Listen to Discover’s 12 Big Questions: Question Two

‘Why are supporting artists generally undersupported?’

Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario 1: You arrive at a venue for a gig, only to join a huge queue of others who have turned up just in time for the headline artist.
Scenario 2: You arrive at a venue for a gig and wander in, only to discover that the supporting artist is about to play to a near-empty room.

Be honest with yourself, which one can you relate to the most?

Supporting artists are in my mind just as important to a gig, if not more so, as the headliner. They get the crowd warmed up. They set the tone of the night. But they can’t achieve these two things without an audience. Equally, if the headliner has specifically chosen them to join their night – or tour – believing them to be worthy of support, why don’t more people take something from that? Granted this is generally different for highly established artists or those playing stadium size venues, but at many small to mid size gigs I’ve been to, the crowd has transformed in both numbers and atmosphere when the headliner has been about to come on. At one there were literally about 10 people in the room for the supporting artist and then the room was packed to the rafters with a couple of hundred for the headliner. And before you think ‘Well it comes down to a matter of musical taste,’ I actually think that has very little to do with it.

Increasingly covering live shows since 2018, the second one of those given scenarios is unfortunately the one that I have encountered the most. I say unfortunately because it shouldn’t even exist. You pay the same for the entire gig, (which unless is it’s a huge arena show is normally a small amount) yet, you don’t get the whole experience. Doesn’t seem to make sense does it? It’s a bit like going to a restaurant, paying for three courses and only getting one. I bet a lot of you would see that as unreasonable. Likewise, if you paid for one course and got the other two for free, many of you would see that as a great deal and happily accept. So why don’t people apply the same approach to live music? You’re already paying for the gig, so why not experience all the artists at no extra cost? After all, you could well make an unexpected discovery.

When I set last month’s question, I always knew it wasn’t going to have a ‘musical magic wand’ style solution. But this one for February could well be more straightforward. Maybe simply publishing just the start time of the gig – even at the venue – could bring changes? (Sofar Sounds have of course had phenomenal success by taking this a stage further and keeping artist announcements until you arrive). Or maybe the support for those supporting artists needs to start long before the gig? Or maybe, just maybe, more people need to realise that without supporting the supporting artists, the headliners of tomorrow won’t actually appear. So, if you’re an artist who has played to a great crowd when supporting a headliner, or you’re a promoter, or even a venue, February is the perfect month for you to get involved.

New to this feature? See below to find out how you can join the discussion:

  1. View the question for the month, which will be pinned to the top of Listen to Discover’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
  2. Comment directly on the pinned post with your thoughts, include the #12bigquestions tag, and @ those you feel may also benefit
  3. Retweet and/or share the question among your own followers and encourage them to do the same.
  4. Check back every so often during the month to see what you’re missing out on and hopefully find ways to help you become even more successful.

Additionally, at the start of each month a brief post like this one will explain why I feel the question is of importance, and at the end of the month, a round-up post will summarise the key points and key advice from the discussion. For this, it would also be great to have some of you share your thoughts at length (circa 100 words) so if you would like to do this, please email them to me here with the subject line: Contribution for Listen to Discover’s 12 Big Questions.

So I now invite you the artist, you the PR company, you the artist manager and you the venue – in fact, you, the person that is involved in the music industry in any way – to join the discussion. The second discussion has just started.


David Croker

Founder of Listen to Discover

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