Open-mic nights: A guide to performing for free in Melbourne

IF you’re in a band or going solo and you’re ready to play to a live audience, just where do you go to gain that valuable experience? Daniel Driscoll lets you in on where you can test that new material and get a feel for playing in front of people.

Image: Gavin Anderson via Flickr

Image: Gavin Anderson via Flickr

You’ve been practising for months, the songs are polished and you don’t miss a note. But how will you receive feedback from a live audience if you don’t have one to play in front of?

Whether you play an instrument, sing or rap, there’s a large selection of venues around Melbourne where you can road test your stuff for free. They’re called open-mic nights and Melbourne’s thriving music scene means you can play pretty much every night of the week!

Melbourne’s live music scene is filled to the brim with a wide variety of styles and genres to listen to and its open-mic nights are just as varied. Whether you’re in a rock band, jazz sextet, hip hop outfit or just singing solo, there’s an open-mic night for you. With so many venues and nights to choose from, you’ll want to do a little research before heading for the nearest locale.

What music do you play? Where and when can you perform it?


Start by asking yourself and/or your group a few questions when looking for a venue to play at: What kind of style do you play? What day do you want to play on and will you need a vehicle to get there?

Before you choose a venue, it’s important to know what style of music they cater to as the style of music you play will determine how varied your choice of venue is. Most will cater to a variety of instrument-based music, while some venues will have specific genre nights or only host particular styles of music.

Deciding what day to play will also determine your venue selection. The middle of the week is usually quiet and will have a wider selection of venues available. Fridays and Saturdays tend to be the most lucrative for venues and are typically reserved for musicians with an established fanbase willing to come out to see them. So while there are venues to play at, your choices on Fridays and Saturdays will be severely limited.

Mondays will have a few venues available and Sundays mostly provide mid-afternoon events, as people tend to enjoy getting out to a gig early on, catching up with friends and enjoying a drink or two.

Getting to your gig and knowing what’s available there

Image: Roberto Taddeo via Flicker.

Image: Roberto Taddeo via Flicker.

The availability of a vehicle or the need to use public transport will mean the difference between playing inner city suburban venues and those a little further out.

Most inner-city and suburban venues will be right near some form of public transport. If you’re heading out to somewhere in the outer suburbs or you have plenty of equipment to take, you may find it easier to drive (especially if you’re the drummer with your own kit).

With any venue you decide on, you’re going to want to find out what equipment they have on hand. A lot of venues will provide a backline (amps and drums) to save you lugging that half stack or full set of drums to the venue but it isn’t guaranteed. Most venues will also provide an in-house PA system and someone to mix the music. If you’re particular about your sound you can certainly take that extra equipment along. However, if your goal is just to gain a bit of experience playing in front of people, then it probably isn’t worth the effort.

When you finally get to the venue, most open-mic nights will have a similar sign up process which involves showing up about an hour before the performances start and signing up. Some venues will even give performers a free drink! Keep in mind sign up times do vary, so it’s best to check on that before heading down. Some venues will require you to book in advance too.

Now there’s just one more thing to do. Get up on that stage and play your heart out!

Start your search for venues over at the Heartstrings website or Open Mic Melbourne’s Facebook page.

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