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An open mic (or open mike) is a live show where audience members may perform at the microphone. Usually, the performers sign up in advance for a time slot with the host or master of ceremonies. These events are typically focused on performance arts like poetry and the spoken word, music, and comedy.
Poetry/spoken word open mics feature a host, who is normally a poet or spoken word artist, poets and spoken word artists, and audience members. Shows are generally one and a half to two hours in length. A sign-up is done before the show begins, so that the host has a list of names to call from. Poetry/spoken word open mics are laid back, serene, and contain lively conversation in between readers and/or performers. They are usually held in libraries, coffee houses, cafes, and book stores or bars. Each poet or spoken word artist is often asked to keep their performances to a minimum/specified time slot, giving each performer enough time to share some of their work.
Comedy open mic nights can be held at established comedy clubs, but are more commonly held at other venues with or without a stage, often the upstairs or back room of a pub or bar. Such nights give newer acts an opportunity to practice and improve, with a view to getting paid work. More experienced acts get an opportunity to work out newer material where the audience is not paying in anticipation of seeing their normal act. In a typical open mic night, newer acts will get five or maybe ten minutes of stage time, but more experienced acts may get ten or more minutes.
Open mic comedy nights are most widespread in larger English-speaking cities with a well-established stand-up comedy scene, especially London and New York. In these cities, with a plethora of aspiring comedians, the greatest challenge may be in attracting a worthwhile audience.
These shows provide an opportunity for musicians to gain experience performing to a live audience without having to go through the process of getting normal music gigs, which is very difficult to do without experience of live performance.
Open mics have been gaining in popularity in recent times, providing a much-needed outlet for singer-songwriters. Prior to their popularity, the only outlet generally were folk clubs, which were not always friendly towards creators of new music, preferring traditional music. They also suggested that music performed by acoustic musicians or solo artists in this manner would necessarily be folk music, a misconception that still commonly exists today. Some organizers have chosen the title "acoustic night" or "acoustic club" in an attempt to indicate an event run broadly on the lines of a folk club, but with a much wider range of musical styles.
In the United Kingdom, the largest ongoing Open Mic-styled music contest is Open Mic UK, which regularly attracts 10,000 participants of all genres. The grand prize for the contest is an investment up to £30,000. The size of the event has necessitated that all participants sign up for performance slots beforehand, instead of simply walking onstage.