Ideas to Restart Your Concerts (#Covid)

Last Wednesday, a handful of hosts were able to join me on a Zoom call to discuss ideas and best practices for when we are ready to start hosting events again. In particular, how do we navigate audience size, promotion, proximity, food, bathrooms, schedule, etc.?

We didn’t cover everything, but here’s a recap of what we covered in 40 minutes.

How to Restart?

Start Small: LRN will recommend 50% capacity max for indoor shows. We’ll actively promote the TenTen Concerts format to encourage folks to do more shows, especially to help out local and regional acts.

Chairs: Spread them out more for obvious reasons, but also to minimize people touching each other’s chairs as they navigate to their seats.

Lodging: Book more local and regional acts who can drive home after the show.

Front Row: Singers/speakers have to project and can’t wear masks while performing, so it’s good to move the front row back further than usual.

Elderly and immunity-compromised guests should not be in the front row.

Outdoor setups provide more space, and allow people to bring their own chairs/picnic.

Merch Table: Disinfectant wipes should be available to wipe items.

Bath: Disinfectant wipes, lysol, etc. Enable people to clean whatever makes them more comfortable… toilet, doorknob, etc. One set concerts allow some guests to skip the bathroom altogether.

Food/Alcohol: Might be best to skip both – keep things simpler and cleaner. Invite guests to bring what they like, but not large portions for sharing.

Below are the suggestions I made before the conversation, which offer some additional context.

1. We’ll have to start small and/or outdoors for maximum safety. The point is to allow people plenty of space, not just between seats but extra space to walk around, especially in the congested areas. Consider limiting to HALF your previous capacity.

2. If possible start with local regional acts. With so much uncertainty, artists cannot confidently plan long trips. They will not be able to absorb cancellation costs or barely profitable touring anymore. Every gig has to make sense on its own. That means drastically reduced travel for the near term. Of course, if you have existing bookings, you should honor those if they still work for your artists.

3. We’ll have to limit the buffet and food sharing. There might be some creative answers here, but I think people will be most comfortable eating at home. Please consider how that might affect alcohol consumption… serving alcohol without food can be more risky.

4. We’ll have to be vigilant about safety and backup plans. What if you are scheduled to host a show in two days and now you have a cold/fever? Backup hosts/spaces would be very advisable. I recommend partnering with another local host for each event, especially if you do book an act that will be traveling. ONE of us will host this thing!
Also, audience members can be encouraged to wear masks. Have a “best mask contest” for each show!

5. Flexible pricing – if a number of our potential guests have lost work or income, it might be worthwhile to ask/promote a looser policy for donations. Please give less if you must, please give more if you can.

6. Smaller = more shows?
This probably sounds ambitious, but smaller shows are easier, and we’ll all be missing the opportunity to connect. Small house concerts will be one of the best ways to reconnect safely.


House Concert Contracts (Nontract?)

Over the years, many hosts have asked about contracts, which are sometimes sent by an agent representing the artist.

Avoiding Contracts?

Artists and agents, as they get more established, find it increasingly worthwhile to have signed contracts to protect their income and to develop standard expectations while on the road. Venues are accustomed to contracts, which often include a “rider” that spells out what the act expects on stage (tech rider) as well as accommodations – lodging, food, transportation and more. These riders can be a single-page, but are often 3-5 pages for a small act, and hundreds of pages for rock stars playing stadium shows.

House concerts rarely involve contracts. As you might expect, contracts and riders could prove intimidating for a house concert host, who is not running a business, but stepping up as a volunteer promoter. In addition, there are important reasons to avoid contracts for house concerts.

If the host signs a contract, it suggests the host is involved in the commercial aspect of the activity, instead of inviting friends over and allowing the artist to collect donations. Local zoning boards, insurance companies, the IRS, and other officials could take issue with a commercial activity in the home.

As covered in our chapter “Confirming the Show,” house concert details are best handled by email, which makes for a sufficient digital handshake. It is important to clearly state the expectations of the host and the artist/agent.

Here is what we tell our hosts at Listening Room Network

  • never sign anything that makes you uncomfortable
  • never agree to deliver something you “hope” you can make happen
  • only agree to a “guarantee” you can cover without missing a car payment

One of our European hosts emailed because she had just received a contract from a booking agent. She hadn’t seen that before, and wanted advice. There is a chapter on this in the upcoming book, but what do you think of my response?
“We do not recommend contracts for house concerts, but it is not unusual for agents to ask for them. My recommendation:

I would say “I don’t sign contracts because I am a volunteer host, not a business. However, I agree to do my best for [artist] according to the emails we have exchanged.”
If you are comfortable offering a guarantee (amount is up to you), I would also say “I do understand you are looking out for your artist, and that there are travel expenses. I can guarantee €100 in donations for this booking – if the collected donations are below €100, I will make up the difference to reach the minimum guarantee.” [You can guarantee less or more, the amount is up to you. Donations/guarantees are not affected by merchandise sales.]
If you like, instead of a contract, it is nice to make a summary email that describes the responsibilities of each person. It can look like a contract, but does not require signatures.

Again, don’t sign anything that makes you uncomfortable.

Are contracts evil? Are they enforceable? Will someone get sued?
(No. Maybe. Probably not.)

House concerts are a personal experience, and these events can cross a lot of territory that wouldn’t ordinarily happen with a traditional venue. If you have 5 roosters in the backyard that start crowing at 4:30am – you’ll want to bring that up, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a reliable tool to remind you.

In this spirit, it is helpful for hosts to have a checklist or fact sheet they can offer to the performers. Skip the signatures and have a simple email like this ready to go when you book an artist for a house concert

If we had to make a house concert contract, it might look something like the next page.

The House Concert “Nontract”

Artist Name: ________________ Agent/Solvent (if any)_____________________
Host with the Most Name:______________________
Both partiers, artist and host, make this agreement in order to create a fantastic, fun time, and to make sure they are aware of their responsibility doodads to make that happen.
________ is the date the house concert will take place
________ is the time the show will start
between ______ and _______ is the time the artist should arrive
the artist will perform ____ minutes, take a break, and then play ____ minutes more – give or take a few.

Artist (initial all that apply)
__ will show up on time, sober, friendly, and ready to entertain.
__ will remain at least as sober as the host.
__ is comfortable with house hold pets, except _______ and tarantulas.
__ will be friendly to the audience/hosts/guests, but may require some alone time and space before the start of the show.
__ will respect the home, and not leave wet towels on hardwood floors.
__ will honor the smoking policy, and does/does not need a convenient place to shoot up.
__ is comfortable with the host’s requirement of a show that would not be rated more than G/PG/R/X in content.

Host (initial all that apply)
__ have food for the artist, most likely _______
__ have a bed or room for the artist’s to stay the night. Bed will be free of teddy bears.
__ provide an obvious, marked container for guests to place the suggested donation (e.g. suggested donation: $15)
__ will/will not allow children to attend. Teenagers untethered to iPhones may attend.

Both parties are aware that brown stuff can hit the fan. That said, both artist and host will do their utmost to uphold this agreement. If the event must be cancelled, both parties will be as accommodating as possible, by doing things like adapting, re-scheduling, buying a few CDs, sending chocolates or whatever it is that a kind person would do. Artist will be aware that the host may have put a lot of time and effort into promoting the show, and the host will remember that an artist may have significant travel expenses as a result of the booking.

This agreement should not be entered into lightly. Therefore, we put on our serious faces and sign below.

Each party (and the NSA) will keep this for reference.