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House Concert Hosting: a Beginner’s Guide.

March 9th, 2009 | 16 Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

Steve Lawson and Lobelia playing a house concert at Tracy Apps' house, Milwaukee, Dec 08I’ve blogged a lot of late about the whole house concert phenomenon, and Lo and I seem to have inspired a few people with our house concert tour to get out and do it themselves. On Sunday afternoon, Neil Alexander and his amazing jazz/prog/fusion/rock trio Nail played a web-cast house concert from upstate New York, watched by about 15-20 in the room, and across the course of the gig, over 100 online.

It was an amazing gig – I’d heard bits of Neil’s music before, but the feeling of being part of an event, chatting with fellow viewers in the chat room on the UStream page, and sending messages to Neil between songs via the kind person who was monitoring the chat made it very special.

The Nail gig, given that it featured a full drum kit, upright and electric bass, and Neil on keyboards and grand piano was a much more intensive proposition than booking Lobelia and I. So here’s a breakdown of what booking the Steve and Lo Show involves.

The elements are:

  • Us (the musicians)
  • You and your house (the host)
  • Equipment (which we have lots of, but are happy for you to provide too!)
  • Travel (getting us and said musical toys to you)
  • Accommodation (we’re happy with your fold out couch, honest)
  • An audience (normally, your friends, family and a few local music fans who we know)
  • Food (ranging from snacks to a pot-luck dinner)
  • some money (ticket price, sponsorship, patronage, cd sales… whatever, we need to make some cos it’s our job)

That’s it! Let’s join them up:

We come to you - the further it is, the longer it takes and the more it costs. We like using trains, but will rent a car if neccesary. If you have some speakers we can play through, or mic stands we can borrow, it’s easier because we can walk further. If we’re bringing PA as well, the logistics become a little more tricky, but still far easier than a band.

Space wise, we only need about a 6 foot x 6 foot – enough for two people to sit down next to each other and not bump guitars together all the time. The corner of your living room is fine. If you’ve got a through-lounge, we’re laughing (if you’re in the US, and you don’t live in a shoe-box in manhattan, your house is big enough, trust me ;) )

The audience is people you know – the reasons for this are two fold. Firstly, it’s easier for you to ‘sell’ the idea to them, cos they know you, and secondly, you’re not having to advertise where you live to strangers. Some people are cool with that, so they advertise it more widely, but for the most part, it’s a private event. Your address doesn’t appear on any website from us…

Numbers-wise, the audience can be anything from about 10 people upwards. If it is only 10, they’ll have to be willing to pay £15-20 a ticket for the gig (not much, really, for a night when you can bring your own drinks, and watch a gig where you can ask the band questions between songs, and offer them crisps). The more people there are, the lower the ticket price can afford to be.

Bottom line is, we need to guarantee about £150 + some travel money from a (UK) gig. On occasion that stretches, especially if we’re in an area and haven’t got a gig on a particular night, or it’s in a place less than a mile from where we live, or we can get there on one bus… But that’s a ball-park minimum. If you work towards us making £200 + travel + CD money, that’d be plenty. If we make more, bonus! It helps to off-set those gigs where we just make the minimum. For Europe/US, think roughly 300 $/€, and all will be well. :)

Food – eating together is one of the coolest parts of doing house concerts. It’s great to finish the first set, grab a bowl of veggie chili or some tortilla chips and have a chat with the audience about what they make of it. If you want to work out a thing where some of the ticket money helps to pay for the food, that’s fine too. :)

And that’s it. Srsly. No remodeling your house to accomodate stages and massive PAs, no running ads in the local press, no hoardes of stoned hippies turning up at your front door. Just you, us, 20 or so of your friends squished into your lounge, and a fab night of mellow music.

Sounds like fun? Drop me a line if you want to host one – we’re planning now for UK and Europe, but it’s worth registering an interest for elsewhere in the world too!

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16 Comments so far ↓

  • Daniel

    I’ve been reading your blog on RSS for about 4 months now. I’m fascinated by the house concert approach, so much so that I’m working on booking one of my own this year.
    So first, let me say, thanks for the inspiration and incredibly helpful blogging. It will be completely foreign to me, but I think it suits my new album and overall personality so much better.

    Second, I’d love to host a house concert for you here in my home in Austin, TX. I’m sure your next stateside tour is a bit off given that you just finished one, but put me down for a contact in one of the best music towns in the nation.

  • Steve Clark

    I did enquire last year about hosting a house concert, but didn’t manage to sort out the finances. Our house would be a great venue as there’s loads of space, but my other half did not feel comfortable about charging friends. Our finances were not up to me covering the costs and I didn’t manage to find another way.

    I’d still like to do a concert some time, so I’ll have a think about how to finance it. If someone else in my area (Beds/Herts) wants to host one then I’d be interested in attending/contributing.

  • Neil Alexander

    Hey Steve!
    Hmm, hard for me to be objective about this one…! :)
    Another great post with great info – as usual – putting things into easy to understand terms, putting forth a very workable model for doing house concerts. I’m honored to be mentioned here.

    Our gig was a test for us on 2 fronts: NAIL playing HC’s, and us Hosting HC’s. Successful on both counts; in no small part to you sharing your tremendous wealth of info, experience and great attitude about the whole thing.
    (More than a tad inspiring, mate.) We also went a little further, not relying on Camera mics – we mixed the audio into the camera, and we’ll be doing this for any concerts we host. Well worth the time & effort.

    The whole thing makes so much sense. Anyway, we want to host you & Lo. be in touch, ya dig?

    Peace & Noise
    – Neil

  • Giles

    I’m really glad to have found your blog (via Neil’s Twitter post).

    A little while back we discovered that some of our favourite musicians (baroque rather than jazz, but still) had rates that made it possible to consider a small-scale gig like this, and we’d been wondering what the logistics were, or if we could even organise something like this. Overall, it sounds pretty doable if we don’t need a harpsichordist :-)

    I’ll definitely subscribe to your feed to hear more.

  • Jim

    Hey Steve,

    This makes me think of a folk artist I am a huge fan of from Washington state. He basically makes a living traveling with a guitar from town to town by train. I first saw him at a house show in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA, and was completely blown away. Not only did I see him everytime he stopped through my town (he is quite popular there) but I own 3 of his albums on record (yes he still releases on record, amazing) and 3 more on CD.

    I have so far booked him myself at a coffee shop at my old college (which is now another fixture of his tour circuit, the kids still book him there even after I graduated), and now have an upcoming show for him here in Nashville. Which I guarantee you I will plug the hell out of. I just love his stuff, and what it comes down to is his live performance, be it a real venue or the grungy basements that he plays, I am quite willing to put a lot of effort to share his music.

    http://www.myspace.com/robertsarazinblake

    http://www.sameroomrecords.com

    -JIM

  • Tucson Bass Player

    Love to see you guys thinking out of the box. There is so much opportunity to make money with music, but to many musicians are relying on someone else to make it happen for them.

    Great post, good luck!

  • steve

    Daniel – I’m so glad it’s inspired you. That’s great news. And thanks so much for offering to host one, we’ll def. take you up on that next time we’re in Austin!

    Steve – no problem. I totally understand that elements of the house concert format don’t work for some people. Not a problem at all. Hopefully there’ll be one near you soon that you can come to :)

    Neil – your gig was great, and Lo and I are both really looking forward to hanging out and playing some shows with you as soon as we can :) You rule!

    Hi Giles – part of the beauty of house concerts is how the format can be molded to the music. There’s no reason why Baroque music wouldn’t work just as well as any other small ensemble. I’m sure it’ll work better in a house than in most venues. It’s a great way to turn a new audience onto the delights of Baroque music. I look forward to hearing how you get on!

    Jim – good luck with the booking stuff, it’s great to see you getting stuck into so many different kinds of promotion. You’re onto something, stick at it!

    TBP – thanks!

  • Trevor Raggatt

    A bit of encouragement to Steve C…

    I can completely understand why your other half might feel awkward about “charging” friends to come to your house. However, the chances are that it’s just an irrational fear of what your friends might think of you for doing so – not to belittle that concern, doing a house gig for the first time is a step into the unknown, especially if you’ve never hosted one before. Imagine someone inviting you to a birthday party and then charging you for nibbles, drinks and cake. Awful.

    It’s really a matter of mindset on what’s happening in your home. The mental step from “we’ve invited our friends to a party” to “we’ve invited our friends to a gig (where the artist will need to be paid to perform), it just so happens that the gig is happening in our house”. It’s actually not that big of a mental leap when it comes down to it and I suspect that ALL your friends would get the concept straight off without any offence at being asked to pay a tenner to attend.

  • Trevor Raggatt

    …continued… sorry, mousepad hit return by accident!

    If you’re still attracted to the idea of doing a house gig it might be an idea for you (and your partner) to approach a selection of trusted friends with the following question: “Look, we’ve got this mad idea to book a singer/artist to do a gig for us and a few friends but to do it in our front room. Apparently, it’s becoming the new big thing to do. Thing is, these artists are professional musicians, making a living out of this stuff so we thought of asking everyone who comes to make a donation of a tenner towards the artist’s expenses -kinda like buying a ticket for the gig. Would you be up for that sort of thing? It wouldn’t make you feel weird to pay or anything, would it?”

    I can guarantee that anyone you would ask wouldn’t be offended at the idea of paying towards the artist’s expenses. In their mind it’s not paying to come you your house, it’s paying for someone to provide a service or entertaining them while they’re their. It’s a paid gig like any other. It might help put your partner’s mind at rest.

    Of course the main thing is that they don’t feel awkward about it. The whole point for the host is that it’s a fun, low stress evening with a great vibe.

    If you hear of any house gigs in your area it might not be a bad idea going along just to see what happens and how it works for them. There are a number of people who do advertise their house gigs more widely and a Google search might throw up something in the area.

    When we do house gigs ( we’re doing them about every other month now!) it’s only friends, family and “gig buddies” that we invite and – without exception – no one balks at the idea of paying for a ticket. They come for the vibe and the experience first and, to be honest, the music second. We have a few friends now who ask to buy a ticket BEFORE they know who’s playing. They trust us that, whoever it is, we wouldn’t book someone rubbish and that if we like them they are at least worth a listen!

    For us it’s about enjoying great music with people we like played by people we like. So far we’ve only booked musos we happen to know and who are friends.

    As it is, we make the event more of a “gig” than a “house party” – although the actual vibe on the night is equally informal and vibey. We do “fliers” that we sent out to friends and print out a ticket which we give them. We provide soft drinks and a few nibbles but ask people to bring along their own (alcoholic) beverages and some nibbles. We also have seats for pretty much everyone. We’ve been to others where it’s more of a house party – everyone on cushions and beanbags on the floor and something more substantial in the interval. Both work and it just depends on how you fancy doing it.

    If you want to see some photos of our ones there are some photos in this Photobucket album, including some of the fliers we’ve done…

    http://s33.photobucket.com/albums/d60/trevorandthea/House%20Gigs/

    I would recommend giving it a go if you feel you can. It is amazing fun and your friends will love it!

  • Neil Alexander

    More encouragement to Steve C…
    We didn’t charge at the door for our HC, since it was for us a kind of “test”. But we did put out a donation box…and were quite surprised to find close to 100 bucks in there from the 15 or so people that were here. Those same people brought food and drink as well. So – it seems people are generally supportive of quality events. And the point of the HC is to bring great music directly to folks who would appreciate it – your friends (and neighbors?). It’s worth a try, in MHO. I agree with Trevor. Go for it!

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  • chantilly

    thanks for posting this! i’m totally linking this from my myspace if that’s okay. because i think this is just a really good explanation of house concerts, and may spark some of my own fans to start up one of their own :)

  • steve

    Chantilly – glad you’re finding it useful. Though technically, that’s not ‘linking’, it’s cutting and pasting… ;) Would be nice if you’d like back to the original article to, please.

    Anyway, good luck with finding the house concerts. They’re a lot of fun.

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  • Alex W. Rodriguez

    For my 16th birthday, my parents hired my trombone teacher to bring his quartet into our living room — it was one of the most fun and memorable musical experiences I have been a part of. I hadn’t really thought about it until you started blogging about house concerts, so thanks! It’s a great idea and I hope that you have lots of takers.