Thursday, October 9, 2014

Band 101: The Skinny on Opening for National Artists

I have been asked a lot lately about getting on a National Show either large venue to a smaller venue. It’s a show that everyone wants, to open for a major act and play to full house of people. So I figured on breaking it down to different type of opening slots on different levels with pros and cons of each along with ways to get on the show.

The biggest myth is that most shows have a local support opening the show. That is totally false, especially nowadays when most of the artists/management/agencies profits come from touring and merch. So majority of tours are packaged nowadays that those slots for a local opener is scarce. This so true with larger venues from 400 cap and higher. With smaller national’s in smaller rooms usually are more achievable but I will explain good ones from the bad ones.

These comments are based on my experience and there are always exceptions to the rules especially in music there are no rules.

1. The Sold Out National Act at a Large or Small Venue:
This is the ultimate score for any artist to play to a sold out crowd of people who never seen you before. Alias fresh meat. These shows are tours that come in that only have 2-3 artists on the bill. The venue wants to have a full night of music so they tap into the local music community. There are several ways they do this; contact a friends band they know, a band they worked with before on less aspiring shows, contact a local booking agent/promoter for a hot new band.

This is key for artists that do solid local shows, do not over book, always a strong draw and continue to grow and have a great live performance. There is really no negatives to this type of show.

Tip: this goes for all national artist shows, try getting in on a show the back way by contacting the booking agency and/or the band management. I have seen several bands be successful this way. I have done it in the past and has worked. The key is to be honest with these people, make sure your band looks pro and have strong branding. This is a longshot but do your research and find an angle to get in.

2. Open for a National at a Large or Small Venue but need help with ticket Sales – initial sales are good but need help:
These show come about from a tour package that is not selling to its optimal potential. Just say the national band sold 200 tickets for the show and the venue needs 300+ to break even with the guarantee and production costs. When this happens the venue reaches out the local community, same as above, but looking for bands to sell tickets to help meet the breakeven point. The venue may ask you to sell a min of 50 tix to 100 tix for a show. The pitfall here is and a huge no, no is a band buying the tickets just to be on the show. This will basically put you at the end of the list for the next opportunity. When the venue asks you to sell tickets they will usually put a radius clause on your performances in that area. Usually 3 weeks before and 2 weeks after. If the venue makes its quota for the night they usually pay the bands up to $200 bucks.  This is another great show to get, more people to get your music out there. Be smart with this type of show, go all out and make this a priority.

Note: As with both 1 & 2 scenarios be prepared to raise your merch costs either equal to 15% higher  than the touring artists. This sucks for your regular fans that are interested in your merch, but for the new fan they look at it as your part of the tour and most likely won’t squirm at the prices. I also seen several times when a band offers free stuff from CD’s and shirts that they get shut down by the tour manager or tour representative. So the key is to ask before you do it. To get people to sign up to a mailing list, etc. is always totally cool.

3. Open For a National at a Large or Small Venue with poor ticket sales:

These shows come about when the national has bad ticket sales. This happens, I have been there several times. Ticket sales aren’t there and now the venue/promoter needs to cover as much of his losses as possible. Also I seen a lot of nationals booked because the show was booked on a fanboy reasons versus booking a correct show by researching before you decide to book. Which from Jumpstart the bands are asked to sell tickets to cover a nationals costs with real no return – don’t do it! Yeah its cool to play with a favorite band but for a business of band I would avoid at all costs. Here are the reasons. You are asked to sell a high ticket to your base to put people in the venue for the national. Now let’s say the ticket is $15, you are required to sell 50, so you sell them all generating  $750. Now you might get zero or maybe a $1-2 a head if you’re lucky. Now you play to a room with your fans and not benefit playing with a national act – no new fans, no growth or exposure. It’s cool to say you played with a national, a large stage but in reality if you can’t benefit a chance of building new fans it real doesn’t mean shit. To be honest, I rather sell tickets for my own show and take more money in for the band fund. Use the money in other areas to build new fans. Bands are usually lured into these shows on false hopes.

Tip: on these shows there are exceptions just like anything else in life. I would highly recommend asking numerous questions about the show. Why do you need me to sell tickets? What promotions are you’re doing for the event? What benefits the band – future top bookings? What are we getting per ticket sold? (feel free to negotiate this in your favor), Draw up a basic contract with this information to cover your basis.

4. Buy On to National Show

This is definitely a 50/50 proposition. It depends on the show like every other option. Lots of times when there is a buy on offered the national band is making sure they cover their costs above and beyond there guarantee.  Not that it’s a bad thing, it could be a kickass show and maybe not. I see buy on’s usually around $300-$500 per show depending the size of the venue tour. If you’re willing to shell out that money to get on the show really make sure you do your research. I have booked tours where bands buy onto the tour/show, are the first band and play to their fans or no one and then the rest of the packages fans start coming in. Again why waste that money use it for something else more beneficial to the band.

Tip: if you decide to buy on a show or tour, again research the hell out of the bands and past tours, negotiate your time slot and payment for the show (usually it might be over 300 tickets we will pay you this), make sure you are a part of the shows promotions and mentioned in their email/social media posts.

Hopefully this helps you out understanding  open for a national band. I tried to keep it as basic as possible. Feel free to comment or ask questions on the blog!

Thanks for reading

Jim Thorpe
DVT Entertainment
Liberty Musicfest
Dewey Beach Music Conference
Elm City Musicfestival

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