Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to be a good opening act

In my last post about how to book a hiphop show, I basically ended by saying once you get your foot in the door as an opener at bars, then you can use that to end up being a headliner or opening for bigger, better bands.

Although this is a natural progression, it's not always that straightforward and there are some special things to consider when you're opening a show. In this post, I'll cover what I've learned about maximizing the overall benefit of opening for groups.


The quick and dirty?

  • Practice until your set is flawless and the right amount of time
  • Be on time for load-in/sound check. It's always behind schedule.
  • Be personable, meet the other bands and bar staff, make yourself known.
  • Hustle like hell. Get on your phone, get on facebook, get as many people through that door before you go on as you can.
  • Kill the show. Bring energy, get the crowd warm and pumped.
  • Be thankful, thank the crowd and the bar and the other band. Get the fuck off stage.
  • Engage the crowd off stage during changeover. Ask what people liked, get them to find you on social media, tell them about upcoming shows.
  • Stick around and have fun and support the other band. Build a relationship with your fellow performers and with the bar.
 That's the quick version. A lot more detail can be used when describing what to do when it comes time to hit the stage. First though, a lot of the work comes before you even play the show...

Practice and Promote

Now naturally, you always want to do these things when you have a show. I already discussed how to work on your live show, but maybe I'll do a promotion post in the future. When you're opening for a group for the first time, you want to make a really good impression both on the more established group and on the bar owner. Two excellent ways to do that are: murder the show (practice lots) and bring out a huge crowd (promote).

The key thing to note is that if you're opening, it's easier to get people to come because of the draw of the bigger, better band. If someone isn't keen on your music in particular, but they like the other acts, all you have to do is convince them to come a little earlier for your set. Way easier then getting them to pay $5-$10 for you and you alone.

The other reason this is important is it shows the bar owner and the band that you're a good person to have opening. I've had bands that aren't even in the same genre as me ask me to be an opener repeatedly just because they know I'll promote the shit out of their show and pack the place. The goal here should be to get the bar owner to say "Shit, I should have had these guys on later in the night...they got a sick crowd!". A point of pride in my career was when my friends threw a big house party before a show and we absolutely packed the place at about 10:30PM, since everyone came to see us early.

The bar staff literally came up to me and said "holy shit, we've NEVER seen the place this packed this early before. And for a hip-hop group...we never have those!"

Not only was it great for the ego, but a few weeks later I saw another hip-hop group from out of province performing there. Just goes to show how promoting (and making sure the bar has a successful night on their end) is great for giving you opportunities and building the hip hop scene in your town.

Bottom line, practice a ton so you put on an awesome show and bring a sick crowd, and you will DEFINITELY make an impression. Do both these things well, and getting asked to play a better show (opening later in the night, opening for a bigger group, or headlining) is very likely.

Know your role

As much as you want to promote and rock your own shit now that you finally have a gig, remember: the night isn't about you. That's why you're opening...your job is to warm the crowd up, to keep people happy and bring up the energy level for the main event. A few things to consider in light of this:

Stay overwhelmingly positive and excited. Be happy to be there. Chances are, when you're opening at 9:30PM, nobody is drunk or excited enough to be going nuts. Doesn't mean you shouldn't be! Expect a small crowd that isn't super into all your shit...just remember the point of this is to show off what YOU can do if you're given the opportunity to play in front of a larger crowd.

Interact with the few people there...drop the name of the headlining band (Ever hear an opener say "WHO'S PUMPED FOR SO AND SO? I FUCKING AM!". Pretty much every opener since the beginning of time) to stroke their ego and elicit a response from the crowd. Bring more energy than the crowd and try and get people interacting with you. Give away a few free beer. Whatever you have to do to get people's energy levels up.

Under NO circumstances should you be a downer, get pissed because people aren't feeling your shit, or give it a half ass effort. If you have 25 minutes, you better be damn sure you're sweating at the end of it from going so hard. Show the crowd, the headlining band, and the bar staff that you've got what it takes to hold down the place when there's 500 people in it.

Another point: don't go over your time. Scheduling a show is hard work, and there's no better way to piss everyone off then being late. If you practiced your set enough, you should have it down to the minute, so don't fuck up everybody's night by repeating a chorus 6 times in a row. Get in, rock the fucking place, thank everyone for being there, get them excited about the next band, and get off the stage.

After you get off the stage though...

Work the crowd and stick around

So you killed the show, 50 of your friends showed up, the place looked full, and it was a great show! Time to grab a beer and head home right?...Fuck no, you night has just started.

Now is the time to get as much benefit from your show as you can. In an hour, the crowd will be so much different that hardly anybody remembers you and they'll all be focused on the current band. RIGHT AWAY is the time you should go around getting props, thanking people for coming out, asking them to follow you on Twitter, asking them what they liked about the show, telling them about merch or future shows, giving away free shit, and generally just pushing your shit.

There's an art to this, and you don't want to be pushy, so genuinely engage with people. If you care about your art, you will realize that fans are the lifeblood that make it a viable career choice. GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THEM AND WHAT THEY THOUGHT. Not to say you're going to like all of them, but every single person you talk to, you will learn or gain something from, even if they're critical. Feel free to spend more time on the people who obviously loved it instead of the so-so people...fan is short for fanatic, so think about what that means in terms of who you should target with your free gear or personal tweets.

Next? Stick around. Thank the bar staff. Watch the next show. Be excited and present for the next band. Not only do some people consider it a professional courtesy that you'll at least catch a bit of the band you opened for, it also makes you look good from the fans perspective. I enjoy when I see someone who just played out in the crowd genuinely enjoying the music, because it means a) they're a decent human being and b) they actually enjoy music and what they do and aren't just there to get my $5. All of these things make people more likely to support you in the future.

At the end of the day, it still should be fun! You might be tired, jacked up, whatever, but it's important you make the most of it. Regroup with the bar manager at the end of the night and make it known you'd like to play again or ask about upcoming shows. Get paid, if you arranged for that to happen, and call it a night after everyone is packed up.

That's it for now! My next post will be in an area where I have decent success and that is how to promote your shows to the best of your ability.

Peace, Love, and Unity.

Sleepy K