On Being the Opening Act

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by Jan Seides
Saturday 24th October, 2015, 6:25pm

Because I’m going to be the opening act in April for someone I have long admired, I decided to do a thorough investigation of what it means to be the opening act. I have opened for friends, in the past, and occasionally for people whose name and music I didn’t know, but it was small venues, or other lesser-known  acts, and so there was not much pressure. But this time it will be a veteran, whose name is very well known, and I want to get it right. (I’ll give you more details at the end of this.)

So first, a definition. This is straight from Wikipedia:

“The opening act’s performance serves to “warm up” the audience, making it appropriately excited and enthusiastic for the headliner. An opening act, warm-up act, or supporting act is an entertainment act (musical, comedic, or otherwise), that performs at a concert before the featured act, or “headliner”. Rarely, an opening act may perform again at the end of the event, or perform with the featured act after both have had a set to themselves.”

OK. Well, there’s no one in the audience whose enthusiasm for the headliner could be greater than my own, so that will be easy. I will probably mention a few times how grateful I am for the opportunity, for a wide variety of reasons. Not the least of these is that I get to play for his audience, and potentially, add them to my audience. Not only fans, but press, and booking contacts could be amongst the people for whom I will have the opportunity to play.

However, I’m aware there are some risks here, and I know there are some rules for avoiding them. I checked online (Because that’s what one does these days), and here’s what I found.

  1. Co-Promote

There may not be a formal arrangement for you to roll up your sleeves and help promote the show, but get on board and do what you can. Announce the show on your website, social networking sites and via your mailing list. Be sure to include info about the headliners in the promotion you do to your existing fans.

Contacting the local press and radio may also be helpful, but consider checking with the show promoter before you do that. They may have plans for reaching out to the local media, and you don’t want to step on their toes and confuse the message. Generally speaking, the larger the show, the larger promotion machine behind it, so do check before making the media calls.

  1. Watch The Clock

When the headlining musicians, their management, agent or the show promoter asks you to be somewhere at a certain time, be there. Yes, even if you know if absolutely everyone else involved in the show is going to be late and you’re going to be spending a lot of time standing around waiting. If something happens that is going to delay you – getting lost on the way to venue, flat tire, forgotten instrument, etc, etc, etc. – call someone and let them know. Even if they treat you like you’re giving them T.M.I., better to err on the side of being thorough and showing that you respect your scheduled set, than to bank on the fact that everyone will be cool with you rolling in when you can.

  1. Accept The Sound-check

In most cases, sound-check starts with the headliners and finishes with the first opening act. The reason for that is partially a practical one – the first opener will take the stage first, of course, so when they sound-check last, the stage is set up with their gear so the show is ready to start.

However, the reason is also partially hierarchy. Allowing the headliners to get the first crack at sound-check means they can kind of take their time and sound-check until they feel good about their set. Sometimes, this means the headliners end up taking up ALL the sound-check time – or most of it – and that of course means the opening act gets little or no time to check their own sound and get comfortable with the stage/acoustics.

For an opener, that can cause some serious stress, but your best bet is to grin and bear it rather than kicking up a fuss. Sure, it would be great if the headliners made sure everyone got a pop at a sound-check, but it IS their show and their prerogative to take the time.

  1. Discuss Merch

Before you assume that you’ll be setting up a merch table the night of the show, discuss it with whoever booked you for the gig. Sometimes, headliners (or their reps) frown on support bands selling their merch because any money thrown your way is money not spent on the headliners’ merch. That may rub the wrong way – especially if the headliners are making big bucks for the show while you’re getting a pittance – but you’re kind of bound to the rules set by the people who invited you to play the show. Have a discussion about this before the night of the show.

  1. Respect The Set Length

Even if it feels like the audience is eating it up and you’re having a great time on stage, wrap up your set when you’re supposed to. When you run over, you take time away from the headliners. It’s important that they get their full set – or if they don’t, that it is not your fault. Remember, the headliners are who the audience is REALLY there to see, so just be glad you made some new fans and promise them a longer set in the future.

  1. Stay for The Show

Unless there is a valid reason why you have to play and dash – you’ve got a plane to catch, a 14 hour drive home, an illness or something along those lines – don’t skip out before the headliners play their set. Yes, even if they are not your favorite band, stick around and watch them play.

  1. Say Thank You

Say a quick “thank you” to everyone who helped you land this opportunity and everyone who helped the show run smoothly. From the headliners and their reps to the venue manager and sound engineer, a quick “thank you” goes a long way.

 

So here’s the scoop: In April. I will open for Michael Martin Murphey at a concert at the LBJ Ranch. The concert is a fundraiser for the LBJ Museum of San Marcos Permanent Endowment Fund and includes a barbecue. I was honored to be asked to do this, in no small part because, back when you used to need a written copy of your song in order to register a copyright with the Library of Congress, I used to transcribe Mr. Murphey’s songs. I did the transcriptions for his first album, and several times had to start songs over because I forgot what I was supposed to be doing and just sat there listening and enjoying. So I’m excited to be part of one of his shows, and I may even get to sing harmony on a few of those songs. Keeping my fingers crossed about that. Details will show up on my website and social media outlets in the near future.

And for your entertainment, here is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s take on all this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Category: Gigs, Music, Music Biz, Uncategorized, Venues

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