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Today’s episode is about the Las Vegas concert residency. From Liberace to the Sphere, we’ve come a long way. To break it all down, I’m joined by Tati from MIDiA Research.
You can listen to the episode here or read below for a few highlights from our talk.
my heart will go on to sin city
Liberace’s residency crawled, so that Celine Dion’s residency could walk, so that the modern pop star residencies could run.
Celine Dion changed Las Vegas the way that Spider-Man (2002) changed Hollywood. It approached an opportunity that many thought was risky and opened doors for a new generation. Before Spidey, superhero movies were in an awkward spot after the mess that was 1997’s Batman & Robin. Similarly, Las Vegas residencies were seen as the place where an artist’s career went to die. But their breakthrough impact was like an economic stimulus package for their respective fields.
A New Day… grossed around $530,000 per show for over 700 shows in its three-year run for several thousand fans per night.
It was the perfect timing for Celine too. She wasn’t a heritage act like Wayne Newton. But Celine was still at a different stage in her career. It was no longer 1998 when “My Heart Will Go On” was the biggest song in the world. She leaned into the Vegas opportunity before others did. She had the early-mover advantage on her side. The only other shows in town were male crooners who were old enough to be her father.
One of the reasons Celine’s first residency did so well is because she was the only show in town for the (relatively) younger crowd. There was less supply of superstar musicians for Vegas tourists to choose from. Now, a music fan could have gone to Las Vegas on February 2, 2024, and had their choice between shows by Adele, Bruno Mars, U2, and Christina Aguilera, plus all of the artists who made surprise appearances at club shows, pool parties, private events, and more.
Celine’s attraction was also validated by Caesars Palace, where she performed both of her residencies at The Colosseum. From The Daily Beast:
“Our very best customers are planning trips to see Celine,” says Caesars President Gary Selesner. “You can go in any bar anywhere in the world—Tanzania, Shanghai—and that song [‘My Heart Will Go On’] will be playing.”
Caesars Palace and other casinos love residencies because these customers increase “the drop.” Here’s a piece from a friend of the pod, Zack O’Malley Greenburg, from a 2013 article he wrote while at Forbes:
“Any star’s fee to play Las Vegas is fair because, bluntly, the casino promoters are not particularly concerned with who is on stage or in the ring,” says lawyer Bernie Resnick. “What casinos care about is whether the presence of the star will increase their nightly gambling profits, known as the ‘drop.’ If the star significantly increases the drop, the casino is justified in sparing no expense to stage a spectacular event.”
Celine Dion’s two residencies have grossed over $681 million in total. The drop for Caesars Palace was likely in the billions. The broader impact for the city overall might need another comma to track the full impact. Since artists like Adele and U2 now gross millions per Vegas show, the demand will continue to grow.
The Vegas lifestyle
Here’s a 2003 quote from Celine Dion when she started her initial Las Vegas residency:
“I can actually lead a pretty normal life in Las Vegas,” she told The Mail on Sunday in 2003. “Yes, I will be a performer, but I’ll also be a wife and mother…During the day I will be with my family, then I will perform and then go home to my bed and my husband. I will cook and clean and make cookies for my boy. It’s perfect.”
It’s quite similar to Adele’s rationale in 2021 for starting her residency in Vegas. From The Guardian:
“It adds up to an obvious choice for Adele. Las Vegas is fairly close to her home base of Los Angeles, where she co-parents her son Angelo with her ex-husband Simon Konecki, and she has said, even on stage, that she is not well suited to touring vast venues.”
And while Celine’s first residency was a five-night-a-week commitment that required her to move to Vegas, Weekends with Adele is a weekend drive from Los Angeles. She does her shows and then heads back to the family during the week. There’s a lot for the modern pop star to enjoy.
But even though the Vegas concert residency life has opened up for acts much younger in their career, it is a position that still needs to be earned.
The Vegas residency is close to the bottom of an artist’s funnel. If music streams are at the top for awareness, and festival runs are in the middle to build interest, then a Vegas residency is as big of a commitment as there is. It’s a high-priced ticket item where fans travel to an expensive city and book their weekend around the artist’s show.
This is how music tourism works. The big music stars first build their fanbase by being a tourists in your city and performing for your community. Then, if the artist grows that fanbase enough, those fans may eventually come to see them in a set location. And since you—the fan—likely have more money than you had when you first became a fan, you’re more willing to pay up for an expensive show and all the glitz and glamour that surround it.
Adele had done several tours for over a decade before she started her Vegas residency. Celine Dion had toured nearly every year of her 1990s commercial peak leading up to A New Day residency. These artists built the fanbase, then the fanbase came to them.
how residencies work in other cities
Vegas is far from the only city for artists to do residencies. Billy Joel has had a residency at Madison Square Garden for a decade. Last year, Harry Styles did 15 shows at MSG as well. Michael Jackson had planned to do an extensive residency in 2009 at O2 in London before he passed away.
Other cities, from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi, to Miami to Los Angeles, will likely put their name in this mix. But Vegas has the agglomeration of entertainment and excess, compressed in a compact area, designed to capture your attention.
A Vegas residency can attract the impromptu high roller who’s up $5,000 from blackjack and wants to go all out that night. A bachelorette party likely has a few people who show up a day or two early. If they’re looking for something fun to do before the rest of the party shows up, a Vegas residency is perfect. It’s an easy city to fly to, with plenty of cheap flights, and a short trip from your hotel to the airport. As Tati called out in our episode, Vegas has become everything that Warren Beatty dreamed of in Bugsy.
Listen to the episode for more on:
– the economics of the Sphere
– Vegas’ changing demographics
– the economics for Vegas hotels
Our Chartmetric stat of the episode:
A few months before Usher first announced his first Las Vegas residency in May 2020, his average out of all the artists in the world. Today, he’s #44, with an upcoming performance in that same city on the biggest artist stage in entertainment, the Super Bowl halftime show.