Why are house concerts so good for artists?

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Photo by Donna Green

The following is an excerpt from Fran Snyder’s upcoming book on house concerts. Subscribe to this blog for more content or to the monthly newsletter at ListeningRoomNetwork.com to be notified when the book is available!

Basically, it comes down to three things:

  • The Vibe
  • The Money
  • The Host/Volunteer Promotion

Major social and musical trends have raised the value of house concerts for artists at all levels of their careers. In short, there is an ever increasing number of options for people to spend their leisure time, and a growing number of empowered, independent artists vying for that shrinking live-music portion. Audiences are getting smaller, and house concerts allow you to make the most of that small audience.

When you talk with artists who enjoy the house concert format, the consensus is clear that the experience is consistently and significantly better than the clubs. House concerts require less promotional work and earn more money per show. Most of all, the audience is nicer, more attentive, and eager to connect with the performers.

The Vibe

House concerts are the emotional anchors of every tour. — Hans York

Touring artists build up a tolerance to feeling like a stranger. You do get an occasional friendly face, but when your introduction to a new town is a nod from a bartender cleaning the beer lines, it can get pretty bleak out there. After the show, if you aren’t surrounded by new or old friends, the exit can be unremarkable too.

By contrast, a house concert host typically treats you as guest of honor in their home. Hospitality varies, but most artists feel a strong sense of gratitude after a house concert. You get to bask in a successful night a little longer, you get to know people a little better, and the generosity lifts your soul as well as your pocketbook.

Some artists will tell you that the house concert atmosphere is even more valuable than the income. The ability to tell your stories and banter with the audience can make the show like a sweet conversation. For road warriors who occasionally have to play bar gigs, the respect and connection they feel at house concerts reaffirms why they play music in the first place – to connect.

Financially, the house concerts are an even bigger win.

The Money

Unless an act is well-funded, established, or gaining hordes of new fans with a viral video, they have to find a way to succeed with small events. Artists can sometimes profit from a house concert with as few as ten attendees.

Here’s why:

  • No overhead costs. Hosts contribute their home and refreshments for free.
  • No profit motive for the house. Hosts don’t get a percentage of the door/donations.
  • No promotional costs. Since house concerts are private (for legal, zoning and licensing reasons) there’s usually no need to advertise the show or print posters, etc. The host invites friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.
  • Due to the intimate presentation, house concerts usually yield more merchandise sales per attendee than public concerts.
  • Free lodging and food is traditionally offered to the artist. Two major expenses of being on the road, gone. Artists get a bed, a shower, dinner, and maybe even breakfast.

These perks can make small shows financially worthwhile.

The Host/Volunteer Promotion

Already mentioned, but it’s worth noting how this affects your bottom line. Even if you only value your time at $15/hour, the time you spend seeking lodging and attendees adds up. Having your lodging, food, and promotion provided by the host makes a significant difference in the value of the show.

Consider the alternatives for an act playing in a market where they don’t have a big following. The math makes it clear.

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For small shows while away from home, when you factor in the savings as well as the income, it’s clear that the house concert can easily provide many times the value that a public venue gig would. It’s probably more enjoyable, too.

Context about our fees for artists.

A host shared with me that he feels we are taking advantage of artists, because our membership rates are too high. I am sharing my response with you. – Fran

Thanks for allowing me to respond.

Our fees can be stressful without the proper context. I don’t expect to change your mind, but I’d love the opportunity to share how we got to where we are. As of early 2017, we charge about $350 per year for artist memberships. Our membership rates allow us to deliver some key benefits.

Value

$350, on average, is what an artist typically makes from a single event (house concert) in our network. We don’t take commissions, so for the artists who book 4-40 shows per year via CIYH, it’s a great deal. I think Rupert Wates booked close to 50 shows last year – about $15,000 worth, and a fantastic return on his investment in our network.

Curation of a Viable Artist Community

Over ten years, we’ve consistently had artists who want to join who are

  1. not serious about touring,
  2. not ready to tour,
  3. not appreciative of the house concert concept and the efforts made by house concert hosts.

We’ve found that a higher price allows us to spend more time with artists who are professional, ready, and who see the value in not just house concerts, but a growing community of them. Also, it limits the number of artists so that our hosts are not overwhelmed with inquiries, and our artists actually have a good shot at getting work through their membership.

Innovation

Progress is slow, but we’ve invested a lot in creating tools for our community to grow. For example, we invested a lot of time and effort in OfficeConcerts.com, in hopes of creating a day-time network of opportunities for our artists, and to reach new listeners in an unconventional way. That effort failed.. as we couldn’t consistently get the “listening room environment” to be valued in an office setting.

What did work is our Listening Room Festival, which has made Florida one of the best places to tour. The Listening Room Network (for public listening rooms and soon, fans) is showing promise as well. Our innovative concepts like DinnerAndSong, DessertAndSong, and TenTen Concerts have created hundreds of additional shows for artists inside and outside of our network.

Sustainability

Over the past ten years, we’ve seen many house concert websites come and go because they couldn’t make enough money to justify the effort and/or hire competent, passionate people to share the load.

As of 2016, no one at CIYH makes more than $17 per hour, and I will be thrilled when we get to a point that working with us could be deemed a career. I’m the only full time person, and I made about $2 per hour during the first few years of working the site. So it’s important to know that artists aren’t the only ones who make sacrifices.

 

I know that $300/400 sounds like a lot without the proper context. But it’s part of what makes us the only music website where there are more gigs than artists. We want to be the best and most helpful resource for small touring acts, and we have to charge a price that allows us to get there.

 

Under Threat – Funding for the Arts

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-7-37-36-pmTwo pillars of our thoughtful and cultural society are at risk of being privatized or eliminated by the Trump administration.

  • The National Endowment for the Arts
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Hope is not the answer anymore.

Please consider calling your Senator and Representative and ask them to protect federal funding for the arts! Also check out the Indivisible guide, written by former Congressional staffers, which outlines some great practical steps and pointers for directly engaging your representatives effectively!

https://www.indivisibleguide.com/download-the-guide

LRN performer challenge #1

lrn_logo_newsquarewhiteImprove the delivery of one verse.

How can you convey more emotion in that verse?

Possibilities include:

  • A facial expression
  • a physical gesture
  • spatial movement – move your body away or toward the mic/audience.
  • a rhythmic stop – on a word, cut a phrase short, or add a staccato finish on the chord.
  • phrasing/diction – are some words difficult for listeners to understand? Melody can sometimes obscure words as much as poor or affected vocalization. “Hip singers” beware, sometimes we can’t understand you!
  • dynamics – sing a word or whole line more softly or loudly
  • a variation in the melody

Experiment in front of a mirror until you’ve found one way to improve the performance of that verse. Try doing this once per week to a song, and feel how your show improves.

Artists Day of Action in support of the Affordable Care Act on January 12, 2017

 

ANNOUNCEMENT

Artists Day of Action in support of the Affordable Care Act on January 12, 201

As a way to highlight the positive impact of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), we’ve launched the #CoverageMatters social media campaign to encourage people around the country to tell their personal stories about how the Affordable Care Act has benefited them and what ACA means for them and their loved ones.

America now has the lowest uninsured rate on record – below 9 percent – and that’s because of the Affordable Care Act – the tax credits that help people afford coverage, the expansion of Medicaid in most states, and the ability of parents to keep their children on their plans until they’re 26 years old. Meanwhile, everyone’s health care is better, because of no-cost preventive services provided for in the law, like screening tests, contraception and well-woman visits, as well as the elimination of lifetime and annual coverage caps.

All of this progress is now in jeopardy, so as part of the #CoverageMatters campaign, HHS, along with indie rock label Merge Records, the Future of Music Coalition, artists from the Mountain Goats, the Breeders, Lambchop, Spoon, Superchunk, and others, are participating in an Artists Day of Action on January 12.

The Affordable Care Act has helped many musicians and artists pursue their dreams, ideas and passion, instead of looking for a 9-5 job, just because it would offer health insurance. Having artists and musicians share their stories will resonate with the people who care about their music, the people with whom they share an emotional connection.

We are asking artists of all stripes to share on social media why they support the law, what it’s done for them and any personal Affordable Care Act story they or their families and friends may have.

Artists can participate by:

1) Tweeting and sharing your Affordable Care Act story on social media.

An example of a personal health care story could be as simple as tweeting:

  • I’m able to be a full-time musician because of the ACA. #CoverageMatters

Artists can also share stories of people in their life who have benefited from the law, whether that’s a family member who has a pre-existing condition and can no longer be discriminated against by health insurance companies; a friend who had a serious illness and no longer has to worry about lifetime coverage caps; a friend who has gotten coverage because Medicaid was expanded in their state; or someone who was able to stay on their parents health plan until age 26. These are all reforms the Affordable Care Act made possible for the American people.

Additional sample tweets:

  • The #ACA provides me coverage & peace of mind so I can purse my passion for music.#CoverageMatters
  • Coverage keeps me healthy. My music keeps me happy. #ACA made it possible for me to pursue my passion. #CoverageMatters
  • Before the ACA, I constantly worried about getting sick and not being able to perform. Not anymore. #CoverageMatters  
  • I’m pursuing my music knowing I’m covered. #ACA made that possible. #CoverageMatters

2) Share and retweet @HHSgov and @SecBurwell.

HHS will post a video, blog, and other content for Artists Day of Action. We encourage people to repost and share with their followers.

3) Create video or audio content to share on social media.

New and creative content is always good for social media and will help get the word out.

So, mark your calendars for January 12, and tell your story on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #CoverageMatters or visit: HHS.gov/coveragematters

The Most Common Problems with Live Videos (for Booking House Concerts)

ConcertsInYourHome has a robust audition system that requires two live videos from artist applicants. Judges include industry professionals, but the majority are active house concert presenters. These hosts offer specific feedback to the artists regarding the materials presented.

We’ve seen thousands of video evaluations. Here are the most common problems they report to the artists about the videos. Here are the big three that have nothing to do with the songs selected.

  1. Not a listening audience. If you can’t command the respect of the audience in the video, why would we expect anything different when we see you?
  2. Different lineup than advertised. If you are booking yourself for house concerts as a solo act, we might enjoy seeing you with a violin player if we’re digging 5 and 6 videos deep into what you do. But the first two videos MUST be a good representation of what you are bringing to our house. Don’t make people imagine what you’d be like without the full drum kit and backline.
  3. Lip-sync, strum sync – keep it real, even if that means the audio won’t be pristine.

In addition, here are the most common problems with regarding the songs or performances.

  1. Long intro. Usually, the priority is the voice, and artists who strum their 4 chord intro* several times before getting to the vocal will lose the booker’s interest. Remember that people are busy, and your video could be in a long line of potential acts for that concert series. If you tell a story, tell it really well, make a point and be expressive.
  2. Not feeling any emotion – eye contact is often a factor here. You might be staring at lyrics/computer or just trying too hard and getting in your own way.
  3. Pitchy vocals or instruments. We don’t seek perfection in live video, but there are a lot of performances where pitch problems are relentless.
  4. Cover songs – the existing communities of house concert hosts tend to prefer original music, unless they book traditional, celtic, classical, and blues genres. Even though a couple of covers in a show is a welcome treat, it’s usually a mistake to introduce yourself with a video cover tune. Even if you love to play Cohen/Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” it doesn’t mean you play it in a remarkable way.

* Songwriting Tip: The intro to your song shouldn’t be a twenty second warm-up. It should get the same songwriting attention and care as the rest of the song. If the chords are no different than the verse, there better be something magical going on over it. If the intro is there simply out of songwriting habit, if it serves no purpose, get rid of it.

When you submit songs or videos to a judging process, keep in mind that the judges will be listening to many artists in a row. Find a way to get to the essence of your content and sound quickly.

$100 Discount for International Artists

We have wonderful house concerts in Canada, Europe, Australia/NZ, but 80% of the activity at ConcertsInYourHome is in the United States. To encourage more activity around the world, we’re offering an artist discount for new members who are based primarily outside the U.S.  Let’s offset those crazy U.S. visa fees, and create more cultural diversity in our global network!
There’s still an evaluation process, but international artists who are invited to join will receive $100 off a full year membership.
Tell someone you love. Coming to America just got a little easier.

Flying with Instruments – U.S. Law is now on your side.

Airlines have a long history of mistreating luggage, and our cherished, vital musical instruments are no exception to the rule. Even after pressure from musician’s unions, youtube videos, and written complaints, things have been slow to improve. Today airlines are at best inconsistent, often negligent, and sometimes downright malicious. (Look out the window as they load luggage when you can.)

The law is now on our side if we want to carry on our instruments, as long as we do the diligence of trying to board early. It’s not full-proof, but we encourage musicians to print this out and keep the law in their instrument case.

Please share this with musicians you love, and board early!

https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/us-department-transportation-issues-final-rule-regarding-air-travel-musical

The Difference Between Listening Rooms (LR) and House Concerts (HC)

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We’re proud to re-launch ListeningRoomNetwork.com. LRN allows us to serve listening rooms of all types, in much the same way we’ve inspired and helped house concerts around the world. Also, it allows our member artists to connect with all of them through one platform, instead of bouncing back and forth from CIYH and LRN.
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Which begs the question, at Listening Room Network, what’s the difference between LR venues and house concerts?
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(HC) House concerts must
  1. be private events, not open to the public
  2. give 100% of door to the artists. Door is a suggested donation, not a charge/ticket.
  3. (OK should) be in a house, clubhouse or residential looking space.
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(LR) venues may
  1. be public or private
  2. charge an admission fee or sell advance tickets
  3. keep a percentage
  4. be located just about anywhere, but probably not a house.
It’s important to note that we are not trying to cater to all venues. Our mission is to put talented artists in front of listening audiences, and to help touring musicians earn a living wage. Mileage will vary, but we appreciate your input if you find one of our venues is not a good fit.

Can Performers Help Me Promote My House Concerts?

Performers are public figures, so their websites and email lists are for public promotion. If your concert is listed on their website, it can be considered a public event. [We’ve seen a house concert shut down by local government for this. Officials claimed it was a public event because it was listed on the artist’s website, with the host’s email address. Many artists/agents are unaware of this and they will list your info on their website unless you tell them not to.]

Hosts find it tempting to encourage artists help fill seats. Artists are often happy to help (if they can) by emailing their fans in the area, because that can create a bigger show and increase donations. The challenge is they don’t personally know most people on their list, and inviting unknown fans to your home poses TWO types of risks – 1. making your event public, and 2. having un-vetted strangers in your home.

It’s important to take a sober look at the risks you take when you have any gathering in your home. People can damage items, steal, or even fall and hurt themselves. These problems are rare and could even be trivial. But there is always a chance it could be serious. That’s why we advocate for the safest practices, and encourage you to personally connect (online, by phone, or even in person) with people before you invite them in your home.

Can performers help at all?

Here’s what we recommend:

If the artist wants to list your house concert on their website, tell them to list it like this:

safeartistwebsitepromo

Notice that the host’s email address, phone number, or street address are not publicly listed. The reader would have to use the email form on the artist website to ask for an introduction.

Now, the artist can vet (approve) the fan and introduce them to you, the host, like this: 

artistvetsfanemail

Of course, the decision to invite Ben is up to you. Friending him on Facebook or exchanging a few emails begins a relationship that takes it beyond “someone who just asked if they could come.” You’ve been introduced (by the band) and you’ve communicated, and you’ve added them to your guest list.

Again, there’s no case law on this, but doesn’t this sound safer than having musicians invite every local bar patron they’ve played for?

This is an excerpt from the new house concert guide from Fran Snyder and ConcertsInYourHome.com – subscribe to this blog or to our monthly newsletter to be notified when the guide is published.