OPENING FOR NATIONAL ACTS
Many artists would love to open for a well-known act. In fact, Sara Bareilles, Neon Trees and Bad City were signed to record deals after touring with Maroon 5, the Killers and the Smashing Pumpkins, respectively. But, that’s not easy to do without connections. Today, “buy-ons” are popular. That’s where an act pays, from hundreds to thousands of dollars, for an opening spot.
Our managers are not adverse to that. Levy explains, “If it makes sense and a marketing plan is in effect (i.e. press, radio, and viral), it could be worth it.” Lyon agrees and admits that Acidic has bought on to tours. “It depends on the fire power of the headliner. If you can coattail with acts that are compatible you could increase your fan base, and establish important relationships.”
However, both managers caution that it’s not a cushy gig. “Usually, you’re the opening act with a very early time slot,” Lyon concedes. “Often, people are just showing up for the show during your set.” Nevertheless, acts like Acidic and Simons use that opportunity to generate currency with the headliners. “If they get to know you and like you enough,” Lyon advises, “they’ll invite you back, without the buy-on charge.”
Troy Blakely has been an agent for 37 years, repping acts such as Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, Bret Michaels, Judas Priest and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He’s currently a partner in the Agency for the Performing Arts (APA). “Great tours are all about packaging,” he says. “If you get the right combination of acts and sensible pricing, you can be a successful touring artist.” He is not, however, a fan of buy-ons. “I don’t believe in buy-ons and they don’t exist in my world. I prefer acts that have worked their way in to a spot.”
Charlie Overbey, an independent agent who specializes in indie artists, has a slightly different perspective. “The economy has put a hurt on touring and headliners are looking for ways to make an extra buck. Besides, a buy-on could help small acts build their profile.”
In Europe it’s common for labels to book tours for their acts. And in the U.S., Reb Kennedy, president of Wild Records, does just that. Seasoned in the European market, Kennedy recently booked a 25-day European tour for several acts on his roster. “I do it as a label service,” he notes. “I string major shows together, make sure all the expenses are covered and negotiate guarantees.” Most surprisingly, Kennedy takes nothing from the effort. “I let my artists keep all the money they make on tour.” Why would he do that? “Because we’re a family. We’re in it together,” he asserts. “Besides, it’s good for the label, keeps the artists happy and generates sales income.”
It took Kennedy about two to three years to get to that point. Now, six years later, his acts regularly tour through Germany, Holland, France, Denmark, the U.K. and many more countries. “That’s where our market is,” he explains. Indeed, Wild Records is extremely popular overseas with its unique brand of ‘50s and ‘60s rock.
Seany Records president, Harlan Lansky took a different tack. He relates that one of his acts, Or, The Whale, booked over 200 shows on their own and created quite a lot of momentum. “But even so, they couldn’t get a booking agent,” he demurs. That perplexed Lansky. “I couldn’t understand it. Here was a successful touring act and agents were turning them down.”
What turned the corner for Lansky’s act was a change in the label’s focus. “We launched a social media marketing division that included Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.” That tactic resulted in a viral explosion. “Our internet presence increased to such an extent that agents started contacting us.” Today, Or The Whale has agents for the US and Ireland, as well as a licensing deal in the UK.
The most common excuse artists give for not touring is that it’s too expensive. And, if you think label support would be the answer to your woes, think again. “Tour support has almost disappeared,” agent Blakely declares. “Labels are either forgoing support altogether or giving so little it’s not enough.” That has caused managers and artists to seek other resources.
“Tour sponsorships have become very popular,” Overbey notes. “But they’re way competitive. Today, everyone wants a sponsor.” In order to get one, according to Overbey, you have to hustle. “You have to nurture a lot of relationships and kiss a lot of butt,” he says.
Merchandise is another resource that can’t be overlooked. In fact, Blakely notes, “New tour acts usually make more money from merch than they do from performance fees. Even a newly signed act will only get a few hundred dollars for performing. They have to make up the difference with their merch table.”