Chip DiMonick: The Pros & Cons of Opening for National Acts

chippressAs musicians, I think we all dream of those moments when we get to “share the stage” with our musical heroes.  For some musicians, that dream never materializes.  For others, it is a possibility and, eventually, a reality.

Today, when national acts tour the “club circuit” consisting of venues usually with a capacity that doesn’t exceed 700, local bands are often recruited to open the show.  Bands and fans alike would like to think that the selection of bands is done in a way that ensures that the local bands with the most merit and that fit best with the headliner are the ones selected.  But, often, an opening band is selected where the promoter’s familiarity with the band intersect with that band’s willingness to guarantee that it will pre‐sell a minimum number of advance tickets.

So, a band being asked to be on the same bill as its favorite national act doesn’t come without strings
attached.  This post is designed to share the pros (which most bands can think of on their own) and the
cons (which many bands don’t realize until later) of opening for national acts.  It is not intended to
persuade a band to choose or refuse the opportunity to open for a national act.  That is a personal
decision.  It is intended to give a band many of the factors to consider so that it can make the best
decision possible.

So, without further ado, here are some of the pros and cons of opening for national acts…

THE PROS

  • A band can get the satisfaction of sharing the stage with its heroes.  Most musicians play music
    primarily for satisfaction (and not necessarily money), so this is a legitimate reason to pursue
    opening slots.
  • A band will usually play for more people than it would if headlining its own bar show.  As such,
    opening slots offer exposure to more and different people.
  • A band will probably sell more merch when opening for a national act compared to headlining
    its own bar show.  I know that, for my band, we always sell some merch when opening for
    national acts, even the smallest ones.  However, there are many nights when we walk out of an
    all‐local bar show without selling one item.
  • A band can make some decent money opening for a national act if it exceeds its ticket quota.
    Most promoters will offer local bands $1‐3 per ticket sold if they meet their quota (usually 30‐50
    tickets).  In some instances, my band has made several hundred dollars for a 30‐minute set
    under this type of arrangement when we were successful at hustling those tickets.

THE CONS

  • I talked about the chance of making money with opening slots.  Well, you can also lose money.
    If the band fails to meet its ticket quota, it often has to make up the difference in money by
    paying out of its own pocket.  Therefore, a band has to be careful not to overestimate how
    many tickets it can legitimately sell.
  • While musicians dream of hanging with their idols in a dressing room, sharing war stories and
    making lifelong friends, many times, the headlining band is out of the club having dinner anddoesn’t interact with the openers or see their performance.  Many musicians find this very
    disappointing.
  • The pressure of ticket quotas can cause tension between band members.  Not all musicians are
    great business people.  So, the band members who hustle and sell their share of tickets can
    quickly get very ticked off when other band members sell significantly less or even none at all.
  • Sound and stage situations for local opening bands are less than ideal, at best.  Locals usually
    have to set up in front of the national act’s equipment, leaving very little room for a true
    performance.  Additionally, quick changeovers are required and, as a result, by the time the
    sound tech gets good levels for the band, their 20‐30 minute set is just about over.  All of these
    things make it hard for a band to showcase itself at its best.  And the fact that a suboptimal
    performance happens for a big crowd can hurt the reputation of a band who is trying to make a
    good first impression.

Again, there are pros and cons to opening for a national act.  There is no one‐size‐fits‐all right
decision.  However, sometimes just knowing – and not being suckerpunched by – the disadvantages
can help a band properly adjust its expectations.

The top piece of advice I have to offer is just to be careful not to accept too much financial risk with
a ticket quota.  There is always a chance you’ll have to take money out of your pocket to play.  A
quota of 30 tickets at $10 each is easier to swallow than a quota of 50 tickets at $25 each.
If you can accept that risk, most of the other cons are easily outweighed by the pros.  But it can be a
big risk, so your decision has to be the one that is right for your situation and no one else’s.
Good luck!


Chip DiMonick is a Pittsburgh‐based songwriter, musical artist, and sometimes blogger.  He is the
singer and guitarist for Chip DiMonick and the guitarist for Londona.  Connect with him on Facebook
(http://www.facebook.com/chipdimonick), Twitter (@chipdimonick), and/or Instagram
(@chipdimonick).

Bill is a teacher by day and webmaster by night. Bill started working with bands and their online presence in 1995. He founded AK Music Scene in February of 2004 and the Pennsylvania Rock Show followed shortly after in September of 2004. In October of 2016, he founded Podcast your Scene

Bill hopes that his websites help the bands around the world get their music heard. Unsigned music creates signed music, and there are a lot of bands out there that deserve a shot at that.

  • John Klazon

    Good article. I hear the same points in your article from so many musicians.

  • Great article You were right, there were a few cons I had not considered.

  • Thank you Chip, for the insight and our first guest blogger post!