I love house concerts, can’t think of anywhere I’d rather sing than in the intimacy of someone’s home. I love the absence of the sound system – part of it is the lack of the barrier that mics and stands can create between artist and audience, and part of it is the joy of letting my voice go straight out into the acoustics of the room. I love having my audience right up close, talking with them – it’s like hanging out with friends, and sharing favorite songs and stories. If we aren’t already friends at the beginning of the night, we will be by the end. It’s simply the best! - Lui
A Basic Guide to House Concerts
House concerts have become a staple for many acoustic performers and are a great way to hear music up close and intimate, as well as being an ideal event to nurture community. The New York Times has called them a major cultural phenomenon. Most any house will work, and no sound system is needed. Here are some general guidelines to consider if you’re thinking of hosting a house concert yourself. Email Lui for more information or to schedule a concert.
Hosting a house concert – some FAQ’s
- Who hosts house concerts?
House concert hosts are folks who enjoy and want to support acoustic music and independent artists. Some people are one-timers, and other enthusiasts host a regular, ongoing music series in their homes.What kind of space is needed for a house concert?
A living room or family room that holds 20-30 people will suffice. It doesn't need to be a fancy space. People can sit on couches, folding chairs, backjacks, or pillows on the floor. Concerts can also be held in barns, on decks, or on lawns, although usually a sound system is needed for outdoor events. If planning an outdoor performance, a host must be able to accommodate people indoors in case of bad weather. In addition, the artist will need a table set up to sell CDs and tapes, and generally a guest room to stay the night (it need not be extravagant).
- Does the host make money on a house concert?
Most house concerts are hosted by people who do it for the sheer love of the music. They want to support the artist and expose their friends to his/her music, and they enjoy entertaining in their home. Typically, all the money collected at the door goes to the performer. However, hosts sometimes do make agreements with the artists to take a portion of the collection to cover expenses for things such as renting chairs or copying flyers. These arrangements are always discussed and agreed upon beforehand. More often than not, the host agrees to absorb any small costs and simply considers it a usual expense involved with throwing a party.
- How much does it cost?
It needn't cost you, the host, any more than having a regular party. Perhaps you might provide some snacks and beverages. The guests pay for the music by making a donation at the door, which is usually at least $10 to $12, and can be $15 or $20, depending on what the audience is comfortable with. Some hosts prefer to offer a sliding scale to accommodate guests with varying financial situations. You will need to determine how many people your listening room can comfortably hold, and to be able to guarantee in good faith a minimum attendance of 20-30 people. Your suggested donation may be adjusted depending on seating availability, keeping in mind that most artists need to make a minimum of $250 in order to make ends meet – more if they’re driving any distance for the concert. Some hosts prefer to simply
offer the performer a set fee and cover the cost of the music themselves, rather than asking their guests to pay money. However, in the folk music world, most concertgoers are happy to pay a reasonable admission charge in order to hear quality live music in an intimate, comfortable setting.
In addition to providing the performance space, hosts generally put performers up in their homes overnight and provide their meals during their stay. (Be sure to ask about food allergies and other preferences. Same thing with animals in the house.)
Prior to the concert
- Setting a date and time:
Agree on a date that works with both the performer’s schedule and your own – you might want to check a local events calendar (or think about major sports events or holidays) for potential conflicts. In setting the time of day for the concert, think about your audience’s needs and the night of the week – not too early if they’ll be coming after work, not too late if they’ll have to get up for work the next day.
- Getting the word out:
Enthusiastic word of mouth is by far the most effective way to get folks to come to a house concert you are hosting. E-mail and personal face-to-face invitations and reminders are essential. Use your network to talk it up as a special event – pass around CDs for friends to listen to, and send them to the artist’s website to hear and learn more - and ask everyone to bring a few friends. If you’re excited about the house concert, then share that excitement with your friends, relatives, co-workers, etc. Be sure folks know this will be a listening concert, not a party with background music, so they’ll know what to expect.
Be sure to invite your neighbors to the concert – it’s a great way to build community in your neighborhood. Also, if guests may need to park in front of your neighbors’ houses, you’ll want to check with them first. Do think about parking in advance, how many cars you can fit into your driveway, where to put the overflow. If parking is a challenge in your neighborhood, you may want to give parking suggestions when you confirm reservations.
Some hosts will open the concert to the public, and will publicize it by putting up a flyer or submitting a notice to the arts calendar in their local newspaper. The artist can also include the event in his/her promotions of upcoming performances (with the host's permission). Only the first name and phone number of the host is listed, so people must call for directions and reservations. This way, the host is able to screen people before inviting them into their home. Please be aware that you need to invite many more people than you expect to show. Publicity and invitations should go out 3 weeks in advance. Follow-up phone calls are very helpful.
Take reservations, and if your reservation limit has been reached, make a waiting list! Remember that people may cancel at the last minute for a variety of unanticipated reasons.
Remember, your enthusiasm is key in getting people to show up.
Setting up the room:
- Sound system?
Acoustic music is marvelously intimate! Usually, unless there are more than 50 people attending, or the room or rooms are awkwardly shaped, a sound system is neither necessary nor desirable.
Maybe a lamp could be repositioned, or a clip on light could be placed above and in front to shine on the artist.
High backed chairs in back, low fold out chairs in front, couches usually work well on the sides of the room. Cushions and backjacks can be placed on the floor at the front for additional seating. Note that you can generally fit in more people than you think! There is a certain excitement that comes with a cozily full room, so don’t be afraid to push the reservation envelope a bit – especially in light of potential last minute cancellations or no-shows.
To gather donations, set out a wide mouthed bowl or basket in a central location – clearly visible from the door where guests enter - with a sign nearby that reads, "Donation (with whatever fee you decide on) for musicians, Thank You!"
- CD sales:
Have a good-sized flat surface available (dining table, kitchen counter, card table) located where people will be congregating during the intermission to set up for CD sales and mailing list. If you are hosting a series of concerts, you will probably want to put out a mailing list of your own as well. Usually the artist will be present at the CD table for most of the intermission to answer questions and sign CDs, but it is helpful if either you or a friend could help handle CD sales for the artist, so the artist has a chance to tune instruments, talk with audience members, etc.
Typically, the guests (either all or those most familiar to the host) are asked to bring a snack, dessert, or finger food to share during the break. The host often makes coffee or provides some beverages. Some hosts prefer to have everyone show up early for a pot luck dinner before the show. It all depends on everyone's energy level, the night of the week, etc. Keeping it simple usually works best.
- Optional Child play area:
Children are usually welcome at house concerts; if a number of children are expected, it’s helpful if there’s a room available where they can play if they don’t want to listen. Do let parents know that if their child is disruptive there’s a place they can go so that others can hear the music.
The concert itself
Most house concerts consist of two 45- 50-minute sets with a 20-minute intermission. This can vary with the event, so talk with the artist if you’d like something different.
To begin the show it is recommended that the host welcome the audience, mention the donation bowl, and make a simple introduction of the musician. Artists rely on CD sales at their concerts to make a living as a musician, and it makes a big difference when the host mentions that their CD’s are highly recommended and for sale during the intermission.
To begin the second set, thank everyone for coming, make a last mention of the donations bowl, and introduce the artist for the second set. If you are planning to host other house concerts, this is a great time to make announcements of upcoming events.
End of performance – Thank everyone for coming!
Email Lui with any other questions or to schedule a concert at your house!