what they are...how you can host them
WHAT THE HECK IS A HOUSE CONCERT?
Exactly what it sounds like. A concert. In your house. Mostly. Sometimes, it's a concert you host in an alternate space, like your neighborhood's community center, or church public space, or, weather dependent, out on your back deck. The institution of house concerts has been around a long time, but has been gaining popularity in the past few years, as many dedicated listening room concert halls lost economic viability and shut down, leaving a huge void of venues in the intimate and subtle acoustic music realm. House concerts have risen to ﬁll this void, and are now an essential staple of every songwriter’s tour schedule. House concerts can vary quite a bit from one another . . . from very intimate and unplugged living room affairs (no sound system) with 30-40 people, to large outdoor deck mini-festivals with 200 people in a large yard. About the only deﬁnitive commonality is that they’re hosted by individuals, as opposed to being hosted by commercial venues.
A FEW IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE DIVING INTO HOSTING
Do you have a suitable space for hosting a house concert? Odds are, you do . . . but it’s important to do a fair appraisal of your situation and make sure you could ﬁt at least 30-40 people into your space comfortably, and to make sure that there’s adequate seating for everybody. Friends can generally help by bringing their own chairs (pillows too, depending on their age) if asked . . . so it’s good to have an idea if that’ll be necessary, upfront . . . so you can include that info in invitations and announcements. If you’re concerned that your space might be marginal, just ask us, and we can discuss it.
PLUGGED OR UNPLUGGED?
If your space is extremely large or has terrible acoustics (a lot of carpet, low ceilings, etc), or if you think the crowd size might grow to bigger than about 40 people, it might be necessary to consider a small sound system. Solo, my music works really well acoustic, but I'm not a raucous, dance band, I'm a very subtle singer-songwriter, my lyrics are important and so in order for your audience to hear me and for me to protect my voice from overuse, a decent small sound system can help carry the poetic nuance all the way to the back of the room, and improve the concert experience tremendously. Sound systems are easy and inexpensive to rent. We can easily walk you through that process if it seems like it might become necessary.
A word of caution on the outdoors show: I prefers to play indoors since I mainly perform solo or as a duo and being outdoors tends to disperse audience attention. But if you really do think an outdoor experience is best, keep in mind things like weather, wind, bugs, street noise. It is absolutely essential with outdoor shows to have a good working PA system with 2 speakers on stands, at least an 8 channel mixing board and good quality monitors.
THE MATTER OF MONEY
Artistically and musically, the intimate setting of a house concert can create some of the most impactful nights of musical connection. And they’re an essential part of my ﬁnancial ecology, as well. One of the great virtues of house concerts, though, is that those costs can be defrayed among a wide group of people in a way that makes it an easily affordable situation for everyone.
Generally speaking, the host requests that each guest contribute a suggested donation at the door. Typically, the suggested amount is $20 per guest. For a private concert, my goals is to walk away with as close to $1500 as possible (including merch sales). It’s important that the host make it clear in any invitations and announcements that there will be this expectation of a suggested donation. I understand that it’s uncomfortable for some hosts to involve their guests with money matters . . . but that’s all the more reason to be clear and upfront about the monetary element. It saves everyone from the awkwardness of having their guests arrive only to be confronted with a donation basket they didn’t expect. I’ve found that rather than feeling resentful or put upon, guests respond well to the transparent explanation that their contribution is what supports my music and allows me the time to write and rehearse and record and travel and perform, that this is a full time occupation with high expenses . . . and that house concerts are a grassroots way for the community to support the art it deems to be so valuable.
Rather than shy away from the issue of money with your guests, embrace the role of leading the trumpet call to support the arts in your community in this small and direct way. And encourage your guests’ generosity as a form of activism. Your guests will appreciate their role in the evening that much more. In this same way, an unattended “tip” jar on the corner of the table gives the impression that the ﬁnancial element of the evening is of little relevance, rather than championing the cause of supporting an artist . . . not by collecting “a little gas money” but by helping generate “a reasonable living” for an artist. (TIP: Best to have a basket or a jar that has a clear sign that says “Suggested Donation for Amy: $20 (or more)” and have it clearly visible upon guests entrance and the host should hold it up at the introduction, then point out where the Donation Jar will be so that anyone that ‘missed’ it upon entrance will know where to find it at intermission.)
A note on Private Concerts vs House Concerts: A Private Event is when the host wants to hire me to play a party for them where the invitations are not open to my mailing list or to anyone other than who the host invites. That is a different financial agreement and would need a specific Financial Guarantee. Please email me directly about these events to firstname.lastname@example.org.
PROMOTING THE CONCERT
I can and would love to announce the concert to my email list, but . . .the host’s enthusiasm for my music is the single biggest factor in generating excitement for the evening, and getting folks out for the concert. So share your feelings unabashedly with your friends and family, and encourage them to spread the word, in turn. These are truly grassroots affairs. To make it easy for you to spread your enthusiasm, there's a whole lot of information on this website (and links below) with lots of materials that can be easily cut-and-pasted into invitations, bio’s, abridged bio’s, press photos, and we can send you posters if you need them as well. Evites and Facebook postings do really well in generating word of mouth. House Concerts are way outside the bounds of traditional media, so papers and radio don’t really ‘advertise’ which can be cool. Your friends will feel like they are in on a rare ‘event’!
There’s also fully downloadable MP3s and live performance video online on youtube.com and other places that you can link to and give your friends a taste of what to expect from my music.
PRIVATE OR PUBLIC?
Generally speaking, house concerts are public events. The concert date will get listed on my online tour calendar along with a request to email the host for more information if a guest is interested in attending. None of the host’s private information is posted, unless explicit permission is given by the host. The Host of the House Concert is responsible for the RSVP's and for setting a limit and creating a waiting list, if such a need should arise. It’s then the host’s responsibility to forward all the appropriate details and directions to the interested party. In this way, the host is in control of who is invited into their home. And just for the record, we’ve never once had a single behavioral issue at any of my house concerts. Folk music is a fairly civil society :)
That said, some hosts prefer that the concert be an entirely private event, as stated above but considering this is a situation where the focus of the night is NOT on the concert but on the event itself, there is a different price schema for these (I've played birthdays, weddings and other events). If you’re interested in such an event, let me know, and we can work out a fair price. Private events where the matter of attendance is a closed affair and by invitation only from the host work under a specific monetary rate guarantee/fee.
SETTING THE TONE
It’s important to make it clear to your guests that this is a concert, not just a party with music going on in the corner. It’s important for you, as the host, to set the tone for the evening, and explain that this will be an attentive listening affair, and insist that conversations be taken outside during the concert portion of the evening. That said, these concerts can serve as wonderful social functions, and many house concert hosts choose to invite their guests to arrive early for wine and dessert and some good mingling . . . and often, hosts choose to make the event a potluck, creating even more of a sense of community from the concert. It’s just that the social element is done within the expectation that when the concert portion of the evening begins, that people will settle down and listen. They’ll be happy they did.
Usually these things work best with a set schedule, with you, the Host(ess), being a kind of Captain of the Ship. In your invites, you can set a “doors open’ time. Say, 6:30 doors open. 7-8 mingle and potluck, 8:00 concert with 2 45 minute sets and a brief intermission. The Host can flick the lights or ding a bell or something like this at about 7:45, signaling the guests its time to settle into their seats for the concert. And usually, the host provides a brief welcome/introduction, welcoming their guests, pointing out bathrooms and exits (for those that aren’t familiar with the space), asking the guests to silence or turn off all cell phones, explaining that I'll perform 2 sets with an intermission for mingling and CD sales (20 minutes at most usually works) and maybe providing a brief intro for me that's how you came upon my music, we met, etc.
A note on children and dogs: Best left at home as they distract. However, it’s always a wonderful thing to see children get turned on to music other than what’s on the radio. Taylor Swift is wonderful but to see a kid get into folk music…that’s cool. If you’re allowing children, make sure the parents know to keep them from becoming distracting. Same holds true for host’s dogs. Amy loves dogs. Until they walk over her pedals and bark during ballads. Cats are always an issue as Amy has allergies. Bad allergies.
The matter of openers: I usually perform 2 45 minute sets, so I prefer "An Evening With" rather than an opener. To add an opener to the show just extends the evening for everyone and can make it a long night. If there is someone you have in mind as a short (25 – 30 minutes AT MOST) opener, please pass it along to me and my booking agent so we can approve. In this case, the show would be Opener, Intermission, Amy does a 75-90 minute set. We find that 2 breaks or intermissions leave way too much of an opportunity for people to make excuses to go home and miss the entire concert and perhaps buy CD’s. We generally dissuade hosts from being the opener and openers should always perform solo or at most as a duo. If Amy is solo, the opener should be solo. It is never a good idea to have a band play as an opener, as the set up and clean up would just be awkward. Best is someone who can plug in and play and not disturb any of the set up for the headliner.
OTHER COMPENSATION. Along with the fee for performing, please provide a hotel room a la Holiday Inn Express or the equivalent. In some cases, "host housing" can be offered, but as I'm not 25 and at the point in my career where I'm interested in sleeping on couches or on a futon in the attic, please make sure it is a clean, separate bed with a separate bathroom and, in the case I have a duo partner with me, a second bed. NO CATS AT ALL. Also, most hosts will provide a hot meal for their performers, something healthy, no fast food, no pizza. It’s usually a nice time for everyone to sit down and break bread and get to know each other before the guests arrive.
DO YOUR THING
OK . . . so all this was meant as a template to help you envision how a house concert might look at your place, and to make sure all the important issues were touched upon. But please understand . . . this is your event, and it will take on a reﬂection of your own personal style. Within the general context of these basic guidelines, I'm open to all kinds of shows for all kinds of people. And let me know if you have any questions or concerns generated from what you’ve just read, and we can discuss it. I love doing House Concerts, but they definitely take a bit more energy than a concert in a theater, as there is way more personal interaction, which I love, and so some of these suggestions help me to let you know the things I need in order to give you the best performance!
Thanks for reading all this, and giving the idea of a concert your thoughtful consideration. And if past records are any indication, I think you’ll really enjoy the whole process . . . as many many ﬁrst time hosts of house concerts have gone on to become presenters of regular monthly concerts. So it’s not a hard thing to do, at all . . . and it’s a very gratifying experience.
SOME PROMO AND THINGS THAT MIGHT HELP YOU OUT IN GETTING FOLKS OFF THE COUCH TO COME TO THE CONCERT:
We will send you photos and a bio for you to use in your emails. Please don’t just pick something off Wikipedia or in your Google search. We’ll send you what we prefer to use!
House Concert fan-video footage of Amy performing at other House Concerts you can link to:
From Montclair, NJ House Concert 2010
“Manila Street” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdE6U4K1P8Q
“Half Asleep & Wide Awake” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqhoKcAMWHk
From Park City Utah House Concert 2010 (small sound system)
“The Killer In Me” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXPoqq4t1b0
From Possum Hollow Log Cabin Concerts, 2011
“Hard Times” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Mt-Bb1rSc0
For an example of stories I sometimes tell at shows, of course, this one was considerably longer than most I do, but you’ll understand why. From The Bieroc Café, McCook, NE 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78Y0nHxxdW8