Rocking The Residency: From Harry Styles To Billy Joel To George Strait

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INDIO, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 15: Harry Styles performs onstage at the Coachella Stage during the 2022 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 15, 2022 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for ABA)

After Celine Dion changed the world of Las Vegas residencies in 2003, a cultural shift within the music industry emerged. What was first considered a move done by artists dwindling toward the end of their careers turned into a lucrative position: instead of traveling across the globe with full production for shows, have the audience come to you.

Lady Gaga, Silk Sonic, Carrie Underwood, and Britney Spears are just a few of the powerhouses who have recently taken to Las Vegas for a residency in the years following Dion. 

“If you’re in Las Vegas, it’s a destination city,” Louis Messina, founder and CEO of Messina Touring Group, tells Pollstar. “People from all over the world are coming to Vegas. It’s a transient audience because it’s not like you’re playing to the same people all the time. You’re on tour without being on tour.”

Dennis Arfa, founder and CEO of Artist Group International which represents Billy Joel, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe and more, defines a residency as “a certain amount of shows over a length of time.” The exact length of the shows can be multiple years or multiple months, but the artist must be returning to the same venue habitually in order for it to be a residency. 

“There’s a difference between a run and a residency,” Arfa says. “Billy Joel played 12 nights at the Garden in 2006. That wasn’t a residency, that was a run. A residency is a long-term commitment in a venue.” 

Runs are another lucrative gig in the industry. Few artists can sell out the same arena or stadium for multiple nights, and pushing past five nights, into six, eight, or even 10, is an immense feat. Billy Joel, George Strait, Prince, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift are among those few to have managed to sell out the same venue over and over and over again. 

“Most people can’t do it,” Arfa says. “So it’s not even an option. Or if they can do it, they’re doing it in a small room.” 

This fall, Harry Styles plans on joining those ranks with the announcement of his ambitious 2022 “Love On North America Tour.”

Messina has his own definition of a residency, explaining it as “when you’re sitting in one place for a while, where you make a long-term commitment and you go back.” He describes Styles’ upcoming trek, which will see the Coachella headliner taking on 10 nights at Madison Square Garden, 10 nights at Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif., five nights at Moody Center in Austin, and five nights at United Center in Chicago, as a “traveling residency.” 

Styles had one of the top-grossing tours of 2021, which saw 719,060 tickets sold in the 33 dates reported to Pollstar’s Boxoffice, grossing $94.6 million.

“I mean, Harry’s amazing,” says Messina, whose company produces tours for artists including Ed Sheeran, Eric Church, and Taylor Swift. “Look at what Ed Sheeran’s doing in Europe right now, five Wembleys. People are coming to the artists instead of the artist going to the people, which I love. I think the move Harry Styles did was cool as can be. He’s a great performer, a great entertainer.”

Sheeran’s four shows at Chantry Park in Ipswich, UK, from Aug. 23-26, 2019, sold a whopping 139,984 tickets and grossed a total of $12.9 million, according to reports submitted to Pollstar’s Boxoffice. From June 24 to July 1, Sheeran will be performing at Wembley Stadium five times for potentially 450,000 fans. 

Last December, George Strait played four shows at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, selling a total of 64,914 tickets and grossing $10 million. Billy Joel has played Madison Square Garden five times in 2022 alone, with four dates reported to Pollstar’s Boxoffice. The four total reports see 74,282 tickets sold and a $10 million gross.

David “5-1” Norman, a tour manager and tour accountant whose resume boasts names such as Prince, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Green Day, Earth, Wind & Fire, and more, is a fan of both residencies and long runs. Norman defines a residency as when “an artist sits down for a week or more. One load-in and one load-out with no travel.” 

One benefit of staying at the same venue sees the cutting of costs. By limiting the number of load-ins and load-outs, sets are able to be maintained inside the venue and less work is required. Without the need to travel, artists can save massively on flights, hotels, labor and more. As the current world sees rising inflation and supply-chain issues, staying put in one venue becomes an appealing solution in cutting down costs.

“If you’re playing at a casino, a residency, usually your hotel rooms are taken care of,” Norman says. “Sometimes they pay for your transportation in and out, and that includes flights depending on your stature. A lot of times they’ll include at least one meal a day. So you’re saving on flights, hotels, sometimes per diem. A lot of the travel costs, because depending on the size and scope of your tour, you’re either saving on Ubers or saving on sprinter vans or runners. Once you’re set in place, you’re pretty much golden.”

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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – APRIL 07: George Strait performs onstage during the 54th Academy Of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 07, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Rich Fury/ACMA2019/Getty Images for ACM)

When it comes to sustainability, artists able to stay put in the same venue without having to load in or out are managing to lower their carbon footprint. Fans may also be more likely to travel to see a residency show. However, those trips will be intertwined with other vacations that were likely to occur anyway.

“If you’re sitting in a residency in Vegas, I think that more people in Vegas are going to come moreso than from out of town,” Norman says. “Unless they’re just coming to visit, see the act play, and then continue on with the rest of their vacation. Because there’s so many things to do in Vegas. That residency could just be one of many things that they could go see. They could go see a Broadway-type thing, they could go sightseeing.”

The benefits of doing a residency far outweigh the negatives. In fact, very few downsides come to mind, with Norman citing boredom as one of the only drawbacks he and his clients experienced whenever they would head to Las Vegas. The positives found from staying in the same place include familiarity with the venue, saving money on frequent travel, and having the audience come to you.

“The benefits are you’re in Las Vegas,” says Messina, longtime promoter for George Strait. “People from all over the world are coming to Vegas. You’re in a great venue, like T-Mobile, because the production’s easy. The people that run T-Mobile are fabulous, they know what we like, we know what they like. They treat us great, they treat George great. They treat all my artists that I work for fabulous.”

Artists may find logistical benefits from staying put in one city and performing multiple times a week. Those who instead fly in and out or only return once a month or less do not reap the same reward.

“In the case of what Billy’s doing once a month, there’s no logistical advantages except he lives in New York a good part of the year,” Arfa explains. 

“When someone does Las Vegas, a lot of the time they live in Las Vegas for that period of time they’re there. There’s all kinds of different residencies … the advantage is just being able to exploit your success, to do something amazing in a single venue, in a single city.”

Celine Dion 20 years ago set the blueprint for the modern-day residency. She brought a fresh demand to Las Vegas. The show completely changed the music industry.

“Celine Dion, that was a permanent residency when she was at the Coliseum,” Messina says. “That’s the only place you could see her. And what’s happening right now is the new culture of Vegas and the music business. It’s no longer people playing showrooms. Now they’re in real rooms.” 

Lady Gaga, perhaps inspired by Dion, has an impressive Las Vegas residency of her own. The pop singer has taken to Dolby Live at Park MGM for both pop performances and a jazz set. Her three shows from April 24 to 30 sold a total of 15,315 tickets and grossed $4.2 million, according to reports submitted to Pollstar’s Boxoffice. 

With good money, the familiarity of going to the same venue and easy travel, residencies have become a win-win for everyone. 

“I’ve noticed that a lot of residencies are done by what we call legacy acts, but now you’re starting to see younger acts like what Harry or Usher are doing,” Norman says. “P!nk is getting ready to do one. But it all began with legacy acts playing at casinos. They want to get people in the casino because once the show ends, people are gonna go in and spend money in their restaurants, buy merchandise, beer, and end up gambling. They’re getting new customers coming into their properties. They’re playing the long game.”

With Harry Styles’ upcoming “traveling residency,” a new concept is beginning to emerge. For fans, the possibilities are endless. Setlists can change each night and be filled with deeper catalogs. Super fans who attend all 10 nights could potentially see something different each show, and after Styles brought out Shania Twain and Lizzo for his Coachella performances, the possibility of him featuring special guests is not out of the question.

 “I’m very envious of Harry’s camp to do 10 nights here, 10 nights there. They’re all different,” Norman says. “They’re thinking way outside the box. I think it’s absolutely brilliant.”