Can I Read You My New Song?

By Mark Sandman

This might be one of the more controversial blogs I’ve written regarding open mic performing.  It addresses the question when is a new song ready to be performed?  My comments apply, in particular, to solo performers.

In my opinion, if you don’t know a song well enough to sing it without having to read the lyrics and/or chords, it’s not ready to be performed in front of an audience.

Technology has also introduced a new twist.  On a couple of occasions, I’ve listened to open mic performers sing a song while reading the lyrics from their smart phone – complete with pauses while scrolling through the lyrics.

On one hand, an open mic is an ideal venue for trying out that new song you have just written or learned, but I also think it’s hard to do justice to a song that you are still in the process of learning.  And, it’s harder yet to stay engaged with your audience if you are focusing on a piece of paper (or iPhone) versus the audience.

Most of us would have difficulty reading out loud from a book in front of an audience, let alone trying to read lyrics while singing and playing an instrument.  Very often the end result is a very stilted and flat delivery of what could be a great song, but wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

To be fair, having the lyrics in front of you isn’t always a bad thing.  But there is a big difference between being unable to perform a song without the benefit of having the lyrics and/or chords in front of you, and having them available as backup for that new song you feel you have down pretty well,  but want the security of having something to refer to if needed.

Also, even the most experienced performer occasionally forgets a word or a verse or hits a chord that is a clunker.  On more than one occasion, I’ve even forgot lyrics or a chord change on I song that I had written!

An important skill is learning how not to get rattled when this happens and to be able to continue performing without skipping a beat.  If you can’t remember a word, fake it.  If you can’t remember a verse, skip it. More often than not, the experienced performer can pull this off without the audience even being aware that anything was unplanned.

This is one person’s opinion.  I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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