When you’re a band that’s spent years driving across the country all day only to perform for half-filled rooms, a logical thought goes through your head: “There’s gotta be a better way! If we could just open for a big band, we’d be playing to packed houses every time we come through town!”
While that may be the case, there’s a bridge you need to build between where you are now and that destination. Any tour that would make a big impact on building a fanbase is bound to have loads of other competitors vying for the same opportunity. But if you plan ahead, you can build the bridge that will help you stick out from the pack and become the one who is worthy of this spot.
My name’s Tyler Smyth, producer and mix engineer for bands like Falling in Reverse, Blessthefall, and my own band Dangerkids. I’ve toured the world for over 10 years and know exactly what it takes to succeed in today’s industry.
How to get a support slot & open for a bigger artist
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Covering the basics
A lot of you are probably wondering how a band even gets considered as an opening act on a tour (and with good reason!) - this information is often kept in the back rooms of the business, but it’s really logical once you understand it.
These are the basics: The band who is the headliner has their booking agent send out an email to other booking agents and ask for bands to submit for the tour. The booking agents will send back the relevant info on each act in their roster that may fit the bill. Then the headliner, along with the rest of their team will analyse who they think is right for the opportunity.
So now you’re probably thinking, “Yep I’m screwed! I don’t even have a booking agent. Thanks for the insight, Tyler!”
Not so fast! The first band on a lot of tours is often a band that gives the tour its “cool points,” showing fans that the headliner is still in touch with their audience. They also help bring enthusiasm to the bill and fill seats. The band that’s right for this slot usually has a good buzz going but hasn’t inked deals with managers, label, booking agents and will make the headliner feel relevant to all the people who think they aren’t as cool as they used to be.
You also have to remember, by the time an act is a national headliner, they’ve usually played every city a few times, so they need to put bands on before them that their crowd will enjoy and will give people a reason to come out and see them yet again.
Depending on where they are at in their career, a band will choose this act based on the enthusiastic underground fans they are going to bring out, showing that they are still cool, or an act that is moving the genre forward which will position the headliner as still being cool enough to be associated with this new emerging genre.
<p style="padding-right: 50px; padding-left: 50px; padding-top: 20px; padding-bottom: 20px; color: #5934E8; font-size: 1.5rem; font-weight: 500; background-color: #FFFFFF; border: 3px solid #5934E8; text-align: center;">"Depending on where they are at in their career, a band will choose an act based on the enthusiastic underground fans they are going to bring out."</p>
So now that you understand what headliners look for in opening acts, how do you become that type of band?
First off, we need to know where they are going to be looking. Many of these headliners and their teams will be looking at “cool underground music blogs”. Most genres of music have at least one that is always showing off the good new bands before anyone has heard of them.
While these websites usually have a small audience and won’t even have tens of thousands of followers, those who do follow them are important people.
You want to concentrate on pitching yourself to these sites, and if they write about you, you want them to keep them writing about you. This could mean releasing a string of singles (which may also put you on Spotify’s powerful Discover Weekly playlists regularly and help build your fanbase) and doing other newsworthy events so you seemingly have a buzz and seem like an act people should be paying attention to.
If you make good music and do something interesting every two weeks that’s worth people talking about, you will begin to build a fanbase. This technique will excite both writers and fans, which is important since during these decisions the headliner will often consult sites like Next Big Sound and make sure your metrics are continuously building so that they know enthusiastic fans will be coming out to see the tour.
Also remember, if they don’t get excited about the first thing you send, when your name keeps popping up on a regular basis because you are always doing something newsworthy they eventually will feel they need to give you a chance.
<p style="padding-right: 50px; padding-left: 50px; padding-top: 20px; padding-bottom: 20px; color: #5934E8; font-size: 1.5rem; font-weight: 500; background-color: #FFFFFF; border: 3px solid #5934E8; text-align: center;">"Make good music and do something interesting every two weeks that’s worth people talking about."</p>
Meeting the right people
While the technique of constantly staying in the news is rock solid, it’s missing a crucial step -- reaching out and getting on the radar of people in the business.
There are times that the team and headliner don’t have their ears to the streets and are only going to ask their friends in the business who is getting a good buzz. This is why you need to be going to shows in your local area and meeting all the movers and shakers who pass through on tour.
The ultimate backdoor to becoming the opener on a tour is having made friends with the band when you were a local opener and impressed the headliner, so be sure to always be social with everyone you play with. All of the meaningful tours or albums I’ve produced were locked in from pre-existing relationships just like this!
This is why touring is so crucial since you meet so many different people. The more you’re on the minds of the people consulted about which acts should be considered for a tour, the more likely you are to get that tour.
<p style="padding-right: 50px; padding-left: 50px; padding-top: 20px; padding-bottom: 20px; color: #5934E8; font-size: 1.5rem; font-weight: 500; background-color: #FFFFFF; border: 3px solid #5934E8; text-align: center;">"You need to be going to shows in your local area and meeting all the movers and shakers who pass through on tour."</p>
Deserving the opportunity
There’s one last secret ingredient to this bridge we are building: You need to be the type of person that people want to give opportunities to.
This means being nice, grateful and personable to everyone you meet, even the people on the sidelines. Remember, today’s soundperson is tomorrow’s A&R rep! If you give them a good story of why you are worthy of being promoted and these people in the business know you appreciate them, your name will get mentioned when they are consulted about deserved opening acts.
Always remember, no one is going to pick your name out of a hat and decide you are right for this opportunity — you have to earn it. You need to work each day to earn to respect of fans and industry leaders alike.
The first big break is always the most difficult to secure, but if you can become the type of artist that people want to see win, you’ll be on your way to being a better band.
Written by Tyler Smyth of Dangerkids and co-founder of Band Academy.