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