Local gigs give aspiring stars a place to shine

  Given its competitiveness and fast-paced nature, Los Angeles can be quite an intimidating environment for up-and-coming singer and songwriters.  Finding a welcoming scene with a guaranteed audience is difficult, but not impossible.

For SMC students looking for a café vibe, hope is just down the road. The UnUrban Coffee House, located at 3301 Pico Blvd., hosts a weekly Friday Open Mic, offering an ideal setting for anyone trying to showcase original tunes. When you walk in, it appears to be a normal coffee house with a respectable menu of café drinks and sandwiches. But as you make your way past the tables toward the back, it opens up into a dimly lit lounge room with plenty of comfortable seats. In the corner of this room is a modestly sized, green-carpeted stage with a decent sound system.

Sign-ups for performing are from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It costs three dollars to perform, but anyone can come to watch for free. The names of the musicians are drawn from a bucket to establish a random order of performances, and at 7:30 the show begins. Each performer is allowed to play two songs and both must be original. The audience is composed of the other performers and anyone else who wishes to listen.

For those interested in performing more than a couple songs, the UnUrban Coffee House also offers a Feature Act from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m every Friday night, right before the Open Mic. This is a great opportunity for any singer/songwriter with enough material to fill a half-hour set. To book this gig, you must first contact the host of the Open Mic. Overall, the UnUrban Coffee House is an ideal setting for songwriters looking to intimately share their music.

Another great location for performing original songs in L.A. is Kulak's Woodshed, a colorful hole in the wall located at 5230½ Laurel Canyon Blvd. in North Hollywood. Kulak's provides a nice change of pace from the coffee house vibe. As the name suggests, the building has a woodsy ambiance, almost cabin-like. The main room is spacious, adorned with knickknacks and assorted seating. The most unique aspect of Kulak's Woodshed is the top-notch camera equipment used primarily for their Live Webcast held for the Monday Open Mic. Performers play for free but can buy a professional videotape of themselves for $20. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., with sign-ups beginning at 7 p.m. Those purchasing a video get to play first, and the rest of the names are drawn from a bucket, like at the UnUrban Coffee House. At Kulak's, however, each performer is only allowed one song and it does not have to be an original. For a refreshing alternative to the coffee house scene, Kulak's Woodshed is definitely worth checking out.

The UnUrban Coffee House and Kulak's Woodshed both serve as excellent starting points for singer/songwriters in L.A. trying to build an audience and get their material heard.