Why would I play a house concert?
Firstly, in order to answer this question, we need to start with what exactly are house concerts? Whilst the clue may well be quite blatantly placed in the title, that doesn’t go anywhere near close enough in explaining exactly what they involve, leading on to the oodles of reasons why a musician may consider playing them.
Having heard about house concerts years ago, they are not something I’d ever looked into (or given a second though to) until we spoke with Joy Ike, an extremely talented singer songwriter from Philadelphia, USA in episodes 011 and 012.
Joy makes a living out of being a musician and house concerts have a role to play in that.
This warranted further investigation…
Type of House – Firstly you clearly need a house. Many of the houses Joy plays at are reasonably large and what we’d call in the UK a detached home, simply meaning there is no other property directly connected to it. The size element isn’t necessarily critical, it just simply dictates the number of people that can realistically attend any performance. The detached element however can have more of an impact, particularly from a noise perspective, unless you get on particularly well with your neighbours, or better yet, invite them along!
Amount of Guests – Like I say, size of house will influence this, however Joy typically plays to between 20 and 50 people. This creates a nice intimate audience, with a feeling of exclusivity, as they have specifically been invited to the show.
Amount of Acts – Predominantly Joy is the only act on the bill. That said, she has played some house concerts where there are two or three acts playing. The obvious points that this can influence is the length of set you will play, and amount of money you potentially earn. This leads us on to the specifics of how the event runs (we’ll come back to the money side of things)…
Format – Typically house concerts are an evening event. I’ll split this into before, during and after…
Before: They start out with guests arriving for what is an initial mingling session with some food. This is really important, for a few of reasons. Firstly, there will many people that know each other in the audience, who potentially haven’t seen each other for a few days, weeks, months etc. Here they can cover the ‘how have you been’ general chit chat so that when you come to play your music, they aren’t itching to talk to their friends.
Next, there will be people who don’t know each other. Food helps prevent guests from standing awkwardly in a corner, and the environment of the home in general helps start conversations like ‘Hi, how are you? How do you know the host? Have you seen this artist before?’ which can help foster a new community of fans. Typically, this does not happen at a traditional music gig. Fans would talk to the person they went to the show with, and nobody else. Finally, you get to meet them, make a connection, and help them toward becoming a true fan of you. These pre-show activities tend to last about 90 minutes.
During: Usually the host will get up ‘on stage’ and announce the performance, how they know the artist and just a general short introduction. A typical set for Joy at a house concert will be between 75 – 90 minutes. The first thing to notice is that this may (although not necessarily) be longer than you are used to be playing. If you are planning to perform for an hour and a half, make sure you have strong material. Filling up the set list with weaker songs just because the time is available, isn’t going to win the audience over.
Consider having an interval. Joy made the valid point that if you’ve been playing for a while, the audience will likely start to finish their drink and either want a refill of their glass, or be ready to pay the rest room a visit. Perhaps even both. A steady stream of people getting up and down will likely disrupt the performance, so having a scheduled break half way through that guests are aware of, can help reduce any such disturbances.
After: At the end of the performance, the host will again get up and thank the artist for playing and guests for coming. They’ll then announce that it is time to ‘pass the hat’ around asking guests to contribute some money to support the artist.
So you’ve already repeat the benefits of engaging with your audience in a way that you won’t normally get the change to do. Now you’re about to get paid in a way that you perhaps wouldn’t normally be used to.
Joy described how the audience at a house concert are more likely to invest in the artist. The suggest donation typically ranges from between $10 to $20. If we take the range of guests we discussed earlier as being between 20 to 50, then you can realistically expect to make anywhere from $200 at the low end of the scale, up to $1,000 at the top. These are extremely high level figures with lots of assumptions baked in, so whilst there will be other variables at play, this at least gives an initial view of what to expect.
All of this is before you get onto merchandise. Yes, once you’ve finished parforming you need to pack away your equipment, however that shouldn’t be before you’ve seized the opportunity that is now before you. The audience have got to know you before your performance, they’ve been in an environment that is geared up to focus and listen to your music and now, as Joy put it, people tend to hang around for about an hour afterwards. Sure, some people will have to rush off, but if this were a typical gig, most people would be heading out of the venue straight away.
Use this to your advantage. There’ll be a fine balance between hard pushy sales person, and timidly standing by your merch and hoping people will come over, but again in Joy’s experience often people are more likely to buy merch at a house concert. You’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into creating and performing your music, chances are people will be willing to support you in buying something. Make the most of this hour or so.
Now that we’ve described in a bit more detail what a house concert is all about, how do you prepare for one of these?
Planning – Firstly, this is typically done by the home owner, which makes sense, it’s their home after all. Usually this will be their friends that attend, and perhaps friends of their friends. Whilst uncommon, there are some people who do open their home up to the public, however this tends to be the exception rather than the general rule.
An RSVP is essential. People will cancel, so it’s not uncommon for hosts to invite more people than they can fit in. Remember, at this point, guests haven’t bought a ticket, so there is no monetary loss of not showing up on the night.
As an artist, regular dialog with the host in the run up is important to ensure everything is on track. The evening will often take on the personality of the host, and getting some photos of the room you will be playing in can massively help to get an idea of how it will be laid out and the amount of space that will be available to you on the makeshift stage.
Make sure the host is chasing people up and sending reminders before the show. You don’t want to travel a long way to find out only five people can make it. Help them in promoting the event. Give them some links to your songs or videos, perhaps a copy of your latest newsletter, anything that will entice their friends into coming. This is your chance to get new fans. Make it as easy as possible for the host to promote you.
I’ve mentioned food earlier. In the podcast we liked this to a BBQ. The host would typically co-ordinate to say they’ll provide sausages and burgers, if everyone can bring their own drink, with Sally doing her signature salsa. Somebody needs to be on buns as well. Never forget the bread buns. The same goes for a house concert, if everyone does their bit, there’s minimal expense per person compared to eating out.
Avoid Disaster: A final point on planning is to ensure that the guests are clear on exactly what a house concert is, or perhaps for specifically, what it isn’t. If everyone rocks up expecting a house party, you’re probably not going to get out of the evening what you hoped, at least from a musical perspective.
Public Shows: A great tip that Joy made was the way in which she makes people aware of house concerts. Firstly she’ll speak to people at her public shows and take email addresses of those in the audience. Then, after having mentioned it to them, there will be a follow up in her newsletter that advertises exactly what they are and how to book her to do one of these great events.
Essentially, if you don’t tell people that you’re up for doing these, they won’t know. House concerts can be a great way to supplement your public gig touring schedule. Whilst in a particular city for a show say on a Saturday night, try and squeeze a house concert in on the Friday night. Joy suggested that Friday and Saturday are the best nights for house concerts, as unsurprisingly the host can generally attract more people on those days.
For something that I’d not given a great deal of thought to, I can see a whole host of benefits for a musician to do a house concert. This article should give you an insight into them, but don’t take my word for it, listen to the episodes with Joy and remember, there’ll be pro’s and con’s - so give it some thought.
Let us know if you try this out.
Make the most of them.
ACPG 011: Joy Ike (Part 1) - Singer Songwriter - talks promoting yourself, how much to share, and what exactly are house concerts. 02/01/18
ACPG 012: Joy Ike (Part 2) - Singer Songwriter - talks house concerts; what you need to know, how to put them on and things to watch out for. 09/01/18
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