There is nothing more important for an artist than building their hard ticket value (the amount of tickets they can sell as a headlining act in a market).
Every act is different.
As a rule of thumb, if an act can headline their own shows and successfully sell them, it usually makes sense to do so.
The most relevant and accelerating acts can continue to tour the same cities with increased capacities, regardless of whether they have opened for a larger act or played a festival in the market.
Krewella and ZHU never supported another act on the road. Both acts built their own hard ticket followings and exposed their live show via the festival circuit to create further growth.
Krewella maintained a fairly typical hard ticket strategy for a dance act. They grew their touring business on the back of the success of their records and the dance music wave – At their peak, they sold 8000 tickets in New York City.
ZHU, on the other hand, said no to almost everything. As his cachet continued to increase, so did the demand and opportunities. We continued to say no. Most acts would not have had this luxury, but his mysterious nature created a buzz of its own, which eventually led him to the headline status he occupies today. ZHU connected with the fans in other ways than playing small to medium sized shows in major markets – His eventual debut headlining LA play was a sold out Shrine (5000 tickets) on a Wednesday night.
While several of the greatest artists have never supported another artist, many have. Kanye opened for Usher. Lady Gaga for the Pussycat Dolls. Shawn Mendes for Taylor Swift. And Chance the Rapper for Mac Miller.
An artist building their own hard tickets will eventually impact other areas of their business. For example, radio could not ignore the headlining success of Twenty One Pilots, Logic, or Shawn Mendes. When they had the right single, it was off to the races because they already put in so much work building a loyal and dedicated fan base on the road.
So when should you choose to support?
a) when the support slots gives cultural relevance or provides additional context to who an artist is
Two great examples for us have been:
Gallant on tour with Sufjan Stevens – Gallant could have easily been perceived solely as an R&B artist, however, touring with Sufjan solidified Gallant as an indie artist worthy of the critical acclaim he would receive in the months to follow, which eventually led to his Grammy nomination.
Thutmose on tour with Billie Eilish – Billie is an extremely unique and relevant artist. It was her first headlining tour, and as a result, we knew both her young fans and the industry would be excited about it. This tour brought two great young artists together and positioned Thut as part of the next wave.
b) when the headlining act has a similar or complementary audience and is playing shows significantly larger than an artist can do on their own
Our artist Grace VanderWaal is going on tour with Imagine Dragons this summer. Her sold out 15 headlining tour dates were complete underplays. She could have continued to play bigger headlining shows, but the opportunity to tour with Imagine Dragons through arenas and amphitheaters this summer was significant. It allows Grace to reach a much larger audience – Imagine Dragons is the 8th most listened to artist in Spotify history and their radio success is undeniable.
In conclusion, play your own shows and build your own hard tickets, but don’t be afraid to support if the right opportunity presents itself.