EMOM or Electronic Music Open Mic events are popping up all over. We talked to the people behind it to find out what it is and how you can get involved.
An Electronic Music Open Mic night answers the question, “how do I get to perform my awesome electronic music in front of people?” I did my first one in Norwich in 2018, and it was totally exhilarating; terrifying as well, but thrilling, and I have done several since.
The basic idea is that you rock up to a pub with your electronic music gear and sign up for a 10-15 minute slot. You then do your thing in front of a bunch of other people who will also do their thing, and you drink and laugh and experience what it’s like to perform your own music.
Open Mic nights have, of course, existed forever, but they’ve tended to be for singer-songwriters, guitarists, poets, and comedians. Electronic artists have felt out of place at these events.
It was that feeling that inspired EMOM creator Martin Christie to build his own event that would bring together like-minded electronic music nuts to play, perform and talk about the gear. Because if nothing else, we like to talk about the gear!
Martin kicked off in Manchester in 2017 and then toured around various towns putting on EMOM nights. Often, after he moved on, regular EMOM nights would emerge in his wake.
While it’s been largely a UK thing, it does have a global reach with EMOMs cropping up in far-flung places such as Australia and Canada.
Any electronic music?
We all have our own ideas about what constitutes Electronic Music, but the only real rule is no acoustic guitars. However, guitars do crop up from time to time which is fine if they are being used to generate electronic soundscapes.
Otherwise, if it plugs in, then you can bring it. This would include laptops, tablets, phones, drum machines, synths, modular rigs, noise boxes, resonators, groove machines, and weird wind controllers. The beauty is that you never know what you’re going to get.
One of the things I love about the EMOM nights is that it defies and overturns your expectations. It challenges you to broaden your view of what electronic music should be about.
It provides a platform to contribute your own interpretation and invite feedback from others, regardless of how talented you are or think you are. It’s only for 10 minutes, and this is exactly the right place to find out if what you do is any good and how to improve.
EMOM in your town?
How do you go about putting one on in your town if one doesn’t already exist? I asked Martin for his thoughts on putting on your first EMOM:
Find a sympathetic venue and one that is worthy of local support. Independent bars, community spaces, art spaces are all a great fit for the EMOM movement. Our tastes are eclectic and underground, so the venue needs to be that sort of space.
I think the best model is to find a place that are happy to have customers on a generally quiet night and that don’t charge for the space. Sometimes a sound engineer is required and obviously they need to be paid so a whip round of those present on the night can help with regards to that.
Finally, promotion is an absolute must. To find your audience/performers you need to publicise the event on every and any social platform possible. I think old school posters work really well too, placed in nearby creative hubs and locations.
Signing up to play
The only entry requirement is to turn up at the right time to sign up and bring your gear ready to play, but how should you prepare for your first show?
Here’s Martin again:
Take all the equipment you need for your performance, including leads. I think it’s fair to assume everything your side of the DI box is your responsibility. If you need specialist adapters and cables take those. If you’re a vocalist check with the organiser there will be a mic and mic stand available (not always the case).
Rehearse your 15 minute set and be prepared for nerves to lead to mistakes/problems – that’s perfectly fine on these nights. Don’t overrun the allotted time because it impacts on people playing after you. And always remember it’s not just about you! Always stay and watch the other artists as far as possible.
I also spoke to Barry Brosnihan (AKA HardWired), who runs the Norwich EMOM I go to.
So for EMOM, bring everything you need to play. The host will have a few spares, but won’t likely be ready for your setup. You won’t have long to setup, so understand your gear. Less time setting up means more time to play.
If the venue has a projector, you may be able to submit a video before the event. Last, but most importantly, be nice, always be nice to the host, other artists, fans, and venues staff. Understand that you’re not the main character.
Re conditions: remember it’s a open mic, everything is last minute and unplanned. We’ll always endeavour to get you on stage, and rarely someone had to go home without getting a set in.
In my experience, the turnout can be very varied. I played events where it was me, Barry, and another guy in an empty pub, but there have been other times when it’s heaving. And you can have everything from 3-piece SynthWave acts to a laptop DJ, to a bloke smashing synths with a hammer. Part of the night is in the anticipation of that variety.
I then asked Martin about what sort of wrong assumptions new performers bring with them.
That the longer they play the better response they will get. People (audiences) have generally made their mind up within a few minutes whether this is their thing or not.
We all have very different tastes (because electronic/experimental music is such a vast category), so a good EMOM night will involve all kinds of genres and you won’t necessarily love it all.
Also, that the music they play won’t sound or be executed exactly as it is in the home or studio. Things often sound different when you play live and different PAs and spaces impact on this. It can be quite a surprise when you’re playing and it’s actually great practice at an EMOM night to learn to cope with this and make adjustments.
For example, I put a drum machine through a PA at an EMOM night where the sound engineer was more used to putting on bands. The drum machine sounded awful, nothing like back in the studio. It turned out to be something to do with the gain on the mixer and I always watch out for that now.
How varied is the music you’ve encountered?
This is the great thing about these nights. You really don’t know what to expect. I’ve enjoyed everything from coding through to modular, synthpop through to chiptune. Whenever I think I’ve seen/heard it all something new comes along and really surprises me.
When you think of the vast array of technology, the diverse ways in which it can be combined, the range of music styles available, and the possibility for completely new music styles it really is mind blowing. I take the view that hardware and software are equally great domains for music/sound creation.
Also, I think it’s important to appreciate that some fab music can be made using a free download for your mobile phone. Electronic music is open for all and it’s not about how much you’ve spent on your technology – though I admit I have personally spent way to much!
Where do we go from here?
Covid was devastating for live music, and EMOM lost a couple of years to the reasonable fear of meeting up. Fortunately, the online version, VEMOM (Virtual EMOM) flourished during this time and is still going strong alongside live EMOMs as venues open up again. I asked Martin how things had been post-Covid precautions and what he sees happening in the future.
Covid hit the EMOM movement hard (as it did all live music) and I did wonder if that was the end. But it’s really bounced back since then, I think a lot of people had bought a load of tech during lockdown and were getting into their music making at home. They wanted a place to go and try things out and the EMOM nights were a perfect spot.
I’d like to see a regular EMOM festival emerge from all of this. An event where the attendees also constitute the performers. So you could attend with some of your gear in a backpack or on a phone and be part of the whole show.
No headliners, because I don’t enjoy the pretense of one act thinking they are ‘bigger’ than another. There could be an experimental music tent and an electronic music tent. Divide it up in some way. That would a dream come true.
I’d also like to see the movement push out from the UK to other countries. I think the online presence of the Virtual EMOM has helped with that, as has regular coverage on GEOSynths on YouTube.
So an EMOM festival eh? That sounds like a load of fun to me and a lot cheaper if you’re not paying the acts to be there – you are the acts!
You can find more information about Martin and EMOM below. The website always has a list of upcoming EMOM events and where they are. Also, keep an eye open for similar local electronic music nights that operate under different names – there are probably more about than you might think.
Many thanks to Martin and Barry for their time in putting together this article and for all the effort they and people like them put into hosting these free, community-focused events. And, of course, a huge round of applause needs to go to all the artists who turn up and play. You should definitely do it.
After my first EMOM, I made a video as soon as I got back to share what I had learned from the experience. It resonates a lot with what’s been said here but also gives a few more tips about performing in such a quick and chaotic space.
- Martin Christie: EMOM
- EMOM Norwich: EMOM
- EMOM London: EMOM
- EMOM Norwich: EMOM