Over the last few years, I have grown fond of house concerts. There is something to be said about the experience - the peaceful gathering of old and new friends, the sense of community, and the intimate space for artists and audience members to express themselves and connect. It is a beautiful thing.
House concerts have been happening for decades, but have become more popular in recent years due to the growth of the DIY music scene. For newbies, that means artists like me have been carving their space into the industry on their own, independent from labels or executives. How cool is that?
So you’ve heard of house shows, you like the idea of hosting one, but you have no fricken idea of where to start. Fear not, friend. I am here to help.
Have you ever hosted a party? You got what it takes. But just to be safe, here are some myths, facts, and guidelines for your entertainment:
what is a house concert?
A house concert is literally a concert in a living room (or a basement, or a backyard, or a barn…you get the idea). This is not a party with background music. This is a sit-down concert in your home, a cozy place to share and enjoy quality music without the unwanted distractions and downsides of conventional venues that can be annoying at times. A little and fun effort advertising is necessary and ticket prices can be whatever the artist and presenter agree upon (usually a $15-20 suggested donation per person).
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS?
The most important thing is having the space to host it.
It can be a living room, backyard, basement - whatever you have to offer. Cozy is good and there is no need to be huge. Simply move the furniture around and you will see how amazing it is, you can easily accommodate a lot of bodies in a little space. One of the charms of house concerts is their inherent coziness.
What if your place is just too small? Not to worry. There are all sorts of non-house possibilities - music shops, art galleries, school rooms, community halls, etc. The possibilities are endless!
The second most important (and fun!) thing to do is to invite your friends, your community, co-workers, family, etc to attend.
Some hosts keep it simply a BYOB concert, some hosts provide drinks and appetizers, some incorporate potluck. That part is entirely up to you and your hosting style!
Attendance usually runs between 25 and 50 at most house concerts, depending on the sort of space you have to offer.
spreading the word
You are looking for a minimum of 20 people to get cozy in your home, so start talking it up! House concerts are still a fairly new concept in some areas, so be excited and enjoy the fun of sharing the news with your tribe. Some of your friends may have attended one before, and those who do usually become enthusiastic house concert goers!
Most of your promotion will simply and easily happen by the good old word of mouth. Your audience – typically up to 90% of it – will be people you know and/or their friends. You may choose to keep the show completely private and only have it open to your own invitees, or we can make it a public gathering available to my list as well. It is entirely up to you!
As for the invitation media, depending on your style, you can make physical postcards or send out electronic invites, and it is important that it contains the so important concert intel: the music style and description, date and time, suggested donation amount, and whether it’s a BYOB, potluck, etc.
If you’re internet proficient, put together a mailing list and send out an email notice. It helps a lot! The beauty of that is you can send several reminders regarding the show, reservations, etc. along the way.
It’s a good idea to accept reservations ahead of time since no-shows happen often and it can really make for a lesser house concert experience. Nothing is more disappointing than expecting a full house and end having a lot of empty chairs, also that's not fair with other willing attendees that may be barred to come if you believe all spaces are taken.
One thing that can remedy this is by offering an incentive - perhaps a discount for presale admissions versus full price at the door. If you’re unable to collect money in advance, at least keep a list of people who RSVP to have an idea how many to expect.
Breathe in, breathe out - the idea is for you to enjoy the process without having to do a lot. I understand it is all new for you and it can make you feel overwhelmed. If that happens, just relax and take it easy. All this publicity stuff doesn’t happen overnight, and it won’t take a lot of your time. You'll see, it doesn’t take much to fill the house. I want you to be able to enjoy yourself on the big day, you are part of the show!
Here is a general plan of how these would happen:
3 months before the show: Book the show as far in advance as possible - 3 months is a good rule of thumb, but it’s not set in stone. We can chat and make it happen.
1 month before the show: Time to make announcements and start spreading the word about the concert – the word of mouth thing, emails, maybe handouts.
2 weeks before the show: Send out a reminder to your friends. Mail out postcards if you’d like, or put up flyers if that’s appropriate for the event. If you are feeling 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. I can provide all the intel you’d need for those!
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: If there are things you can get done a few days in advance to save yourself a bit of time, go ahead and do it. You want and deserve to enjoy the concert too, so don’t run yourself ragged! The idea is for you to not have much to prep on the day of the show. You’ve already sent your reminders and spread the word. Now is time to just set up the room, greet your new and old friends and enjoy!)
SETTING UP THE ROOM
You might set up the room for the concert this way:
Stage: Create a “stage” area for the performer – whatever makes sense for your space. In front of the fireplace, in a corner, etc.
Seating: Arranging the seating facing the stage. If you have a lot of chairs laying around and want to set them up for guests, great! Don’t have that many? You can set up some chairs in the back/sides of the space, and leave some empty space in the front/middle for guests to lounge on the floor. Encourage them to bring pillows and blankets. Make it super cozy. Guests are also welcome to bring their own chairs. Whatever floats their boat!
House concerts typically consist of two sets of music of about 45 minutes each with a short break between – about 20 minutes – for guests to stretch their legs, chat, munch, visit the bathroom, purchase CDs, etc.
It’s a usual perk to grant free admission to the people who help out the night of the show. You may have a friend helping collect money at the door, you may have enlisted a refreshment coordinator and a person to handle CD sales for the artist. Make sure they are loved! Not only do they get free admission, but also please point them out to me so I can personally thank them with a hug and some goodies.
The method that seems to work best 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.
Since not everyone will send a check in advance, it is smart to have a volunteer sitting strategically close to the entrance with the guest list at hand on the day of the show. Names can be checked off as donations are made.
It’s a good idea to make an announcement at the beginning and after the break, making sure everyone is aware of where the donation jar is located.
You should also provide a place for the artist to sell their merch - a small table or piece of furniture in a location that allows for traffic flow is all we need.
AFTER THE CONCERT
After the concert, enjoy good company and conversation! Encourage folks to buy CDs and get on the artist’s mailing list. The crowd usually trickles out fairly quickly. Once they do, give yourself a high five - YOU DID IT!
Most house concert hosts choose to offer a place for the artist to stay for the night - an extra room, a couch, an inflatable mattress. If you have the space and would like me to stay, I’ll gladly accept - but it’s not mandatory. If you do, I’ll likely share a cup of coffee with you in the morning before driving off to my next stop.
BUT WHAT ABOUT...?
If after reading this handy-dandy guide you still have some unanswered questions, worry not! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a time to chat and work out any questions or concerns you may have.
THANK YOU for considering hosting me in your space. I look forward to working with you!