There’s something awesome about playing a headlining gig – where you know everyone in the crowd is there to support you. But one of the best ways to expand your audience is to get booked as an opening act. In terms of exposure, when you play as an opening act your music is being exposed to a lot more new people than when you headline on your own. And that means opener gigs carry a lot of potential for fanbase growth.
That said, these are choice slots, and many bands and musicians are vying for them. Sometimes you can get lucky and be in the right place at the right time. But, if you are more interested in process rather than chance, here are 3 suggested methods to landing opening act or support act spots.
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1. Contact the Venue Booker to get an Opening Act Spot
Most artists have felt the disappointment when they get turned down from a venue they’d really like to play. A lot of things go into whether or not a venue will book a band including timing, the venue’s schedule, fanbase size and draw, and the experience level of your act. On top of that, many venues choose to work with proven bands who have played their stage before. So how do you get your foot in the door?
Instead of trying to book a headliner spot for yourself, ask for an opening act slot as a way of gaining entrance.
Start by finding out which acts have been booked for upcoming shows from the venue booking contact. Take a look at each performer and try to identify a few that may be compatible with you. From there, you can ask the booker to be considered as an opener.
In order to have a shot, you’ll need to send your promotional material. Often, they will have to check with the act’s management or agency and the more information they have to present on you, the better. You can certainly ask for the act’s management contact in case you need to establish contact (I’ve outlined the process for connecting with a manager or agent below). However, I would let the venue booker make the initial contact.
Some venues arrange openers for certain acts and sometimes they receive strict instructions from the act’s agent regarding the act’s policy on openers. If you begin to let the venues know about your intentions, they may keep you in mind when appropriate situations arise.
2. Contact the Act or Act’s Management
In some instances, if you’re on your networking game, you may know a compatible band personally. This would be the most direct route to getting on a tour or single date as an opening act.
If you do NOT have a direct, personal connection with the band or musician, the next step would be to contact the act’s management. Emerging acts often have a “hot list” of new artists on the scene from which they select potential support or opening acts. It’s up to you to get on that hot list!
Check on act’s tour schedule for an upcoming or recently played date. If they are playing locally, check with the venue to find their management. You might also look into Pollstar’s management directory or Billboard’s International Talent and Touring Directory. Both list management, agency, and record company but there is a charge for both.
Once you reach management, tell them you are interested in being considered as an opening act. Tell them WHY you think you would be a good addition to the show. Offer to send your current press materials and latest recording and some support materials detailing your activities. And make sure you represent yourself well by providing information about your local audience draw.
Be realistic with this process. You may be one of many acts attempting to be considered.
It may take some time for your efforts to pay off as you develop a relationship with the act’s management. But be persistent! Keep in touch with your contact. Provide them with updates as your career and tours take shape. The payoff may not be immediate, but it may be well worth a wait if you have selected the right act. I spent months nurturing a manager, and then one call just happened to be at the exact right time. I landed my act 16 dates on a west coast tour with a major country star.
3. Contact the Booking Agency to get in as an opening act
If the band you’re looking to open for does not have management, they may very well have a booking agent. They would be the next contact.
Approach the agent in a similar manner as you would management. As you build a relationship with the agency, this may also serve as your first contact if you have been looking for an agent for your act. As you consider logical, compatible acts for which you may open, it is likely that those agency’s rosters would also be logical choices to represent your act.
Search for Appropriate Main Acts
The opening act is so often frowned upon as being a bad slot. However, the opening act can be a very strategic position – IF you plan appropriately. I don’t believe opening for just anyone serves you well. It is important that you consider which act your act is compatible with in order to play to an appropriate audience. You should choose main act whose audience you would like to make your own eventually.
Select an act that is at least one or two steps ahead of you in the market.
If you aim too high you are unlikely to achieve an opening slot. Even if you did get to open for a much larger act, your ability to really use the occasion to your fullest advantage might be hampered by the fact that you are probably not ready to do so. Instead, focus on acts that have a large enough draw and some room in the budget so you can get paid something.
Select an act within your own genre of music.
If you are attempting to gain a country fan-base, select up-and-coming country acts. If you play rock, hip-hop, blues, etc., select the appropriate genre. Remember, you want to be playing for your ideal audience.
Select acts of the opposite sex in some instances.
From my experience, single female singer/songwriters would often select a male opening act. The same would work for male acts. It just adds variety to the show. This doesn’t always have to hold true, especially in situations where many acts who know each other decide to join to create a special multi-act tour. But it’s something to keep in mind.
Select acts that you may have some personal familiarity with or even a friendship.
Start with people you know. If they know and like your music, there is a greater likelihood of them being open to you sharing the bill.
How to Make the Most of Your Opening Act Slot
Landing a support act tour can boost your career a notch or two. So make the most of it! Here are a few tips that will help you come out of an opening act slot strong.
Negotiate your merch fee.
The money for openers and support acts may not be great. In circumstances where the fee is low, negotiate 100% or as high a percentage as possible on all your merchandise. Many openers make up for a low fee with their merchandise sales when they have a large and receptive audience.
Don’t overstay your time on stage as an opening act.
Be clear about your arrangements with the main act. Set your start and end times and be PROMPT. If you get called back for an encore, check with the main act before heading back on stage. Leave the audience wanting more rather than wanting you to get off the stage.
Try to arrange for a welcoming introduction.
If you have any connection to the main act at all, it helps if you can be linked to the main act in some way. For example, “Please welcome the XYZ band, one of ABC’s favorite new talents.” If the audience is made aware of the respect the main act has for the opener, they’re usually be more enthusiastic about you.
Make friends with the main act’s sound engineer.
Unless you travel with your own sound engineer, the house sound engineer usually is the one designated to mix the opening act. If you can get to know the main act’s sound engineer, perhaps they will mix your sound as well. Sometimes you may have to pay them something, but it’s often worth the money.
Be on top of your marketing outreach.
Make sure you are added to the date in time to be included in media promotions and added to any flyers or posters. This will help build your reputation in the areas where the dates are played.
Make sure you notify the media of any support tours by getting your tour itinerary listed in the appropriate trade magazines and online sources. Issue press releases and get your music to as many radio stations along the tour route as possible and social media internet streaming services. This may be the right time to explore hiring a radio promotions company to get airplay.
Conclusion: 3 Ways to Get Booked as an Opening Act
Getting opening act or a support act spot tour should be one of the many strategies used to expand your audience. Begin this process by making a list of acts you might consider appropriate main acts. As time goes on and your act develops, the list will need updating. There is no time like the present to begin this strategic audience development process.
By Jeri Goldstein. Copyright © 2019 Performingbiz, LLC.
Jeri Goldstein was an agent and manager and now an author and music business and performing arts career coach, key-note speaker and seminar presenter. She provides valuable resources, instruction and coaching to those navigating their way to creating a successful touring career. Having worked with some of the top touring acoustic artists on the circuit for 20 years, she booked national and international tours for artists performing in music, theater, and dance.