House Concerts 101

03/22/2010 at 10:25 am | Posted in How to this-or-that, Music, News & Explanations | 17 Comments
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**NOTE: This is an awesome blog post, but it is out of date!  Instead, see this page for updated 2013 show booking notes!  The writing below is wonderful but also it is a historical document from early 2010.  There’s an updated version that is very much the same.  New info:  http://mariancall.wordpress.com/booking-a-house-concert/**

My 2010 tour will consist primarily of house concerts. Yet most of my listeners have never attended a house concert. Even fewer have hosted.  So what’s the deal? Here’s the deal.

Let’s go back in time, back to the millenia before television brought Mick Jagger at halftime into your living room through a glowy blue box.  If you wanted live music, you had to make it happen in your own house, yard, church, pub, temple, piazza, or outhouse.  The best modern equivalent is a house concert.  I’m not saying those old days were better, but I am saying it’s probably been too long since you’ve listened to fantastic music up close and live in a quiet environment — that’s a transformative experience.  It’s way different than going out, way different than listening to MP3’s, way different than anything the glowy blue box can bring you.  And you still make it happen.

I’ve played dozens and dozens of house concerts now, and 90% of them were with hosts who had never organized a house concert before.  So don’t say you can’t do it — you can!  It’s entirely simple, cheap for everyone, friendly, fun, environmentally smart, economically smart — and the food and alcohol are way better and cheaper than what you get going out.

How does it work? You contact an artist, set a date, get them your address, invite your friends by e-mail and take RSVP’s, plan for food or drinks (if you want to), and then I show up, set up my gear, and play for you!

Things prospective house concert hosts ALWAYS say to me:

  • “I’d love to, but my house is too small.” EVERY host says this at first. No, it’s not. I’ve done house concerts for 5 people in a tiny cabin in Alaska and for 25 in an even smaller crowded standing-room-only flat in Hollywood, with everyone shoulder-to-shoulder.  I’ve even played a dorm room.  Your house can fit way more people than you think.
  • “I’ve never done anything like that before.” You probably have.  Take any kind of house party you can think of — a drunken BYOB bash, a child-friendly family potluck, a birthday party with presents, a backyard BBQ, a fancy wine and cheese event — and just imagine that the theme of the afternoon/evening is music.  The artist (me) will provide absolutely everything related to the music part of the show; all you do is put on a very normal party, invite people, set out drinks, and wait for all of us to show up.
  • “I don’t know if I want strangers in my house.” No need to have any (besides me).  You can have a private event, just for your friends and family.  Or you can host it at a local community center, school, place of worship, park, swimming pool — anywhere!  People get all sorts of creative, using these concerts for fundraisers, community events, conventions, kids’ time, etc.  The host sets the parameters.
  • “It will take so much time!” Well, it can, but it doesn’t have to.  I’ve played some elaborate, carefully coordinated house concerts, and some that the hosts just let happen. Potlucks and BBQ’s, especially, are low-to-no maintenance and take only a few e-mails to coordinate.  To get everything you need to compose the invitation and promote the show, see the “Publicity Tools” tab above.
  • “My place is a mess.” Everyone says this, and everyone is lying.  By the time I arrive you’ve usually scrambled for thirty minutes and made it look lovely.  (If you need an excuse to clean up, this would be it…)
  • “You can’t come to my town, I’m out of the way.” People who contact me and ask nicely usually get me to come sooner or later.  If you’re out of the way, just guarantee me a certain number of people in attendance, or a certain amount of money (surprisingly little) and I’ll make it happen.  As long as I don’t lose money coming to your town, I will probably be game!
  • “Wow, that was amazing and special and unforgettable. And it was so much easier than I thought!” I hear this Every. Single. Time.

Most hosts and guests are thrilled by their first house concert.  Get out to one in your area if you want an idea of how they go!  There are lots of normal folks like you beginning to host monthly or quarterly concerts because they’ve found it’s so easy, fun, and memorable.  Artists love to be asked to do house concerts — after the bars-and-cafes grind, they’re a pleasure.  Your favorite local artist would probably be thrilled to play one for you.  Why not ask?  Ask me anytime: visit this blog entry to actually request a concert, or e-mail mcminion42@gmail.com to ask questions.*

Answers to FAQ’s are below if you’re thinking of hosting. If you’ve hosted or attended a house concert before, do leave your thoughts in the comments!

- What do I need to provide? Just some comfortable space where people can stand or sit and mingle, and later listen attentively to music.  Consider what your sort of crowd would be comfortable with.  You also need to provide at least some of the people — most house concerts are populated by the host’s friend and social circle, though occasionally one will be promoted as a public event and I will invite other fans to RSVP.

- What’s the food and drink situation? This is completely up to you.  I’ve played at fully catered gourmet dinners, potlucks, barbecues, desserts, wine tastings, and even afternoon or late evening events which had no real food — only beverages and cookies. Anything goes, as long as your guests are prepared for what to bring and what will be available.

- How does the event flow? Usually the event starts with about forty-five minutes to an hour of mingling and food and drink.  When the moment feels right (or right on the clock, however you like it) you invite people to claim their space for the show, and I begin performing.  I usually do two forty-five minute sets with a break (so as not to wear down guests’ attention span.  I am very generous with my tunes;  if folks are engaged I’ll go as long as the audience likes and do any and every request I can).  During the show at some point, I invite people to give money, usually $10-15, and/or buy CD’s, and I leave it at that.  The host can keep their hands clean of the money business for the most part; I’m used to doing it myself.  After the show people mingle some more, in varying stages of sobriety, sometimes staying all night and sometimes going home right away.  When everyone’s gone usually you and I crack one last beer or heat one last cup of tea and sigh and chat about how fun the evening was.  Then I drive away (or sleep on your couch, depending) and provided your guests are the good kind, you’re left with minimal mess.

- How do I promote the event?  Do I have to post my personal information on the internet? You can make your event private — only for people you know — or public.  If it’s public, I will advertise it, but I will not post your name or address on the web unless you ask me to.  Usually prospective guests can get the address in exchange for a firm RSVP by e-mail.  (And my fans are awesome people that you’d want to meet anyway.)  To get the word out, e-mail invites and a Facebook event usually do the trick; some folks use a service like evite, but I’ve almost never seen that go very well.  The very best promotion in the world is word of mouth. If you’re excited, your friends will be too.  I’m happy to help with a free MP3 for invitees, plus all the links and photos and posters you could want — or a spiffy e-mail/web invite like the one below.  Plus I’m happy to give you CD’s and bonus things.  House Concert hosts get Marian Call perks of all kinds — just ask!

UPDATED: for help writing an invitation or get official images, posters, etc., just click on the tab at the top of this page called “Publicity Tools.” Everything you need is there (scroll down to the bottom).

Things it’s important to clarify when you invite people: 1) this will be a house concert, not a house party, and the music is the feature event; 2) bring your own (chair, food, beer, kids, whatever they should bring, as people want to know); 3) whether kids are welcome, and if they are, whether childcare will be provided.

- What about the *gulp* money? Awkward… I understand completely. Asking guests for $$ is awful. If you mention it up front, in the e-mail invitation, it’s actually less awkward — and if you leave a basket at the door, instead of passing the hat, again, less awkward.  People don’t like letting other people watch them pay.  A good way to phrase the invitation is to say there’s a “$10-15 per person recommended donation for the artist, pay-as-you-can.” I’ll reinforce that with a friendly announcement that I’m used to making.  I never begrudge folks coming and not paying, or paying less than $10.  But I do have to make ends meet.  So the idea is to prepare guests for what to expect before you’re speaking to them in person.  I don’t require a minimum guarantee, unless I’m flying far afield, but if you think you might have less than 12-15 people, it’s good to tell me that directly, since that may affect what other shows I look for in the area or what date I book with you.

- Can I really do this? Absolutely!  And to paraphrase most of my house concert hosts from around the country, it’s a fantastic and memorable and [insert many glowing adjectives here] experience.  You’ll be so glad you did.  So will I.  I’m proud of you!

*To inquire about booking a house concert with me, visit this blog entry and follow the instructions.  I don’t respond to Facebook or Myspace booking requests, nor Twitter DM’s; it’s not official booking business ’til it’s in my real inbox at mcminion42@gmail.com.  Also: you may hear from an assistant of mine sometimes, but rest assured I’m overseeing all correspondence that goes on.

House Concert InvitePhoto by Brian Adams. http://baphotos.com or http://flickr.com/brianadams.

P.S.: this is an old invite for a show in 2009.  But don’t worry Arizona, I’ll be visiting you in June!

***Update, by request: you can see my rough calendar dates on this Google calendar or at http://mariancall.com/tour.php.  If you want me to come visit, tell some friends about me!***

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17 Comments »

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  1. Out of curiosity, will this be only in the states, or will there be house concerts happening in Canada too?

    • Updated, Ellen: Yes, I will be playing some in Canada, though house concerts will be very much preferred as they’re legally much simpler. Keep track here or on my social networking sites!

  2. Really cool i would love to check out one of your house concerts.

  3. Trying for Canada, Ellen. There are some legal hurdles I hope to overcome. Must stay on Canada’s good side.

  4. Last (only) time I tried to book a house concert the artist (not a big name, just someone we heard at a themepark show) demanded hundreds of bucks (I mean towards a thousand) A dressingroom tat could be locked, a 2 by 3 meter stage and a meal for her and her crew… To play at my 21th birthday party for like, 10 people!

    Needless to say that didn’t happen :-p too bad since house concerts seem the most awesome kind…

    I wonder if there are more artists as awesome about this as you, after that birthday incident I just assumed house concerts aren’t meant for normal-budget people and tossed the idea aside, but you make it sound like they are doable!

    So if you plan to be near enough to Amsterdam someday… Gimme a heads up!

    • Dorothy, I’m sad you had that experience! I have almost never been to a house concert like this, and I’ve attended dozens (some with very big names). Then again, I don’t expect that artist gets invited to do them often, with prices and a tech rider like that. It’s certainly not the only way they happen.

      I hope you get a chance to visit a proper, friendly house concert sometime soon. And I hope to get to Amsterdam during winter 2010-2011. I’d love to correct the sad mistake!

      Marian

  5. I’ve tried to talk my husband into a house concert, but he isn’t at all interested. :( I think I could talk him into attending, if you have one scheduled in our area, just not hosting. This sounds like an incredible, intimate, memory-rich experience to me, so I will keep working on him. That said, is there any way that I could be invited if you’re in the Fairbanks area? Thanks!

    • I just booked a good show in Fairbanks, on 5/15, at College Coffeehouse. Not quite a house concert, but a nice quiet environment most of the time. Hope you can make it!

  6. Whooohooo! Edmonton’s on the list! Do you have a venue yet or is this wishful thinking?

    • I have plenty of fans, and we’re looking for a living room or backyard for an informal concert. I even have people to help coordinate it, just no space quite big enough — maybe 25-30 people max. If you know a place, or a person, do get in touch! mcminion42*at*gmail.com

  7. I just wanted to share that we will be having a private house concert next week for my brother’s birthday and it’s not as scary as it sounds to host a party. Marian is there for you all the way thru it. Let you all know how it goes – I’m pretty darn excited!

  8. Greetings. My friend Lisa contacted me about you being interested in an event in Charlotte and I would love to host! I will be reaching out again but wanted to send you the heads up to see if you are still interested? Sept 22nd I think (or somewhere there abouts?)

    Let me know! Thanks!

    Christina

  9. Everything in this article is true. Thanks for playing my house, Marian! Hope your travels continue to treat you well!

  10. I see you have a House Concert scheduled for Concord, NH, but no info on it. Is it totally private, or have you just not got around to posting details? I couldn’t talk my wife into one at our house…

  11. Oh, awful timing! People have been suggesting for MONTHS that I start listening, and I didn’t get to see you when I was down at Dragon*Con… I finally got a good dose of your music when I streamed some of the ThinkGeek concert last night. And I liked what I heard!

    So I thought setting up a house concert would be a lot of fun! But come to find out you were just in Louisville, KY 11 days ago. Technically, I’m over the river into southern Indiana, but you’ve already done Indiana, too…

    *pout*

  12. I just hosted a house concert. I would agree that it’s relaly not scary at all. I’ve blogged about the experience here – http://margomusing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/hosting-house-concert.html, for anyone who is interested in seeing it from the host’s perspective!


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