How to Open For Nationally Touring Artists
"Nailing big opportunities is one of the major things that kickstarts the career of an independent artist. Sometimes it’s having a video go viral. Other times it’s falling under the good graces of someone who knows someone. But sometimes it’s getting to open for a national touring act and getting your name out to a larger audience of new listeners.
Unfortunately, most artists feel like this is an impossible task. How do you open for a national touring act when you don’t have a manager, a booking agent, or know someone who knows someone? Well, here are 7 excellent tips for making it happen.
1. Just Ask
First rule of thumb: Ask and ye shall receive. You have not because you ask not. Musicians make it soooo much harder than it needs to be. If you think you will be the perfect opener for a band that is coming through town, hit up the venue, find the talent buyer’s email address, and shoot her a grammatically correct, to-the-point email. Make your case. If you need pointers on how to pitch yourself, read one of our most trafficked posts: Booking: Writing the Perfect Email Pitch. Honestly, when it comes to booking, you’ll never know if you don’t try.
2. Focus on Your City (cities)
Don’t try to open for some major artist who’s touring through Seattle, WA if you live in Washington D.C. Wait for them to come to D.C. Venues want artist openers that have something to offer – i.e. they give you stage time in front of a huge audience, you draw out some heads to the show and warm up the crowd for the main act. If you’ve been working the ground in your own city, then you have clout and a real shot at being the opener. Talent buyers want openers that can draw fans because their name is attached to the promotion. If you have 3 cities where you have a huge draw, then feel free to reach out as an opener to venues in those cities. That makes sense.
3. Make Sure Your Brand is Strong
If we could sum up the purpose of Grassrootsy in one sentence it would be just that: helping artist to make sure their brand is strong. Don’t try to get an opener spot if your website is jacked up or, even worse, doesn’t exist. You can’t be taken seriously if you don’t have the necessary tools. Just like a musician needs her guitar, a booking agent (also you in this case), needs publicity material. Don’t expect a venue to want to book you as an opener if they can’t visit your website to learn about about who you are, where you are based, which venues you currently play, and get an idea of your draw.
4. Be Realistic
Your pitch needs to be a realistic one. If you are few years into your career and playing local coffeehouses and clubs, then you probably wont be opening for John Mayer or Ingrid Michaelson. After all, they travel with their own tour support. They’re just too big. To be blunt: they don’t need you. Find gigs that make sense. Look for artist that are ”next level”. They might not be famous, but they’re bigger than you, and it makes for a good match from the perspective of the venue. The chances of you opening for this type of artist are much higher. Also, don’t be afraid to open for artists whose names you don’ t recognize. Just because they’ re not a household name doesn’t mean it wont be a good opportunity. In fact, it probably means you’re out of the loop. After all, if they’re headlining a 500-person room, then they obviously have fans.
5. Be Strategic
Think of all the next level venues in your area. If you’re used to playing 100-seaters, the 300 and 500-seaters are where you need to be looking for opening gigs. You live in Philly and play Tin Angel and Milkboy often, and have a strong presence in the city? Start reaching out to Ardmore Music Hall, World Cafe Live, and Sellersville Theater for good opener spots. They are your key to bigger and better shows that offer more exposure by way of social media promo and day-of audience.
6. Pay Attention
Know who is coming into town. The best way to do this is to bookmark all the venues you want to get into. Visit their calendars monthly to see which artist and bands have been added to their calendars. Even if you don’t recognize some people on the calendar (as we mentioned above), visit their website, listen to their music, watch a few of their videos, and determine if you’re a good match for the show. If you find an artist you would like to open for, check to see if they have an opener listed already. If they don’t, then reach out to the venue. DO NOT reach out if they already have an opener listed for the artist you were eyeing. You’re wasting your time, wasting their time, and proving that you didn’t do your research. Talent buyers’ inboxes are flooded. Don’t give them a reason to ignore you.
7. Be Patient
Pitch yourself several months out. Give the talent buyer time to get back to you. Remember that most national touring acts require approval from management before they will allow you to come on as support. This means the venue’s talent buyer has to contact the bands management to ask if they’re ok with you opening for them. It can take time. Also sometimes it can pay off to pitch yourself as an opener for a band whose show is only a few weeks away. If there is still no opener this late in the game, your chances of getting the spot could be high. But earlier is better.
Eventually the bigger the opportunities are, the easier things will fall into place. You can build momentum off of one show and use it to help you get other shows. Ultimately the goal is tour support – hitting the road with a larger band and being their opener in every city they’re in. This usually comes much later, and especially with a booking agent and management in place. But when that happens, you will already have a resume full of artists you have opened for…and that will be a huge selling point!"
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