When should emerging artists headline their own shows? [Opinion]
The answer is simple, but not straightforward.
For that reason, people always try to tell them what to do. Sometimes, 'emerging' can be relative to describe certain artists, but the status of all artists will forever be determined by what constitutes the mainstream of a particular country. But when 'emerging' can be used to describe any artist, it means he lacks the requisite ego, finance, fan base and clout of a mainstream act.
Over the past few years, we have seen artists like Nonso Amadi, Lady Donli, Blaqbonez and so forth headline their own shows in Lagos, Nigeria. When fliers for some of these shows dropped, the questions that followed them were predictable; do you have a fan base to headline your own show? Why waste the little funds you have?
Some of these artists succeeded at throwing their own shows. Others had a good turnout, but a terrible show. A few of them had terrible shows and turnout altogether. Thus, 'music commentators' developed selective amnesia faster than you can say 'Ji Masun' and forgot the mildly successful shows by some emerging acts while using the failed shows as the standard.
When should emerging artists headline their own shows?
A few days ago, Universal Music Group artist, Idahams announced his headline show. It will hold at Aztech Arcum, Port-Harcourt, Rivers State on May 24, 2020. While our people from the South-South region might know Idahams, to Lagos which remains the quintessential mainstream, Idahams is an emerging artist. Even if he is popular in the South-South, the question is; Is he making money from his music yet? If so, how much?
The advert for that show struck a chord and reawakened an age-old conversation this writer has with his inner self - No, I promise you the writer isn't mad... yet. The conversation comes in form of a question, 'When should emerging artists headline their own show?' The answer is simple, but not straightforward.
First, why do artists have host live shows?
Asides the obvious financial inspiration behind live shows, one key reason why artists go on tour or headline shows is to put a face to their voices and to build relationships with their fans. There's no better way to build a relationship with your fans than intimate sessions.
While some might argue, it doesn't get more intimate than a face-to-face in a place pulsating with the passion of fans who are eager to see their 'fave.' There is a reason why American celebrities organize meet and greets or book/merch signings with their fans. There's a reason Taylor Swift converses with her fans very often through different outlets.
There's a reason why Rihanna ran into a horde of her fans in Paris, France while being totally unprotected by bouncers. On the issue of putting a face to the voice, Osagie Alonge, former Editor-In-Chief at Pulse Africa always says, "A voice is good and so is a pen, but you see the face - that's gold bars."
The face is money. In fact, a face is a brand and an identity. It also helps artists build the intimacy they truly crave but don't realize. Whenever this writer discusses underground acts, he likes making reference to Kevin Abstract. The guy goes on tour and after his shows, he meets with his fans and talk to them to thank them.
Those little things are what a show is about. These days, technology even helps artists plan their shows better by helping them pinpoint and visit places where their fans are significantly populated/concentrated.
This is calculated and determined by places a particular artist's music is most consumed. Artists know this by requesting data from streaming platforms or by using a back channel on YouTube.
To aid this, Google recently launched DEMAND. It is a start-up that uses big data to help artists better analyse the best locations to throw shows, what their ticket pricing should be, whether they will need secondary ticketing and the number of ticket to sell. Thus, despite the buoyant value of live events, it is an art that helps artists grow.
Should an emerging artist headline his own show?
For the above reasons and regardless of an artist's standing, he might need to headline his own show. However, the artist must be sure that he has fans who actually listen to his music, come back to listen to his music and demand his music. Those three factors are fundamental to loyalty and fandom from fans to artists.
Those factors will also determine if people will come out for a show an emerging artist headlines. Those factors will also determine whether if those fans who come out actually care about an artist's music. Finally, those factors will determine the conduct of attendees at an emerging artist's show.
If the attendees at a show an emerging artist throws are not vibrant at his/her show, then there is no need for such artist to headline a show yet. One way to measure that is the genuine consumption of an artist's music. A show is not a rite of passage, it's a business move. For that reason, it should be treated like a business move or at worse, an investment.
Before that, an artist can analyze the move by calculating the number of people paying for and consuming his music in a particular location before throwing a show there. Of course, the advent of music blogs makes that difficult in Nigeria, but that's why an artist should put his or her music on all platforms - including premium streaming platforms.
If an emerging artist isn't getting at least 100 loyal fans who come back to the music from a place he wants to throw a show in, then he shouldn't headline that show. Sometimes, a show can be an investment towards introducing yourself to an audience, but you can do that by being a supporting act to a bigger artist's show in that location.
You shouldn't headline a show for vanity or to make yourself feel like a big artist. It should be purposeful. If those boxes are not ticked, then an emerging artist shouldn't headline his own show.
When the show is an investment, and we consider that the poverty level in Nigeria, an artist might want to throw a free show, but an emerging artist shouldn't take out anything more than a 500-capacity venue to headline his own show. Even if you are big to people in a particular location, they are unlikely to pay for your show if they are not paying for your music.
That's why an emerging artist must tailor his expectation when he's booking venues and look for 500-capacity venues. This argument avails points of throwing free shows and the terrible Nigerian concert culture that makes show organizers give out more show tickets than they sell. An emerging act shouldn't break his bank to throw a free show - 500-capacity is good.
This is because an emerging artist shouldn't be spending more on a show than he could potentially recoup from his fans in a particular location. Also, if he will sell tickets, it should be very affordable. In the end, nationally syndicated stardom will forever be the definition of stardom in Nigeria. Like it or not, nationally syndicated stardom is determined by Lagos.
An artist should also make sure that fans will want to come out for his show. There is difference between having music that people listen to and music that people will like to see an artist perform. Fans pay to see artists or risk their sleep to see artists because they are in awe of such an artist.
Subconsciously, they come out looking for an experience. One way for an emerging artist to ascertain this is to analyse the rate at which people come back to his music and its penetration in a particular location.
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