NF’s Moment: A Very Real Musician’s Unreal Year (Hotstar)

– NF

Michigan-based hip-hop artist NF is having an unreal year.  His October 2017 breakout LP Perception debuted at No. 1 and is already certified Gold. Simultaneously his live career has steadily grown with his largest tour recently announced taking him to rooms in the 4,000- to 7,000-capacity range. Credit in part his ability to connect with fans in ways few can. 
“What he’s writing about, lyrically, is resonating with generations at this point,” says Element 1 Management’s Chris Woltman. “It’s maybe best summed up by the challenges we all face in life – how you overcome those challenges, as well as Nate also trying to make sure it is something that can be broadly related to and not just singularly isolated to his life experiences.”
NF has rapped candidly and authentically about such heavy topics as the loss of his mother to a drug overdose, with his 2016 album Therapy Session giving opportunity for introspection as well as inspiring his growing fanbase. 
That personal touch so clear in NF’s music (nee Nate Feuerstein) has been applied to his touring as well, with his biggest headline run yet kicking off in October with large venues like the Armory in Minneapolis (9,500-cap), Aragon Ballroom in Chicago (4,873) and the Anthem in Washington, D.C. (6,000).  
The story on the road has been of steady growth, with fans responding and word of mouth paving the way well before his music was taken to the mainstream channels.
“It’s amazing to watch how Nate’s business has grown with touring leading the way, the idea of taking a great live show out and driving discovery,” said Woltman, who also manages Twenty One Pilots. “Watching that progression over the last two and a half years, with every step being very methodical and not skipping any. Rolling into these big rooms for the fall, all the hard work is starting to really, truly pay off for all the right reasons.”
CAA’s Jeff Krones told Pollstar that NF’s previous “Perception” tour leg sold out all 78,000 available tickets, with many shows going clean four months in advance. Some markets saw big upgrades, such as his March show in Salt Lake City that moved twice into a 4,000-capacity room and still sold out. 
Overseas he had a similar upgrade, with a London show starting at 250-cap before growing to 500-cap, to 1,400 to finally 2,500 capacity sold out two months in advance, Krones said.
Krones says NF keeps his fans engaged by consistently feeding them new music, such as the single “Why” that dropped as the tour was announced and had more than 2 million YouTube hits in a couple days. 
“The fans are just eating it up,” Krones said. “It sets up the touring really well when you have somebody who’s as engaged as he is.” The music comes from his own label imprint, appropriately titled NF – Real Music. 
NF got his start in the Christian music world, winning Dove Awards, featuring on a TobyMac song and touring with Crowder a few years ago, but it quickly became apparent that NF’s reach was universal.
– NF
NF fills the Fillmore Philadelphia Feb. 9.

“We saw what was happening after the second record, the marketplace on the mainstream side had just really woken up to the NF brand and we were able to come in and support that,” Woltman said. “It was there that we needed to raise the stage from which he could play, and that’s where a lot of the strategy came from.”
He’s not the only artist to branch away from the Christian-focused realm, with artists like P.O.D. and Lecrae having a Christian underpinning but transcending those confines.
NF’s reach has blanketed the United States with Q1 sellouts including at The Masonic in San Francisco (2,940 tickets), The Fillmore Auditorium in Denver (3,700) and South Side Ballroom in Dallas, which moved 4,004 tickets and grossed $89,379. 
The strategy has been to play festivals where appropriate (Lollapalooza, Firefly among the few) but focus on the long-term sustainable career, which means headlining.
“The idea is really to put it on his back and build him as a headliner. When it makes sense and we have the time and the market is free, we’ll do a festival,” Krones said. “This summer we’re also on the Logic tour playing arenas and amphitheatres, so we had to pass on a few things. I think festivals are great but he’s the kind of artist that when you have that kind of traction, you play festivals when it’s the right time.”
NF himself has enjoyed the ride, too, and has made it work into his personal life. 
“He’s getting married Labor Day weekend and as long as we give him his breaks he seems to really enjoy it out there,” Krones said. “He’s been blown away by the reaction – the long lines ahead of time and the long lines after the show.” 
With Krones and Woltman also working together on Twenty One Pilots for the last seven years (who just announced a 60-plus date world tour of arenas), the story was similar with NF connecting with fans and building. 
“I remember when Nate was in our office when we were signing him, and we pointed to Ascend Amphitheatre across the office and said you will be playing there soon, and he will be playing there soon,” Krones said. “So it’s a cool story, and it’s nice that it came out of Nashville too.”
Krones works from CAA’s Nashville office, which represents artists such as Judah & The Lion, Dan + Shay, Needtobreathe and others.  
“It’s been fun to take some of these acts from 200-300 tickets to 5,000-6,000, and Nate’s just another example of that,” Krones said, adding that “everything is lining up for him to be an arena headliner very, very soon.”
As for what’s immediately next, Krones said, “I’ll tell you this, we’ve left about 25-30 markets clean we can go bigger into next year.”