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How To Land An Opening Gig

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There are many ways to get your name out there as an up and coming artist. One way to make a big splash is to land an opening gig for a bigger named artist. It’s a great way to get yourself in front of a group of people who may not know about you and gain their following. I spoke with Evan Johnson, the talent buyer for popular Seattle venue Neumos, to get his advice on the details of getting booked as an opening act and what is expected of you as an artist once you’re booked!

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How do you typically choose an artist as an opening act for shows with big headliners?
Contrary to popular belief, most of that decision is not up to us. The touring act will bring their own support the majority of the time. On the occasion that we can add locals, we still need to submit the ideas to the agent/management and they decide who is approved and who isn’t a good fit.

The artists I usually submit are acts that have played for us before, done well, and have a similar sound to the headliner. Not only do I want the opener to add something to the show (i.e. sell tickets, promote to the right people, etc.) but I also want them to make the show more enjoyable for everyone involved (fans, our staff, etc.).

What is the first step an artist should take to be considered for an opening act?
Be willing to start small. If an act is willing to help put together a local show and make it a success then I’ll be much more likely to try and follow it up with a bigger slot.

When contacting a talent buyer, it is always best to be detailed, include links, and KEEP IT SHORT. We get an influx of emails every day about shows so the shorter the better. If you send me a 3 page long email, I’ll be less likely to read it then a short, efficient message.

What attributes are you looking for in an artist?
There are a lot of attributes I could talk on but one thing I always look for is how invested an artist is in the show. If an artist seems detached from the show and isn’t driven to make it a big success, chances are it will be a flop. Regardless of musical talent and fanbase, an artist can be successful if they are motivated to do so. It also helps show the venue that you’re dong everything you can to succeed.

Not every show is going to be a grand slam but if I see that you’re getting it your best effort, I’ll be more likely to look at you down the road for the next opportunity.

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What is expected from the artist if they are chosen to perform?
Similar to my answer above, be an involved piece of the show. Whether you’re headlining or the first opener, you’re a part of the overall show. I expect someone to be promoting the show to their friends/family/fans, being responsive with all working staff, and putting on an enjoyable performance.

What is typical compensation for an opening act?
Compensation can vary based on the show offer made for the headliner. Sometimes it is a guaranteed amount, sometimes it is a % of the ticket sales. On a larger scale (Neumos/Showbox/etc), most openers get a flat amount.

Is there any other wisdom you’d like to share with up and coming artist?
Treat every show like it is a big deal and don’t oversaturate yourself in the market. If you’re playing 3 shows a week, there isn’t much demand/urgency for people to come to a specific show.

Also, remember that the talent buyer/venue is trying to succeed just as much as you. I want every single show to sell out just as much as the performers. It is a collaborative effort so don’t think anyone is against you.

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