Somehow, since the invention of the modern open mic (whenever that was), the known universe has produced exactly one book titled How to Run an Open Mic.
Published in 2017 by one Mr. John Locke and available only on a megalithic capitalist website to which I refuse, on principle, to link, it’s geared for venue owners. Pragmatic in substance and form, it covers scheduling, slots, sound gear, choosing a host, and promotion – with space for notes so you can gin up the perfect event to fill your bar with music and happy customers.
If that’s you, then stop reading and tab over to your search engine of choice. And if the show you create after reading How to Run an Open Mic welcomes poets, please LMK (especially if you’re in one of the 23 states with no pin as yet on The Map.)
But if you don’t own your own venue…
If what you need is something less practical…
Something that tunnels beneath the logistics and into your open mic soul…
This, my beloved aspiring hosts, is the book rec for you. And there’s more where it’s coming from.
I’ve found a handful of authors with needful advice and other gifts for the open mic host and organizer. Books that spelunk into the deeper work of making an open mic happen and remind us why it’s worth it – for yourself, for the hopeful first-timers, and for the creative community that a good open mic ultimately becomes.
First up: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Because open mic is big magic
Books on creativity and creative process are kinda my thing, and there is no shortage of glittering gems out there.
By the time a writer takes to writing about writing (and gets it published), if nothing else you can trust that their process works. And most of the time, their take on art and craft is gonna be good.
I am convinced that Elizabeth Gilbert was sent to Earth as a plenipotentiary from the Empire of Creativity. And that Big Magic is her démarche. Of the many (many) books, podcasts, and TedTALKs on creativity that I’ve consumed, none shimmers like this one.
In Big Magic, Gilbert unpacks the how of creativity mostly by returning over and over to the why.
She stares down the twin barrels of personal baggage and societal bullshit that every poet, musician, storyteller, and comedian must eventually face in their creative arc – and pokes an irreverent flower in each of said barrels.
She bats down the objections our fearful ids raise whenever a creative idea sparks – What if my poems are no good? Who am I to be writing songs? If I can’t make money at this, why bother? Et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum.
She defines a creative life as one driven by curiosity. As in, let’s see what happens if I try to make something…like, say, an open mic night.
Making an open mic is a creative act
Friends, your event doesn’t exist until you organize it. Where before there was nothing, now there’s something. You find the venue. You name the show. You write the rules.
And that’s just the genesis. From there, every show you run is its own discrete act of creativity – opportunistic, collaborative, and ephemeral.
An open mic night is made from everything creativity is made of – inspiration, intention, effort, hope, synchronicity.
That’s the ink, friends. Those are the notes.
Together, you, your co-organizers, the performers, and the audience collaborate to create something new and amazing that no one alone could’ve produced.
Creative outlet, creative fuel
Open mic isn’t just an outlet for creativity. It’s also clean-burning fuel.
It gives you and your community a great reason to write new shit. It gives them ideas to write about and performance styles to try on for size.
At Tongue & Groove, we see this all the time…
- Ekphrastic work inspired by art in the gallery that is our venue
- Spontaneous and rehearsed collaborations between people who met at our show
- Callbacks to a song, poem, or story shared in a prior month
Open mic energy is so powerful, we’ve seen performers share new shit they drafted or polished during the show.
Carry the fire for your creative community
Elizabeth Gilbert spends a chapter each on courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, and trust. These are the sine qua non of creative living.
And if that sounds like something you already knew, that’s kinda the point.
The reason to read Big Magic is because it elevates ideas that lurk in your creative subconscious into the realm of your conscious mind, transforming them into devices you can use.
The better you know those devices – the more deliberate you are about your own creative life – the better you can serve as torchbearer for your open mic community.
Bonus: Check out Gilbert’s 2018 podcast series Magic Lessons. She and a cadre of her famous and famously creative friends counsel writers, musicians, storytellers, and comedians in creative crisis.
Many of these artists are fledgling practitioners. In at least one case, Gilbert’s advice is to find an open mic and get on the list.
I couldn’t agree more, Liz.