House Concerts – what to do when you're not acoustic.

The Locals live at a house concert in Chicago by Mike MaddaloniOne of the main responses I’ve been getting to our tale of house concert touring success is ‘that’s great, but my band is too loud/too big/too jazz/too dancey/etc… to work in that setting. What do you suggest?

The implication there is that there’s only one way for a band to perform. So, let’s consider house concerts as the modern equivalent of doing an in-the-studio radio performance.

I’ve twice been booked to play live on the radio and been unable to do it due to technical issues – once it was that there was no way at all of plugging into to the desk in the studio (they just had the one mic, and assumed I’d be mic-able.) and the other was because I took my whole rack of toys along and the power draw was too high for the studio!

Both times, there would’ve been ways round it if I’d known, and if I could’ve done it, I’d have had way more impact than the interview I ended up doing… It wouldn’t have meant I needed to change the whole style of what I did, just scale it down a bit.

On this last tour, our Chicago gig was organised by Yvonne Doll of The Locals – a fantastic, loud, noisy alt-rock band from Chicago. They’d never done a house concert before, but when Yvonne’s sister suggested they do a house gig with us, they worked out how to scale down their big rock show to something that’d work in their house. The drummer switched to hot-rods, Yvonne switched to acoustic guitar and they turned it down a bit. And they were fantastic! (that’s them in the pic at the top, taken by Mike Maddaloni) What’s more a whole load of their friends who would far rather hear music in the comfort of a cosy house than hang out in a rock club came to see them. And anyone who’d seen them before was delighted to see how versatile their songs are (go here and listen to Tidal Wave. It’s amazing)

They haven’t had to change their sound for good, they just have WAY more options for gigs now. And people can go and see them twice and get a very different show while still knowing the songs. We got their album while there, and it’s fantastic.

Having a smaller, quieter version of what you do will help you get more gigs. It makes support slots easier to get, it makes live radio possible and it’s perfect for house concerts. If you limit yourself to saying ‘we’re a loud band, we can’t do house concerts’, it’s you that’s restricting you, not the venue. Diversify, it can only do you good.

I can now do gigs with one bass and one battery-operated looper if I need to – my full rig takes too much time to set up to use it on gigs where I’ve got 5 mins to set up and 20 mins to play. And as the video below shows, it can lead to some fantastic music that I wouldn’t have played without those creative limitations.


Steve Lawson – solo bass. Don’t Stop Believin’ from Steve Lawson on Vimeo.

Most house concerts are acoustic singer/songwriters. NOT being that gives you a fantastic novel advantage. You become a pioneer, a leader, not a follower, you get to rethink how this stuff works, how to make what you do sound attractive in that setting. Remember, house concerts are all about the event, not just the music. Take what you do and think of a great way to theme an evening around your music. Then break new ground. I dare you 😉

So, question – how many different ways can you play your songs?