Sharing his passion for music is at the epicenter of Waref Hawasli’s professional life. As the pioneer behind Opnr, a Detroit-based digital platform that connects artists with concert organizers, the entrepreneur aims to support the independent music community. “A platform to help bridge the gap between promoter and musician just wasn’t there,” he says. Hawasli created Opnr to offer digital networking opportunities for artists and help them secure opening acts.
But prior to launching the platform locally, Hawasli’s penchant for music veered him overseas. As a recent college graduate, he launched Rolling Stone Middle East in Dubai. There, he was in charge of the editorial team, but eventually ended up directing a majority of his efforts into the marketing side of the business to help develop the new brand. With four years at Rolling Stone under his belt, Hawasli eventually saw the need to leverage his talents and experience working in the music industry stateside.
Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Hawasli, 37, initially studied psychology at Wayne State University. His passion for music, however, would later spark an interest in music marketing. “I started managing my friend’s band out of my college dorm,” he says. “I gravitated towards independent music organically.” During this time Hawasli began learning how to drive awareness for new talent.
After earning a degree in psychology in 2006, Hawasli had plans of attending law school in Detroit, California, or Chicago. Yet after a two-week vacation in Dubai following his undergrad graduation, he fell in love with the Middle East country. “Dubai was a phenomenal landscape when it came to entrepreneurial drive.” He put law school on hold and moved to Dubai where he launched HGW Media, a small operation that focused on publishing, production, and digital media. Through HGW, he was able to connect with Wenner Media, owner of Rolling Stone, and secure the rights to launch a Middle East publication.
In 2010, Rolling Stone Middle East rolled out to Arabic countries, “shedding light on the independent music scene that needed a platform in the Middle East,” Hawasli says. “A big part of my focus was engaging with the local community.” While Rolling Stone Middle East featured many of the stories featured in the U.S. edition — cover stars included Justin Bieber and Rihanna — it also spotlighted local stars, such as Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila and comedian Nemr Abou Nassar. The magazine was also active in its coverage of the Arab Spring protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions.
“The built-in DNA Detroit has from a music perspective is huge.”
— Waref Hawasli, founder of Opnr
The publishing industry took a downturn in 2012 as magazines shifted their focus to digital content. In 2014, Hawasli sold Rolling Stone Middle East and returned to Michigan, resettling in Grosse Pointe, where he married and had two children, Sienna, now 3, and Sydney, 6 months.
His first foray into the local independent music community since departing Rolling Stone Middle East, Hawasli created Fanic Music in 2016. The software was intended to help local musicians connect with industry professionals, however, Hawasli quickly noticed a trend. “Within three months of operation, I realized our platform was showing more signs of growth in one specific category and that was talent buyers using the software to find local musicians to open shows.”
Zeroing in on this need, Hawasli shifted gears and began developing Opnr, a separate software that focused solely on finding talent for opening acts. Launched in 2018, Opnr now has more than 4,000 users in 44 states, successfully securing more than 250 opening opportunities nationwide.
Headquartered in Detroit, Hawasli says there was no other city he’d rather operate out of, thanks to the city’s rich musical landscape. “The built-in DNA Detroit has from a music perspective is huge,” he says. “To be able to bring a platform like Opnr to life in my hometown in the music space was a natural decision.”
Meet The Talent
These Opnr users are on the rise
Allye Gaietto: The Detroit-based singer-songwriter makes indie-pop music with jazz influences and passionate lyrics. Her latest single, “Give Me Your Now,” is no exception.
Nolan The Ninja: The 26-year-old rapper and emcee grew up on Schoolcraft Avenue. Now, he’s known for his lyric-driven, ’90s-style melodies and powerful vocals.
Noveliss: A member of Detroit hip-hop group Clear Soul Forces, Noveliss is known for his unique approach to lyrics, often incorporating “nerdy” elements from science and anime.
Often Home: Hailing from Grand Rapids, this alternative pop band will play their upbeat, popular songs at venues across the state all summer long.
Forstory: This indie-pop band from Indianapolis sold out their first show in 2018 when they played their catchy single, “You Don’t Get Me.” Now, they’re touring the Midwest. — Ashley Winn