Playing a show as the opening band is a fast way to get your music to a larger audience. Don't wait around for people to come knocking on your door, asking you to play their show. Follow these steps to get your name on the bill.
Choose Your Targets:
What's the dream concert for your band? Who would you really love to play with? Make a short list of the bands that you want a chance to play with, and then find out who their agent and manager are. Get in touch with both the agent and manager, send them a promo package and let them know you're interested in playing with the band. At the same time, keep an eye on that band's touring schedule. When you know shows are in the works, reach out to the musicians' team and say, "remember me?" Agents and managers don't always get involved with picking the openers, but they often do, and being on their radar is always a good thing.
Make Friends with the Venues and Promoters:
As mentioned, agents aren't your only hope for getting on a bill. Often, the support bands are chosen by the venues or the promoters of the shows. If you are already a part of your local live music circuit, then these people should already be on your radar (and you on theirs), but if not, get out there and make yourself known. Let the venues and promoters in your area know your band is always on the lookout for a good support slot and that you hope they will consider you when they need an opener.
Putting it All Together:
This one combines steps one and two and may be a drag, but when the perfect opening band opportunity comes along, you'll be glad you did it. Make a contact database of all of the agents, promoters and venues that you have identified as helpful to you in your quest to be the opening band. Not only will you always have the info you need on hand when you need it, but your database will also help you keep track of with whom you are (and should be) sharing news about your band.
Incidentally, don't be afraid to be the "opener for the opener." That first band on a three or four band bill doesn't usually have the biggest crowd, but on your local circuit, your willingness to pay your dues on these kinds of slots can help you get bumped up the bill in the future.
Timing is Everything:
When you know that the perfect supporting act opportunity for your band is coming up, don't wait around for your contacts to think of you. Hit up the right agents, promoters, and venues and ask for the gig. Finding the opening band is one thing crossed off the very long "to do" list for people working on a show, so the first band that asks often gets. Act fast, and be the first to throw your hat in the ring.
Don't be a Deal Diva:
Generally speaking, being the opening act doesn't pay particularly well, at least in terms of cold, hard cash. The pay comes in the form of a chance to play in front of a larger audience than you would get on your own, and the chance to play in front of other people who can help you in your career - press, labels, managers, promoters, agents, and so on. If you refuse a good opening gig because you don't think the money is right, you'll only hurt yourself.
Do the Job:
Opening slots tend to beget opening slots, provided you deliver the goods. Be professional and polite, show up on time, grin and bear it if you get shafted on the soundcheck, play a good show, and stick within your allotted time. Thank the headlining band/agent/manager/promoter/venue for the opportunity. Reliability goes a long way in the music industry, and if you get a reputation for it, the offers will start pouring in. Learn more about how to be a good opening act.
Many opening bands are lucky to get a mention on a concert poster, so you should take matters of promoting your opening gig in your own hands. Send out a press release letting the local media know about your upcoming show. Be sure to email your mailing list so your fans can come out and support you, and of course, update your website to include the show. You may not get a very long set as the opening band, but you should treat it as you would any other concert. Don't, however, try to pass yourself off as the headliner - make clear in all your promo material that you are the opening act.
Choose your Shows Wisely:
When you are making your shortlist of bands with whom you would love to play, remember that you're not just picking your favorite bands. Pick the bands whose audience you believe is a good audience for your kind of music.
Getting in touch with agents and trying your hand at getting on regional/national tours as the supporting band is a good thing to do. However, especially when you're first getting started, actually landing this kind of gig can be a little tricky. Put an emphasis of being one of the go-to opening bands of choice for your local area by working with local venues and promoters. Sometimes this may mean you're the "opener for the opener" on a three band bill, but it is a great way to build an audience while building relationships with bands, promoters, agents, and venues that will be handy in the future.
The Show Isn't About You:
Sad, but true - the opening band can get the shaft in many ways. Your soundcheck may be cut to to five minutes, you may not get to share in the rider, you may not be getting paid much, if at all, and after all that, the audience may all be at the bar or talking through your set. Frustrating? Definitely. But no band has ever played a show that hasn't made an impression on someone, and if you want that impression to be good, stay professional and positive. Some show experiences may be better than others, but each show can be a stepping stone to something bigger.
Ask Before you Do:
Some headlining bands (or at least their agents and managers) can get a little huffy about opening bands selling their merchandise at shows - after all, if someone buys your album, they may decide not to buy the headliner's t-shirt. Find out before the show if you will be allowed to sell merchandise, and where in the venue you can set up. I know, I know, it's a bit annoying, especially if you are out of pocket to play the show anyway. Just focus on how well you will treat the opening bands when you're the headliners.
Beware the Buy-On:
On very large tours, you may find that the opening slot is filled through a "buy-on" - meaning that the opening band pays a fee to get to be on the tour. This kind of thing usually happens between major labels/major label artists and on stadium or arena tours. If you are an indie band (or an indie label), don't sell the car to stump up the cash for a buy-on gig. Before you go buy-on, carefully weigh up the risk and reward. If you're not going to return from the tour with any cash to, uh, cash in on the increased interest in your band hopefully generated by the tour, then your buy-on fee isn't money well spent.