Being the Opening Act

29 Jun

There’s some discussion going around The Facebooks right now about opening act etiquette, and IT JUST SO HAPPENS that I have a section about that very thing in my eBook (available on and because I like A’s)…here is it, because…people need to know.


The Opening Act: Playing Well With Others

Being an opening act is a long storied means to climb the ladder to headliner status. There are two main scenarios in which an artist might find himself/herself as an opener:

– the artist is the local who is put on the bill to help draw other locals to a show for a touring headliner

– the artist is touring through and added to the bill as an opener for a more popular band to try and gain fans to build a presence in the area

Both of these are great opportunities to grow a fan base, especially in a new area. There are ways to maximize these opportunities, and also some general “rules of the road” to be considered here.

– Be as out of the way as possible.

It’s not your gig. Even if you are the one local people are coming to see, there is a reason the headliner is the headliner. Knowing your place in the chain and acting accordingly will actually get you more respect than if your gig feathers are all puffed up and sticking out. “Out of the way,” means your sound check is secondary, you might not get a green room, and your gear might get stuck behind a couch somewhere. Just deal with it, because the easier you are to work with, the more likely you’ll be asked to come back by the venue or the artist (or both). Good venues and professional artists will still treat you well, so don’t be discouraged but be prepared for second fiddling all night.

– Bring an appropriate amount of players.

This point is moot if you are an established band with an established amount of players … then you’re booked because you’re a band. However, for the singer-songwriters and other solo artists out there, check to see what kind of show the headliner is putting on. A general rule is not to bring more side musicians than the headliner brings. Don’t bring a quartet to open for a solo artist. This is not a hard and fast rule and warrants a discussion with the venue, but as a general rule of thumb it works most all the time.

– Follow the schedule and be on time.

What generally happens is that the headliner gets to sound check all they want and then you get to throw your stuff onstage and check really fast after that. Often the venue will want you there early during the headliner sound check. Sometimes this means a lot of time on your part. Here is an example of the schedule for an opening spot at a recent gig:

6 PM: Load In
6:30 PM: Headliner sound check
7:30 PM: Opener sound check
8 PM: Dinner
9 PM: Opening Set
10 PM: Headliner Set

Actually, to be honest, the real schedule was more like:

6 PM: Load In
6 – 8 PM: Watch the very picky headliner sound check one acoustic guitar for 2 hours
8 – 8:15 PM: Sound check
8:30 PM: Shovel food down our throats
9 PM: Start time

Your mileage may vary but always attempt to follow the official schedule.

– Put your stuff on stage last and get it off first.

You might have a line of devoted fans at the merch table when your set is over, but the first thing you need to do when you’re done is get your stuff off the stage. The headliner is ambling (or sauntering … or if they are a prog-rock band they might be slouching) to the stage, and you should vacate as quickly as possible. Get your stuff out of the way and then attend to your adoring fans.

– Start on time.

Do it. Be available ten minutes before your set is scheduled to start so the sound person and venue folks aren’t worried about you. Even if there are no people in the room, be on time. Even if the headliner is not around, be on time. Even if the Olympics are on and you really like watching pair’s figure skating, be on time.


This is miraculously more important than starting on time (which means it is an iron clad rule that cannot even be broken if the President of the very small island country you were born in shows up to watch you). This means you should know ahead of time how long your set should be, and never assume. If the headliner starts at 10, that does not mean you play until 9:59 … it usually means be done by 9:40 or 9:45. Even if you start late because there was a mini-tornado in the parking lot, END ON TIME (unless the venue tells you differently but never assume).

– Thank the headliner and the venue.

Just be thoughtful and mean it. The venue didn’t have to ask you to be there and the headliner didn’t have to say yes. Mention them both on stage in gratitude.

– Play your heart out.

Do a really good job. You should bring your A Game all the time, but sometimes it is tempting to get a little wiggly with an opening set because people may or may not be there, they may or may not be listening, and they may or may not care. However, when
your “A” Game is on, you show the venue they made a good choice in booking you, the headliner that you gave a great effort out of respect, and the folks in the crowd who are listening that you are an all around badass. If you gain one fan that’s going to buy all your albums for the rest of your career, that’s well worth it.

– Stick around.

I see this a lot. Someone opens a show and promptly packs up and heads out the door right after, not staying to see the headliner. I’ve been there … sometimes I just want to beat it to the door and go home and put on my PJs and watch Netflix. However, if it’s not going to kill you, it’s a good idea to stay for at least half the headliner’s set. It’s a little bit of paying your dues and showing respect, but something good might come from it. If you do need to go, (because things happen and maybe you need to drive a long ways or you have another gig or whatever) make that clear to the other folks on the bill and the venue when you thank them for letting you be there; then you won’t look like a jerk.

– Sub-Point to Sticking Around: Your Fans

This is more of a fan etiquette point but hear me out. Say you’re the local opener and you brought a LOT of excited people to the show because you’re awesome. Congratulations, you have done your job. However, I’ve seen it more than once where the excited group of people will leave right after the opener’s set, leaving a pretty big audience hole. While you cannot control your fans, encouraging them to also stay for some (or all) of the headliner’s show goes a long way, especially if the room is full of your people. Believe me when I say the headliner is watching how many folks you brought and also knows when they all leave. It’s not mandatory because you can’t control your legions of fans, but some gentle hints never hurt.

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