Basic Guide To Residencies

Like most actors in Hollywood, I have no idea how I became successful but I’m going to give you advice on it.

Harpy Friday, Here’s something to get you in the mood to read this today:


Settle down, settle down class.

Right, Let’s start from the begging.

What’s a Residency?

Well, a ‘Residency’ is when you have a gig that repeats and keeps repeating on a weekly or monthly basis or all one big cluster. you could have a 3-6 month residency on a cruise ship for example. It’s pretty great! there are many perks, Someone parks my car sometimes!

The Residency is idea for pianist and harpist who are their own accompaniment. Finally, that crippling loneliness lands you a killer gig! I mainly have my residency at the Hilton because they can’t fit their baby grand piano into the restaurant, win for Sammie!

How do I get one? 

well, like most actors in hollywood, I have no idea how I became remotely successful but I’m going to give you advice so you can also attempt this!

I’d like to say I got my residency through hard work and being the best harpist in Cardiff, which is probably not true, there are some pretty famous harpist here. I got my residency through busking… yep, good old fashioned sitting on the street, singing Bette Midler classics!

I was playing ‘The Rose’ and the lounge manager for the Hilton gave me his card and I drop them an email on the way home.

I went in for a trial session and then about two month later they booked me full-time.

So, ‘How do I get a residency’? be lucky. sorry. Be lucky, go ask places you could see yourself playing, you’ll find it pays to be bold! ask local businesses and make sure you don’t go crazy with the prices and let them know your taster sessions are free! (that’s the main fear, that even if they don’t like you they may have to pay you).

You’ve Gotten your residency, now what?

well done my friend! First thing’s first, make sure you state your demands early on, you want amount of money, a latte waiting for you each session and full access to the spa and gym. This is where I messed up, when I got my residency I was so scared of annoying members of staff and getting kicked out that I didn’t push the limit at the beginning. I didn’t make outrageous diva demands, which is what you’re SUPPOSED TO DO!!! I didn’t even ask for a coffee or if I could use the piano stool from the lobby… I was there for 6 months until I realised I didn’t have to bring my own stool in from home! I also didn’t get some fancy drink ordered every time and now have to wait at the bar for tap water like a chump! So remember:

  • Make crazy demands
  • Don’t annoy the staff
  • Ask annoying questions about stuff.

Getting paid.

The saga I have to explain to all of my friends when I talk about my work is that the hilton didn’t pay me for almost 4 months after I started working there! crazy I know!

It takes big hotels ages to pay their musicians, this is just something you have to deal with, the Hilton, Celtic Manor and I’m sure any other hotel with a harpist have a terribly tricky time doing it all. So my harpy friend, Just wait it out! but do follow up and be pushy about it because otherwise they won’t actually pay you…

Know that you don’t know your audience!

When you’re playing a concert you’ve got a program, the people who like what you are playing have come to hear you play, or how like your instrument etc. With background music, you are not the reason people came. you are simply a delightful addition to the experience!

So, try new things, vary it as much as possible! when I do my stuff I start with Jazz and meander through musical theatre, some folk and whatever else takes my fancy on the way. as long as you’re good at your job you’ll be fine!

Just keep it interesting and remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to because most of the time no one cares what you play! just play it well!


Practical check list

  • Talent? (are you good at it? great!)
  • Luck (They aren’t going to find you magically)
  • Gumption! go ask people for things!
  • A good repertoire (I just use lead sheet and improvise chords with my left hand)
  • Outrageous demands, Mini-bar in the shower? but of course!
  • Killer wardrobe. I’m kidding I’ve wore the same dress to work for the last 3 weeks and no one’s noticed!


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Car Trouble, Cold Snap and Being A Grown Up

Week 2, Let’s do this!

First, To set the Tone, Here is a photo of Big Harp ready for summer.


Get the Sunscreen!!!!


This Week has been a pretty average week for me, Hilton, Busking and teaching! Let’s Start with Saturday.

Car Troubles

There are only 4 things you need to be a harpist (excluding ‘talent’ of course), they are:

  1. A Harp (Preferably a good make and model but we can get to that another time)
  2. A Tuner (to tune the aforementioned harp)
  3. A Trolley (If you have a big harp and care about your spine)
  4. A Car (to get to the places to play said harp, to pay for said harp)

A serval points in my career I have left the house without one or more of these. Recording day for my EP (The Live EP available for Purchase HERE!) I’d gotten set up in the studio and found I had lost my tuner at the Butetown Carnival the day before… then ran back to my house to pick up my spare.

Saturday I had the misfortune of my Car’s battery dying right before I had to go to my residency at the Hilton. It wasn’t the end of the world because the Cardiff Hilton is a 25 minute walk away from my home and it wasn’t raining. I know what you’re thinking ‘Why don’t you always walk to work if it’s that close?!? SAVE THE WHALES!’ well, the main reason is the Gut strings, when you are playing up to £30 a string (and there are 28 of them on my big harp) the cold weather is not your friend. However, since my car was not going to work I had to walk.

A Disclaimer first: I am very stupid.

I set off. I did not bring a coat. I did not bring a pair of sensible shoes and my tights ladder pretty much the second I left my street. But 25 minutes later I was at work with 2 minutes to spare!

I feel I should stress that I am usually at least half an hour early to the Hilton each week, which is awkward most of the time because on a normal weekend I just have to sit there in an empty restaurant before they open for afternoon teas at 2pm. Anyway, the Hilton is Lovely and you should all go there for afternoon teas Saturdays and Sundays 2-4pm for the fantastic staff, great food and incredible live music *cough cough*, that is if I’m still working there when you read this and I’m not Adele but with a harp… (I have dreams!)

Sunday, I left 4 hours to fix this problem, so I rang the AA at 9:30. The mechanic came, fixed the problem and went by 10:30.That was easy! Being a grown up is really simple about 60% of the time, it’s just filling out forms and calling other people to do things that you don’t know how to do (within reason).


awww’Cold Snap

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this week, but it is freezing! and I can not function in this level of cold. It was alright on the weekend but this week has been a chilly one (Only one string broke in my epic Hilton walk, just for those of you still wondering).

It’s the same temperatures we normally get in January, but because of the crazy mild winter it feels like death has finally come to claim you! Quite far from the roses currently blooming in my back garden:


Today (Tuesday, I’m doing the magic of scheduling my posts, internet trickery I know!), It was -1 and 0 for most of the morning busking. this has been the case for most years I’ve busked in the winter in Cardiff. This year, however, prepared so well for it, I bought a new wool coat and thermal socks and it never got chilly! I even bought snow boots this year and guess what; It snowed everywhere in the UK except Cardiff… Just my luck! (Although busking in the snow is not as much fun as it sounds, I did it about 3 years ago!)

So I’m 50/50 about this cold snap, it means it’ll be chilly but it also (and very sneakily) separates the wheat from the chaff in terms of buskers. For the seasoned ones of us who have been doing it for years and have built up, not only the tolerance but the appropriate outerwear, this cold weather is exactly what we expected the 8 months of winter here in Cardiff to be like! I jest! 10 months of winter. It’s the UK after all.

But this Cold snap means that those guitar wielding ‘Singer/songwriters’ are less likely to come and populate the good pitches, mainly because urban outfitters doesn’t fair well in freezing temperatures!


Being a Grown Up.

My personal New Years Resolution was to learn how to be more of an adult, in terms of feeding myself, doing my taxes properly, and finding the best deal for a mortgage… So not the fun adult stuff like sex, drugs and … ummm…. Voting… I guess!

So 19 days into 2016 I have done about… -2% of the things on the list. But I’m sure by the time this publishes I will have set up my mortgage appointments with my banks (Future Sam don’t screw me over on this one, you beautiful fool!).

The Silver lining is that I did my taxes in the summer. Sure, I didn’t do them to the best way that would suit my swanky Wall Street Alter-ego but I did them correctly and paid my taxes so that’s the main issue here!





‘Helpful Tips’ For Young Musicians

I thought for my final section I would finish with more tips for young musicians aspiring to the heights I have reached. Here are my Thoughts this week:

1)You’ve Got Time. You will probably work 10-20 hours a week, maybe 30 if you get a good gig or nice side job to support yourself, (40 if you live in London, haha suckers!). You have so much time that you don’t need to rush places and you are NEVER ‘busy’. Any Musicians or Musical person who says they are ‘busy’ is lying! I know this because I have used this word to describe me sitting in my Pyjamas watching South Park from start to finish. If you are talking to a Musician who is actually ‘busy’ they are on their way to a fabulous event or have just come from a rehearsal and this is their 15 minutes between one thing and the next. Musical people do this very irritating thing where they think are the most important and busy working professionals alive, which is sometimes true if you are Joyce Didonato, and not at all true if you are a Cardiff Music School undergraduate in between your 4 hours of lectures a week. I won’t go into the things I dislike about musical people now. That’ll be for another time. The Point is You’ve got 112 waking hours in a week, if you are only working for about 10-30 you’ve got time. Slow down buddy.

2)Always be Early, not ‘On time’, Early. Another thing I noticed in my undergraduate was that everyone was always ‘on time’ for lectures, this is fine for an academic setting where you can wander into class at bang on the hour but absolutely unacceptable for professional musicians (unless, again, you are Joyce Didonato, then you can do whatever you want). Because I didn’t grow up being a harpist and only really started properly after graduating I have always been suspicious of my instruments. I always arrive anywhere from an hour to 30 minutes before because I like to have ‘Harp Faffing Around’ Time.

It’s the time it takes to get to a venue, get into a venue, unpack, re-string if necessary, set up your stand, have the staff ignore you when you try to get a drink, find the bar, wait at the bar for the staff to notice you, get the tap water you wanted (I know! WHAT A DIVA!?!?), find your music, tune and then have 10 minutes remaining to find the venues wifi and take pictures of your harp to post online so other harpists and musicians can get venue-envy (a term I just made up). So I arrive early so I can do all of this in a nice relaxed way. It has made life basically feel like a yoga class and a spa, which is then hammered home by the fact I play harp. Basically Always be early for things.

See! Venue-Envy!


3) Never Show Up Unprepared. I have only ever shown up unprepared for busking, which is the only place it is acceptable to show up unprepared for because it is effectively ‘paid rehearsal time’ in a safe environment. I try out all my new pieces busking. When you are working on a big professional project, be it audition, concert or show if you turn up unprepared you will be the only one. If you are the soloist or sole performer of your instrument it will show. I did a National Youth Choir of Great Britain concert a few years ago where the organist hadn’t prepared all the music properly and he was cut from the concert and a replacement was brought in. yeah! the musical world is a tough one Kido! So, repeat after me, ALWAYS BE PREPARED!

And That’s where I’ll leave it this week, here’s a picture of me being my amazing-self at a tiny gig on sunday night.


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