Wanna Make a Mark in L.A.?
Here’s the deal: Your band has been given the opportunity to play a standing gig for one month at one of Los Angeles’ indie-rock venues and you might be able to bring some friends along for the ride. However, there are a few catches. You must play exclusively for that club during this period. You won’t be paid. And your gigs will be on Monday nights. Sounds like a scam, but if the clubs in question are Spaceland, the Echo and the Silverlake Lounge your answer might be an emphatic yes.
Silver Lake mainstay Spaceland hosts the mother of all Monday-night residencies. Launched by Mitchell Frank in September 1996, with a monthlong stint by the Negro Problem, the free weekly feature was essentially a means to both draw people into the venue on a notoriously slow night and accommodate the large volume of local bands that were vying for slots at the club. Since then, Monday nights at Spaceland have become an institution, a place where locals can stop by to check out a few bands even when the weekend has left them short on cash. For musicians, the club’s reputation as the starting ground for every hip, east-of–Vermont Avenue band makes it a prestigious mark on their gigographies. Rilo Kiley, Silversun Pickups, Midnight Movies and Sea Wolf all did time here. The Like got a record deal as a result of their residency. As desirable as the gig might be, however, it is equally elusive.
“Ideally, the band should have played the club already a bunch of times and should be at the point, hopefully, where after the residency they should be almost too big to play Spaceland,” says Jennifer Tefft, Spaceland’s talent buyer, who has been booking Monday nights since 1999. Tefft sees the residency as an integral part of artist development. She prefers to select bands that either have an album ready to street or are about to be signed. They should also be able to generate press and radio airplay, at least at the local level.
Oliver Future, who held the October residency, fit the bill perfectly. The Austin-bred, L.A.-based band, who caught Tefft’s attention after a recommendation from a Spaceland employee, self-released their album Pax Futura in July and have been buzzing ever since. Print articles have popped up at the local, regional and national levels, while radio DJs ranging from Chris Douridas and Nic Harcourt at KCRW-FM 89.9 to BBC’s Steve Lamacq have been dropping the band’s tunes. According to the members of Oliver Future, though, leaving the residency with a record deal isn’t the goal.
“I think to us, a Monday-night residency was desirable because we knew moving out here that Spaceland and this part of town was less of an industry-focused part of town,” says singer/guitarist Noah Lit. “So it was a goal of ours to gain success and gain a following in that sort of community.”
Monday-night residencies aren’t just for the unsigned, or even the indie-label affiliates. Experimental-rock, four-piece Manic had inked a deal with Interscope/Universal subsidiary Suretone Records when they booked four engagements at the Echo in August.
“There’s a ridiculous misconception, I would say, that if you’re on a major record label, you have tons of money, you don’t have to work, you have tons of people just kicking ass for you all the time,” says bassist Nate Perry. “At this point, we have to do as much as we can.”
For Manic, this meant passing out promotional copies of their latest EP, Another New Home, in front of various Silver Lake–area clubs a few weeks before the residency commenced. But even the band’s major-label backing and extensive street promotion couldn’t guarantee Manic, whose residency went against that of megahyped Low vs. Diamond at Spaceland, a packed-to-capacity opening night. On that first Monday in August, Manic played to a sparse crowd, but the band performed with enough intensity to fill an arena. The following week, opening-act Oreskaband, in L.A. from Japan for ?a few dates with Warped Tour, helped draw a far bigger crowd. By the third week, Manic had at least tripled their audience and the band maintained that level of interest when they concluded their monthlong stay.
“The third night of the residency is always the strongest,” says Liz Garo, talent booker for the Echo, which is part of Spaceland Productions. “It’s a lot of word of mouth.”
The opportunity to gain fans over the course of a month is crucial, particularly for bands that aren’t technically local. Orange County indie-rock outfit Aushua has managed to build up a strong following on their home turf, but are relatively unknown in Los Angeles. Scott Sterling, whose promotion group the Fold has been hosting free Monday-night residencies at Silverlake Lounge for more than five years, brought in Aushua to help raise the band’s profile.
The greatest benefit of playing a residency, says singer Nathan Gammill, is “repetition. If they like us, they can come back again.”
According to the members of Aushua, one of the bonuses of the Monday-night residency is having the opportunity to bring in allied bands to play. As is typical with these events, Sterling does take suggestions from the residents for support acts.
“We tell the band it’s best to make it a borderless and mutual effort,” he says of the booking process.
Unlike the old local show model, where the band who brings in the most fans wins, these events seem to foster a sense of camaraderie among artists. Just as the resident band might bring in a few extra ears for the support acts, so might the openers draw a crowd new to the headliner. Gammill also notes that bands they brought to the Fold are likely to return the favor.
Though bands must abstain from playing any other gigs in the area for all three club residencies, Sterling notes that exceptions are made if it’s “some one-of-a-kind” opportunity. And none of the musicians interviewed seemed to mind the restriction. After all, when someone books you for four or five dates based on the belief that you will draw a sizable crowd, it’s really not in your best interest to detract from that task. While each club might attract its own set of regulars, it’s still the band’s responsibility to promote. That in-house audience, though, does make it a hell of a lot easier to elicit excitement than if the band were trying to promote a Monday night at some bar on the Westside.
Garo says that Monday-night residencies have become “part of the culture” of the Silver Lake–area nightlife. These free, weekly gatherings have created a symbiotic relationship between bands and nightclubs, with artists gaining followings based in part on their connection to tastemaking venues, and clubs relying on the bands to keep their doors open on a night that would otherwise be considered deadsville. For the rest of us, Mondays have provided the best way for checking out upcoming local groups without busting our budgets.
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