Wednesday 29 June 2016
How to "Break Into the House Concert Scene"
Occasionally, musicians ask me how to break into the house concert scene. I have been extremely successful with house concerts without managing to do that. So my answer is: don't try to break into the scene. Make your own scene! Simply ask your friends to let you play a concert at their home, for them, their friends, families, and neighbours. From there, you'll build your own house concert network. Here's how to do it.
Start with a few concerts at friends' homes in your own area. This will be great practice for finding hosts, helping them set up and run the events, performing at them, and building a list of contacts from the audiences that show up. Once you've gotten a taste for all that, and are hooked on doing as many house concerts as you can, set up a small tour.
Create a rough idea of where you'd like to go, and then collect contacts for every single friend and friend-of-friend you can think of in those areas. For the places where you don't know anyone, ask your friends for names of potential hosts. You can say on Facebook, "Does anyone know someone in Duluth who might be into having me play at their home?" Once you've assembled your hit-list of potential hosts, send them all a message like this:
I'm organizing my first tour and really want to come to your town to play! It's going to be all house concerts, so I am counting on my friends and friends-of-friends to host the shows.
It's wonderful to have live music in your living room, and house concerts are fun and easy to host:
- You don't need a big living room (10 friends is enough)
- You don't need to supply food or alcohol (though you can if you want)
- You don't need to pay me (I will get voluntary donations from the audience, and give you a free album!)
- You don't need to supply mics or a PA (it will all be at friendly low volumes)
- I will bring everything I need to put on my show (though if you have a real piano, that would be a bonus)
All you have to do is invite a few friends, family, neighbours, etc., and I'll take care of the rest.
So please check the dates below, and let me know if you'd like to have a concert in your home!
Sep 1-8 NEW ENGLAND
Sep 5-12 QUEBEC
Sep 9-16 ONTARIO
I'm excited to hear from you, and even more to play for you!
You also might include a few words about why you particularly love playing house concerts.
If your list isn't huge, try to personalize the message somewhat for each recipient, at least by introducing yourself to people you don't know and naming the mutual friend who gave you their contact.
Try to keep it simple and to the point: people don't read long messages any more. Also include a nice picture of you playing, and a picture of a cozy living room concert with people clearly smiling and enjoying each other as much as the music. Search google images for "house concert" to find such a picture, or hit me up for one.
You might also mention that if the potential host is themselves a performer or artist, they can do something, too at the concert. This may increase their incentive to host you. Or, if you're not quite confidant you can carry a whole concert on your own, the host can invite another local artist to share the bill with you.
If you can't pull together enough potential hosts through friends and friends-of-friends, post a version of your message on Facebook, and in any other groups and sites you can think of in the localities where you want to go. If there is something unique about your show or interests that distinguishes you from other musicians, see if you can find people who would respond to that in particular.
For example, I just advised a Kenyan musician and filmmaker who's done social issues documentaries about Africa, and wants to do a house concert tour in Massachusetts. I suggested he poke around online for groups of African music enthusiasts, independent film makers, human rights activists, and Kenyan-Americans, in the areas where he wants to go, and propose a house concert to them in which there's also a conversation about some of these interests, and maybe even a little screening of one of his films. I urged him both to post in these groups, and also to try to send personal emails to any individual in Massachusetts he can find online who may share these interests.
As I've done above, allow your proposed dates in each geographic area to overlap slightly, so you can adapt your schedule to the offers you actually get. If some people respond with interest but no commitment, be gently persistent with them until you get a clear yes or no.
With each confirmation, inform the host that you'll need to sleep and eat there. Accept as many offers as you can, make your travel arrangements, and then keep your word to show up on time and play! Even if your first tour's gigs are few and far between, and you end up losing money, it will still be a great investment, because at each show you'll meet so many potential hosts for your next tour. And don't worry if the audiences are small at first. Quality of connection is far more important than quantity of people. A great rapport with a group of three could lead to three new house concerts next time around.
Make a guest book, and encourage the audiences to sign it with comments and contact info. Keep that info well organized by region on your computer. When planning your subsequent tour, contact everyone who signed your book and offer them a house concert. Your network will quickly grow, making it easier to book tours without too many long drives or days off.
Once your tour is booked, you'll of course want each show to go as well as it can. Beyond being prepared musically, the key to that is in maximizing the magical intimacy that's unique to house concerts. Be committed to making a real and human connection with your audience. This is a skill you will grow gradually over time, if you set the goal. Four big tips: don't make a set list (improvise your song order); talk with members of the audience before, during and after you perform; avoid microphones at all costs; and be your own vulnerable self rather than adopting any stage persona.
Beyond that, even though you're the performer and not the host, I highly recommend reading my blog on how to host a great house concert: http://michaelholtmusic.blogspot.com/2016/06/how-to-put-on-house-concert.html. You only need to read the last two sections, Setting Up and Emceeing. These will help you assist your hosts in arranging the space and running the event to maximize engagement and intimacy.
You can, if you want, use a web-based house concert hub to find hosts, although some of them take a cut of the proceeds. I have mixed feelings about sharing the money with distant people who are not actually part of the event, and the DIY approach is closer to my heart. That said, sofaconcerts.org (which takes 15%) is the best-looking one I've seen so far. You can also use couchsurfing.org (which is free) to find hosts – just tell them you'd like to put on a concert for their friends. I tend to use websites like these mainly to fill the holes in a tour I've mostly booked through my own networking.
I hope this has been helpful. Don't hesitate to get in touch with any questions. And feel free to send me links to your music. If I dig it, I may be able to refer you some hosts in the places where you're going!