For my Capstone* major project, I’ll be performing some of my new music at The Townie in May, first at Chicks With Picks on the 20th, then at the Free Entry Open Mic night on the 30th. While I’ve been to Chicks With Picks a number of times, I’d never been to the Wednesday open mic, so last night I decided to check it out. It gave me a really good feel for how things run and what to expect. I didn’t film this time though, because I wasn’t sure what kinds of musicians I’d be seeing and what their level of confidence might be. I also only stayed for the solo/duo performances, but that’s more relevant for me at the moment, and I’ve seen plenty of bands at the Townie before.
First up was Caitlin, a singer-songwriter, with a standard guitar-and-vocals style (though it turns out she also plays keyboard). I got the impression that she might be relatively new to performing, as I could hear her mention to the engineer (Sally) that the mic felt a bit too close, and Sally reassuring her that it was necessary to get the best sound. But she is a decent musician, and she revealed later that she’d actually taken a 7 year break from playing, so I guess she is actually in a similar position to me, rediscovering our music practices. That was reassuring, to find someone in the same boat. We are in very different genres though, so I was actually quite surprised when both she and the rest of the audience asked Sally to turn her up after the first song. At first I wondered if it was maybe because I was wearing earplugs – it may be a softer style than I’m used to but it was still loud enough to concern me – but then I remembered that pop and other mainstream music styles tend to be very vocal-focused, and they do prefer vocals to be much louder than the instruments, even though our ears are so well-tuned to be able to hear the human voice. This sort of thing is why it is actually interesting to listen outside my genre every now and then, I find it fascinating.
But probably the main thing I got from Caitlin’s performance was just how easy and casual the audience vibe was. There were a few moments where she stumbled and apologised, before quickly picking the song back up, and it was totally okay, I didn’t sense any negativity from the audience at all. She also started one of the songs a bit too fast, and simply restarted it at the proper tempo, no dramas. So I now feel a lot safer about coming in to play here, because I know I’ll probably stumble as well, since I won’t have as much time to rehearse as I usually prefer, thanks to the Capstone deadline. I also found it helpful to discover one of her songs is so new that it didn’t even have a name yet, so it seems to me that this open mic is a good place to test out new material and I’m now thinking about another project I’ve been working on that might be able to get a start here. It’s pretty cool! But maybe one thing I should remember is to try to ignore the players at the pool table – one of the moments where Caitlin stumbled was actually when they suddenly cried out about something, and I think I’d find that distracting too if I wasn’t expecting it.
Louise and Jake
Next up was a duo! I can’t find any websites for them but they did well enough that I’d be surprised if they weren’t trying to promote somewhere. Unfortunately, they have no band name, just “Louise and Jake”, which is hard to search. There was a bit less for me to learn from these guys. The vocalist just made some usual beginner type errors, like not planning ahead to take the mic off the stand so the cable was still tangled around it, and then not knowing how to properly clip the mic back on. There was also one moment where the guitarist messed something up, but I wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t leaned into his mic to say sorry. Otherwise they were really quite good, she has a really cool deep voice that I don’t hear much in my genres, and they interacted really well, with a lot of energy. They also made great use of the guitar, combining it with a loop pedal, which allowed them to do all sorts of fun stuff. By tapping on the guitar, they created a drum beat, then by adding strumming layers they could build up the sound, and this even allowed the guitarist to seamlessly switch his capo mid song.
My favourite part was when they switched to playing originals, written by Jake, and making even more use of the loop pedal with a drum sample and more guitar work, and also what seemed like a flange pedal. (I think the previous songs were covers but I don’t listen to that kind of music so I’m not sure.) Vocally it was also really interesting, Jake sung a bit for the verses, and then Louise came in with the chorus, and much to my surprise it turned out they’d rigged things so that they could also loop the vocals and build that into some awesome harmony layers! They did have to restart one song because Louise accidentally spoke into the loop mic at the wrong moment, but it was a really cool effect and I was kinda sad about them erasing it! I’m not sure how early they are in their music, but it was good fun.
Maybe one thing that was relevant to me was how they handled the end of the set. After playing one of the songs, Jake asked Sally how much time was left, and they did have time for one more short song. But as Jake was choosing a song, I could hear Louise expressing doubt about knowing the lyrics, so after a quick false start, they decided not to continue. So I guess the point to note here is that you can do that and it’s perfectly fine in this open mic context.
So I can’t find out if Ryan has any websites either, but he seemed to have the biggest group of friends out to see him, judging by some of the audience interaction. And he was pretty good with the audience interaction thing. He had one song about mums, so he asked if anyone in the audience was a mother, so he could dedicate his song to them. One lady spoke up, which led to a humorous exchange between him, her, and what appeared to be his group of friends, it was great fun! He also talked to the audience as he re-tuned, which helped keep things moving nicely.
Compared to the other performers though, his music was a bit more subdued, despite the electric guitar, and I noticed he moved less and also tended to sing with his eyes closed if he wasn’t playing the guitar at the same time. But like Louise and Jake, he was also using a loop pedal, and he actually started a loop and then introduced himself, which I thought was cool, helped to set the atmosphere. The loop pedal seems like a neat solution for a soloist, as it allowed him to bring a lot more complexity to his songs, such as guitar soloing, and that made him quite different to an artist like Caitlin despite the similar instrumentation. Looping can get repetitive, but he did a decent job differentiating sections using additional guitar bits and his vocals, and he even had one song with a pre-programmed beat.
It’s hard for me to say what I learned from Ryan though, because I’ll be using a backing track rather than loop pedals. But if I come back with another project, I did notice that the acoustic guitars went straight into the PA, whereas his electric went into the amp. He also performed a song he’d just finished writing, similar to Caitlin with her unnamed song, so that’s further evidence of testing new material being quite a normal thing at this sort of event. I also got to see how things go when you play slightly overtime, as Sally had to give him the signal that time was up, and she’s really nice about it too so I have less anxiety about that now as well.
So that was my first experience of the Townie’s open mic night!
As I was leaving, I did see a band setting up, but I had to go. Maybe my only final thing to note was that there wasn’t much toilet paper in the ladies room! I get pretty nervous before I go on stage, which usually means going to the bathroom a lot, so maybe just in case, I should consider that when my turn comes around haha.
*Capstone is the name of the class for my final Master of Art project. This blog was originally written for another class, which you can read about here at the start of the entry.