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This article originally appeared on the Disc Makers blog.
One way to expand your audience is to serve as a support or opening act for a better-known artist on multiple tour dates or one local show. These are choice slots, and many acts are vying for them, but sometimes you can get lucky and be in the right place at the right time. If you’re more interested in strategy than chance, here are three suggestions to help you land some of these choice performance slots.
1. Choose logical, compatible acts and contact them
In some instances, you may know a compatible band personally. This is the most direct route to getting on a tour or single opening act date.
If you're not familiar with someone in the act, the next best approach is to contact the artist's management. Emerging acts who still building their own following, but who are more established than you, often have a hot list of new acts on the scene from which they select potential support or opening acts. To get on that hot list, first you need to contact the act's management. Check their tour schedule for an upcoming or recently played date. If they're playing locally, check with the venue, if not, check Pollstar to see if it lists their itinerary. Pollstar also has a management and agency directory on its site.
Once you reach management, tell them you're interested in being considered for an opener or support act. Let them know you're very familiar with the act and why you think you would be a good addition to the show. Offer to send your current press kit, latest recording, and some support materials detailing your latest activities. Make sure your materials represent you well.
This process may take some time as you develop a relationship with the act's management. 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 worth the wait if you have selected the right act.
2. Contact the booking agency
Some acts may not have management, but they may have a booking agent, who would be the next logical 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 entrée if you have been looking for an agent for your act. As you consider logical, compatible acts to open for, it’s likely those agency's rosters would also be logical choices to represent your act.
3. Contact venues
As you determine where you would like to play, specific venues in certain markets become important. As you identify these venues, you may find it impossible to get a date if you haven't previously played the venue. Asking for an opening act slot may again be a way of gaining entrance. Research the venue schedule before calling so you can cite specific dates with acts already booked. If you can identify a few of the acts mentioned as ones that might be compatible with your act, suggest that to the booker and ask to be considered as the opening act. Send your promotional material.
Often, a venue will have to check with the act’s management or agency. You can ask for the act's management contact in case you need to establish contact and begin your process with the management or agent as suggested above. If possible, let the venue booker make the initial contact. Some venues have the ability to 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.
Here are some tips to consider as you search for appropriate main acts.
- Select an act that's at least one or two steps ahead of you. If you aim too high, you're 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 may be hampered by the fact that you're probably not ready to do so.
- Select an act within your own genre of music. Don't go for a country music gig if you're a hip-hop act.
- Consider acts of the opposite sex. For example, a single female singer/songwriter often would select a male act rather than another female singer/songwriter. The same would work for male acts. This doesn't always hold true, especially in situations where acts who know each other decide to join together to create a special multi-act tour. The other exception may be in cases where a solo male or female act opens for a group of the same sex.
- Select acts that you may have personal familiarity or a friendship with. Start with people you know. If they know and like your music, there is a greater likelihood of their being open to you sharing the bill.
- Make sure you are added to the date in time to be included in media promotions and on flyers or posters. This will help build your reputation in the areas where the dates are played.
- Negotiate your pay. The money for openers and support acts may not be great depending on the main act’s budget, the venue's budget, and your relationship with the main act. In circumstances where the fee is low, try to negotiate 100 percent or as high a percentage as possible on all of your merchandise sales. Many openers make up for a low fee with their merchandise sales when they have a large and receptive audience.
- Don't overstay your welcome. 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, it can help to leverage that. For example, "Please welcome the XYZ band, one of ABC's favorite bands." If the audience is made aware of the respect the main act has for the opener, the audience is usually more enthusiastic.
- Make friends with the sound engineer. Unless you travel with your own sound engineer, the house sound engineer is usually 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. It's often worth the money.
- Notify the media. Landing a spot as a support act can boost your career. Make the most of it. 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 CDs to as many radio stations along the tour route as possible. This may be the right time to explore hiring a radio promotions company to get airplay.
Getting a spot as an opening act 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. 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.
Got that opening slot? Awesome! Now, here's how to become the opening act that everyone loves.
Jeri Goldstein is the author of How to Be Your Own Booking Agent: The Musician's & Performing Artist's Guide to Successful Touring. On performingbiz.com, you'll find helpful books, career development seminars, the Booking & Touring Success Strategies & Secretsonline course, career coaching, and information on booking tours, the music business, and performing arts.