You don’t have a backstage room of your own
You just have feedback in your microphone
‘Cause you don’t get a sound check
‘Cause you’re not worth the time
You’re gonna have to face it
You’re no better than slime
You don’t know me; I’m the opening act
One goal every musical act should see as fundamental is control over their “Live” presentation. However, “Opening acts” are usually playing in someone else’s sandbox. So by the “nature of the beast,” they have less control over their presentation, … just when they need it the most.
This “Opening Act” role represents a significant opportunity, which needs to be fully embraced, by everyone in the organization. If the “Opening Act” sees this – as a once in a lifetime situation – most likely it’ll be just that, a “Situation” that happened ONCE in their lifetime.
“Opportunity of a lifetime” has a different feel to it. Let’s pursue that path!
That path, as well as, a strategy of how to gain some control over – the presentation – of an “Opportunity of a Lifetime event” will be clearly presented in this article.
The higher up the “food chain” of the music business an act gets, the easier it becomes for them to get control over how & where their music is presented.
On the way up this “food chain,” it is a distinct possibility, that an aspiring band may be the “Opening Act” a time or two, before they get to Headliner status. This article is dedicated to ALL opening acts, everywhere!
What it is …
This “opening act” role is a perfect example of when a band absolutely needs the stage plot and input list. It is also a perfect example of when the stage plot and input list are NOT needed.
The stage plot and input list are needed because they organize the band into a neat package that the headliners production team can quantify. It tells them how many inputs the band is looking for, in order to do the FULL show. (We’ll get back to that point –full show – later.) How much stage space the band is looking for, how many monitor mixes etc.
On the other hand, the stage plot and input list are NOT needed because “you’ll get what you get”… AND LIKE IT!
We’ll assume for the sake of this discussion, that (the opening act) is NOT carrying production (consoles etc). Just band gear (back line).
The previous (Full Show) point is this. The Opening act will be playing for 30 to 45 minutes … TOTAL!
When the band decides on the set list (which tunes they’ll perform as the “opening act”) eliminate any of the audio inputs, which are not used for the tunes in that set list.
For example, on the (Full Show) input list, there are six different guitar inputs. Two of those inputs – are for guitars – that are featured on tunes that will NOT be performed during the opening act set. Cut those inputs out, get the list pared down to a “ just the facts” level. Same with the band gear / back line situation. Above all else be prepared to set up the band in a smaller space than usual.
Who ya gonna call?
Advancing these opening act situations – especially if it’s a one off (one show only) – is difficult. The nature of this beast is that, the Headliner is a moving target. Their production manager is dealing with daily problems and has to prioritize the future carefully.
Follow the chain of evidence – stay in touch with whoever it was (a manager, the local promoter a booking agent) that booked this “Opening Act” opportunity, get the initial contact information from them. Once this contact info is secured … be persistent … BUT … don’t be a pain in the Butt.
You’ll be looking to talk to the headliners production manager or stage manger. These are the only two people that can be of any assistance to you. Get their cell phone numbers… you’ll need them to get into the show on the big day.
The next most important people you’ll need to find are the sound technicians. I can’t emphasize enough how important – this part of the process – is to the actual outcome of your bands performance. We’ll discus this aspect (Sound) in great detail with a future article.
Act Like You’ve Been There Before
Before we go any further, if the above statement seems obvious to you skip this part and go on to the next paragraph. If that statement seems mysterious, you’re in the right place! And so, it becomes necessary for me to inform all such Mysterians that: No autographs, photos, videos or recordings of any kind are permitted. Don’t ask! Leave the your favorite version of the Headliners t-shirt home.
The issue here is that the “Opening Act’s” technical representative needs to be “On point” and willing to work quickly, effectively and under pressure. No distractions leave the “Significant Other,” the roommates or anyone not DIRECTLY associated with the band at home.
This Technical Rep will need to be TWO completely different people ….at the SAME TIME!
The first personality they need to be is the: calm, sincere, understanding, – a roll with the punches type – who will be a problem solving maven.
The other personality needs to be a fearless advocate for the band. He/she will have to be very tuned in to the BANDS priorities, but most importantly have the ability to pick battles wisely …… it is very possible to win a battle and LOSE the war. Leave all egos at the loading dock.
If the band does NOT have a technical “Chief” and does NOT know anyone with real experience to fill that role, pick someone who is responsible and accountable. This person does NOT need to be a technical wizard …but … they MUST possess the ability to say “I DON’T KNOW,” when asked a technical question, that’s over their head.
The next article of this series will address, these technical aspects. You will find it at www.liveconcertstagesound.com
Make sure this person has a photo of the band “set up” with them, also have one on your website (always a good idea.)
In most bands, there’s usually one band member that takes on the role of organizer. Usually this person has the van and a bunch of positive energy. This person could be far more valuable than an outsider with more technical knowledge. Think clearly about whom the band puts in the technical representative role.
First Things First
Seriously, the clock on the Opening Act starts at Load –in. Make sure of the load-in details. If the concert is being presented in a venue that has a contract with the stagehands union IATSE (IA) you need to know that. Because the scheduled time for load-in will be important.
Going back to a previously mentioned point, remember the “just the facts” mentality? Here’s why it matters.
The crew that unloads gear will have already unloaded several tractor-trailers’ worth of gear. The sound crew is “in” early, too. Do not make their job any more difficult than it already is.
If the band gear is arriving at the venue in a station wagon or van (it is not at loading dock height) look for a ramp. Wheels are good! If the gear in not in proper road cases (with wheels) bring a dolly, you may be required to get the gear to the loading dock on your own.
If the band gear is in a truck (loading dock height) make sure that the gear NEEDED for this show is on the rear of the truck. This may require a truck repack, prior to its arrival at the venue…. Professionals would repack! Remember this needs to facilitate the BANDS opportunity to shine.
The IATSE and YOU
This relationship is …Always … about respect. The IATSE is a professional group of workers bound by a collective bargaining agreement. That’s why they have to stick to the rules – that are the structure of the workday – in a venue that has a contract with the local IA.
These stagehands are VERY capable and competent at their jobs. Many have degrees in Theater from well know Universities. If you respect the stagehands as people and accept the rules as the “way it is” you will get on fine. Failure to respect the IA for what it is (professional help in the technical aspects of the production) can be very bad idea … AND.. It’s expensive!
One of my favorite IA sayings is “Chaos creates CASH.” This is the exact nature of the relationship between the “Production” and the local IA crew. If the production is well planned and organized, the day will go exceedingly well. If the production has organizational issues, these issues will put pressure on the deadlines all day. Stuff happens … Trucks show up late, chain motors break and thunder storms blast in! None of that stuff is the IA’s fault but because their work rules, such as, Meal penalties, will be enforced … the pressure mounts.
This pressure (even on a perfect day there can be pressure) impacts the amount of – production stage time – available to “Opening Act.” The Opening Acts production representative needs to be aware of how the Headliners production is coming together. Show up early and pay attention to the workflow. Monitoring the progress of the production is critical!
Deli tray’s and bottled water.
Lunch is usually a good time to grab a minute or so of the stage mangers time …. Lunch is also a good indicator of progress. If the entire crew stops (dark stage) to eat lunch, nobody can work for an hour. This is very good, because it indicates that everything’s on schedule. If the lunch is split (half the crew eats and half stays working) this could indicate problems ahead so beware!
During lunch, try to start organizing the stagehand allocation for band gear set up. Every IA local deals with “non – union” / non “local” personal handling gear differently …so ask if “non-union” people are allowed to move the gear. If the answer is ONLY the IA can move the gear … respect … that, it also means the IA will uncase the gear too. A “non local” refers to an IA member who belongs to a “local” other than the local that has the contact with this venue.
Find out how much stage space the band will get and begin the process of optimizing that situation. This is where Organization becomes the most important aspect of the day. Failure to organize the placement and set up of the band will seriously limit the time for sound check.
I discus in detail, how to organize set up and sound check, plus much, much more in my downloadable eBook, “A Musicians Complete Guide to Stage Sound” you can find it at.
Now that shameless hawking is done, let me explain why the clock is running out on Sound Check.
Most Show Day schedules with 7:30PM advertised start, look like this.
8:00 AM … LOAD IN
1:00PM – 2:00PM … LUNCH
4:00 – 5:30PM Headliner SOUND CHECK
5:30PM DINNER begins
6:00PM Opening Act SOUND CHECK
6:30PM DOORS OPEN (public allowed in)
7:00PM DARK STAGE (ALL WORK STOPS)
On a good day this schedule is hectic … but doable, on a day with problems … the first item off the schedule is the Opening Act SOUND CHECK. Get Organized!
The first time I heard Mary – Chapin perform “You don’t know me I’m the opening act “ was at Meriwether Post in Columbia Md. She was OPENING for Clint Black; it must’ve been 1989. MCC was not known as a country artist back then, but she had a nice “following” in the Maryland/ DC area as a “singer/ songwriter.
Mary-Chapin definitely saw this “Opening Act” slot as a OPPORTUNITY … In spite of the fact that she was performing for a Clint Black –Yes please, ma’am, we’d like grits with our chicken fried steak – audience. She stepped up to the plate and took a big healthy swing. There was NO feedback in her mic that night. She sounded …GOOD … her amazing band was on top of their game, as these usual suspects often were.
Clint Black’s crew and the local IA, deserve credit for helping to make a good situation great.
Now … I’m not saying that this particular show was the reason …BUT … as the “Fates” would allow, a few short months later Mary – Chapin won the 1990 “Top Female Vocal” award from the “Academy of Country Music.” Then from 1992 – 1995 she won the “Best Female Country Vocal Performance” Grammy Award. That’s 4 years in row, if you’re counting!
That journey up the food chain of music industry has to start somewhere … sometimes it’s a hot July night in Maryland.
This Opening Act slot is a great Opportunity on the road to success, so enjoy it! Always keep in mind this is a BUSINESS … the revenue potential (Merchandise, concessions & Tickets) for a sports area type venue, is in the Millions of dollars per night. So take it seriously,
EVERYBODY ELSE does!
In the next installment, we’ll talk about a point Bad Blake makes in the movie “Crazy Heart.”
Blake to the sound mixer: “We’re gonna stay here all day ‘til we get this mix right!
Mixer: It is right ….
Blake to his band: They always say that .. but they’re gonna make sure the opening act doesn’t sound as good as the Headliner!
Could that be true? We’ll find out next time.
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