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.

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6 thoughts on “Financial Guarantees for Artists/Performers

  1. Fran, I gotta mostly disagree on this one. There are likely a couple of people I would do it for (Danny Michel, are you listening?) but I feel that for us, the fact that an artist gets dinner, a bed, breakfast, and every penny from CDs and audience donations, combined with our pretty solid track record on crowds, should be enough.
    We did a guarantee for a very early show and being naive agreed to a $500 guarantee. IT was in the winter, and although we didn’t have to pony up the dough, it was scary enough to make me swear off.
    I commit my house, my kitchen, and a lot of spare time to providing a place where the artist gets it all. I feel like that’s as much as I can do, and if it means artist x or y won’t play, I am pretty cool with that.

  2. Hi Bob,
    combined with our pretty solid track record on crowds, should be enough.
    The key is your pretty solid track record. We get 15-20 new hosts per month on the site, and it’s important to impress on (some) of them that artists deserve to make a living, and can be really subject to major losses on the road. Although I don’t want to discourage people from starting up, at least making them aware that guarantees will occasionally be asked for (remember, we are getting some killer acts on the site) and preparing them for the logical decision of whether or not it’s appropriate for THEM.
    Remember, a great host can come from anywhere, but there are some who may take the responsibility too lightly.
    Protecting artists from the mistakes of newbies does not in any question your fine record.
    Best,
    Fran Snyder
    ConcertsInYourHome

  3. Hi Fran,
    I agree with Bob. We have been doing house concerts for 6 years and we never offer a guarentee. If a performer wants a guarentee then we are up front and let them know we do not offer it and they may not be suited for our venue. Performers have made from donations form $350.00 to $2000.00 at our home. We keep none of it and we feed, offer rooms, own our own pa system and so on for their disposal. Unles they are someone like Chris Smithers who plays our friends house (he gets a guarentee)
    We all have to learn to do these and some new folks will only do one and will never do another one. We all are creative in how to get people to come as well. You did not mention that the performer needs to also work his list to draw people to their show if they have a following in the hosts area. It can help to bring people to the show. You mentioned getting the word out but no mention of cost to the hosts. “This is also a big factor in the no guarentee, on average our shows cost out of pocket $200-$400.00. This is for advertising, food, water, coffee, tea, and sometimes fliers,/posters. We do these for love and ask for no money from performers. Some are shocked with what they receive at the end of the night and offer us money which we never take.
    Newbies as you call them NEED to be aware of what they will encounter with all aspects of doing these.. Performers need to understand too that if they are solicting new hosts not to expct a large crowd because they are building a list with theirs and your list.
    We leave the guarentees to those who run a buisness, but for us it’s what is collected at the door and we will stick with that and artists are informed of this from the moment they contact us or we contact them. We have never had anyone turn us down.
    Best,
    Canyonfolk House Concerts

  4. I am agreeing with Bob and Canyonfolk…if I had to offer a guarantee, I couldn’t/wouldn’t do house concerts. In this economy, I can’t guarantee my cable bill right now. I also could not stand in front of a house concert audience and encourage them to join me in inviting musicians to their homes to perform. I’m trying to give our local Austin, TX musicians a place to perform for a listening audience and some extra dollars in their pocket so they can pay THEIR cable bills, and keep a roof over their head.
    I collect at the door and all money is to the music, it’s the best I can do, and I have no lack of great musicians that choose to join me in my back yard. It also has them help with the promo of the gig, getting those butts in the chairs. That should not just be left up to the house concert operator, it should be a partnership. Shake Russell sent me a big package of posters, Taylor Pie as well…that’s helping get the word out, as well as working their facebooks, myspace and email lists. We’re all trying to do the same thing, make that peformer have a successful show, and make money.
    House concerts are like life…no guarantees!
    thanks for all you do, Fran!
    Karen

  5. I started promoting House Concerts almost 10 years ago in and around the Memphis and Chattanooga areas. I always offered a $200 guarantee because I thought that was the right thing to do. True, sometimes I sweated blood hoping to get a ‘break-even’ crowd. Once, I had to cancel the event and mailed the $200 to Dana Robinson because he booked my gig and as a result, couldn’t book a paying gig at the last minute. House Concerts may be “all about the music”, but to the artist, it’s still his/her job…..the job that pays their bills. I understand all the Pros & Cons of the guarantee issue, but my policy was to always offer a guarantee of $200.
    Don

  6. I’m a bit taken back by the idea of not providing a guarantee. To me, there was never any question that it was the right thing to do. We’ve only done three house concerts, so yes, we’re new, but we have always offered a guarantee of $200, i.e. 20 persons@$10 each. So far our average attendance is in the mid 30’s and all musicians have taken home more than our minimum guarantee.
    We live close to no where, so all of our acts have traveled at least three hours to get to us. We look at this as a hobby, and are willing to spend some for the cause, just like we may spend money when we travel to other towns to hear musicians. We appreciate live music and the musicians and believe artists deserve to get paid. Based on our attendance, the performer’s cd sales and tips, apparently our friends do too. Perhaps we’re naive.

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