OPENING ACTS: Does Playing Before A Rock Star Make You One?
by Sheena Metal
It's the dream of many a musician to open up for either their favorite
band or the favorite band of their childhood. For many, the ultimate in
true rock star status is to share a stage with the musicians who made
you want to play music in the first place. To see your name in lights (or
printed on a flyer, as the case may be) with the guys (or gals) whose
music you listen to almost as much as (if not more than) your own.
But is it really a good idea, as an unsigned artist, to open up for an
act already known to the general public? Will you get anywhere near the
recognition opening up for Pearl Jam in a large venue that you would at
a local club playing with other unsigned bands? Will you fans dig your
music as hard as ever or will they forget all about you in a mad frenzy
to have Eddie Vedder sign their backs?
It's a double-edged sword that many artists forget to think over
carefully before rushing starry-eyed into the excitement of being the
opening act for: (Insert Name Of Famous Rock Star Here). In many cases,
venues and promoters still expect your crowd to turn out and drink it up
at shows, even though the headliner will draw a big crowd of their own.
Many of these shows are an hour plus away from your local area and
tickets can be upwards of $100. Is that something you can expect your
friends will be up for?
And then there's the issue of press. Do you dare ask a reviewer to come
out and cover your show and expect that a large portion of your article
won't be about how "Pearl Jam rocks!" You score local radio play only to
have the DJ announce the show and play, "Alive." Sometimes opening up
for a signed act can make an unsigned artist feel even more invisible
than usual. Here are some points to consider to help you weigh the pros
and cons of grabbing a spot as the opening act for a famous band:
There's one more thing to consider here: fulfilling a dream. If it's
your dream to open up for an act you love, then throw caution to the
wind and do it just for the dream. If you lose money, hate the club, get
booed by over-zealous fans.who cares? For that one set, you shared the
stage with the band that put the dream in your heart to get up on a
stage in the first place. Plus, it's great bragging rights for your
band. You can throw it up on your website and talk about it to your
grandchildren. If you don't mind the extra effort, commitment and
sometimes hassle, then go for it! Who knows? Maybe they'll pick you up
as the opener on their tour? Maybe their label will see you and sign
you? Maybe Rolling Stone will come out to review them and mention your
name? If you're doing it to fulfill the dream, then everything else is a
bonus. Just remember to get all of the details, and stay smart when
undertaking a huge gig. Now, get up on that stage and wow that big
crowd, you rock stars!
- Would you take the show if you weren't playing with pearl jam? Many
artists think that playing with a famous act is so important that they
don't even bother to check out anything else about the gig. Many assume
that rock stars always command rock star stages, but this is often not
the case. Many acts, especially classic rock/retro acts on revival
tours, are looking to get out and play anywhere that will put them up
the right kind of front money. Often times this means that the venues
are in more remote areas either looking to get on the musical map or
using a well-known act to entice people to drive in from far away.
Sometimes, the clubs are older rooms looking to get their groove back or
new places that haven't yet acquired a regular crowd. Before booking
anything, drive out and check out the venue on a few different nights
and make sure that you like the room, the stage, the regulars, the area,
etc. and ask yourselves if this is a venue that would play if it wasn't
for the draw of the signed headliner. Since many of these shows can cost
unsigned acts anywhere from $200-$2000 in ticket guarantees, you want to
make sure that your getting your money's worth musically.
- Would Pearl Jam's fans listen to you if they caught you in your local
bar? For a lot of upcoming acts, the lure of playing in front of a crowd
of adoring fans is a huge plus. But, you need to make sure to remember
that just because people are coming to a club doesn't mean they plan to
listen to you. Sadly, often the followers of signed acts could care less
about unknown openers and will arrive right before the headliners set.
Sometimes, they sit in at the bar in another room praising their
favorite band while the openers play to their friends and the wall.
Worst case, many of them will rush the stage yelling, "Pearl Jam! We
want Pearl Jam" while you do your best to win them over musically. This
is why it's important to only open for signed acts that fit in the style
of your music. If you loved Pearl Jam in high school but your band
sounds like John Mayer, you might want to think twice before deciding
that their fans are automatically going to dig your tunes.
- Find out all of the details before committing to a signed act show.
It's fairly easy to book a local show: two to five unsigned acts, 20-45
minute sets, all ages to 21 and up, $0 to $10 cover, sound check or line
check, maybe free parking, possibly some free drinks, sometimes backline
gear, occasionally free food, and pray for a decent sound man. It's all
pretty much cut and dried and if your band has been around awhile, you
can confirm gigs in your sleep. Signed headlining acts are a whole
different animal and promising your crowd to a venue two hours away,
with a $40 cover charge where your band is playing a 15 minute set with
your gear scrunched up on the front of the stage so that the headliner's
gear can remain set up might not be as easy as you think. Your fans are
used to seeing you rock the house, down the street from their homes,
where you play long, get an encore and the house buys everyone a shot!
Unless they're dying to see Pearl Jam, they might not be up for all of
extra energy it takes to see you open up for a famous act.
- You may not be signed but you can act like you are. If you decide to
take a gig opening up for a signed band and you want to impress them,
their crew, their reps, and the club's management, then make sure you're
act as professional as your headliner. Get there early, have your gear
organized, make sure everything is working perfectly, load in at the
speed of light, have your set list ready, be courteous to the sound guy
(gal), keep your set on time, and load off at the speed of light. Most
importantly, have your merchandise in order and professionally displayed
at the club/arena: CDs, DVDs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, hats, condoms,
thongs.you name it. You know you're unsigned but the headliners' fans
don't, so why advertise it? Put on a fantastic show and maybe you'll
sell some CDs, etc. and make some extra cash.
* * * * *
Sheena Metal is a radio host, producer, promoter, music supervisor,
consultant, columnist, journalist and musician. Her syndicated radio
program, Music Highway Radio, airs on over 700 affiliates to more than
126 million listeners. Her musicians' assistance program, Music Highway,
boasts over 10,000 members. She currently promotes numerous live shows
weekly in the Los Angeles Area. Check her out! http://www.sheena-metal.com.
Back to FNO