ADN:020 — Striking A Balance: Headlining Vs. Support Tours

Artist Development
5 min readApr 9, 2023

Hey Friends -

Welcome to the Artist Development Newsletter.

Every Sunday, I send an email providing actionable tips for artists and industry on one area of the music business.

Last week we covered the “Love Hate Strategy” for getting people talking about your music.

You can re-read last week’s newsletter here if you want to refresh.

Today we will discuss balancing headlining and support tours and strategies for when and why to do both.

Let’s go.

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Every artist wants to be a headliner.

Selling hard tickets is the game’s name, and building a fanbase that is yours is the ultimate superpower.

If you can do it, you control your destiny.

That said, getting to where this is possible is tricky.

It often means striking a delicate balance between satisfying your growing audience and opening for other artists by supporting their crowds to gain more fans.

Let’s break down how to do it.

Ratio

Initially, I would aim for a 2:1 ratio of support to headlining.

Two support shows in a market for every headliner.

Each time you return to a city, you want your audience to have grown.

Employing the 2:1 system is a great way to make this happen.

Underplay

As a headliner, you should always try to underplay the market.

Pick a venue that you feel confident you can sell out, and make sure the city’s fans, promoters, press, radio, etc., know when you do.

I can’t emphasize this concept enough.

UNDERPLAY is the way.

Why?

Narrative

An underplay gives you the ability to narrate your story;

always creating more demand.

Before you can afford a publicist, you are your publicist.

What do great publicists create?

A narrative.

With each trip to town to headline, the goal is to move up a venue size or move from one sold-out night to two.

In between those headliners, use your narrative to get better support opportunities.

Networking

Networking with the local music community at shows is essential; follow them on social media, or get a phone number or email to invite them to your next headlining show.

Visit the local record stores, and make friends.

Ask them what the best bands are in town, and then look them up to see if they could fit to try and open for.

Networking is essential to being a support and headlining act.

Value

If you are worth 200 tickets in a market, you now have real value to many bands looking for a support act.

As your audience grows, so will your support options.

Saying yes to opening gigs allows you to audition for different crowds and see where your music resonates the most.

Remember, you are in the “yes” phase of your growth.

Yes, to the right support look.

Yes, to the underplay headlining show.

Yes, to increase your value.

Opening/Support

Small acts are always looking for more significant opportunities.

  • Opening for bigger names
  • Performing at venues that bring recognition
  • Supporting full tours

Headliners also find specific situations where they return to being a support act, albeit less often or in less traditional ways.

  • Rihanna at the Super Bowl
  • Brandi Carlile is supporting P!nk in stadiums this summer
  • Lady Gaga singing at a presidential inauguration
  • Little Big Town supporting The Eagles in Europe

Exposure

Reaching a large audience you don’t have exposure to is always a goal, no matter how successful your career is.

When looking at an opportunity’s exposure, there are some things to remember and consider.

  • Opening a show is like opening a door
  • It’s an opportunity to make an impression
  • Support is precisely that
  • You are endorsing someone else
  • The crowd is yet to be your crowd
  • The goal is to win a % of the crowd

Before saying yes to a support tour, consider whether the headliner’s audience fits the fanbase you are trying to build for your career.

Additionally, it’s essential to consider the trajectory and perception of the artist you have the opportunity to support.

If the artist’s fans or beliefs don’t align with your own, that may be a red flag to say no to those shows.

Some support slots can alienate the audience you are building as much as help to grow it.

Strategy

One strategy is to look at tour dates on an artist’s website or a site like Pollstar and find the one-off gig where there isn’t support listed.

It will often be a random casino show or something that doesn’t fit into a more extensive set of dates.

Your goal is to find a way onto that show.

Call the venue, reach out to the manager, email the booking agent, and hit up anyone you know who can pull a favor.

When you play that one gig, make a point to thank the headliner.

Be kind to the crew.

Learn names.

Get a couple of phone numbers or emails and keep in touch.

You want the band and crew to remember that night and how great it was.

With the right performance and backstage charm, that one-off could lead to a tour.

Aim to be -

  • Memorable
  • Easy-going
  • Kind

You also will need to be -

  • Willing to lose $ for the right opportunity
  • Ready to say yes, whereas others say no
  • Prepared to fall flat

Diehard

The more diehard the headliner’s fanbase, the harder they will be to win over, and the more you want to find a way to win them over.

Because if they are that loyal to the headliner, they are the exact type of fan you are after.

You want the “know every word, spend every dollar, and tell all their friends super fans.”

To gain those types of fans, you’ll want to show them you are the type of artist that will go the extra mile for your audience.

  • Go to the merch table
  • Sign autographs
  • Take pictures
  • Reply to comments and DM’s on social media
  • Run a GREAT fan club
  • Let the audience be a part of your story

All of these little things add up.

Then, you will find yourself selling tickets to your shows.

To get diehard fans, you must be a fan of making fans.

TLDR:

  • 2:1 System for support + headliners
  • Underplay
  • Create a narrative
  • Network
  • Create value as an opener
  • Pick the right support opportunities for the right exposure
  • Say yes, whereas others say no
  • Be a diehard fan of making fans

You will grow your audience and become a headliner if you can do these things consistently.

Shoutout to my friend Nicolette who suggested the topic this week!

Have a topic you’d like covered?

Please email me: hello@artistdevelopment.net

See you next Sunday!

Neil Mason

Artist Development

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