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The discussion below is taken from a thread launched by "brickboo" on the Synth Zone General Arranger forum.

brickboo -- 12-01-2002 12:53 PM

Do you guys allow open mic:

- Any and all of the time?
- Never?
- Sometimes, but not always?
- If sometimes, but not always, When and how do you decide?

This is about to drive me nuts worrying about this.

DonM -- 12-01-2002 01:39 PM

Boo, there is no one answer. Some places you play don't want sit-ins, some don't care as long as they are not bad. A few encourage them.

I will normally allow anyone to sing a song. If they are any good, I may ask them to do another. If they aren't, I'll say "how about a hand for ___," and turn off his mic. You must read the audience to see if they would be receptive to guest singers. If there is a large group and they all want one of their number to sing, I let them, if I know a song they want to do. I do insist they know the words and key. If they don't, they won't do well, so why embarrass yourself and them.

As far as just a general "open mic" rule, (that was your question) I would say that is extremely risky, unless the entire night is advertised and featured as Open Mic night. Also be aware, you'd better know a lot of songs and can play them in their key. Can of worms!!! If I were doing a true Open Mic night, I would be certain to load the audience with pros or at least good K****** singers. I would charge at least triple for such a night. -- DonM

btweengigs -- 12-01-2002 08:15 PM

Since I started using a headset mic, the number of aspiring singers coming to the stage has diminished drastically. I carry extra mics if needed for announcements and for any singers I know, but those that don't will hit several speed bumps with me. And, yes, first thing I ask is the key they sing the desired song in. Now, if its the guy signing the check, well, there are exceptions to every rule.

One club I work in has live entertainment Wednesday and Saturday with Karaoke singers on Thursday. So, I refer them to Thursday. So far, that seems to solve the problem. But, make no mistake, there are some really good singers out there -- and that really ticks me off.

GlennT -- 12-01-2002 08:41 PM

btweengigs, good point. What if he/she is a lot better than you and steals your gig!

Uncle Dave -- 12-01-2002 09:43 PM

That's your own fault if it happens. There will always be someone capable of taking your job. It's up to you to become as irreplaceable as possible. Be unique so no one can duplicate your style. There are tons of great singers out there that would love to do what we do for money, but have no clue how to start. "K" is giving all these wanna-bees the fuel for their fires of passion.
That's why you must stay at the top of your game. Keep up with the technology. Keep your repertoire fresh, etc., etc. Make yourself in demand. Only you can control your destiny in this crazy business.

tony mads usa -- 12-02-2002 06:44 AM

"Also be aware, you'd better know a lot of songs and can play them in their key."

Many, many thanks for the transpose button ...

"Open Mic"???

Not if I can help it!

As stated, there are some clubs that will not allow this, but others encourage it. This is a lot harder to deal with in a private party situation, because family and friends are usually encouraging the "star" to perform. I, too, will ask that they know the words and the key, but how often do they start and then it's "la la laa" unless we are feeding them the lyrics???

And I am sure that most, if not all, of us, except possibly UD, have run into the situation where, for whatever reason, the crowd is not responding, but when one of the family gets up to sing, they go crazy!!?!! I've sometimes tried to work that to an advantage and incorporate that person into some party-type song to get the crowd going.

At one restaurant/lounge where I was doing a steady gig, I walked in at the beginning of the evening to see Jerry Vale and his family having dinner. His daughter lives in Rhode Island and he and his wife were visiting. After dinner, he takes his little grandson over to the piano bar. Boy, did I feel like the pressure was on! But I heard him say to his grandson something like, "the music is pretty, isn't it?" and I felt more relaxed. No, he didn't sing, and even though I know a lot of the Italian songs he sings, (and had the transpose button ). I felt I would be imposing to ask him to sing. He actually is a very personable guy. -- t:

PS. For you youngsters, Jerry Vale is a very good singer of songs, especially Italian music. He worked a lot in Vegas, back in the day.... -- t. .

Uncle Dave -- 12-02-2002 07:02 AM

There have been many times that my performance was just "hanging in the wings" until the "guest star" (good or bad) brought the crowd to life. Sometimes you get a break from a sit-in. It can wake up the room and make you look like a great humanitarian.

Last Friday, a friend asked me to "suck up" to some guests she brought in to see me from Brooklyn, so I used as many ways to tie in a NY theme as possible. (Even slamming those stinkin' Giants!) hee hee. As the night went on, the "guests" had their fair share of Cozmos (the new hip drink, I guess) and one of the ladies asked if she could sing a song to her husband. At first, I was leery, but they had spent a ton of money already and were so nice. I gave her the shot. She had some pipes! She was not trained, and she was nervous, but every so often, she would belt out a note that sent the crowd wild. I backed her with lots of juicy harmony, and made her feel at home, and we all had a great time with it.

Sometimes you just know when a guest will be well received and it would be musical suicide to not take the opportunity to enhance the show, no matter how you do it. It's a sign of maturity and confidence to turn over the stage to a guest, and if done in a classy manor, you will look like a million bucks if you back someone and make them sound good. The crowd loves it, the guests will usually tip you well, and the whole pace of the room benefits from the experience.

Just beware of the drunks that have no clue, no head for lyrics, and no sense of timing. It's not unusual for me to just shut someone's mic off and make up any excuse to get them back in their seat. Even if I have to fake a power outage, it's better than bringing the room down. I won't give that kind of control to anyone. It's my stage and it has to be under my control at all times. That's why I get the big money. Couples that come out for a nice dinner and music should not be expected to pay premium prices for professional entertainment and then be forced to accept the ranting of an alcohol-induced rendition of "whatever," just so they can chant their musical "booty call" to their chosen prey! Not on my time, sorry.

GlennT -- 12-02-2002 07:51 AM

UD, My "steal your gig" comment was actually tongue-in-cheek. Guess I forgot the ! However, you bring up some good points related to your being in charge and working the room. The bottom line is for you to make the crowd have a good time. Accomplish that and they stay longer, spend more money, come back next week, and you're the hero! -- Glenn

DonM -- 12-02-2002 08:11 AM

We're on the same page, Dave. I have a cheap cordless mic that I let the guests use. At least twice, the battery has mysteriously gone out right in the middle or between songs. (Maybe my hitting the mute button had something to do with it, too.)

Eddie, I always ask the celebrities if they want to sing, but I do it privately. If they are agreeable, then I ask them over the mic. Incidentally, a real pro will never ask to sit in. Even if he is so inclined he will wait to be invited. -- DonM

btweengigs -- 12-02-2002 10:04 AM

All good points here. I have never hit the mute button on a guest singer, but I have been known to play the shortest version of the song ever heard. Just two weeks ago, a party that was considering hiring me to play for them was at one of my gigs. They had a lady with them that they said was "phenomenal." I caved and invited her up, after first talking to her in private to select song(s), keys, etc. Turns out she leans heavily to jazz interpretations and has a range that goes from Barry White to Minnie Ripperton. She was jumping octaves and most of the melody lines were so obscure as to be unidentifiable. Now, here is the kicker: The crowd liked her because they thought she was trying to be funny and had the pipes to really mock a song. (Not the reaction I think she was looking for.)

But as UD says, I was viewed as being a good sport by giving her decent backing and sharing the stage with her. Later she asked if she could come up and do some more. But, I noticed a horn player in the room who also asks to sit in, and I said no. You've got to know when to put that foot down and keep control.

Finally, another word about celebrities in the room. Never put them on the spot without prior consent. But it is a good idea to talk to them and find out if they want to be acknowledged or not, or if they wanted to perform.

Don, do you recall Bobby Lord? He hosted the Opry sometime in the 60s. The only big record he had that I can remember is "Hawkeye." Several years ago, some local folks here asked him to do a show and he asked me to back him. It took an afternoon of rehearsal to learn some of his particular songs. The rest were pretty much 3-chord standards. I forget which arranger I was using at the time, probably a PSR 5700, but he was happy and he came off looking like the star he used to be in the Nashville circuit. -- Eddie

Leon -- 12-02-2002 10:07 AM

DonM: "Incidentally, a real pro will never ask to sit in. Even if he is so inclined he will wait to be invited."

Very well put! That says it all.

Uncle Dave -- 12-02-2002 10:30 AM

I guess it depends on how well you know each other. I often have people walk in, walk right up to me, and call up a tune, knowing that they are a "regular" in the room and they are welcome because I've made them feel that way in the past. I even have friends that my audience requests to hear because they know what to expect! Donny is one of them. He's getting to know all my Friday night people, and they ask for him to sing, too! It's a very friendly place, like "Cheers," only I'm Sammy's boss!

tony mads usa -- 12-02-2002 10:57 AM

UD, Sounds like a great gig ... you've got going. Of course, there are going to be some regulars, especially if you are in the same place for any length of time. I've had some, over the course of years, that I actually knew when, what, and how they were going to sing. And I really enjoy a good guest star that I can do backup and harmony to.

One of the funnier routines was a guy who asked if he could "sing" a song, but told me I had to sing with him. The tune was For the Good Times. We start the song and I don't hear him singing. I realize he is in front of the stage, LIP-SYNCHING to my vocal !!! This was his "'shtick," and every week someone would ask him to "not sing"' For The Good Times. At least it was better than some of the "'singers" that would come up.

Of course, other "players" can be an even bigger problem. I had this sax player who would sit in and I had to try to remember what measure he left out of what tune as he was playing, but, the people thought he was great!!! Why? Because he would "growl" and "honk" and wave that horn all over the place as he played. God I love this business.

Also, as UD said, you have to be mindful of the "other" clientele who are there to hear you, not other "guests." -- t.

DonM -- 12-02-2002 11:02 AM

Of course, there are the regulars. I have some pretty good singers and pickers stop by, and they are always welcome. Am I going to tell James Burton he can't sit in on guitar? I'm honored to be in the same room with him, and there are several around here like that. It's all common sense. And there are times I welcome a second body on stage. Somebody to bounce jokes off. Sometimes you don't feel like carrying the whole show all night. Right now I have a bad cold, and planning to be sure a couple of buddies show up for the job to help on vocals.

As a matter of fact, Boo sat in with me on a couple of gigs, and we had a great time. By the end of the weekend, he was saying, "Ya'll Come Back Now, Ya Here?" I later took him to another club where he sat in with some friends of mine and was a big hit there also. I'm sure we had a couple of guest singers while he was playing. It all depends on the circumstances. - DonM

Sonny G -- 12-03-2002 08:05 PM

Hello, everyone! I have never been on the forum before but here goes!! I am a long time friend of Boo and the guy that prompted Boo to bring up the subject of open mic. I have just finished (I quit) a ten-year gig, 5 nights a week, Tues. - Sat. at Clint Eastwood's piano bar in Carmel, CA. The venue is open mic. Anyone can "give it a try" and I could never say no. After ten years of that abuse (I know, no one made me stay), I had to quit before I killed someone. Now, needless to say, I tell anyone and everyone, "Customers don't cook their food, mix their drinks, or make their music!" All of the comments have been very good and reasonable but I just would not know how to control the procedure in a tactful way (my problem). Once the "genie is out of the bottle," I just would not know how to put it back in. I also feel that solo cats are "picked on " for this whereas bands, even duos, don't face it as much. The irony is that at the Mission Ranch I saw the "good, the bad, and the ugly" and agree it can be a good thing if controlled (Tony Bennett and the late John Denver and Cheryl Ladd sang with me and everyone loved it). I'm rambling on, so I'll stop. I look forward to any comments. I have been a pro for 35 years, solo almost the whole time. Waiting to hear from you guys!!!

Scottyee -- 12-03-2002 08:48 PM

Hi, Sonny! Hey, remember me? I stopped by at Mission Ranch about a year ago and you had to put up with my singing. By the way, my cousin's wife, Theresa is still the manager of Mission Ranch's lodging accommodations and she misses hearing you play at the restaurant. As a longtime Synth Zone member, I can verifiably state that Sonny G is a terrific piano player and entertainer, and a perfect gentleman to boot.

Anyway, I know exactly how you feel about the solo piano bar and open mic scene. I did that routine about seven years ago, and it quickly got on my nerves, too. The solo piano bar venues and open mic tend to go hand in hand. I also no longer do piano bar gigs and have opted for private parties and regular senior retirement community type show venues. The biggest benefit of enduring the piano bar "open mic" scene is that it provides valuable contacts and connections for booking more lucrative private party gigs. The perk at Mission Ranch is that you get a lot of celebrities coming in.

Btweengigs: Did Doris Day ever stop and sing during your stint at the Ranch?

Sonny, after ten solid years (wow!) at Mission Ranch , I can fully understand how you would need and deserve a rest for at least a little while. I still hope you're finding other satisfying gigs in the Monterey Area. I'm originally from the Monterey Bay Area myself (grew up in PG), so plan to eventually move back there. Hope you save a spot for me. -- Scott

Dnj -- 12-03-2002 09:44 PM

When I'm off, I love to go see my "Uncle Dave" perform, being we're both always playing somewhere it's nice to go and see each other do what we love. Being that I perform big Dinner Dances and Private Party venues Vs Lounges, I very rarely get requests or people that want to sing with me. But when UD asks me to Sing a few tunes at a Lounge, I'm honored and I'm always up to the task. And besides, with UD's great keyboard playing and background vocals, you can't go wrong! I always do songs everyone can relate to, e.g., like the ones on my website people sing along and all is well. -- Dnj

Dreamer -- 12-03-2002 11:35 PM

Sonny, I can testify that Scott told me a lot of (good) things about you. Last June, when I was en route from Santa Barbara back to Berkeley, I went through Carmel Valley and saw your name outside a trendy place called - I think - "Los Laurelitos" (or something like that). I was so curious to hear you playing that I was tempted to stay for the night, but you weren't playing in that particular day. Hope to see and hear you the next time I come back to the West Coast.
-- Andrea

Uncle Dave -- 12-04-2002 07:24 AM

Donny says the nicest things, huh? My schedule includes three club dates each week (where the requests pour in) and the rest of the time I'm on one-nite-stands. Many times, two at a time on Saturdays and Sundays, so the regularity of the "lounge thing" is broken up every few days or so. I guess that's why I'm still sane. (Subjective term?)

"Sittin' In" is a great way to learn the ropes, and I encourage it as much as possible from working (or future) musicians, but I don't get excited when the motivation is fueled by drinking. It's a nasty part of the biz that we just have to endure. Still beats lots of other jobs I can think of!

Sonny G -- 12-10-2002 08:47 AM

Hi, Scott and Dreamer. Thanks for the reply. I am still working at Los Laureles Lodge every Fri. & Sat. through October 2003. Hey, Scott, after my "open mic' adventures at the Ranch, guess what they did? Eight weeks after I quit, they decided open mic (after 30 years in this place) was not a good idea afterall!! They took the speakers down, took the amp rack out, took the mic and threw it in the ocean, and ended the Open Mic venue for good! What did Ethel Merman sing "everything about it is appealing"!! There is still no business like this business and I do have a lot of great memories and met a lot of wonderful people there from all over the world in the last 10 years. Maybe after some time passes, with no open mic, I can return one day . All in all, it's the most successful club I have ever worked and I wish everyone there the best. If you or Dreamer are ever in the area, please look me up. And, oh yes, Scott, I enjoyed it when you sang. All the best, -- Sonny G!

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