It wasn’t long ago that news of a musical artist hunkering down in Las Vegas for a concert residency at one of the famed casinos or nightclubs meant that they were on the decline and their career was stalling to an end. In decades past, a Las Vegas residency meant that an artist’s career had lost its lustre. Now, however, artists are setting up shop in Vegas as a sign that they’ve made it; that they’ve reached a milestone in their career. What was once a backseat to the gambling and partying synonymous with the Las Vegas strip has become a focal point of the city’s tourism industry. People travel from all over the world to take in the unique experience of a Las Vegas concert, if they’re lucky enough to score tickets to shows that often sell out as soon as they’re announced, So, what changed to put Vegas in the forefront of a successful artist’s career?
The rise of the Las Vegas residency began in the early 2000s. At the time, Cirque du Soleil shows were the focal point of the strip. These groundbreaking performances became a spectacle that gained buzz around the world. Although famed artists such as Liberace, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley had exemplified the Vegas residency from the 1940s through to the 1970s, it was the revitalized concept that the Cirque shows brought to the city that inspired one particular artist.
After seeing Cirque’s “O” for herself, Celine Dion was inspired. Her and her team set out to craft a show that was entirely different and separate from her touring show. She also set out to create something that would be too big to take on the road and would need to remain in one place for it to work. Dion and her team signed a three-year contract with the newly established Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Although many in the industry were betting against her, Dion’s show “A New Day” opened in March 25, 2003 to rave reviews. The mix of performance, theatre, and innovative stage-craft and technology that the show showcased was a hit with critics and fans alike. It didn’t take long for the 4,000 seat theatre to sell out every show. Soon after, two more years of performances were added to the residency.
Dion’s original three-year contract netted the singer $100 million plus 50% of the show’s profits. In total, following the final show on December 15, 2007, the show had earned a reported $385 million in ticket sales, with nearly three million people in attendance over the course of five years and 717 shows.
“A New Day” would go on to revitalize the Las Vegas strip and build a new city of opportunities for the music industry. The show still stands as the most successful Vegas residency of all time; however, it did pave the way for a plethora of other artists to launch similar shows. Artists such as Cher, Elton John, and Britney Spears have staged successful residencies in recent years, while bands such as The Who and Aerosmith have proven that other genres outside of pop music can also have a home in Vegas.
Nearly a decade after Celine’s first residency began, a new genre of music began to take shape — and with it came a new business model for Las Vegas. EDM, or electronic dance music, was the culmination of decades of electronic music becoming popularized. Niche genres that were born in New York, Berlin, London, Detroit and San Francisco suddenly found a universal home in Las Vegas as DJs became superstars and popularized the genre. The number of “super-nightclubs” in Las Vegas gave rise to the DJ residency, something that had previously only been popular during the summer months in Ibiza, a small Spanish island in the Mediterranean. Artists such as Calvin Harris, Diplo and Skrillex all came to host their own residencies multiple times a week throughout the year along the strip, some of which are still going strong today. This new type of residency gave way to a new type of tourism for Vegas, with millennials suddenly flocking to the city to take in some of the world’s biggest parties. More recently, with the rise of hip-hop as the industry’s dominant genre, massive artists like Cardi B and Drake have begun to stage their own intimate residencies at popular Vegas nightclubs.
No matter what the genre, the business makes sense for artists. Although most artists make the short commute between LA and Vegas, having a residency in Sin City allows them to stay in one place for an extended time and let the fans come to them. More importantly, with the show staying in one place, artists spend far less on traditional touring costs and, in turn, are able to recoup a bigger share of the show’s profits. While Lady Gaga’s two concurrent residencies, launched earlier this year, surely costs an arm and a leg to stage — featuring no less than a giant robot that towers over the theatre during her “Enigma” show — DJs and other artists with minimal production are able to make more money in Vegas than they ever would touring.
The Las Vegas desert is no longer a graveyard for musical artists’ careers. Instead, it’s a revamped city that has come to celebrate the melding of theatrics and musical performance, allowing artists to stage unique and larger-than-life shows in a larger-than-life city. Although the city’s success has come from a number of areas and has developed over time, ultimately, artists and the city itself can thank one French-Canadian woman for the recent revitalization of the strip. As she prepares to say “au revoir” to the city this June as her second Vegas residency “Celine” comes to an end, Celine Dion has proven that a concert can be so much more than a setlist of songs. As the city’s casinos and theatres continue to adapt to the times and changing trends of the industry, Dion’s legacy will surely go on to cultivate a new generation of success in Sin City.