The Echo is a cool little club on the east side of Los Angeles, just grimy enough, with dark blue walls and a crowd that on a recent Monday night included movie stars Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix, bobbing their heads to an all-girl band called The Like.
The Like's show was the final one in its Monday night residency. Rock residencies are part of a national trend of club managers turning over their slowest night of the week to an up-and-coming band for a solid month. The owners have nothing to lose and the bands have everything to gain.
"Residencies are an extremely worthwhile thing to do, particularly in this town," says The Like’s lead singer, Z Berg. "It’s actually bizarre how much it works. I didn't expect it to be as effective as it was."
It's effective in terms of building audiences — and that's absolutely necessary in an age of dismal record sales. Residencies have become a fundamental part of L.A.'s rock scene. Financial success depends now on playing live and selling merchandise at shows. Audiences turn up with the expectation that club managers will pick better-than-average bands. And — maybe just as important — the shows are free.
"Having it be free," says drummer Tennessee Thomas, "is a bonus." "I like anything free, really," adds Berg.
Clubs have always made most of their money off drinks, and they can count on bands to bring thirsty friends. As for The Like, the band has picked up hundreds of new MySpace and Facebook fans, at least according to Berg and Thomas. Randall Roberts, pop music editor of the Los Angeles Times, says that because rock residencies last an entire month, there's time for bands to build serious word of mouth. That was the case, he says, with bands including Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, Local Natives and the Silversun Pickups.
"Monday night residencies, especially Spaceland at the beginning, they didn't choose bands that could draw," says Brian Aubert, the Silversun Pickups' lead singer. "It was more them helping bands that didn't draw because the crowds were going to be there [for the residency]."
Silversun Pickups got paid only in drink tickets, but the exposure helped them land a gig touring with a much bigger group, Muse. Aubert says Silversun Pickups' multiple residencies didn't get the band signed, but it did give the musicians an opportunity to play on a regular basis.
In some ways, residencies are nothing new — jazz musicians used to set up shop in clubs for weeks. But now, rock residencies lend credibility to bands such as The Like. Its Monday nights at the Echo helped establish bona fides for musicians who needed to prove they're more than just born-into-the-industry princesses. And after this residency, people may actually pay to see them next time.