How to Host a House Concert
THE OBVIOUS CHOICE
What could be more natural? You love hearing live music. I make my living playing music. Next time I come through your town, why don’t we do a house concert? If you’ve ever hosted a New Year’s Eve party for friends, organized a garage sale or thrown together a neighborhood potluck, you have all the necessary skills required. This information is designed to cover all the bases and outline the details step-by-step to take you from: “Where do I begin?!” to “Let’s do it again!!”
WHAT IS A HOUSE CONCERT?
A house concert is literally a concert in a living room (or a basement, or a backyard…). They’re happening more and more frequently all across the country as artists find that 25 to 50 people can fit into a living room quite comfortably. It’s a great format where both audience and artist alike get to experience an intimate concert in a ‘listening room’ setting that is comfortable for all. This is not a party with background music. It is a sit down concert in your home. There is no smoke, low or no amounts of alcohol to compete with, little advertising necessary and ticket prices can be whatever the artist and presenter agree upon (usually a $15-20 suggested donation per person). The main thing required from you is 1) having the space to host it, and 2) inviting your friends, neighbors, co-workers, family, etc. I love doing this kind of show and they can either be just a concert, or you may choose to provide appetizers and drinks, or do a potluck. The options are really wide open depending upon how you’d like to host it.
1/ FINDING A PLACE
Well, it doesn’t get much simpler than this – we’ll do the show in your living room. That’s why they’re called house concerts, right? Attendance usually runs between 25 and 50 at most house concerts, so if you have a good sized living room, say 12’x15′ or larger, we’re in business. Move the furniture around and you can get a lot of bodies in a space that size. It might be snug, but one of the charms of house concerts are their inherent coziness.
Still, what if your place is just too small? Not to worry. There are all sorts of non-house possibilities. These shows can take place in your backyard, garage, music shops, public-library rooms, art galleries, school rooms, community halls, church basements, barns, back patios – the informal character of house concerts make them adaptable to any number of environments.
For our purposes, though, let’s assume you do have a room of sufficient size. I’m coming through on tour in a few months and we’ve set a date for the show.
2/ SPREAD THE WORD
We are looking for a minimum of 25 people to get cozy in your home, so start talking it up. House concerts are still fairly rare in many areas of the country, so the idea of turning your home into a temporary concert hall will be a novel concept to a lot of people. But once people experience a concert in a home setting they usually become enthusiastic converts. In fact, this might be the time for a cautionary disclaimer: You may find your one-time foray into producing house concerts so enjoyable that it evolves into a regular or semi-regular series. Worse things could happen.
Once you begin letting people know about the concert you’ll discover why house concerts are so well suited for smaller, more closely connected communities – most of your promotion will simply be word of mouth.
Your audience – and typically upwards of 90% of it – will be people you know or friends of theirs. You may choose to keep the show completely private as well and only have it open to your own invitees. The other option is to open it up to my email list and make it public. That is completely up to you (we can discuss this later).
Make up some postcards or send out an Evite/Email/Facebook Event (or all of the above) containing the relevant concert information: A description of the music, date and time, how much the suggested donation will be (typically $15-20 per person, we will discuss this), whether you’re planning a potluck, hors d’oeuvres, etc. Include your phone number for reservations (more on this later) and directions. If you’re internet proficient, put together a mailing list and send out an email notice. The beauty of email is that you can send several reminders regarding the show, reservations, etc. If the concert is being held in a more neutral setting, you can do this broader job of advertising – post the flyers around town and in your car’s windows – but you probably won’t need to concern yourself with these if the concert is going to take place in your home. If you’re like most people, you’re probably hesitant to throw open your home to just anyone. In an alternative space you can comfortably go for a larger, more diverse audience.
No-shows are an all-too-common fact of life, and can be the bane of house concerts. Attrition rates of between 30%-60% are not at all unusual, even if people have solemnly promised you under oath to assorted Dieties that they’ll be there. Things come up. They have to work late. Kids get sick. They’re just too tired. Whatever. It happens. And nothing is more disappointing than to be expecting a full house and then have half or more of the chairs go empty. It’s doubly worse when you’ve had to refuse people who wanted to come because you thought you had a full house.
One thing that can make it easier is to offer an incentive of, say, a $2 discount for pre-sales admission versus full price at the door. Another way to encourage pre-sales is to set up an account with Paypal so that you can take credit cards. If you’re not able to collect money in advance, at least keep a list of people who RSVP to have an idea how many to expect.
Some timely words of advice: Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax. Take it easy. The whole idea is to make a good thing happen and enjoy yourself while you’re doing it. All this publicity stuff doesn’t have to happen overnight or occupy your every waking moment. If you have a wide circle of friends it probably won’t take much advertising to fill the house.
As far as timelines go, here’s a general plan for moving things along:
A month before the show:
Make up your announcements and start letting people know about the concert – the word of mouth thing, emails and hand-outs.
Two weeks out:
Do a postcard mailing if you like and put up flyers if that’s appropriate for the event. If you want to get really ambitious, especially if house concerts aren’t the norm in your community, maybe we can get in touch with the local newspaper and do an article timed to appear the week of the show. Most performers are pretty well versed in the promotion of concerts and can help you with everything you’ll need along those lines: postcard and flyer blanks, press releases, photos, etc. Post an updated email announcement and reminder.
The week of the show:
Make a last round of phone calls to remind everyone to come out, one more email reminder, then give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.
THE BIG DAY
Now comes the Big Day.
TIP: You can avoid a lot of that hectic last-minute-details feeling by doing a little prep work a few days beforehand. Remember, you want to be able to enjoy the concert, too, so don’t run yourself ragged.
3/ SET UP THE ROOM
You might set up the room for the concert this way:
STAGE. Create a “stage” area for the performer in your concert room – in front of the fireplace or french doors, in an open corner of the room – and arranging the seating facing the stage.
SEATING. Let’s think about that a minute. Do you have enough chairs of your own? If not, consider places you might obtain loaners: school, church, the library, etc. You can even tell people to bring their own. Or forget the chairs and arrange for people to lounge on the floor. Or do some combination of all these. Of course, you can always rent folding chairs as a last resort, but the idea is to keep production costs to a minimum.
4/ HOSTING THE SHOW
House concerts typically consist of two sets of music of about 45 minutes each with a short break between – about 20 minutes – so that people can stretch their legs, chat, have refreshments, visit the bathroom, purchase CDs, etc. – more about this in a minute. At the break you might want to have light refreshments on hand, things like coffee, tea, sodas, chips and dip, etc. You can also ask a few friends to bring homebaked goodies as well. In fact, it’s a good idea to enlist a volunteer to oversee some or all this chore (remember – you don’t have to do it all!)
VOLUNTEERS – It’s a usual perk to grant free admission to the people who help out the night of the show, such as your refreshment coordinator and a person to collect money at the door and handle CD sales for the artist.
**** HANDLING MONEY EFFECTIVELY ****
The method that seems to work best (and it’s not the only way by any means) is for the host to keep a list of reservations and to encourage as many folks as possible to send in their donation BEFORE the show. Some hosts give their guests incentives for “pre-donating” such as letting them have their pick of the best seats, or entering their name into a drawing for a CD etc…
Since not everyone will send a check in advance, it’s best on the day of the show to have a volunteer sitting strategically close to the entrance with the guest list at hand. Then names can be checked off as donations are made.
Because it’s always possible for folks to slip through the cracks, it’s also a good idea for the host to make an announcement regarding donations at the beginning of the show and again after the break, making sure that everyone is aware of where the CLEARLY MARKED donation jar/hat/basket is located.
You should also provide a place for the artist to sell their CDs and to have their mailing list. A small table or piece of furniture in a location that allows for traffic flow works well. After the concert, enjoy good food and conversation! Encourage folks to buy CDs and get on the artist’s mailing list. And if you plan to host more shows, have a mailing list of your own!