How to Get the Opening Slot for a Major Tour/Band

There are a few ways to make sure you get to open for a major artist in town:

  1. Develop a consistent reputation with promoters in your area that you can pack out whatever venues you play. Part of getting this great buzz about your music is getting into local press or radio stations (usually with the help of a publicist), being proactive about promoting your shows, and demonstrating that you’d make a good fit for the show.
  2. Buy your way in. Either you’ll be asked to sell a minimum number of tickets (and pay the difference if you are short) or pay the performer up front.
  3. Enter a random contest that you have no control over (sometimes local promoters or radio stations have a contest for local artists to enter), but the results usually have to do deal with option #1 (how much of a buzz do you have).

The first option takes time, energy, and hard work. In the process, you’ll gain the respect of the local music industry. You’ll build true fans that will come to other shows, buy your merchandise, and support your career. It’s the equivalent of a business building solid, regular customers. If the act you’re opening for likes you, you’ll be invited to do future shows with them and they’ll probably encraouge their fans to support you.

The second option requires money. You won’t gain respect in the industry (most managers, booking agents, and labels smell a “buy on” act a mile away). You might make new fans if people show up to the concert early (many people skip the opening acts), are paying attention, and you blow them away. These fans might or might not buy your merchandise and the probably won’t come to your future shows unless you really developed a rapport with them. The band you’re opening up for probably won’t watch you and doesn’t really care about you.

It’s odd: people are so reluctant when they encounter “pay to play” models from promoters yet they’re so desperate that they’ll throw thousands of dollars down in order to open for a touring band they admire. The pay off usually isn’t there. I’d only recommend it if you weren’t losing money on the deal (you’ll have no problems selling all of the tickets). Same thing goes for people who “buy” friends on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Myspace (there are companies that sell a “like” service); one look at any of act’s pages and you can tell that there is no true engagement. Your time, money, and energy would be better spent elsewhere.

I forgot to mention a fourth option: be the promoter yourself. Rent a venue, book the band, put yourself on the bill. I’ve done it myself a few times, I know other promoters and bands who do this. If you know how to run a show, it’s a lot different than when you’re at someone’s mercy for the terms.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts with us. You’ve made some really helpful statements and I appreciate the time you’ve taken to write this.

  2. Denis Taaffe says:

    you can also contact the main artists manager and ask about being an opening act on part of main artist tour or even as a backup for one or more shows if opening act doesnt show or cant make cretain dates

  1. […] Open for headliners: Another question that SXSW wants answered is who you’ve played with. They want to know that you are actively playing with acts on the rise (or who are strong headliners themselves). Get on the radar of your local promoters to get more slots opening for heavy hitters. But don’t pay to get on the show, that’s never worth it. Here are some tips on how to get the opening slot for a major band. […]

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