The job of being the opening act is an art. Even the biggest stars who seem to blow up overnight had to be openers at some point along the way. There are different rules for bands and DJs, but many of the same principles will remain the same. It is your job to get the crowd engaged and enjoying the night as they prepare for the headliner. At the bare minimum, you should make sure not to clear out the room, but also do your best to make some new fans that night. We will break things down for both a band and a DJ since there are some pretty stark differences, but in this piece, let’s focus on proper etiquette for a band.
1. Accept Soundcheck Limitations:
Soundcheck will be only for a limited time and the headliner goes first. That is part of the hierarchy of live music. If the headliner wants to take up the entire time to get the feel for the venue acoustics and soundsystem, then they have that right. You will just have to play cold.
2. Be Early:
This seems obvious, but your set time is a hard start. You are there to get the party started. If you are on at 8, then you have to be prepared to play by 8pm. The headliner can be a little late because they are the star, but you can’t afford to get that reputation before you are getting these gigs.
3. Set Time May Be Cut Short Or Adjusted:
Understand that there is a designated amount of time for the show set by the venue and promoter and if there is going to be any leeway given, it will be for the headliner. They are the star of the show. If things have to be adjusted last minute because of travel or some other complication, then you have to be prepared for that. If there are issues with fans getting in, the venue or the show needs to be pushed back and your set needs to be adjusted, be ready to play it by ear. This can be especially sensitive if there are multiple openers.
4. Try & Have Memorable Moment:
As an opening band, you have a tough task of setting the table for the night, while also trying to draw new fans to your group from a crowd of people who probably aren’t there to see you. Your music should be able to gain some new followers on its own competence, but to really make you stand out, you need some sort of a memorable moment that gets people to take a video, a picture or just get the crowd really rocking. Fans will remember a good set and find your music the next day, but they will remember those key moments for weeks, months or even years later. When they are asked about the show by friends that will be a talking point to introduce your band.
5. Don’t Play Or Cover Headliner’s Music:
This is an obvious one, but do not, don’t even think about it, don’t even dream about playing or covering the headliner’s music. This is a fast-track way to be blacklisted from ever performing with that artist and by their friends as well. It will also confuse the crowd who will wonder why you are playing the music they were expecting from the headliner. You have a limited time to showcase your music – use it on your own records. If you do a cover, do something that your band can knock out of the park.
6. Keep Set Up To Minimum:
Don’t bring a massive production out on tour or to this one gig. The venue won’t be able to set up and tear down your production in time for the main headliner. The headliner’s production will be what the venue staff will load in and work on. Be ready to perform in front of that and make use of their LEDs, lighting and whatever else is there. If it is awkwardly covered up because the headliner wants to have a grand reveal when they come on, then so be it. As the opener, you will have to wow with your music, not some big dazzling display. That makes it harder, but also forces you to focus on your music. It is a challenge, but the singular focus can be good for an early performer still working on the job of performing without trying to sync up with lights and visuals and other aspects of production.
7. Discuss Promo & Possible Merchandise Sales:
You will want to promote the show beforehand, but you also won’t want to step on anyone’s toes in doing so. Make sure you aren’t pushing to the same people as the promoters or the headliners and see if they have promotional opportunities that maybe you can piggyback on. Determine what your placement is on the show poster and if you ask, maybe your font size will get a little bit bigger.
Selling merchandise at the concert can be a valuable source of income and way to build your brand, so see if the headliner is willing to give up some space in their merchandise area for you or if the venue will let you set up your own tent.
8. Stick Around After Your Set & Talk To Fans:
Once your set is done, don’t just jet for the door. If you have something to get to that is urgent then leave, but otherwise stick around. Watch the next band, even if they aren’t your favorite and show some interest in them. It will show you care about the show more then just playing and picking up a paycheck. Also after the gig, you should try and interact with some fans. Mingle with the crowd and if you are allowed to sell merch, go into that area and sign stuff. That will make another memorable moment for some existing fans or some new ones you converted that night.
9. Don’t Force Yourself On Headliner, but Say Thanks To Everyone Involved:
It will be good to say hello to the headliner, but wait for the right moment. Don’t barge into their green room right before their set and have a lengthy conversation about family. They need their time to get into the zone and prepare. When they have a chance, introduce yourself and your band.
Also make sure to say thanks to everyone at the venue from the person who set up your room, to the security guards, the promoter and the person doing guest list. You want to leave a good impression at that venue so they will invite you back. They are more likely to book you again versus against similar bands if they know you and like you.