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June 2012
Gaining a bigger audience often starts with going where the audiences already are. This month's article by Jeri Goldstein will show you how to become opening and support acts for bands with established audiences.

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Getting Openers & Support Act Slots

By Jeri Goldstein of Performingbiz.com

After promoting or producing around 1,000 concerts, managing bands, booking tours and scouting talent, you pick up a few tricks of the trade. That's how I started doing artist development work. The gang at Festival Network Online asked if I would share a few of my artist development techniques in this newsletter.

One method to expand your audience is to serve as a support act for a known main act on multiple tour dates or to open a show for a larger act. These are choice slots and many acts are vying for them. Sometimes you can get lucky and be in the right place at the right time. If you are more interested in process rather than chance, here are a few suggestions on how to go about landing some of these choice performance slots.

Whether you are attempting to open a single date or be considered as the supporting act for a full tour, there are three methods to follow that may help you land those slots.

  • Contact the acts you have selected as logical, compatible choices. In some instances, you may know a compatible band personally and are friends with some of the members. This would be the most direct route to getting on a tour or single date.

    If you were unfamiliar with anyone in the act, the next step would be to contact the act's management. Emerging acts, still building their own following, but much more established than you, often have a hot list of new acts on the scene from which they select potential support or opening acts. Get on that hot list. First you need to contact the act's management. Check on their tour schedule for an upcoming or recently played date. If they are playing locally, check with the venue, if not look on Musi-cal.com or check Pollstar to see if they are listing their itinerary. Pollstar, www.pollstar.com has a management directory and Billboard's International Talent & Touring Directory, lists management, agency and record company - but there is a charge for the directories.

    Once you reach management, tell them you are interested in being considered for an opener or support act. Let them know you are very familiar with the act and why you think you would be a good addition to the show. Offer to send your current press materials and latest recording and some support materials detailing your activities. Be realistic, you may be one of many acts attempting to be considered, make sure you represent yourself well.

    This process may take some time as you develop a relationship with the act's management. Be persistent. Keep in touch with your contact. Provide them with updates as your career and tours take shape. The payoff may not be immediate, but it may be well worth a wait if you have selected the right act.

  • Contact the Booking Agency. Acts may not have management but may have a booking agent. They would be the next contact. Approach the agent in a similar manner as you would management. As you build a relationship with the agency, this may also serve as your entree if you have been looking for an agent for your act. As you consider logical, compatible acts for which you may open, it is likely that those agency's rosters would also be logical choices to represent your act.

  • Contact the Venue Booking Person.

    As you determine where you would like to play, specific venues in certain markets become important. As you identify these venues, you may find it impossible to get a date if you haven't previously played the venue. Asking for an opening act slot may again be a way of gaining entrance. Find out which acts have been booked for upcoming shows from the venue booking contact. If you can identify a few of the acts mentioned as ones that might be compatible with your act, suggest that to the booker and ask to be considered as the opening act. Send your promotional material. Often, they will have to check with the acts management or agency. You can ask for the act's management contact in case you need to establish contact and begin your process with the management or agent as suggested above. I would first let the venue booker make the initial contact. Some venues have the ability to arrange openers for certain acts and sometimes they receive strict instructions from the act's agent regarding the act's policy on openers. If you begin to let the venues know about your intentions, they may keep you in mind when appropriate situations arise.

The opening act is so often frowned upon as being a bad slot. However, the opening act can be a very strategic position if you plan appropriately. I don't believe opening for just anyone serves you well. It is important that you consider which act your act is compatible with in order to play to an appropriate audience. You want to expand your audience, so your choice of main act ought to be one whose audience you would like to eventually make your own. Here are some further tips to consider as you search for appropriate main acts.

  • Select an act that is at least one or two steps ahead of you with the market. If you aim too high, for an act that is playing arenas when you are playing 200 seat clubs, you are unlikely to achieve an opening slot. Even if you did get to open for a much larger act, your ability to really use the occasion to your fullest advantage may be hampered by the fact that you are probably not ready to do so. You want an act that has a large enough draw to have some room in the budget so you can get paid something.

  • Select an act within your own genre of music. If you are attempting to gain a country fan base select up and coming country acts. If you play rock, hip-hop, blues, etc., select the appropriate genre.

  • Select acts of the opposite sex in some instances. For example, single female singer/songwriter, most often, would select a male act rather than another female singer/songwriter. The same would work for male acts. This doesn't always have to hold true, especially in situations where many acts who know each other decide to join together to create a special multi-act tour. The other exception may be in cases where a solo male or female act opens for a group or the same sex.

  • Select acts that you may have some personal familiarity with or even have a friendship. Start with people you know. If they know and like your music, there is a greater likelihood of them being open to you sharing the bill.

  • Make sure you are added to the date in time to be included in media promotions and added to any flyers or posters. This will help build your reputation in the areas where the dates are played.

  • The money for openers and support acts may not be great depending on the main act's budget, the venue budget and your relationship with the main act. In circumstances where the fee is low, negotiate 100% or as high a percentage as possible on all of your merchandise. Many openers make up for a low fee with their merchandise sales when they have a large and receptive audience.

  • Don't over stay your time on stage. Be clear about your arrangements with the main act. Set your start and end times and be prompt. If you get called back for an encore, check with the main act before heading back on stage for an encore. Leave the audience wanting more rather than wanting you to get off the stage.

  • Try to arrange for a welcoming introduction. If you have any connection to the main act at all, it helps if you can be linked to the main act in some way. For example, "Please welcome the XYZ band, one of ABC's favorite new talents." If the audience is made aware of the respect the main act has for the opener, the audience is usually more enthusiastic about the opener.

  • Make friends with the main act's sound engineer. Unless you travel with your own sound engineer, the house sound engineer usually is the one designated to mix the opening act. If you can get to know the main act's sound engineer, perhaps they will mix your sound as well. Sometimes you may have to pay them something. It is often worth the money.

  • Landing a support act tour can boost your career a notch or two. Make the most of it. Make sure you notify the media of any support tours by getting your tour itinerary listed in the appropriate trade magazines and online sources. Issue press releases and get your CDs to as many radio stations along the tour route as possible. This may be the right time to explore hiring a radio promotions company to get airplay.

  • Getting opening act slots or a support tour should be one of the many strategies used to expand your audience. Begin this process by making a list of acts you might consider appropriate main acts. As time goes on and your act develops, the list will need updating. There is no time like the present to begin this strategic audience development process.

And, I invite you to learn more about this and other topics important to your career development and to sign up for free weekly audio Biz Booster Hot Tip! Every Monday you'll get another valuable strategy and technique that you can put to use immediately. You'll find helpful books, career development seminars, Booking & Touring Success Strategies & Secrets online course and information on booking tours, the music business and performing arts. It's all waiting for you at http://www.performingbiz.com

Jeri Goldstein is the author of, How To Be Your Own Booking Agent The Musician's & Performing Artist's Guide To Successful Touring 3rd Edition.


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