Are Local Residencies Really Necessary?
Editor's note: Occasionally, Up on the Sun contributor Christina Caldwell chimes in on local music, tackling topics like "how to get press" and asking questions like "What makes the ideal music venue?" This week, she addresses a topic we've looked at before -- the concept of local clubs doing month-long residencies here in Phoenix. What do you guys think of residencies? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.
Snake! Snake! Snakes! began its Rogue Bar residency on Saturday, June 16.
Honestly, what is a "residency?"
I know the technical definition, yes. For those who don't, it means a regular engagement a at single venue, usually for a specified length of time.
For example, popular names like love-to-love/hate her songstress Lana Del Rey and guitar god Carlos Santana have recently taken up brief residencies of their own -- Del Rey in both Los Angeles and New York and Santana in Las Vegas. And for artists of their stature, it makes perfect sense. Not only do they have a large enough fan base to make it worthwhile, but the likelihood that they sell out every scheduled show is high. When you think about it, it's really cool. Instead of planning your schedule around the one-off appearance of your favorite artist when he or she comes to town, you can pick and choose which dates you want to see an artist.
Though lately, we've been seeing the word "residency" thrown around a lot by local artists. Scottsdale's Rogue Bar and Long Wong's both host a month-long residencies, featuring acts that we love, like Sundressed and Snake! Snake! Snakes! The appeal is obvious: you get to hang out in a place you like, and band's get a place to stretch out and try new things. Covers, special guests, the works. Band's get a solid paycheck for a whole month and club's get to build solid relationships with local musicians.
Of course, that's when everything is going right.
Don't misunderstand. I'm not dissing local music or local clubs. In fact, a few months ago, I outlined in a blog that playing frequent shows is a great way to get press attention, but is that really a "residency?" Is it really your home-away-from-home "residence" when your practice space is a mere 15 miles away? Does the residency model work for locals?
In 2010, local nerd rockers Kinch took up a rather ambitious goal of three residencies in a single month. On Mondays, Kinch played Silverlake Lounge in Los Angeles, on Tuesdays, they played Soda Bar in San Diego, and on Saturdays, they played the Rogue Bar. The certainly wasn't the start of local residencies, but it did seem to spark a line of local artists taking up shop at Rogue Bar these past two years.
In Kinch's case, they'd already enjoyed buzz by the time they took up a residency at the Rogue. Plus, Los Angeles and San Diego are both music-and tourism-heavy towns. It wouldn't be downplaying our own scene to simply say that their music scenes are bigger. After all, with larger populations, come larger crowds with more diverse musical sensibilities. Tourists who want to get a feel for the scene can go to any of these well-known venues and catch a touring or local act. To see one non-local act on the bill four weeks is arguably a pretty big deal. They must be good, right? (P.S. Kinch? Where did you guys go?)
So are Phoenix residencies really necessary? Most of the bands that take up residencies are playing weekly shows anyway. Why does it make a difference that they're doing it every Sunday at a single venue?
Here's my idea on how to make local residencies successful: On June 2, Black Carl, What Laura Says, Mergence, and Future Loves Past (all incredible local bands) grouped together for the local show to end all local shows. At least that's what I was told. I stood in line for 30 minutes before the show sold out. The line at Crescent Ballroom stretched to Van Buren Street and beyond. If those same bands did the same thing the following week, I'm convinced they would have sold out that show, too. Sure, there might be some dwindling interest toward the end of a four-week run, but overall, grouped together, these bands could form a successful residency than they would alone.
The point is if you want to do a residency, you need to make it different. You've got to make it unique. Make each night of your residency an event -- not just another show that week.
Make quirky videos like Tugboat did. Undergo ambitious endeavors like Kinch. Create a festival vibe like Mitch Freedom's Phantasmagoria at Long Wong's. Don't just play the same set you did a week ago and really expect people to show up.
I'd love to see the local residency succeed but, bands, you have to make it succeed. Sometimes that's about little more than simple marketing.