• Chase Ellsworth

How I Made $1,000 A Week As An Artist With Residency Shows

Key Takeaways:

  • Approach busy restaurants and bars. - It’s easier to go where people naturally are than to try and bring them to you.

  • Understand the problems busy establishments face. - Businesses want to get more customers, sell more, and have happy customers. Get creative with the impact your talent can have.

  • Find the decision maker - Don’t waste time pitching the wrong person. Be persistent and get in front of people who can actually hire you.

  • Know your value. - I recommend charging $100 an hour for two hours during peak hours. It's ok to offer the first night free if you are just starting out but make sure the decision maker is present to watch you perform.

  • Don’t give up - It can be easy to get discouraged by rejection from the wrong people, but if you keep going you will find people just as excited as you are and you’ll feel the difference.

I wasn’t rich, I wasn’t famous (yet) but I was living my dream. My passion had become my career and I was making more money per hour doing something I loved than I had made in an 8-hour work-day at my old desk job.

That was the happy ending, but let me start at the beginning:

I didn’t know how to tell my fiance this, but I had just been fired from my corporate job. Three months before, we had just bought a fixer-upper house from her parents. The basement leaked and there was mold in the walls. We had a home with a mortgage and costly repair bills to go along with that.

I drove home reflecting over why I had been fired from my sales job… I had never been fired before. I always exceeded my outreach quota but I think my downfall was that I did not believe in what I was selling at the time.

I walked into that musty house, and I gripped the handle of my wife’s office door to break the news. But as I turned the handle, a pattern flashed in my memory of all the odd jobs I had held since I was 13 years old. I would start a new job, I would be excited for about 3 months because I was learning something new, but after 1-3 years I would find myself needing a change and I would seek a new adventure. – At that moment, I saw myself growing old and repeating this pattern for the rest of my life if I did not break the chain now.

With that epiphany, I let go of the handle, ran out the front door, and I took the first step onto the unpaved path of being an Artist. There was no onboarding, no training manual, and no boss. I had been practicing my craft as a magician since I was 12 years old and it had been my escape as a kid. Now was my chance to share my gift with the world. But was I good enough? What if I failed and had nothing left? – These were the questions that had held me back before. But none of them mattered anymore. Now, I was more afraid of something else. Growing old, working a safe job and never following my passion. And also..making rent.

My plan was to become a Full time Entertainer.

I made my way to the city, determined to pitch my act to any bar, restaurant, or venue owner that would listen. I had bills to pay and needed to find consistent work. The feast and famine of relying on one-off performances was not going to give me the stability I needed to launch my career. I had to land a residency show, which is a weekly or bi-weekly show at a bar, restaurant, or hotel. When I took on a residency show, I would work for 2 hours during the dinner rush. I charged $200 for the night and any tips I made I gave away to the cooks.

I pitched a lot of bars and restaurants and dealt with a lot of rejection. I learned a few things on the way that I am going to share with you. These are my tips to scout the right establishment that would be a good fit for a residency, finding the right person within the establishment that can actually hire you, and how to understand and solve problems these establishments will pay you for.

Approach busy restaurants and bars. Buskers know that in order to improve the odds of making more money, it is better to perform where people naturally congregate on busy streets with lots of foot traffic than it is to try and attract people to less busy places.

If you already know the hotspots in your city, I would start there. If you are new to the city or don’t know where to go, try googling your “best restaurants in [your city]” or “best bar in [your city]. You can tell if they are busy by checking how many reviews they have. I would target places with at least 100-1,000 five star reviews. You can even click on an establishment on google and see when their peak hours are during the week by scrolling down.

Understand the problems busy establishments face. I created a list of 20 busy restaurants that I wanted to pitch. Busy establishments have a unique problem to solve. The problem is, wait times. In this era of instant gratification there is nothing people hate more than waiting. Especially when it comes to hunger and thirst. Imagine driving 30 min to a restaurant, waiting 30 min to be seated, and having to wait another 30 min to be served. The waning enthusiasm of patrons on a busy night can give the establishment very little margin for error. A single mistake in the service could send the customer over the edge and they might never come back or worse, leave a bad yelp review.

Find the decision maker. Now that I knew the problem that I was trying to solve, I needed to find the right people to talk to. The first few restaurants and bars I pitched, I made the mistake of pitching my act to assistant managers. This was usually a waste of time because even if they loved the idea, it was not in their power to actually hire me.

I found the best thing to do is to ask to speak to the owner or the GM. If you pitch the wrong person you might artificially create a gatekeeper. If the Owner/GM is not there, ask when the best time to catch them might be and make sure to snag the Owner/GM’s business card before you leave.

You may have to visit a place a few times to catch the right person at the right time, preferably not during peak hours. I found mornings and afternoons were good times to catch a GM or Owner.

Make sure to treat the entire staff with a warm and friendly smile. This will go a long way in fostering the positive effect you aim to create in the establishment. You might even get a host, bartender, or server to vouch for you.

Once you get in front of the right person, you can ask them these four questions before making your pitch:

  • When is the busiest night for you guys?

  • What are your peak hours?

  • How long are your wait times?

  • Do customers ever get upset or leave after finding out about the wait time?

Oh, do I have a solution for you! It turns out, if there is some sort of customer engagement or entertainment, this perceived wait time can disappear from their customers minds. Once you get in front of the right person, here is where you can pitch your act. Having entertainment can create a fun, relaxed, and engaging atmosphere. When customers are relaxed and having a good time, they buy more food and drink.

Know your value. I recommend charging $100 an hour and working for 2 hours. This is usually the sweet spot when it comes to peak hours. It’s okay to offer the first night free if you are just starting out. If you do this, make sure you bring the heat and engage with their customers. Also, make sure the person who will be hiring you is there to see you the first night you perform. This is crucial. Everyone else is too busy working to accurately report on how well you did that night. The decision maker needs to see you perform and the impact that has on the night.

Don’t give up. I pitched 18 establishments before I got my first client. I made my way through a lot of No's, Not right now, and maybe’s. I was discouraged but still made my way to the last restaurant I was going to pitch that day, it was a Pizza Place owned by two brothers and they both happened to be there. I got to them in between rushes that day, so they had a minute to chat. I made the same pitch, but something was different this time. They were nodding as I outlined the problem I wanted to solve and before I could finish, they asked me when I could start! I was pitching a weekly show where I would perform every Friday night. I even offered exclusivity by telling them I would not work for any direct competitors. After I got my first weekly show, one week later, I had 3 of them. 3 weeks later, I had 5 weekly shows. It was infinitely easier to land more clients after I got over the hurdle of getting my first one. Social proof can go a long way.

If you go out every week and stay persistent following up with businesses, you will be able to land 5 residency shows. If you charge $100 an hour and work for two hours 5 nights a week, you will bring home $1,000 a week doing something you love. It is common to start getting private booking requests from customers you meet along the way and for this reason I would recommend having a way to easily provide your contact information such as business cards or a sign with your social media tags.

Final Tip: When it comes to making owners and GM’s happy, know that their jobs are to make their employees and patrons happy. Period. If you can help with that, you will get hired. One of my favorite ways to do this, is if I get any tips or have a tip collection that night, I will gift the tips to the cooks or the servers. Nobody ever tips the cooks and they will love you for it! Also, this prevents Owners and GM’s from thinking you’ll just work for tips! Always be kind to everyone that works at the establishment and don’t get in their way. Oh, and always wait to engage with patrons until after their drinks have been delivered and their menus are gone. You don’t want to mess with the flow of the wait staff!

Conclusion: Go to where the people are. Know your audience and the problem you are trying to solve with your act. Catching the decision maker at the right time can be the hardest part but persistence pays off. Don’t get discouraged when a client you really want to land says no. Always follow up. Often, no can just mean “not right now”. If you really want the client, sometimes it can be smart to offer the first night free.

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