One of the great things about my current band is that we get to experience both the headliner and the opening act side of putting on a show. So we definitely know what it’s like to be an opening act and we also know what we like to have bands open for us.
I’ve compiled some of the lessons learned from our experiences and put them into this nifty Top 10 list for your consideration. Of course, there are many other things to consider when you’re the opening act as well. If you have some other suggestions or ideas please post them in the comments below for the benefit of all our readers.
1 . Be on time
Timing is everything as an opening act. Make sure your entire band is at the venue and ready to load in at the specified time. Most major shows run under a tight schedule, so if your band is not ready at the required time, then the production staff will likely not be happy with you. Also, as an opening act it can be challenging (if not impossible) to get a proper sound check. So, make sure that you don’t waste your precious sound check time because you’re waiting on one band member to show up. Try to make sure the entire band gets to the venue at about the same time if possible.
2. Dress to impress
If your playing a show as an opening act, then that probably means that you’re opening for a major act. Unless your type of musical genre dictates that you wear crappy clothes you should make sure that everyone in your band understands the need to dress appropriately for stage and I would also suggest they dress reasonably well for pre & post performance as well. This is your chance to impress. No one is going to find your “I’m with stupid” t-shirt all that funny (I’m looking at you Paul). Wear something nice…..no, no…not that Hawaiian print shirt…something else that’s nice.
3. Don’t overstay your welcome
Most often the set for the opening band will be somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes. We’ve typically been given around 45 minutes for most of our opening engagements. However, that assumes you start exactly on time. There are many times when a talkative Radio Personality or Emcee can cut into your time while introducing the band. You still need to be off stage at your designated time.
Also, watch for the stage manager or the headlining act’s tour manager, as they will sometimes cut your set short if they decide they need a little more time between acts (for any number of reasons). If they give you that “1 more song” sign, go strait to your last song, say thank you and good night and get off the stage as quickly as possible. Also, never expect an encore as an opening band….even if the crowd is calling for it. It is quite rare for an opener to ever return for an encore.
4. Be quick to get on and off stage
When you arrive for to the venue do not move any of your equipment out of your vehicle(s) until directed to do so by the Production Manager. Never place any of your gear on stage until you have been given the go ahead by the Production or Stage Manager. Once on stage, do not move any equipment that is not yours without getting permission from the Stage Manager. Be very careful of the other acts equipment. Set up your gear as quickly as you can. Do not waste time when you have the stage as any extra time you take setting up will generally come out of your allotted time for sound check. We’ve had times when the headliner was running late and we had to set up all of our gear on the side wing of the stage so we could get line level checks and make sure our in ear monitor system was working.
Once your performance is finished, get you and your gear off the stage as quick as you possibly can. This goes a long way with Production crews, Promoters and Headliners. So, getting a reputation for getting off stage quick can help you get future opening gigs. Our record for getting our band and all our equipment off is 4 minutes.
5. Stay out of the way & be accommodating
Once you’re off stage, be sure to get your band, your guests and all your equipment out of the way of the headliner and the production crew. If you think everything is out of the way and they ask you to move it somewhere else, just do it. This is not the time to argue. We’ve seen this happen with Green Rooms as well. As an opening act, you usually have very little clout or leverage compared to the headliner. So if they need your Green Room (assuming you even got one) after your performance is done, then you will be asked to vacate.
Whatever the promoter or the headliner needs from you try your best to accommodate them. Sometimes they may ask you to play a little longer….sometimes a little shorter….start earlier, start later….move your sound check earlier…move your sound check later….sound check after the doors open… no sound check at all. Whatever it is, this is the nature of being an opening band, so just roll with it and enjoy the experience.
6. Keep the show upbeat & energetic and play appropriate songs.
As an opening band, your entire job is to get the audience warmed up for the main act. This is not the time to be showing off your vocal chops by singing every ballad in your repertoire (unless that’s the type of genre for this gig). In general, you want to play more upbeat, energetic music that will wake the audience up and get them primed for the headlining act. It’s usually ok to play a few cover songs as well. So pick a couple that you know will go over well with your intended audience.
7. Be prepared
Take the Boy Scout’s motto to heart. Bring backups of any important cables or equipment. We have a special cable for our laptop that is critical to our performance. We always have at least 2 of these cables…sometimes 3 of them just in case. We also use an In Ear Monitor system that we bring with us and lives by our drummer
. This setup requires a splitter snake with a run long enough to reach the stage box. So, we always bring a long enough snake with fan tail since we can’t be assured that the sound company will have this item for us.
Being prepared also relates to basic needs such as food, water, bathrooms. Eat before you get to the venue, since the timeline of the production can change on a moments notice. If you have time before your portion of the show, eat a little something again, but don’t wander off too far from the stage. Stay hydrated and drink often (but it’s a good idea to refrain from alcohol before your set). Make sure you find a restroom before you go on stage. It really sucks to be half way through your set and realize you may not make it to the end of your set.
8. Be friendly and say thank you to everyone
Remember to be friendly….even if it’s not your nature. If you want to continue being invited back to open for other big name acts, you need people to like you…not just the fans of your music, but all the production staff, sound crew, light crew, headlining support staff, promoter (especially the promoter). Talk to people and say thank you and how much you appreciate the opportunity. Thank them for whatever they are doing to make the show possible. If you want better sound, go out front and talk to the sound guy before your show. Thank them for working with you. If you want any lights, talk to the light guys and be appreciative of what they do….otherwise you may get no lights at all. If you are able to interact with the headliner, thank them for allowing you to share their stage. Thank the promoter for booking you on the event.
You’d be surprised how rarely any of these people here the words “Thank You” or any appreciation from the opening acts. I recently heard a story from a Promoter who had booked a young singer to open for a national act. He said that the singer was friendly and nice to him, but the singer’s band didn’t know who he was and spent the whole time bitching and moaning and basically being self indulgent jerks. So, unless you know exactly who that person is standing next to you, assume that they’re someone you don’t want to piss off.
9. Don’t be an annoying fan to the headliner
Do not assume that just because you’re sharing the same stage as the headliner that they’re actually going to invite you back to hang out in their Green room or bus and that you’re going to party all night with them and then they’ll ask you to join their tour. This rarely happens….which is not to say it never happens, just rarely. The truth is that it’s far more likely that you’ll never even meet the headliner. You may be able to watch their show from backstage….you may be within close proximity to them…if you’re lucky you may get a photo op…if you’re really lucky you might get to hang with them for a short period of time. Don’t pressure the promoter or anyone else to introduce you to the headliner. Don’t pitch them your demo tape. Don’t act like a rabid fan. Be cool and act like a professional musician. Be appreciative and don’t forget to thank them if you do meet them.
We were recently told a story by a headliner’s tour manager about how their previous opening band had been pissed off that they didn’t get a proper sound check and had tweeted about it the next day. This really upset the headliner and he had decided to just get rid of all future opening bands (which would have included us for the following day). Luckily the promoter had intervened and convinced him that we were not like that. We were only told this story because we first had told the tour manager that we knew we probably wouldn’t have a chance to meet Mr. Headliner, but would he please make sure to tell him how appreciative we were that he was allowing us to open the show for him. After we finished our set, the tour manager made sure that we were able to get a photo op with Mr. Headliner, who in turned thanked us for putting on a great show and being so professional. That would not have happened if we had not been so nice to the tour manager.
10. Make yourself available to fans after the show
One of the big reasons you want to be an opening band is to get in front of people who are not yet fans of your music. This is a great opportunity for you to get your music out to a large audience. Be sure to bring merchandise with you (if you don’t have any, get some before you play the gig). Make sure you have CD’s, t-shirts, bandanas, whatever merch you think your audience might like.
Ask the promoter if you can sign your merch after your set, while the headliner is preparing to take the stage. If not, go out after the show and meet fans at your merch booth. If possible do it both at intermission and after the show. We’ve made a lot of new fans/friends this way. It’s not unusual for the headliner to not come out to sign autographs at all. More often than not we’re the only band out signing autographs after the show and the line has been huge. Most people are thrilled that you would take the time to stay after and meet them. We make it a policy to not leave until everyone who wants one has gotten an autograph, picture or whatever.
Well, there you have it. This is “Opening Band: 101″. Many of you probably have experience as an opening act as well. Do you have something else to add or maybe you disagree on a point I’ve made? Well, feel free to add to the conversation in the comments below. I look forward to hearing other stories from those of you who have lived through being an opening band.