house concerts

So you're thinking of taking the plunge and hosting a house concert? Well, you've come to the right place to help you figure out what exactly a house concert consists of.

There is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for a successfully hosted house concert, there are a lot of factors at play and a number of variables to consider in order to make your house concert a great one. I'll try to clearly elaborate on these here so that you can make a more informed decision as to whether or not you'd like to make the jump from fan to concert host.

THE SPACE

A house concert is a concert hosted in a house or an apartment or a community room, as opposed to being hosted by a regular public venue (like a bar or coffeehouse). Beyond that broad distinction, there are no hard fast rules for what makes for a house concert and what doesn't. But here's what's typical . . .

Depending on the available space (and the comfort level of the host), house concerts range quite a bit in size and scope. Some are as small as a dozen people in a little living room. Others are 50 people in the basement. Others are 100 people in a backyard. 20-30 people in a largish living room is probably about average.

THE FORMAT

There's generally a mingling period, for an hour or so, wherein folks begin arriving and sipping on wine, munching on treats and socializing. I personally like it when house concerts are BYOB and potlucks. This relieves the host of any out-of-pocket expenses AND adds another element of community to the event, but you can handle all that in whatever way you are most comfortable.

Whenever there seems to be a critical mass of folks in attendance, or whenever "start time" rolls around, the concert commences . . .


THE MUSIC

Everyone settles down in the living room on chairs and on couches, and on throw pillows, and however they can find a comfortable nook for themselves -- and then the music begins. The music is usually completely acoustic, unplugged and not amplified. Depending on the space, once you start getting bigger than about 35-40 people, you need to start thinking about having a small PA system to help supplement the natural acoustics. But usually they're smaller, and they're unplugged.

I usually play two 45-minute sets with a short bathroom and snack break in the middle. But shorter or longer sets are easily accommodated, as well. And I'm happy to play whatever songs you'd like to hear most provided I'm told well in advance so that I have time to rehearse them (I've written a LOT of songs and if I haven't played one in a while, I may need a couple of tries prior to the show to get through it.).

HOW TO GET PEOPLE TO ATTEND

Enthusiastic word of mouth is by far the most affective way to get folks to come to a house concert you are hosting. Share some CDs around among your friends -- talk it up big and urge folks to visit the website and check out some more tunes. I've got lots of promotional materials available (photos, quotes, MP3s, and other stuff in the "Press Room" section of the site) to help you put together an enticing invitation to send or email to your friends and family and coworkers. If you're excited about the house concert – and of course you are or you wouldn't be hosting it -- then spread that excitement among your friends. They'll be intrigued, at least. It's my job to win them over -- it's just your job to make them curious enough to give the music a try.

One note -- it's important to make sure, in the promotional process, that your guests understand that this will be a house concert -- and not just a house party that has some music going on in the background.

RSVPing

It's usually a good idea to have some sort of RSVP system in place -- to get some idea of how many folks to expect. Especially, if there's a second tier of people you'd like to invite. Some folks, more recently, have begun using Evites to keep track of their guest lists. That system seems to work quite well.

Also, if you're comfortable with it, I will post the house concert date on my website schedule -- and ask that if folks are interested in attending, that they email for more specific details, and to RSVP. This way, your address is never made public and you stay in control over how many people you are inviting into your home and who those people you're inviting are.

THE MONEY

I like to keep everything sliding scale, myself. I know that everyone's in a different situation financially. Typically the host will collect a suggested donation from the guests -- either at the door, or during the break, or however. The suggested amount ranges from between $5 to $20 per person -- with $10 being pretty typical. I tend to leave it up to the host how much is an appropriate amount to ask of their guests. And I never begrudge any guests who are unable, or choose not to, contribute.

I know it's weird to have to be explicit with money sometimes with your guests -- so I've found that it's best to just be as upfront and clear as possible from the start. For instance, state it from the beginning (in any invitations, etc) that there's an expectation that money will be involved in a more formal way than just "passing the hat to help pay for gas". Having the money basket at the door is a good idea, and actually seems to make things less awkward, but again the expectation of a suggested donation should always be stated upfront.

For house concerts that are “open to the public – that is, for those concerts where the host is comfortable with me posting the date to my website – I generally don't ask for a guaranteed minimum. That said though, it is always a good idea to discuss with me if you think the attendance will be smaller than 15 people. The reason for this is that it helps me to decide what other gigs I may or may not accept on that leg of a particular tour.

THE CONCERT EXPERIENCE

Here's what's wonderful and unique about house concerts -- there's no bright lights or raised stages to divide the artist and the audience. We are all sitting together in a room sharing and listening and connecting. There's a bunch of songs I'll only play in this sort of setting. And a bunch of stories and song explanations I'm only comfortable sharing in this intimate sort of setting.

These concerts are in general much more real and tangible than many concerts in “proper venues, and they can be very moving, touching, inspiring and invigorating for both me and the listeners.

THANK YOU

Thanks for considering the notion of hosting a house concert. Whether or not you're still interested, or able, to host one -- I highly recommend that you keep your eyes open for some house concerts of your favorite artists -- and that you attend some of them. I think you'll enjoy the experience.

FOR MORE INFO

Here's a couple good collections of resources for you if you're interested in hosting a house concert(s!):
http://www.concertsinyourhome.com/host_resources.html
http://www.houseconcerts.org/hc.html