An opening slot on a big show can be a plum gig for a debuting artist. It could be an opportunity to get music out to people who’ve never heard it, make a few new fans.
The downside is that most of the crowd isn’t there to see you, but the headliner. Some fans will ignore you, shuffling in their seats and wandering off in search of the merch table to buy a T-shirt or a sticker.
That’s just part of paying dues. But for an established, award-winning artist, the opening slot can seem like a comedown.
Scottish singer/songwriter KT Tunstall, who opens for ’80s pop juggernauts Daryl Hall & John Oates Monday night at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington, said she resisted being an opener for years.
“I was always nervous that you’d be playing for a bunch of people buying beer and not listening to you,” she said. “I stood by the idea that it would be better to play a small show myself.”
“I couldn’t have been more wrong,” she added.
Tunstall, best known for songs like “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” “Suddenly I See” and “Hold On,” stuck to her own smaller shows for years and then had a change of heart. So far, being the opening act has been pretty good.
“It’s kind of great to go along with an artist you adore,” the singer said. “You’re kind of getting the master class and also share the stage with them. Hopefully, you’re the beginning of a great evening for their fans.”
Tunstall has played several shows with Hall & Oates. She essentially grew up with their music, and considered herself fortunate to be along for part of their tour.
“They’re some of the best songwriters on the planet,” she said.
And being part of their shows has taken her to a few venues Tunstall said were on her bucket list of places to perform.
“Honestly, I’m just excited to have a free ticket to the show,” she said.
People come out to see her, too, of course. She has her fans, but Tunstall said she’s sometimes surprised at who turns up.
“I’ve got 17-year-old kids coming up to me saying they’ve been listening to me their whole life,” she said laughing. “I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? That’s not possible.’ But, of course it’s possible.”
The kids, some of them picking up guitars and trying to get into music themselves, discovered Tunstall through their parents, who listened to her records in the car or at home.
A lot has changed since Tunstall arrived on the music scene.
Fifteen years ago, people still mostly bought albums, though it was all beginning to change with music downloading.
“It felt like I was really lucky to catch the tail end of what seems like maybe an anomalous window of when people bought music the old way,” she said.
The old way, buying albums, wasn’t all that old, Tunstall pointed out. The recording industry as people know it — or want to remember it — was largely a product of the 1950s and the cultural explosion of rock ‘n’ roll, she said.
Things changed. She’s not entirely happy about that, but it hasn’t prevented her from doing what she does.
Tunstall still records albums. She believes in them and doesn’t think people aren’t interested in buying them.
Her second album in a trilogy of albums, “WAX,” was released last year, following up “KIN.” A third, yet-untitled record will come out, probably next year, she said.
Part of the reason for the trilogy was the challenge of doing a project of that scope. She said she was a fan of long protracted art projects — like a good television series or a collection of novels.
“The trilogy is kind of a middle finger to the idea that albums are dying,” she said. “So, I’m doing three.”
The trilogy explores themes of soul, body and mind. The project feels right for her and where she’s at as an artist.
Thinking about where she is now, Tunstall said she didn’t know if she could make it in the recording industry if she was just breaking in, but she might have still found her way as a performer.
“People ask me what advice I have to give [about the music industry] and I say just get good at playing live,” Tunstall said.
There may be gimmicks out there, other types of shows, holograms or virtual reality, but nothing beats a live show.
“I love standing on stage with my fist in the air, saying, ‘You have to be here!’” she said.
The crowd always agrees, Tunstall added.