This article originally appeared on the DIY Musician blog.
Residency gigs – where you perform on a regular basis at the same venue – give you a great way to “stretch out” musically, build a more loyal fanbase, and get a little relief in the booking department (since you’ll be booking a whole series of gigs in one fell swoop).
In one way, the gigs can be more relaxed because you turn the stage into a kind of home away from home. Interesting musical things can happen, and you might be more apt to create memorable moments between you and your fans. At the same time, the pressure is on to keep each show engaging in its own right or else fans might get bored and stop attending.
I’ve done a few different kinds of residencies over the past 10 years:
- every night for a week
- once a week for a month
- once a month indefinitely
No matter the schedule, all of these residencies shared some things in common. Here’s what you have to consider with each residency.
1. You (and your fans) are in it for the long haul
You can’t judge the success of your residency on the first (or even the last) night. If you’re used to playing a show at a local club and getting 300 people out, think about your residency as a chance to throw a revolving party where those fans can pick and choose when they want to attend. They won’t all be there at once.
If you play a week-long residency, imagine each of those fans attending just one of the seven nights; suddenly your draw is down to about 40 people per show (though the idea, of course, is to turn each of your residency gigs into an event worth attending so fans will come out again and again).
2. Your residency is all about location, location, location
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to picking the right venue for a residency.
First and foremost: does it host residencies? If not, can you convince the venue?
Second: will you (and your fans) be comfortable there? You’re going to be spending a lot of time at this place, so make sure the sound can be dialed to your liking, that your fans enjoy the ambiance, the staff is friendly, the food is good, the drinks don’t cost dozens of dollars, etc.
Third: parking! It needs to be easy, otherwise you won’t see a lot of return visitors on subsequent nights.
Fourth: size matters. Remember that 300-capacity room you really love to play? It’s probably too big for your residency, since again, your draw will be spread out over a number of nights.
3. Timing is everything
As a general rule, there’s no “right time” for a residency, but there’s definitely a right time for your particular fanbase.
For a long time, one of the most popular residencies in Portland, OR, happened on Sunday afternoons, which I would’ve thought was the worst time, but it totally worked for the band’s fans who came out to drink and dance and stretch their weekend as far as it would go.
If you have a big following of "business professionals" (whatever that means), maybe your ideal time is during the middle of the week around 6:00 p.m. to catch the happy-hour crowd.
Think about what’s best for your fans, and you might just turn your residency into a ritual.
4. Variety is the spice of life
Residencies are usually longer gigs – two to three hours. So you can’t just play the same 45-minute set every time. You can’t just play the same three-hour set every time, either!
If you want these events to become a fan ritual, you’ll need to do a little something different each time. Here are some ideas:
- Add new cover songs
- Do a tribute set (where you perform five to 10 songs by your favorite artist)
- Concentrate on a different one of your own albums each night, either doing a set of songs from that album in a row, or interspersing them throughout the show
- Prizes! (Do some kind of costume, trivia, or theme contest)
- Change the instrumentation and arrangements: an unplugged set, extra orchestration, different samples, different transitions between songs, jam some songs out longer than usual, etc.
5. Guests are golden
The best way to keep your residency dynamic is to highlight a different guest artist each night. Collaborate with them on at least a couple songs, or the whole set if possible. If your residency shows are long enough, you can even offer the guest their own set: opening, headlining, or sandwiched in between two of your sets.
Guests are great for residencies in a few ways:
- you keep things changing creatively from night to night
- you have another artist involved that will help draw fans to that particular residency show
- it gives you another angle to promote the event, since you can put the focus on the guest artist (rather than constantly messaging about yet another one of YOUR residency shows)
I took this approach with a residency I played earlier this year, making a video poster for each night, and then using it to feature the guest and their music as I promoted each show.
6. Consistency is key
After all the talk about variety this tip might seem contradictory, but what I mean is this: don’t throw your fans for such a loop that they feel alienated.
Play the hits. That’s why they’re there. If you’re an acoustic world music ensemble, don’t experiment with a heavy metal night.
Keeping things changing is great, but something that’s totally out of left field might turn off your fans – and then they won’t want to come back for the next night of the residency.
Well, those are some of the important conceptual things to consider when you’re planning a residency. Promoting it? That’s a different story, but the DIY Musician blog is full of music promo tips, so check ’em out!
Some things you’ll definitely want to do:
- Make a point of thanking fans who return multiple nights. They’re the key to building your residency into a ritual.
- Take photos and videos to share online. Your guests might share them, too, and help spread the word.
- Use the uniqueness of each night of your residency to build a story around the individual events and the ongoing series.
- Incorporate what you love about the guest artists into your promotions. Don’t just talk about you. Tell the world why you admire these other musicians.
Do you play residencies? Any successes or failures that we can learn from? Let us know in the comments.
Chris Robley is an indie-pop songwriter whose music has been praised by the LA Times, NPR, the Boston Globe, and more. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry magazine, Prairie Schooner, Boulevard, and others. Robley is also the editor of CD Baby's DIY Musician Blog.