I’m currently reading Meet Me in the Bathroom, an excellent oral history of the rock and roll resurgence in NYC at the turn of the century, written by Lizzy Goodman. Aside from the havoc that existed then, as the swan song of the “glory days of the music industry” was playing out and my own nostalgia for the culture of New York City at that time, one thing has really stuck out to me in the book thus far: The Moldy Peaches.
The Moldy Peaches were an outlandish, anti-folk outfit that came up in New York City during the 1990s. They also happened to be good friends with The Strokes. As the Strokes were on their way to becoming the biggest band in the world, they invited The Moldy Peaches to open several of their big hometown shows as well as on a few tours. The Strokes even went as far as to persuade Rough Trade Records to sign their friends.
While Kimya Dawson and Adam Green (the two artists behind The Moldy Peaches) now have sustainable careers based on their own talent, they owe a lot of their success to that early help from The Strokes — which is why we are talking about opening band etiquette in this post. If you’re one of the fortunate few acts that is given the opportunity to open for a more established band, it’s important to make the most of the situation. If you know how to finagle one turn of good fortune into another, you can find yourself building a career and headlining bigger rooms a lot quicker.
Here are some tips on how to do so.
Headliner is King (or Queen)
Whether you’re the local opener for a touring band or actually on the road with someone, the headliner will set the tone. There will be certain things that they require pre-show and you should make sure to adhere to their wishes. The less their pre-show routine is interrupted by your own, the more likely they’ll be to invite you back, especially if your performance is awesome.
If you only have a few guest list spots, make do with that. Worried about getting an extra case of water? Forget it for now. When you’re drawing enough on your own to be the headliner, then you can look for more guest list spots and extra water in your green room. For now, enhance the headliner’s experience — it’ll pay off in the long run!
Stick to the Schedule; You’re Part of the Team
This point ties closely into the “Headliner is King or Queen” subject. However, it is the single most important thing you can prioritize in order to successfully stick to that rule and thus deserves its own separate mention. The headliner will create a schedule that works best for them. You will work your schedule around theirs.
Most importantly, it’s imperative that you are on time for everything. If you are running 15 minutes late to soundcheck, that could push their own allotted time. Even a slight delay there could end up putting a rush on any press interviews they need to take care of before the show, potentially rob them of the chance to get away from the venue for dinner, or disrupt another important aspect of their pre-show routine.
Do Your Own Promoting for the Show
The more tickets sold that you are responsible for, the more value you will have to the headliner. Make sure you’re looking for your own press ahead of the show, promoting on social media, and getting out on the street to flyer if it’s a local show. If you bring enough people, it’ll get you noticed — not just by the headliner, but by the promoter as well.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “How to Be the Band Nobody Wants to Play with – Ever Again (in 10 Easy Steps!)”
Support the Headliner
Even though they’re probably further along in their career than the bands that are opening for them, a headliner is still out there touring to make new fans and create opportunities for themselves. Don’t forget to bring as much attention to them as possible. Whether it’s tagging them in your social media promotion ahead of the show or thanking them from stage and asking fans to visit their merch table, shout-outs will always be appreciated and often reciprocated.
Network! Network! Network!
One common thread you will see in every post about optimizing a situation is networking. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, networking is key. Whether it’s introducing yourself to the headliner, getting to know the promoter for the event, or hanging out at your merch table interacting with fans, the relationships you take away from any opportunity is what’s going to be your biggest asset moving forward.
The music industry is built largely on word of mouth. Do everything you can to build a network that wants to help spread the word about your band, and you’re increasing your chances to succeed infinitely.
Want a ton more tips, tricks, and ideas to help you get on the road faster and smarter? Learn more in Soundfly’s popular free course, Touring on a Shoestring. Here’s a video from the course on “How to Attract an Audience in a New City.”
Rich Nardo is a freelance writer and editor, and is the Director of Public Relations and Creative at NGAGE.