Entertainment

From indie musicians to pop stars, artists turn to mini-residencies as an antidote to gruelling tours

From Taylor Swift and Harry Styles, to The Weather Station and Busty and the Bass, artists are increasingly opting to play a string of shows in one city, to make up for the rigours and high costs of touring.

'I think we all wish that we could play more residencies,' said Tamara Lindeman, of The Weather Station

A woman sits at a piano.
Tamara Lindeman, lead singer of the Canadian alternative band The Weather Station, will play a mini-residency in Toronto this December. (CBC)

Tamara Lindeman, the Canadian singer-songwriter behind alternative band The Weather Station, has plans to revisit her musical eras this year: she and her bandmates will hold a three-night residency at Toronto's The Great Hall in December, performing two of their albums each night.

For her and other artists, the rigours and high costs of a touring lifestyle — financially, mentally and environmentally — make the opportunity to stay in one place an alluring proposition.

"The modern touring schedule is very punishing," Lindeman told CBC News. "You're covering distances that I think are probably not humane to cover. The expectation is quite high to keep moving.

"So I think we all wish that we could play more residencies," she said.

Enter the mini-residency: Taylor Swift will settle in Toronto a short stretch next year to play six shows, while Harry Styles's most recent tour spanned 42 shows — but across only five cities. K-pop's BTS followed a similar structure for their Permission To Dance tour last year, playing 12 shows in three cities.

Those are just the mega pop stars. Independent musicians and live musical professionals say the mini-residency model cuts costs and improves the concert experience, while also acknowledging it risks wider exclusion of smaller music markets — and asks fans to bear the burden of travel and costs.

Economics aren't the same for every artist

A man in a shiny suit sings on stage.
Harry Styles performs during the 65th Grammy Awards in 2023. The pop singer announced a residency tour last year, playing an extended run of shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Toronto. (Getty Images for The Recording Awards)

The Jonas Brothers, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello, LCD Soundsystem and Phish have all gone the residency route in recent years. And like Lindeman, Canadian singer-songwriter Feist held down the fort at a Toronto venue for 10 days in 2021.

The residency concept dates back to 1944, when Liberace was credited as being the first to set up shop in a single Las Vegas venue for an extended run of live performances. Elvis took the format to new heights during the latter half of his career, spending much of the 1970s performing at Vegas's International Hotel.

Over time, Vegas residencies developed a notoriety in the music business and became known as the place where careers went to die — sneered at for their kitsch factor and reserved mostly for novelty acts.

That turned around in 2003, when Celine Dion launched a five-year residency that was ambitious to the point that a new venue, the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, was built to house it.

A woman wearing a hard hat and holding a drill poses for a photo.
Celine Dion tours the new Las Vegas home of her unique stage spectacular for the first time in May 2002 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. The residency opened in March 2003, with Dion accompanied by a cast of 70 dancers, musicians, characters and artists. (Darrin Bush/AFP via Getty Images)

"Everyone thought we were crazy," said Concerts West CEO John Meglen, a music executive who oversaw the Dion residency, reinventing the format in the process.

While Meglen oversees large-scale productions — "it's about creating a show that you can't travel" — there is a strong demand for live music in the post-COVID lockdown years that makes it easier to ask fans to do the travelling. Live Nation said last month that the company had its strongest second quarter ever this year, reporting $5.6 billion US in revenue and 117 million tickets sold.

Naturally, the economics of residencies aren't the same for every artist. Swift and Styles are outliers in their capacity to pack venues in the same city for several nights in a row; less established artists may not have a dedicated fan base to meet them where they're at.

"You're not going to do five shows if you can only sell two," Meglen said. "[But] if you can sit in one place longer, it's always going to save you money. Load in, load out. You only have to do it one time and you'd get five shows."

Lindeman likened the costs of touring to "taking four adults on a one month-long vacation."

Inflation only made things worse, she said. She booked a tour in 2020, but by the time those shows happened in 2022, the budget had changed drastically.

The climate crisis is an important consideration for Lindeman, too, as she and others in the music industry are changing the way they tour to mitigate the environmental toll of the practice.

It's one of the reasons why she thinks touring will look fundamentally different in the future.

"I think, someday, we'll be looking back, [like], 'Wow. Remember when bands would just come to your city all the time and you could see them? We took it all for granted.'"

Mid-size markets get short end of the stick

Taylor Swift performing on stage.
Taylor Swift performs on the opening night of her Eras tour at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Some fans were disappointed when she announced her six Canadian shows, scheduled for 2024, would all be performed in Toronto. (Kevin Winter/TAS Rights Management/Getty Images)

For a number of mid-size cities in Canada, that notion has already become a reality. 

Performers who used to make concert stops in Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg or Halifax are now regularly skipping these smaller markets, leaving Canadian fans with no choice but to travel to Toronto or Montreal to see their favourite artists live.

Adrian Simon, who manages Canadian production duo Loud Luxury, said there is an abundance of logistical benefits to staying in one place. Lights, lasers, LED panels and other production pieces have to be locally sourced if an artist can't bring them along, he explained.

"Finding somewhere in every single city to source these things — or for them to have to travel into other cities because they can't be sourced in those local cities — is extremely expensive and logistically can be a little bit of a vulnerable position you put yourself in," he said.

WATCH | Vancouver Swifties say it's a bummer the artist is skipping their city:

Vancouver Taylor Swift fans disappointed about Toronto-only tour dates

8 months ago
Duration 0:56
A random sampling of people in Vancouver found some are disappointed that they won't be able to see Taylor Swift perform on her Eras tour, unless they travel to Toronto and can snag tickets.
 

Canada's geography adds another layer of complexity both for touring artists and fans who have to travel for concerts, given the distance between major cities. (Like the 5½-hour drive between Montreal and Toronto, for example.)

"It is challenging to tour in the same way that you can tour in the U.S., because the proximity to [the] market is much easier," Simon said.

Toronto is a convenient place to perform for routing purposes, with a cluster of East Coast states in one direction and the Midwest region to the other, he added.

"If it means them going and performing in Winnipeg, it probably means them not performing in another city that maybe is larger in the U.S."

'You have much more control'

A man wearing a shirt with several different prints sits at a keyboard.
Evan Crofton, also known as Alistair Blu, is a vocalist with hip-hop/soul band Busty and the Bass. He's shown here at a keyboard in his group's Montreal studio. (CBC)

Back in the spring, hip-hop/soul band Busty and the Bass held a four-night mini-residency in Toronto. A second one, scaled back to a single show after a venue mix-up, was planned for three nights in their hometown of Montreal.

With a residency, "you have much more control than when you play night after night in different cities," said Evan Crofton, the group's lead vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist.

The band established a rapport with both the audience and the in-house sound and lighting crew, he said, giving them the opportunity to fine-tune the performance each night. He recalled meeting fans from the U.S. who travelled to Toronto to watch the shows.

"It's not an easy thing to do, touring. I think maybe people glamorize it and underestimate [the] impact that it can have on artists and musicians," said Crofton. But the group won't be leaving touring behind any time soon, he said.

"There are new audiences and new fans in every city you go to, and you can't not show up in some of these towns or cities [where] people really support you and really want to see you," he said. 

WATCH | Busty and the Bass play a four-night residency at Toronto's Drake Hotel: 

Watch Busty and the Bass electrify the crowd at Toronto's Drake Underground.

12 months ago
Duration 1:03:56
With full horns, glowing harmonies and a slew of special guests, Busty and the Bass brought its jazzy grooves to the Drake Underground in Toronto as part of a four-night residency. The band cycled through a number of upbeat songs, including "ET" and "Kids" from the group's 2020 album 'Eddie' for a packed and energetic crowd. "To come back and do a residency, nine or 10 years after we started in college, feels like we're going back to our roots in a way," vocalist Alistair Blu tells CBC Music, ahead of the third show. The addition of singers Mel Pacifico, Wayne Tennant and Jordan Brown enriched the collective's gorgeous vocals and had the audience swaying along. Surprise performers included Magi Merlin, who joined the group for a psychedelic rendition of "Far From Here." The group's trombone player, Chris Vincent, summed up the vibe of the colourful concert: "Anyone who knows our band, knows that the live show is a huge part of it."

Even with a high demand for live music, fans are experiencing the same inflationary pressures that are making it expensive for artists to tour right now. If they have to travel for a show, some may forgo it entirely.

"If you just play in Toronto, you're just playing like L.A. or New York, then these people, you know, they'll feel left out and they won't maybe support you as much. And that's not what we want," said Crofton.

Lindeman, whose last tour with The Weather Station took her across Canada and the U.S., then to the United Kingdom and more than a dozen other cities in Europe, says she's comfortable with holding a special version of the show in Toronto — especially because it's her hometown music scene.

"As a touring musician, I don't get to play at home very much, and yet all of the music I love is local music," she said.

"As a music lover, I much prefer to go see a band that I can see every month because I see them evolve — I see them change. I watched their growth as an artist."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jenna Benchetrit is a senior writer with the business content unit at CBC News. She has also covered entertainment and education stories. A Montrealer based in Toronto, Jenna holds a master's degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. You can reach her at jenna.benchetrit@cbc.ca.

With files from Eli Glasner and Teghan Beaudette

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