on house concerts

People have been asking me about house concerts as I’ve been talking a lot about performing at and hosting house concerts.  In fact, I am hosting a concert at the end of May, featuring an incredible solo bassist whom I have been admiring for years!  

So what exactly is a House Concert?

It’s an invitation-only concert in someone’s home, presented by a host who does not profit from the event.

Also, house concerts are usually

  • Held indoors and on weekends (I have done week nights and concerts under the stars and by candlelight in the back yard can be magical)
  • Attended by 15-50 people (I’ve had as many as 35)
  • Paid for by a $10-20 donation per guest (for the performer)
  • Known to include light snacks, beverages or a pot-luck dinner (as a non-drinker, I usually provide water, coffee, tea and other unleaded libations but guests are free to bring their own)
  • Attended by the host’s friends, neighbors, co-workers, and maybe a few fans of the artist
  • Attended by a 25-60 age group
  • Performed by solo, duos and small groups
  • Performed with little to no amplification
  • Very intimate – the audiences sit close and are attentive
  • Performed in 2, 40-minute sets with a 20 minute break (no hard and fast rules about this – I do up to a 3 hour show with no breaks)
  • Booked with and without a financial guarantees (can vary by host and by artist – I give a guarantee, particularly if the artist is travelling)
  • Known to house and feed the artist for the night

Although house concerts will adhere to most of these traditions, you may not find any house concerts that run exactly according to the list above.   Each house concert is a true collaboration between an artist, a host/presenter, and their friends and supporters.

When I perform on a house concert tour, the elements of each show are:

  • Me (the musician)
  • You and your house (the host)
  • Equipment (which I do have, but am happy for you to provide as well!)
  • Travel (getting me and said musical toys to you)
  • Accommodation (I’m happy with your fold out couch, honest!)
  • An audience (normally, your friends, family and a few local music fans whom I know)
  • Food (ranging from snacks to a pot-luck dinner)
  • Some money (“Pay What You Can” admission donation/love offering, sponsorship, patronage, CD/merchandise sales… whatever, I need to make some because it’s my job!)

How it works is that I come to you – the further it is, the longer it takes and the more it costs.  So I try to book as many shows in a geographic area as possible.  I usually fly to and from a central point and drive from there as necessary.  If I’m flying, I MUST travel light due to airline regulations so, if you have some speakers I can play through, or microphone stands I can borrow, it’s easier because I can pack lighter and am therefore more mobile.  If I’m bringing or renting a PA as well, the logistics become a little trickier but it is still far easier than a band!

Space wise, I only need about a 6 foot by 6 foot patch of real estate – enough for me to sit down next to not bump into your guests.  The corner of your living room is fine.   

The audience is people you know – the reasons for this are twofold.  Firstly, it’s easier for you to ‘sell’ the idea to them, because they know you, and secondly, you do not have to advertise where you live to strangers.  Some people are cool with that, so they advertise it more widely, but for the most part, it’s a private event.  Your address won’t appear on any website from me, however if I have friends or colleagues in your general area, I’d like to be able to invite them specifically to come and see me perform.  Believe me, having a friendly and familiar face in the audience can help make a good show even better and you may just meet a fellow kindred spirit!

Numbers-wise, the audience can be anything from about 10 people upwards.  If it is only 10 people, they’ll have to be willing to pay $20 a ticket/donation for the gig (not much, really, for a night when you can bring your own drinks, eat snacks and watch a gig where you can ask the band questions between songs).  The more people there are, the lower the individual ticket price/donation can afford to be.

Bottom line is, I need a financial guarantee to cover my expenses and travel.  On occasion I’d consider dropping the guarantee, especially if I’m in an area and haven’t got a gig on a particular night, or it’s in a place less than a mile from where I am at that day, or I can get there with a minimum of fuss.  If you work towards me making my minimum guarantee plus a little to cover travel, that’d be plenty.  If I make more, it’s a bonus!  It helps to off-set those gigs where I just make the minimum.  

Food – eating together is one of the coolest parts of doing house concerts.  It’s great to finish the set, grab a bowl of chili or some cheese and crackers and have a chat with the audience about what they think.  If you want to work out a thing where some of the ticket money/donation helps to pay for the food, that’s fine too. 

And that’s it.  Seriously.  No remodeling your house to accomodate stages, incredible lights and a massive PA system, no running ads in the local press, no hoards of stoned hippies turning up at your front door.  Just you, me, 20 or so of your friends all cozy in your living room, and a fun night of music, chat and fellowship.

If this sounds like fun to you, let me know if you want to host one – I’m doing a few local shows in Hamilton and Toronto and am looking towards the Carolinas and other points south soon!

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