Open mics are very important to the growth of a music community. Luckily many of Atlanta's clubs and bars hold open mic nights on a regular basis. Open mics seem the quiet underdog of the weekly lineup. However, there are places out there that consider them more than just a week-night time-filler designed to get warm bodies in the door. So let's honor these most-important building blocks of Atlanta's music community with a closer look.
We caught up with two of the driving forces behind Atlanta's open mic community- Alexis Vear of Steve's Live Music in Sandy Springs, and Michael Hodgin of Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party in Candler Park- to get their perspective on being such an important part of the collective creative process of an entire musical community.
There is a serious need for the underrated open mic. Songs are like children; they all start somewhere. Once conceived and birthed into the world, they need a safe place to grow and meet the public.
"It gives you the ability to gain confidence in your performance skills, it gives you a chance to hear other artists and learn from them, and it gives you a chance to meet other artists and network," Vear says.
Hodgin adds "It makes you better, over time, to have a show you know will be there every week that you have to prepare for. I have pushed myself and sometimes even risen to the challenges I have set for myself."
Hodgin says he also enjoys meeting the musicians that come through each week. "I love the little community that has sprung up around Dr. Bombay's Open Mic Night. I've met many wonderful and interesting musicians, and it's been great having an event every week that not only allows me to share my own music with the world, but also allows me to share in the moment when other people are doing the same."
This is all well and good for performers but what about as an audience? What draws the listener to an open mic, besides usually being an inexpensive evening out? It's a chance to hear new music before anyone else. Plus, an audience's perception and reaction to a song in its earliest stages can have an impact on the direction a song takes in its later stages. Now that's power!
Hodgin is a fan of songs and songwriters. "It never ceases to amaze me how different and singular someone's voice can be when they write a song. There are so many times when someone comes in and blows me away because they have written a perfect little pop song, a beautiful folk song, or a tune that sounds like it should be in a weird little silent movie from the 20s. I love that. I also love when someone in the crowd didn't intend on playing, but they saw everyone else perform and were inspired to play too. Or when separate performers do a little impromptu team-up. Those moments are beautiful."
"The greatest performances I’ve heard at Steve’s are when people sing from there heart and soul, and they are so connected to what they are singing that the song transcends the fact that others are even in the room listening," Vear says, "They are connected to the song so deeply that they automatically connect with the audience. To me songs are just magic; the best medicine in the world! Some people come in and just make me cry, or laugh, and the best make me forget everything that is happening in my life and just take me on a journey. That is what I enjoy most. The ability to hear people’s voice, their song, to learn from it, and then go on a journey whilst never taking a step with my own two feet. At night I’ll often have trouble going to sleep after open mic because I just am so pumped by all the awesome songwriters."
Open mics have always been the place for such things. A breeding ground of influence and suggestion, the open mic is the place to send out experimental signals, wait for feedback and transform. For those looking to branch out into the music community through an open mic, the two offer the following advice:
"I would say that open mics can be a great place to start. Shop around and look for the open mic whose vibe best fits your own sensibilities. And don't be so hard on yourself," Hodgin says. "Also, if possible, record or take a video of your performance - there have been plenty of times where I thought I was terrible and when I watched the tape, it turned out I wasn't so bad. Try to take a deep breath, enjoy yourself while you are playing, take your time (because that 15 minutes is all yours), and give the crowd a little dose of who you are. And please tune up before your take the stage. No one wants to hear you tune!"
Vear says "Artists have this great desire to write and share, but then often base the value of what they write and share by the reaction of those in the room. Or by how many people they can get to come to the room. I guess I would caution people to not fall into this trap. Going into an open mic worrying about the audience and trying to be something for people that you don’t even know, when you don’t even know what they want, makes a lot of interference while connecting to the songs you are performing. My advice is to just get up and be yourself, sing from your heart, and enjoy the process and experience." She offers this last piece of advice: "I often work with a lot of people that sing cover tunes around town. They start judging their own songs against the songs they sing that are famous ... It is important to just let songs come through you, be a vessel, and then be brave enough to share what came through the vessel of you. We all have a voice, and every voice has a message to share. Tap into that part of yourself and do it. The greatest songs come from that. Imagine if when Tom Petty wrote 'Free Falling' or U2 wrote 'I Still Haven’t Found What I’m looking For' or Bruce Springsteen wrote 'Devils and Dust' while in the midst of comparing their songs to Frank Sinatra’s 'Fly Me To The Moon' or Hound Dog Taylor's ‘Wild About You Baby’. Imagine what would have happened. Those songs would not have had the impact that they had, and still have ... Find your unique voice, and be brave enough to just do it. Because it is a gift to yourself and the world!"
Visit their respective Facebook pages to learn more about the open mic nights as well as other great events at Steve's Live Music or Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party. And be sure to like Alexis Vear's music page, as well as the music page for Michael Hodgin's band, The Stoplight Roses, to follow these two on their own musical journeys.