How to Win Over the Crowd When You're the Opening Band
by Kerri Randall
(Or, How NOT to Win Over the Crowd)
When you're the opening band, you immediately have a problem: no one is there to see you. Many don't care who you are and might immediately be inclined to dislike you just because they don't know you. They paid to see the headliner, not you. And depending on the venue, some people might even deliberately arrive later than the ticket time because they know there's an opener…and they still don't care.
It's a big job to win this crowd over. I've seen quite a few openers that just did not to the trick for me. That doesn't mean they didn't win anybody over, but you can tell when someone's doing well or not. One opener's drummer was also the lead singer. An interesting and different concept, but the man spit all the time, throughout the whole show. And it wasn't even your average "hawking a loogie." That's disgusting, too, but this guy literally sprayed, on purpose. At that point, I didn't care one bit about the music because I was too grossed out.
Maybe that works for some people, I don't know…
Many moons ago, at one Barenaked Ladies concert, Guster was their opener. I will never forget them because they connected with the crowd and they seemed to really love being there and sharing their music. That, and the singer introduced one song by saying (in a Pauly Shore-ish way), "And now, our drummer will beat his hands to a bloody pulp, for your enjoyment." And he really did–he played without drumsticks, just using his hands to beat on the drums. I'd say that's pretty awesome and memorable.
Be different. Know your style, be yourself, and stand by it.
A recent opener I saw, however, failed in my opinion. He shall remain nameless, mainly because I still have no idea who he was, and I have no urge to investigate, either. I'm sure I could find out, what with anything and everything instantly available on the internet, but again, I have no desire. This guy failed in a couple ways.
First, I know I can't totally blame this on him, but he couldn't be heard very well. Probably the sound guy's fault, but add the fact that this person sung in falsetto–the whole time. What I could hear of his music did actually sound pretty interesting and full of a lot of potential, but it was so hard to figure out what was going on that it was hard to pay attention.
He also had a screen onstage playing random images as he played. I'm sure they served some type of purpose, but 1) it was angled so far to one side of the stage that at least half of the audience couldn't see it well, and 2) we still couldn't hear him well enough to know if what he was singing about matched the images.
Last, it was just him onstage, playing mostly sparse notes on a guitar as a prerecorded backing track played on his laptop. Now, that's fine with me. If he's a solo artist who has material that he's written but doesn't have (or maybe want) a full band and that's his shtick, great. But here's the problem–he had no stage presence. Sure, he walked around in a couple circles occasionally and once or twice suddenly got really into it when he had a few more notes to play, but most of the time he just stood there.
I could maybe forgive all of these points if he had at least done one other thing, though: TALK TO THE CROWD! He never introduced himself, never explained who he was or how excited he was to be the opener, never said where he was from, never explained his shtick and/or what his music/art is about. He never said, "Hi," or "Please come and say hi at the merch table," or "Please follow me on twitter." And he was already at a disadvantage because the concert ticket didn't even mention him. It just stated that there was an opening band.
As an opener, you're not going to win over everyone every time. And no, your whole act shouldn't be a sales pitch, but for crying out loud, at least acknowledge the people and say hello, who you are, and what you're about. People have the opportunity to go to twitter and Facebook right then and there on their phones and follow you, but if they have no idea who you are, they'll forget about you as soon as you're off the stage.
Now here's an opening band who I think really got it right. They're mostly a funk band with elements of rock, hip hop, and even electro from Indiana, and they're called The Main Squeeze. I saw them when they opened for the Rebirth Brass Band in Chicago. They've only been around for a couple of years, they only have one 7-song EP from last year, and at least half of the band totally doesn't look the part, but you would've thought they were the headliner if you didn't know any better.
They had a solid grip on who they are, what they represent, and what kind of image they want to project. They were having a blast and seemed to really want the crowd to have a great experience with them. I "liked" them on Facebook right on my phone, which made them easy to remember and find once the concert was over, and I was immediately eager to see them again.
AND even if I didn't have Facebook on my phone, they got the important part right. They introduced themselves multiple times, and they mentioned more than once that they'd like to meet everyone and say hi at the merch table.
As an opening band, your goal is building your fan base. Sure, you want to sell your album and your merch and make some money, but not everyone is an impulse buyer. They want to check you out a little more and make a decision later. So if you don't create some sort of a positive relationship right off the bat, you've lost.
Focus on building a relationship first and worry about sales later. Seriously, if you build it, they will come (back and buy later, again and again because they like you)!
Is there an opening band that you've seen that made an impression on you, whether good or bad? Please share in the comments below or come on over and share on my Facebook wall!
Kerri Randall is a singer, performer, writer, and…(wait for it)…fitness instructor. She has performed throughout Milwaukee and Wisconsin with multiple bands, and has even sung at the historic Pabst Theater with the Milwaukee Police Band and Jazz Ensemble. She is also a featured writer on Dotted Music (dottedmusic.com). Her passion is entertaining and inspiring others to think, laugh, and have fun. Kerri believes the artist community can only thrive when we all encourage and support each other!