Last Monday, I had the joy of meeting a new friend from Russia, Julia. She was visiting London for a short time and wanted to see live music. The first venue we came across was having an Open Mic Night and we went in. Open Mic Nights are autochthonous of English-speaking countries. I never knew about them before coming to England. The closest thing we have back home are Karaokes but that’s a completely different venture. I’ve decided to talk about Open Mics in this post because even though they can be enjoyable, they can also be a ‘thumbs down’ live-music experience.
For those who don’t know what an Open Mic is, it is basically an open stage. A venue (a pub, most of the time) offers the opportunity to anybody to sign up to a list and play, usually two songs, with an acoustic guitar only or sometimes piano. Open Mic Nights are free and none of the performers get paid either. The majority of the performers are passionate about writing and performing their own songs, but also, the majority of them are people without musical education or knowledge, they are just passionate about it. The audience is usually full of the performer’s relatives and close friends who are there to show their support. Before the performance you can look around and feel the nerves in the air and you can also see the desire in the eyes of the players thinking ‘this is it, tonight is the night!”
Now, after attending (and sometimes working as the ‘sound-guy’ in) many Open Mic, I’ve seen a trend that applies to all of them. There are some characters who seem to fit in an imaginary script that every Open Mic has:
– The guy who thinks he is an awesome guitar player and strums it with all his energy but ends up forgetting the chords.
– The over-60 year old guy with an immense charisma who doesn’t play or sing very well but it makes you smile.
– The guy who says before starting ‘this is a work-in-progress’ and somehow ends up singing a full song with improvised lyrics.
– The extremely shy girl who doesn’t realise how talented she could be so she doesn’t finish her song because she is just too nervous.
– The extremely confident over-50 years old lady who has an amazing voice. You know she sacrificed her singing career to be a house-wife (funnily enough, the husband is never there!)
– The guy/girl who thinks he/she is very sexy and sings songs about it too!
– The arrogant
– The guy who strums the guitar for 5mins and sings for 30 seconds.
– The guy who dresses up (like Elvis usually) and sings covers… awfully.
– The girl who doesn’t play an instrument and asks someone to play with her there and then, but she knows how to move!
– The very good guitarist who can’t sing in tune.
– The very good lyricist who can’t sing either.
– And there he/she is, the only one, the one that everybody hopes to see, the humble one with the talent who is on the ‘believing-in-myself’ stage. The ‘party-saver’! The good singer, good player, good performer, good lyricist.
I don’t pretend to sound cynical, maybe a little bit humorous, but next time you go to an Open Mic as part of the audience or as a performer, look out for these characters and tell me if I’m wrong but it seems to be the recipe in all of them. Of course, these are not the only ones.
However, my concluding thoughts are related to the element which brings all these people together: passion. In our modern-world we usually misunderstand the concept of passion. We think that being passionate about something is about going into it blindly and getting it or doing it sometimes in the most ineffective way. In a materialistic world, we even conclude that someone is passionate about something depending on how many/much that person has of that ‘something’. For example, someone is passionate about cars depending on how many cars that person has, regardless of how much they know about cars, it doesn’t matter, they are passionate about it! This is a misinterpretation of the concept of passion. The original latin word for passion implies the concept of aggredior which is to approach, address, defeat. And this is key because you don’t defeat obstacles just by hitting them hoping they come down. You find efficient ways of triumphing over them and in the world of music, mastering them.
Personally, I believe that being passionate about music has many different meanings, because music itself is multi-facet. You can be a passionate music-listener, or music-maker, or music-writer, or music-performer and to be one of them you should master their requirements. Yes, we don’t go to an Open Mic expecting all of them to be good performers but the problem is that most of the people performing there get the wrong feedback. ‘Elvis’ sang two covers. We were sitting on the front table. He decided to sing in a Casanova way to Julia who was enjoying the flirt. When his performance finished, he came and asked me ‘did you like it, I sang great, didn’t I, just like Elvis??’ Of course he didn’t, my brain knew it, my stomach felt it, but when he was looking at me while asking, my heart completely ignored my brain, and my mouth answered: “Yes, very nice! ” (Doh! I felt like Homer Simpson!). The heart understands something that goes beyond explanation: Blind passion creates a meaning to live for some people, if you try to finish that blindness for them to see, you are crushing their entire world. This doesn’t apply only to music, the same applies to religion, teaching, driving, managing,… you name it!
And this is when I don’t know where to stand. Maybe just to say, that it takes a lot of self-courage to crush our own blind passions and to decide to be really passionate about something. At the same time, we need to be completely conscious, if the passion is to endure, and find the strategies that will lead us to master our subject of passion and then, truly inspire others.