Artist residencies for musicians: 5 tips on the application process
Finding affordable housing and a space to do one’s work is a task on the minds of many emerging artists; artist residencies provide a solution, freeing up time and space at low or no cost to the artist. This week, the Passepartout Duo shares some lessons learned on researching and applying to residencies.
Finding affordable housing and a space to do one’s work is a task on the minds of many emerging artists; artist residencies provide a solution, freeing up time and space with low or no cost to the artist. Residencies also emphasize the importance of meaningful exchanges, providing insights into local cultures, communities, institutions, and art markets. We’ve been traveling from residency to residency for about a year and have loved our experiences through these programs: they give us clear short-term and long-term deadlines; they help us stretch our collaborative muscles by working with people from many different backgrounds; and they have helped us adopt a more interdisciplinary approach to our music and practice. Here is the best advice we can give to anyone curious about applying to and pursuing residencies.
1. Finding opportunities
There are a variety of ways to dive into all of the opportunities that are on offer out there. The easiest way to start is through these three websites: transartists.org, resartis.org, and artistcommunities.org. Together, the three websites are an index of more than 1000 different institutions worldwide. These organizations also offer support to the residencies themselves, from creating listings for visibility to fiscal sponsorship in the case of Alliance of Artist Communities.
If you’re looking for a residency opportunity and can’t find at least a handful to apply for here, you’re probably not looking closely enough. There was a day when we sat down and went through every single opportunity in these databases, seeing which ones have a piano, accept musicians, and other factors that pertained to our specific situation.
At first glance, it might seem like applying to all these residencies could add up in application costs, but the truth is that the vast majority don’t have an application fee, have a very flexible application process (as they accept artists of all disciplines), and can be applied to on a rolling basis. And with hundreds of opportunities on offer, there are approaching deadlines each month. You can always check Resartis for upcoming deadlines, or start keeping a residency deadline calendar like we do. Anytime we find an opportunity, we add it to our calendar twice with the appropriate URL: once when we think we need to start working on the application, and once when it’s due. This way, you can immediately add any residencies you hear about that sound like a good fit and then not really have to think about it again until a deadline is approaching.
2. The Anti-Résumé
The headline of a New York Times opinion piece reads: “Stand Out With an Anti-Résumé for Your Next Job Application.” Monica Byrne, a writer, has created an Excel spreadsheet of every failure and rejection she’s encountered and coined the endearing term “Anti-Résumé.” Well, we’ve become pretty extreme proponents of the Anti-Résumé. We have a spreadsheet of both rejections and positive responses. It lets us keep everything in check. In our work, we have a success rate of about 1 in 2 with applications (knock on wood). It just means we have to do twice as many applications as opportunities we’re interested in. We’d encourage anyone to take this approach, to learn from the numbers, and to make their own observations about the application process. Even if our average was 1 in 5, or even 1 in 20, we could easily persevere just having the knowledge of how much work it takes to earn a single opportunity. All in all, it takes a constant regimen of looking for and applying for opportunities to travel from residency to residency.
3. Turning in a strong application
In many of these cases, you’re going to be evaluated by a non-musician against a lot of other non-musicians, and we think that’s great. Our main suggestion is that, on its own, a straight-shot video of you running through your repertoire might not be super impressive to someone who doesn’t understand your instrument or new music. The video you create, and the portfolio you present, should be as representative of your ideas as the music you’re making. We’d suggest trying to reach out to designers or videographers to help make a dynamic and engaging portfolio that helps your project speak on a visual and conceptual basis, more than just on a musical one.
Making videos has been a huge part of our work as a duo, and we think it has played a big role in making our music more accessible outside of the traditional new music spheres, besides adding a collaborative and interpretative layer to the works.
Secondly, there’s an aspect of project proposals that is very important to the application process for residencies. Constantly sending in residency applications has given us a wonderful opportunity to re-codify our ensemble’s values and beliefs on a weekly and monthly basis. With each application, we try to be even more articulate in the conceptual aspects of our work; “Why are we even doing this, and why is it important and relevant to x place in the world?” Choosing a project that has a clear local and community-based proposition, while maintaining a globally accessible concept, is probably the key. If your project pertains to a specific region, you can easily propose it to many different residencies in that same area as well.
4. Building off an “anchor” opportunity and developing it further
Eventually, there comes a point where you’ve landed a great residency opportunity that makes it worth traveling halfway across the world. Maybe it’s that there’s a healthy stipend, a world-renowned artist nearby, or a friend you’d love to collaborate with. We always strive to take these opportunities and stretch them further. Our research to dig deeper is where we make the most progress in turning one opportunity into many. Once we know we’ll have a residency lined up somewhere, we look at how we can add concerts, university engagements, and other activities into the mix.
Our first suggestion is to like every Facebook page and sign up for every mailing list in that certain music scene; it’s the easiest way to see what’s going on in the world. Getting in touch with past residents is another great way to see what is going on in the local community and how the location might impact your work.
After accumulating these contacts, we’re sending emails and calling institutions; with the residency confirmed, institutions and venues will be more eager to invite you to perform or teach. We’re always looking at cost over time too, rather than just cost per engagement. That means that with this one “anchor” opportunity in place, it frees you up to take on engagements that you wouldn’t fly across the world for, per se, but that really contribute to enriching your life and add a lot of value to the whole of the trip.
This idea of building off a single residency opportunity is what will make these experiences rich and worthwhile, and you may find that a residency is usually just the start of many larger relationships with other artists and institutions.
5. Making something while you’re there (what residencies want)
Showing the work you’ve created at the residency to the local community and your hosts is also a very important part of every residency engagement. Bringing enthusiasm and a willingness to share a window into your creative process is possibly the simplest thing you can give in return for these opportunities. For composers and other people whose work doesn’t contain a necessarily performative or exhibitable element, we’d encourage you to find an engaging way of communicating your project to your hosts and the public.
It’s great to have a community engagement project, a performance, or some kind of presentation prepared for any situation. For us, creating videos that showcase our repertoire while in residence and organizing small touring “house concerts” have been some of our most fulfilling and popular approaches. Filming the repertoire can involve the collaboration of locals, and it can portray these unique places in the world. Organizing intimate concerts can help to stretch one’s ability to present and discuss musical ideas with people who might never have been aware of new music, and meeting local people can create lasting memories everywhere you go.
In the end, our approach is summed up in three words: “just do it.” There’s not really much more to it than that; we’re always trying, failing, and experimenting ourselves with a continually evolving approach. These pointers just represent some of the things we wish we more clearly knew when starting out.