Get Help. (with your House Concerts)

This is part of a how-to-series from ConcertsInYourHome.com, written by Fran Snyder.

"Get Help" is a popular mantra in the mental health industry. If you've developed the mental disorder called "house concert host," then I suggest you pay heed. It is necessary for your long term health and your enthusiasm. 8^)

CIYH CREW shirt

The most common mistake among new hosts is failing to ask for help. Hosting shows in your home is not rocket science, but it does pose a handful of challenges. To face these challenges, the more energy you have available, especially at the beginning, the greater the chance your house concert series will lift off.  People = Energy

What kind of help should I get? You can ask for and receive all kinds of help, including;

Booking

The success and the enjoyment you and your friends derive from your house concerts largely depends on the quality of performers you book. Frankly, many hosts (especially the new) have no idea of the vast quantity of world-class talent that is available. While it might be wonderful to support local artists you already know, it's important to consider the phenomenal touring artists who could be looking for opportunities in your area. You owe it to yourself to be choosy, and to only select artists who make you confident that they will leave your audiences enthralled.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it doesn't have to be. Our website contains nearly a thousand artists, many of whom have a long track record of being great performers AND house-guests. Please look for the number of  "recommendations" in their profiles to read comments from hosts who've had these performers in their home.

Also, you can work with Jeff Robertson, our friendly agent, who can hand-pick some of our best acts to get your series started with a bang.

"…beyond my expectations. I'm still in awe that musicians of this caliber are willing to travel here for our personal concert with our friends. Thanks Jeff!" –  B. Hofbauer, OH

If you really want to go for it, you can attend regional music conferences to hear, meet, and connect with touring artists who would love to schedule shows with you. Folk Alliance has several regional conferences with dedicated forums to enjoy artists in small, personal spaces. Highly recommended, and don't let the word "folk" throw you – many, many genres are represented.

Organizing/Promoting


One of the most common challenges is getting the word out, and inspiring enough people to RSVP and attend the show.
Will this be easy for you? Many hosts find themselves surprised that their friends don't understand how much fun this will be.

Though we continue to create free tools for our hosts (eflyers, calendars, videos, etc.) – nothing beats having a few more boots on the ground. Your circle of friends is surprisingly small when you compare it to the collective circles of a handful of people. Don't do this alone!

Chances are, at least one or a couple of your friends, if properly approached, would LOVE to get involved with promoting your event. Personally invite them to take part in the event… send them links to the artist and see if they get inspired by the music and/or videos. Would they email 10-20 of their friends a personal invitation? Would they pitch the idea to some friends at work? At house concerts, a turnout of 4-6 extra people can make the difference between an O.K. turnout and a full house!

Furniture/Equipment

Most artists can travel with a small sound system, or do without one if the room is small enough. However, it is great to have access to a small P.A. (microphone, amp, speaker, etc.) when the need arises. These systems can be bought for $300-$1000, but that's probably not a worthwhile investment unless you do many shows each year. Someone you know probably has one.

Chairs, especially bar-stools (great for the back row) are one of the best things you can borrow from your next door neighbors. They might also have a few extra folding chairs if you need them.

The Right Space

One of the most common reasons that people don't feel they can host house concerts is because they think their home is too small. The beauty of house concerts, is that even modest homes can pull off worthwhile events. That said, if you aren't comfortable with your space, why not recruit/inspire a friend or family member who has a better "performance space" to get involved? You book the shows, and help host the events at THEIR house. However, much care should be taken to make sure they understand what they are getting into.

Setting Up/Running the Event

I've seen my share of stressed out hosts before an event. Between getting the house clean, arranging the furniture, setting out snacks and beverages, and handling last minute details, it's easy to feel overwhelmed before the artist even arrives. In the end, they are always happy with the result, but why take on more stress and work than you have to?

Consider inviting at least 2 or 3 guests to come early to help you set up. You can thank your "crew" with some fun shirts, choice reserved seats, pre-show meet and greet with the artist, or almost anything else. Money is not a good reward for these tasks – it takes the romance and the community feel out of the event. People are happy to pitch in for worthwhile things.

Here are some fantastic tasks to delegate or get help with.

  • moving furniture, setting up chairs
  • collecting money/donations
  • setting up food
  • serving drinks (in moderation)
  • making announcements
  • parking guide (if necessary)

Financial/guarantees

Many artists are happy to book shows without requiring a financial guarantee, especially if the host is offering a free meal and place to stay. However, even a modest ($100-300) guarantee can go a long way to offer piece of mind to artists who are incurring travel costs to get to you. Hosts only need to make up the difference between the guarantee and what is collected from donations, so the cost is usually minimal, and often "$0" if 20 or more guests show up.

However, some hosts feel better when they can offer a strong financial guarantee, and sharing that (voluntary) responsibility with a few friends is certainly an option.

Important: Please do not feel compelled to offer more than what you can comfortably afford to spend.

 

Sleeping Quarters

One of the most significant travel expenses for artists is lodging. It's a tradition (but not required) for hosts to offer a free guest room or basement futon for artists who perform at their house concerts. If this is awkward (e.g. a single mom hosting a male performer, or families with newborns), it's certainly acceptable to get a nearby friend or neighbor who has a better situation to host your guests overnight. These co-hosts should be friendly and flexible, and should be cheerful about helping. Otherwise, it's best to offer a local hotel or let the artist know ahead of time that sleeping accommodations are not part of your house concerts.

These are some ways you can get help. You'll find that sharing not just the events, but their responsibilities will deepen your friendships, enrich your community, and provide memories you'll cherish for a lifetime.

To join our community of house concert hosts (for free), visit ConcertsInYourHome.com.

The Host in Control: Turning a crowd into an audience.

What should a host do to insure that they will be able to gather a respectful and attentive audience for a house concert? This is part of a how-to-series from ConcertsInYourHome.com, written by Fran Snyder.

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Controlling the audience is an important skill for hosts as well as for performers. Imagine, making great effort to get your friends to your house so they can hear an artist you really love and want to support. Everyone arrives in good spirits, catching up with old friends, sharing funny stories, and getting lost in the normal get together stuff.

Then, despite your best efforts, when it's time for the show to start, you can't seem to get everyone seated and quiet. A few folks head outside for a smoke, a few guests have already had too much to drink, and some insist on standing in the back so they can "discreetly" keep chatting.
The smokers keep going in and out, the drunks are whispering louder than most people yell, and the guys in the back are just loud enough to annoy the people in front of them.

A nightmare. Might as well be a noisy club show, right?

Basics:

As a house concert host, it is your responsibility to educate your invitees, and to manage their expectations. This is especially true when you are first starting out, when you haven't built a core audience that will set the right example at every show.

You set the right expectations with the first email. You continue to establish control with every conversation and every invitation. It's part of the show's introduction, the intermission, and the closing goodbye. It's a CONCERT. Emphasize the word. Don't let anyone get the impression that it's a party with music.

If your house concert isn't promoted as a CONCERT,  getting your new attendees to behave like an audience will be an uphill battle. Remember, you'll want your invitees to bring their spouse or a friend, and they will most likely have to explain what a house concert is. If you aren't clear about it, you can bet they will not explain it well to others.


Consider:


Even the most seasoned performer can lose their spark when they have to work to get the crowd's attention.
Instead of playing music, being warm and comfortable, they start spotting problems and plotting solutions, and this lovely experience we call music starts to look and feel like a job. If that job necessitates announcements for people to shut up and be respectful, no one wins. The artist will not sell as many CDs, and your audience will have missed the opportunity for a truly inspiring experience. Some may not come back next time.

Tips:

  1. Make sure your flyers, invitations, and emails say "concert" and not "party." Even though house concerts can turn into very festive events (with certain performers) – let that be the surprise.
  2. As people arrive (or ahead of time) pull a few of your friends aside and ask them to take seats in the front row when the time comes. Unless the artist is well-known, new audience members have a tendency select seats like they are entering algebra class. Have a few "good students" set the example early.
  3. Twenty minutes before the show, make an announcement like this… "Hi Everyone, in about 10-15 minutes we'll need to have everyone seated before the concert starts. If you want to use the restroom, or refill your drink, please do that in the next few minutes."
  4. A few minutes before the show, make the next announcement. "O.K. everyone, please find a seat as we're about to start the show. The first set will be about 40 minutes, and then you'll have a break to stretch your legs, use the restroom or get a refill. Please help us keep distractions to a minimum, silence your phones, and get comfortable."
  5. Introduce the artist. There is no penalty for being brief. "Hi Everyone, thanks so much for joining us at our (first?) house concert. Tonight we're pleased to bring you, all the way from Lawrence, Kansas, Fran Snyder!"  Hopefully, you won't have to goad them for some applause.  8^)

The introduction is a great way for you to stall as the last few people settle in. But wait until they are quiet… make them uncomfortable with your silence if you have to, then smile. "Welcome everybody!…"

Options:

  1. Even if you are comfortable as a public speaker (OK – it's a living room), this is a great way to get some of your guests involved. If you sense that one of your friends would be good at (or even enjoy) the role of announcer – delegate! Give them 2 or 3 of the cues above so they are prepared, and share the spotlight. If you can, choose someone with a strong and clear voice, who can speak with some authority and a friendly vibe. Even if you reserve the artist introduction for yourself, it's best to have just one person be the other announcer. Having three different announcers would be weird.
  2. If you aren't up to the job, or forget to delegate it, or just can't find anyone willing, let the artist know at least one hour before the show. Share these tips with them if you like, but a professional artist should be willing to take charge of making an announcement or two. Yes, it's much better if they don't have to.

To join our community of house concert hosts (for free), visit ConcertsInYourHome.com.

Financial Guarantees for Artists/Performers

Is it appropriate to offer a guarantee in case the audience donations don't reach a reasonable amount? This is part of a how-to-series from ConcertsInYourHome.com, written by Fran Snyder

Your living room was made for live music shirt

Basics:

As the price of recorded music rapidly approaches "free," it's important to consider that live performance is usually an artist's primary source of income. Thankfully (for hosts) there is no shortage of amazing performers who are happy to play for very reasonable guarantees, and still more artists who are willing to go on faith that a house concert presenter will give it all she's got to get a reasonable turnout of paying guests.

Unfortunately, the meaning of "giving it all you've got" tends to vary, so you should consider that house concerts (especially on weekends) tend to be a vital part of an artist's touring income.

It's also important to note that hosts who offer a guarantee usually don't have to pay it. If an event is well promoted, the collected donations from the invited guests usually provide more than the guaranteed amount, which leaves the host with no cost for the entertainment. If the collected amount falls below the guaranteed amount, the host only has to cover the difference.

We recommend guarantees, even if they are minimal. It shows that the host is serious, especially if they don't have a track record of successful events. It also shows respect, and can go a long way to insuring artists against major losses, which always seem to happen when they are far from home. If possible, we recommend a guarantee of $200-400 for solo and duo acts, a bit more for trios and ensembles.

Consider:

For most house concerts, 25-35 people is an optimum number of guests, and suggested donations typically range from $10-20 per guest. As an example, 30 guests at $15 per person would result in $450 for the artist, which is an amount (not including CD sales) that would provide a satisfying payday for many talented solo acts, and even some duos. Even if only 10 people showed up (@ $15=$150) the host would only have to pay half ($150) of the $300 guarantee. That's not a lot to pay for a great evening of entertainment that your friends will talk about for a long time.

Options:

How much should I guarantee? Your guarantee can vary from time to time, but should be based on the following.

  1. Choose an amount you can afford to pay in full, in case (hail storm?) no one shows up or you have to cancel on very short notice. If you can only guarantee $50, dinner, and a guest room, then that is what you should offer. To increase your guarantee, you can get a few friends involved to share the potential expense or maybe even solicit a local business to sponsor the event.  We have some recommendations on how to do this.
  2. How badly do you want that artist to perform? Every host has a couple of dream acts that they would certainly be willing to pay/guarantee extra to make the show happen.
  3. The needs of the artists. If there is significant travel involved, the guarantee is often necessary to offset the time and expense of the travel.
  4. Your "built in" audience. This number should not be taken for granted, but over time you'll develop a range of audience turnouts. As your average attendance climbs, you may become more comfortable offering a higher guarantee when necessary.
  5. Demand. You may learn that there are some acts that are more likely to draw an audience for the show… whether that audience is from the excitement of your current mailing list, or the result of new faces who are local fans of the artist. It is very easy to over-estimate this, however.

Tips:

  1. Get a few of your most interested friends to pool money for the guarantee. This is even easier to do if you allow them to help you pick talent for your series. With a vested interest (time, and maybe a little money) they will be motivated to help you promote the event.
  2. Get a sponsor… this is a great example of how to get sponsors without touching the money.
  3. If financial guarantees scare you, consider doing your concerts on weeknights. Artists have a tougher time filling these nights, and are generally more flexible with hosts when it comes to guarantees and financial expectations.
  4. Even if you don't offer guarantees, kindness goes a long way. Allowing artists to stay an extra night (if they have the next night off) can save them hotel money. Water and snacks for the road, a gift certificate for road food, etc… you get the idea.  

Your guarantee should never be a gamble. It should be a reasonable budget for the potential cost of the event.

To join our community of house concert hosts (for free), visit ConcertsInYourHome.com.