Most of us dream of headlining sold-out shows and looking out at the sea of faces dancing and singing to music we wrote. Almost all artists now selling out Wembley began as the opening act for friends’ bands or supporting artists they admired. Rihanna opened for the Pussycat Dolls tour in 2006. Taylor Swift opened for Tim McGraw. Undoubtedly, these weren’t the first times they opened for contemporaries who were better-known than them.
Becoming a support act for a successful artist is great on so many levels. First, it allows a level of interaction with the headline act and the ability to learn how a large-scale gig/tour is logistically put together. Networking with other artists and their teams can be invaluable. Leading to more introductions and/or gigs in the future.
Also, if you’re selective, being the support act for a band that sits in a similar musical niche is likely to boost your reach. Introducing heaps more potential fans to your music by aligning it with music they already know and love.
Finally, boosting your portfolio by supporting a well-known headliner looks great to venue managers/promoters. It brings you even closer to your own headline performance! But how do you become an opening act?
An opening act “warms up” the audience for the main act. Which, depending on the headliner, can be quite big task.
Transitioning an audience from arrival to a mosh pit, all while the audience are ordering drinks or getting impatient to see the band they came for, is sometimes a sticky business.
Depending on budget and venue capacity, pay can vary. However, you can guarantee you’ll be earning significantly less than the main act.
Watch out for “pay to play” opportunities that require you to buy and sell on a bunch of tickets to effectively support your own gig. It can be hard to work as a promoter and oftentimes this leaves the opening act out of pocket. Try and avoid these situations which usually exploit emerging artists.
Opening acts usually have at least a 30 minute set at a concert. However, a crucial part of being the support act is being flexible.
If the main act is late or the audience are loving what you’re doing, or if the tech took longer than expected, then you’ll be expected to make up time!
It’s really useful to have more music prepared than you think you’ll need. As well as have discussed what you’ll do if you need to cut down or make up time. Definitely come prepared for surprises.
The first big break is always the most difficult to secure, but by following these tips you’ll be opening up for the next major artist in no time!
Let’s dive in to what it takes to be a support act.
A good relationship with an artist manager or booking agent could lead to them reaching out to you with a support act opportunity before anyone else. It will also undoubtedly make the whole gig logistics smoother.
A strong network also makes it far likely that the manager or agent will fairly remunerate you. Rather than offering a pay-to-play gig.
Attending open mic nights, local gigs, and jam sessions is a great way to connect with like-minded musicians. These individuals can become friends, collaborators on projects and provide one another with support for gigs.
Also, imagine if you were on the receiving end of emails offering music for your opening act and it transpired the support band had never seen you live. You’d rather work alongside people who have supported your music in the past and take a genuine interest in the niche you occupy.
Attending gigs and jams in these niches proves your interest, support and engagement with grassroots musicmaking to future musical collaborators.
If you’re struggling to get a foot in the door via the above routes, reaching out to venue owners to see what gigs they have upcoming and asking if opening acts are already lined up can be really helpful.
Some venue owners can be more cooperative than others. However, it’s likely they’ll put you in touch with the artists’ agent if an opening act is needed.
Once again, though, it’s always best to have done your research and ensure that you’re confident your music really gels with that of the opening act. Are you confident that the audience for X band would “warm-up” to your set, or do they have opposed genres? If they do, it’s best to wait.
Hopefully, now you’re ready to become an opening act!
It’s important to remember that maintaining quality and integrity for the music you make is far more important than being a “jack of all trades” to headliners. You might get a few gigs that way, but it’s unlikely you’ll end up becoming the main act yourself.
However, if you do play your cards right (and follow the tips we’ve mentioned), you may well end up headlining your own show in due course! You’ll end up with a portfolio of seriously good performance venues, a clear understanding of gig/tour logistics, and an extensive network of other artists and their managers. You got this!
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