Shut up and listen: How it feels being a support act

A man on stage Image copyright Getty Images

You're backstage and can feel the butterflies in your stomach. You can hear the noise of the crowd and the hum from the amps.

It's nearly show time. You get the thumbs up, walk out, plug in, look out at the audience...and they're either on the phone or chatting at the bar.

Welcome to life as a support act.

This week, one artist decided enough was enough. Miraa May was supporting Kojey Radical when she told her band to stop playing.

She then turned to the crowd, who hadn't been paying attention and said: "Enjoy the music, before you can't afford my tickets any more."


It's certainly one way of getting noticed - and Radio 1 Newsbeat's been talking to other acts on how they cope with support slots.

Image copyright Khushi music
Image caption Khushi supporting James Blake

Khushi toured with James Blake in the US and the UK, playing to crowds of up to 4,000 people.

"I was terrified because it was going to be way bigger crowds than I'd ever played to," Khushi says.

They weren't just bigger, they were noisier.

"London is my home town and it was a dream to perform here. But the crowds were really chatty," he says.

"It makes you feel very undervalued because you've rehearsed so much for this moment and then in the end it doesn't feel like a moment because no-one is paying attention."

Khushi says he'd be more than happy to politely tell the crowd to leave if they want to chat.

"I'd say something like, 'If you would like to chat can you do it outside because I'd like to play this music and I'd like whoever wants to listen to be able to hear'."

He says he's also learnt ways to grab the audience and hold their attention.

"We chose a song that makes an immediate impact. If you come on with a quieter song you might not grab people's attention."

Khushi says the audiences in the US were a lot more attentive and at first he wasn't ready for it.

"I was thinking most people will be getting a drink at the bar, wondering what time this support act shuts up and what time James Blake is on.

"In my head that sort of took the pressure off a little bit."

But he says at the first gig in Atlanta there was "pin drop silence".

"It was super intense, but also wonderful. The first couple of shows I was like really, really terrified and I was aware of every single moment and every tiny thing, like the sweat on my hands."

He says support acts do have to work a lot harder.

"You really have to bring all of your presence to the performance in order to try to grab people and keep them because they're not invested in you because they don't know you."

And arguably, it's never been easier to miss the support, with many venues publishing specific stage times.

It means you can be sure of getting in before the headliner starts but can work against those lower down the bill.

Last year, Slaves said they wanted to support the support...

And earlier this year, London's iconic 100 Club said it was debating whether to stop publishing set times, to try and get people to watch the support.

Image copyright Charlotte OC
Image caption Charlotte OC supported Tom Walker on tour and is supporting James Arthur

Charlotte OC was born in Lancashire and is on tour supporting James Arthur at the moment.

"It's been amazing," she says.

She's also supported Tom Walker and says most of her experience has been positive.

Although, there was the moment she overheard a waiter telling two women they didn't need to worry about being late because they'd only be missing the support act.

Charlotte remembers thinking: "That's me."

But if you've got a thick skin, it's certainly worth putting in the hours to get new fans.

"After supporting Tom Walker my followers went up a serious amount. I had 2,000 more followers."

Charlotte thinks things are changing and that people do like to watch the support.

"The crowds have been so lovely and I've been getting really good feedback."

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