie." I thought to myself. 
So then I headed to the cash register and stood in line for a good 15 min. Finally when it was my turn, I reached inside my purse to grab my wallet but it wasn't there! I looked everywhere, I removed my makeup and keys cellphone and change purse. " 75 cents?! Why didn't I bring my wallet!?" I said. I asked the woman at the register to save my basket. I would be back in 10min.

Then my cellphone started to buzz again. It was a text from a guy I met at a party last week. For the sake of this story I'm going to call him Mr. G. "What you up today? Wanna go for a ride on my bike?". I thought to myself, " man that sounds amazing. Sounds like an adventure. I gotta text him back."

Mr. G rides a motorbike, and when I met him I started picturing him in a leather jacket, the wind gently grazing his long hair. At the time I thought, " He's hot. I gotta get his number. "

I texted him back. "I'm playing at a flower market today!" Then he told me he wanted to come by to see me play so I texted him the address and went hurried towards my car. I had half an hour to get to the market. I couldn't afford to be late. 11:00 on a weekend is the best time to go busking. People come out to spend time with their families, I was sure there would be a crowd by the time I got there. So I drove home as quickly as I could, dashed through the front door and scooped up my wallet, which was hiding in my desk drawer. I don't know why I put it in there. I usually keep every nestled safely in my purse. So I drove back to target, stood in line and found the woman holding the basket and thank you cards. It was 10:45. "I'm gonna be late"I thought. I hurried to my car again and thew the basket on my front seat, typed in the directions in Google Maps, turned on my car jams on pandora and was off. I took the 2 freeway into downtown. "Traffic ugh, and it's hot." I said to myself. Google says its 85 degrees outside.

Being in a traffic jam in downtown was actually quite nice. I began looking at all the old buildings, they looked like they were from the 1920s. Then I started imagining people men in suspenders and bow ties and women in flapper dresses walking down the street. This place used to be the highlight of Los Angeles back in the day. As I was driving, I passed crowds of people with shopping carts, and trash bags. There were men on street corners selling chicerones and snow cones to passerbys. The buildings provided a brief amount of shade on a hot day like this.

It was 11:05 now. I'm almost at the market.. It's somewhere on 7th and Maple street. I found a blocked off street and a woman in black waving hands at me. It was Susan the woman who runs the market. She gestured to me a place to park on a blocked off street corner and I parked the car. We introduced ourself and she started helping me unload the car. "So do you play music full time?" she said. I paused for a minute. "Yea I do." I thought to myself, "yes actually I do play music full time. If I added up the number of gigs I did in a month I pretty much have a full time job... on top of my other full time job being a substitute teacher. Ha. Being a musician is my alter ego.

I followed Susan into the market, pushing my cart in front of me. "You can set up right here on the music feeds stage" she said. There was a DJ playing there next to the Viva Los Cupcakes booth. He said his name was AC. "Do you play any instruments?" I asked him. He pointed to his beat machine. "That's my instrument" he said. Then he showed me his display table with the 6 CDs he had made. It was a pretty elaborate display. He made some space for my basket and CDs as well.

I decided to plug into the DJ's PA for this gig instead of using my amp. The speakers were set up in a way that would create the best listening experience. The only problem was that I had no clue how to work those things. I've had his experience before. I show up to a gig and don't know anything about sound. It's always a learning experience. So I took out my cables and started plugging things in... "I need effects" these vocals are too dry" I thought. Then I started pushing buttons... "There must be some kind of effects send button" I thought. Sure enough there was one.. AC put it up all the way and I started playing a cover of "Crazy" by Gnarles Barkley. It sounded like I was inside a cave. You could hear my voice echoing throughout the streets.

I finished the song and then fiddled with the knob again. "Ok that's just about right. Not too much reverb. Don't go crazy Katie. You are at a farmer's market. This isn't the Hollywood Bowl" I said to myself. It started to sound a bit better now.

I started playing my set. I didn't know how people would react. This was a new market. There weren't many people out. I guess because it was so hot everyone was hanging out in the shade. Sure enough though I watched a teenage girl put a dollar in my basket. She stayed for a few minutes to listen, the smiled and walked away. Then I decided to play "kiss me" by sixpence none the richer. A couple stopped to listen. The man was holding a bouquet of flowers and grabbed the girl and kissed her." Then he put some bills in my basket.

A few songs later during my set a little girl and her father came to listen. The girl started wiggling around and dancing. She started shaking her butt like Rhiana in her music videos. It was so cute. Then she started dancing with her dad.

So I thought to myself. "Music is so powerful. I feel like I can do anything when I'm singing. I just like observing what happens to people in the streets. Everyone is so happy!"

Then I started playing some of my own songs. I played "Cure for Pain" which is a song I wrote recently about how to deal with depression. I played it at a bar and got a weird reaction from the audience. I thought it wasn't a good song so I stopped playing it live. Better stick to covers. I thought. People like that. You know what? People actually applauded when I finished the song.

Being an artist is difficult. I feel like when I play, I want to please people, at the same time, playing a song I wrote is so personal. I can't help but want validation from the audience. How do i know if it's a good song if i don't get feedback? Every audience is different though. Playing a song about depression to a room full of drunk people is different than singing to a crowd of children and families. Of course people are going to take it differently.

So then I continued the set with more of my own songs. My feet were starting to sweat and my arms were burning. It was still hot even though I was playing under the gazebo on the stage. As I was singing a man wearing a motorcycle helmet walked up to the stage and quickly placed bouquet of flowers at my feet. He hurried off and I heard an engine off in the distance. " Why didn't he stay and listen?" I thought. I finished the song and Susan came up to me. She said what the motorcycle man did was very thought out, very planned. It was nice thinking. I quickly grabbed my phone off my music stand.

I texted Mr. G. "Was that you?! Are you at the market? Were you the one who got me flowers?!" No reply. The flowers had to be from Mr. G. Who else could they be from? I didn't know anyone else who rode a motorcycle.

A few minutes later I got a reply. "No. I decided to sleep in. The market was too far. Come to the beach. Let's hang out."

"Typical" I thought. The fantasy of Mr. G now began to vanish from my head.

If Mr. G didn't give me flowers, who was this mystery man? I wanted to see the face behind the helmet.