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. Generally, the host will ask for donations or
“cover charges” to support the artist. Ticket prices can be whatever the artist
and presenter agree upon (usually a $10-20 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. The setting of
the show is up to you; it could either be just a concert, or you could choose to
provide food and drinks, or do a potluck. The options are really wide open
depending upon how you’d like to host it.
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 is 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.
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 .
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 $10-
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 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.
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.
HOSTING THE SHOW House concerts typically consist of a 1hr set of music or
two sets 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
VOLUNTEERS It’s a usual perk to grant free admission to the people who help
out the night of the show, such as a 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!