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The Open Mic Scene in Dublin, some pointers and some open mic etiquette

April 8, 2009

I had a couple of emails recently where I was asked to recommend some open mic sessions in Dublin. Since mid-2007 I’ve been playing around Dublin and have picked up a few pointers along the way. I’d like to share them here.

If you’re not familiar with the open mic concept in a nutshell it is this:

  • you turn up with your instrument(s) , stick your name on the list for the night and wait your turn.
  • depending on the policy of that open mic you might be able to perform as a group but generally these open mics are geared toward solo or duo acoustic performances
  • some open mics are booked days or weeks in advance so it’s best to drop in and check things out with the person running the gig. You might have to wait a couple of weeks to get a slot.

Some etiquette and basic manners that should be observed:

  • nobody owes you a gig so be respectful of the person running the open mic, they’re not getting paid for this and deserve a thank you before the end of the night
  • bring some friends, even 1 or 2 extra people will make all the difference. Nobody owes you an audience.
  • be respectful of the other performers and remind your friends of this, don’t talk all the way through everyone’s set. If your friends aren’t able to chill out and not talk for a few minutes then perhaps you’re better off not bringing them.
  • turn off the mobiles. Unless you’re a doctor on standby or a superhero do you really need to share that ringtone and conversation with everyone ?
  • be respectful of the audience, with the exception of your friends these people haven’t come to see you. keep the songs to a reasonable length. Avant garde is all well and good but ask yourself whether the audience really want to hear a screamfest.
  • these gigs happen in bars & pubs, try not to get drunk before you play. Nerves are a good thing to a certain extent because they’ll keep you on your toes but if you’re plastered and can’t play properly you will get a reputation around town pretty quickly.
  • try to stick around for the night and listen to the other performers, encourage your friends to do the same.
  • introduce yourself to the other performers. Say hello, compliment them on their set (don’t exaggerate though… nobody likes a bullshitter).
  • if you’ve got a CD and want to sell it after your set then check with the person running the gig, it can be a bit disruptive. Apart from which you should offer them a copy first (promo free copy of course).
  • don’t be a tightwad skinflint: if another musician expresses an interest in your CD then try not to charge them for it. If you’re in short supply then run off a few CD-Rs without the expensive printing and keep them for freebies.
  • turn up. That’s right: turn up. If you’ve booked in advance then have some consideration for the person running the gig and the other musicians who wanted to play but couldn’t because you had been given a slot.

A few tips:

  • decide in advance what songs you are going to play. Don’t wait for divine intervention when you get on stage. If you don’t know how many songs you will get to play then think in advance of a 2, 3, 4, 5 song set list.
  • if you’re not 100% confident of your own songs then think about doing a cover version. Don’t pick an obvious cover version, try to find something a little different and do your own version of it. Experiment at home and see what you can come up with.
  • don’t apologise if you fluff a chord or lyric. Most people at these gigs cant’ play music, let’s face it they don’t know the chords or lyrics to your songs. Nobody will really notice.
  • if you’re lucky enough to get a 5 or 6 song set then really think about breaking it up with a cover version. The audience will have to listen carefully to your original material so it’ll be appreciated when they hear something a bit different.
  • drunk and/or loud audience members are tough to deal with. Try not to be distracted and don’t take it too seriously. I’ve never seen anyone heckled so don’t worry about that happening. It’s just a gig and eventually it will happen that some idiot will shout something in the middle of a song. Usually it’s a drunk trying to be funny and making an arse of themselves. You will have audience sympathy when that happens. Best thing to do is not engage with them because they’re looking for attention so don’t provide oxygen to their flame.
  • guitar players: learn how to tune your guitar. Seriously people, it’s painful listening to an obviously out of tune instrument. Tune it when you arrive at the venue and then check it again before you go onstage. If you don’t know how to tune the guitar then ask one of the musicians at the gig to show you. It’s a good ice breaker and what the ‘community’ is about.
  • try to communicate a little with the audience. But don’t over do it (I’m guilty of this… I need to reign in some of my song introductions).
  • don’t worry about playing the same 3-4 songs at open mics. Remember that your friends will not have heard the songs that often (if at all) and the people at the gig won’t have ever heard them before. Even if you play the same venue 2-3 weeks in a row you will probably only play to a few people more than once, if at all.
  • if you have a MySpace site then mention it during the set
    here is mine
  • don’t forget to thank people for listening and most of all don’t forget to thank the person running the gig.
  • enjoy yourself. Definitely enjoy yourself.


You’d think all of the above was obvious wouldn’t you ?

Here is some information I’ve pieced together on active open mic nights in Dublin as of April 2009. I’m sure there are others out there (I know of at least one other that I haven’t yet checked out).


Monday Night, The International Bar on Wicklow Street
The session in the International Bar on Monday nights is unamplified & intimate. The typical performers have a broad range of abilities and experience. I’ve seen people get up here and play when they had only barely started to learn guitar and knew 2 cover versions. They were encouraged and welcomed. A good way to start. Go down some night and ask Jacqueline for a slot in the next couple of weeks, often though she can squeeze you into the line up for that night because she gets cancellations. Bring a couple of friends.  Usually you get to play 3 songs but if there’s a lot of performers that week you might only get 2.


On Monday night there is a nice open mic in Peadar Kearney’s on Dame Street. This is about 5-6 doors down from the Olympia Theatre. It’s got a PA and isn’t too big. As you progress they have other gigs in the same venue later in the week where you can do a full set of your own.

Tuesday Night: The Bankers Inn , just around the corner from Dame Street/Andrews Lane.
The sessions run by Dave Murphy in the Bankers on a Tuesday are very small. I reckon that room can barely hold a dozen people!
No PA and very intimate. Dave is very welcoming and the regular crew aren’t a clique – they will encourage and talk to you. It’s quite popular and if it’s your first time there you might only get 2 songs.


Wednesday Night: Bruxelles, on Harry Street just off Grafton Street.
I haven’t played the Zodiac Sessions yet. I visited the gig a couple of times in 2007 and noticed that there are a couple of performers that play every week so it might take a while to get a slot.

Sunday nights in The Bleeding Horse on Camden Street
This is a recently added open mic. The two lads who run it are Fiach and Ro. They are really sound and encouraging. I’ve seen some really experienced people there and I’ve seen people doing their first gigs there. Everyone gets a fair crack of the whip. It’s a great way to get used to singing through a PA system. You can just turn up and put your name down. Bring a couple of friends to help fill the room a bit.


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