honest songs, honestly sung
singer and songwriter ben bruce

blog > Lone Microphone

Jun 2nd, 2010

I’ve been thinking about writing up a post on the Lone Microphone for a while now — gathering up some stats and just getting down some thoughts. We’ve done it once-​a-​month since November, so it’s time for some reflection.

I love Lone Microphone!

I’m consistently happy with how it turns out. It’s always a nice full room of music-​lovers having a good time and hearing great, intimate music; the bar is happy because it’s a busy Tuesday night; the musicians are happy because they are playing to a full room and someone takes home the pot. More thoughts on each of these items are below.

A Nice Full Room of Music Lovers

Attendees get a set from “their” performer, and then they also get short and sweet sets by two other performers (plus a few songs and stories from yours truly, on occasion). I am constantly amazed at how each and every performer we bring up does their thing. It’s always different — it’s not always my thing, but it’s always great. Because the sets are only just long enough, as a listener if it’s not for you, it’s over pretty quickly. On the other hand it’s long enough to be a real sample of the performer’s music if you are enjoying yourself.

I think “passing the hat” (as it’s sometimes referred to in the trade) — I do a very soft solicitation1 several times throughout the night — actually creates a more concrete connection with the crowd. And so far the crowd has been happy to be generous!

One thing folks are regularly unhappy about is the voting procedure. They want to just vote. They don’t want to sign up or give their email address out. So far I’m sticking to my guns on this and other aspects of the event2 — this way the vote means something — you really have to like that performer! — and it helps to define what exactly constitutes a vote3. A scrawled squigly and an x is not fair — anyone could fill out as many of those as they want, including random people at the bar just to cause trouble. Maybe I could add in a description of this to my stage notes so that people hear it from me rather than being quietly upset about it (or add it to the ballots as part of the description).

The Musicians Are Happy

When I’m playing out, I try to play my best every single time. It’s principle, yes, but it’s also pragmatism — I know how many times I’ve been in a nearly empty bar unannounced and listening to a performer do their thing. I know I’m not the hugest music industry guy, but I do have some pull and I’m just the sample. There are other music industry folks sitting in other nearly empty bars listening. The point is, you never know who’s out there. The only time this isn’t true is when it’s literally you, the bartender, the bartender’s friend, and two of your friends.

That last bit is actually a true story, and that moment — standing there singing to those four people, concentration thrown because I couldn’t sing my love songs to them, leaving only the downers in my setlist — was the moment the Lone Microphone crystallized in my mind.

The Lone Microphone has been consistently rewarding in this aspect4 — that the musicians play to a nice full room of appreciative listeners, some of whom are their fans and some of whom are new folks listening to their music for the first time. It’s a very different experience to hear loud clapping at the end of your song!

Someone Takes Home the Pot

Some of us were talking about how our last event’s payday ($88) was much bigger than most working musicians are used to. I take this as a compliment — that’s one of the goals! — but it’s also a sad commentary on the way we reward our musicians5.

Still, check out our statistics below to see how well we’ve done as a music community supporting our local music!

The pot aspect of the Lone Microphone has turned some musicians off, and I can see their point. The rest of us know it just adds a little excitement to the proceedings, both for the artists and for the listeners. When Olivia and Justin had their song-​off, I thought, “Oh man, who here wants to actually do this?” But I announced it and I swear everyone left in that room came in closer to the stage, and we had a real moment together as Justin threw down a Who cover, and then offered Olivia his guitar and she replied sweetly, “I think I’ll do this one a cappella.” Ooooooooooooooooooooooh!6

The Future

We’ve been talking about a one year anniversary tournament; right now I have a vague notion about round robin brackets determining seeding for a tournament style song-​off to the death. Maybe our winners get top seed in each bracket or something?

The next Lone Microphone is June 8 at Marcus’ Martini Heaven with Corey Passons from Spanish for 100, Hunter Hendrickson from Buzz Bromp and Sarah Schmidt.

See you there!

– Ben

Some Statistics

Average Pot: $95
Average Pot Stripping Out the Two Outliers: $75
Total Pot: $662
Highest Pot: $160
Lowest Pot: $557
No. of Women: 2
No. of Men: 15
No. of Song-​Offs (Tie-​Breakers): 1

Our Winners

Devon Summers (May 18, 2010)
Spare Rib (April 20, 2010)
Dominique Vijarro (March 9, 2010)
Noah Walden (Red Heart Alarm) (Feb. 9, 2010)
Lincoln Barr (Red Jacket Mine) (Jan. 19, 2010)
Justin Kausal-​Hayes (Buckets of Rain) (Dec. 8, 2009)
Ben Bruce (Nov. 10, 2009)

All of Our Performers

Todd Shaw
Beau Borrero
Whitney Mongé
Olivia De La Cruz
Jerry Mitchell (Samurai Bow)
Josh Clauson (Flowmotion)
RL Heyer (Flowmotion)
Andrew Vait
Dillon Warnek
Colin Higgins
Ian Jones (Jones Family Fortune)


1 “We ask everyone to donate $5 to the pot; but if it’s between donating and getting a drink … get a drink!”

2 One night the pot was $160 and the winner said he didn’t feel right about taking home that much money when the other performers weren’t getting anything. The suggestion was to “cap” the pot — anything over, say, $100, gets split with the other performers. I asked Pat Rosholt, who books the venue, about it and he looked at me with a blank look on his face and said, “But … it’s winner take all!” Like I had just spoken blasphemy! And it snapped me out of it — the Lone Microphone is a simple concept and it should stay that way. Let’s let the rules stand and see how the thing develops — because I like that the pot is big. That encourages the performers to promote the show and the more people that come, the more everyone is happy!

3 This becomes ever more important the higher the pot goes. I can easily see the day when a huge pot becomes controversial because of the vote count. So far it hasn’t, but it easily could. My only defense against this is to state up front that ballots must be filled out completely and legibly to count.

4 There have been a few times when “the gist” of the event hasn’t been well communicated to the performers and then their fans. For example, when Noah played, a whole crowd of people up and left after his set. It’s totally normal, but it deflates the room. Luckily, there were still about ten people – most of whom had never seen her — in the room for Whitney Mongé’s set and so witnessed that amazing artist live8.

5 The bartender behind the bar probably takes home $100 in tips over the course of a good night; the four musicians who played for four hours for you while you sipped that beer walked away with … well, one took $10, and the other three took $15. Ridiculous9.

6 She did Janis Joplin, and it was great! Justin’s crowd won the day, however, and he took home the pot!

7 This was before the bar also paid into the pot. As the bar generally ranges from $20-$40, this pot would likely have been $75 or better.

8 One woman mouthed to me from across the room, “WHAT!?” pointing at Whitney as she sang, as if to say, “Where did she come from?”

9 This is not to take away from the bartender, who I also care deeply about.


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