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.

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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.

Your Invitation List – Let’s Get it Started

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

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Basics:

One of the first steps to take as a house concert host is to gather a useful list of as many invitees as possible.

Attendance, for many hosts, is the most challenging part of hosting house concerts. For some hosts, throwing a party and getting people to attend is second-nature. They have tons of acquaintances, are involved with many clubs, groups, charities and maybe even a reputation for holding great events. For most of us, however, it takes a bit of work and and some planning.

A full room adds so much to the feeling of a concert – whether that number is 15 or 1500.  Performers really sense and feed off the energy in a room when they play. Empty seats, however, suck the energy out of any event.

There's a common expression in music – "the crowd made the show," and you'll see it happen first-hand when you host your events.

Consider:

First, it's important to get some leverage. If you think purely in terms of people you see consistently and know personally, you will seriously limit your resources.

Second, don't neglect to invite someone simply because you don't think they'll be into it. It's so much fun when you see someone "converted." Time and time again the biggest compliments come from people who begrudgingly attended – thinking it wasn't their kind of thing, who then were blown away by the quality and fun-factor of the show. You'll provide information, and links to the music, and let people decide for themselves.

Finally, your invitation list will always be a work in progress. You'll also create a nice form to display at each of your events to enlist anyone who may have come as an invitee of one of your friends. As your list grows, your events will become easier to promote.


Options: FlyerSnapshot


Most house concert presenters use their email programs to create a list from their address books, and use our free, attractive flyers to promote their events.
However, in addition to your current email program, there are many websites and programs that can help you do this:

  • eVite – free, though it requires your invitees to register with the site when making an RSVP.
  • Socializr – free, though it requires your invitees to register with the site when making an RSVP. 
  • ectoRes – free, simple, and with a few nice features designed for house concert presenters.
  • Constant Contact – feature-filled website which allows you to send attractive HTML emails, but costs $15-30/month

Tips:

  1. Create a list of everyone you know within an hour's drive of your home. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, club members, parents of your kids friends, fellow soccer-moms, the fantasy-football buddies (ok, maybe?), etc.
  2. Gather any missing email addresses (and phone numbers if you like.)
  3. Keep a notepad, index card, or some visual reminder with you for the next 3 weeks. Get in the habit of adding people you meet, or have overlooked in your invite list. You'll be amazed at how many people you meet or bump into on a day to day basis that escaped your mind when you made the initial list. "I'm hosting a music event soon, and I'd like to invite you, can I get your email address?"
  4. Warm them up. Before you even book (or announce the performer) try sending an email like this:

Dear Friends, (mail merge the first names if you can)

Have you heard of house concerts? There is so much great talent out there, and these events look like so much fun, that I've decided to jump in and host a concert in my home. Have a look at this short video, and let me know if you'd be interested in coming to our first event. More details soon!

http://concertsinyourhome.com/beahostintro.html

Your pal,

….

This short email will peak their interest, and the early responders will be good candidates to enlist for help. One or more of them can help you set up chairs, manage the potluck, or even help promote the event with you. Then, when you do send out the actual invitation email (with details) you won't be starting from scratch.

Related Articles:

How to Build an Audience for your House Concert
Find Nearby Hosts
Mini House Concerts

House Concert Guide: Choosing a Location

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

Basics:

Although similar results can be achieved in different locations, a house concert takes place at a house. When the weather turns seasonally ideal, some hosts do patio, garden, backyard shows, but you always need a backup (inside) in case the weather doesn't cooperate. Indoors, the living room is usually the best choice, often providing a balance between cozy and the opportunity to stretch into an adjoining area. A window or fireplace can make a nice background scene for the performer.

Consider:

You'll most likely need to re-arrange some furniture, like removing coffee tables and pushing the couches to the side of the room. You'll most likely use every chair in the house (dining room chairs, bar stools, ottomans, office chairs, etc.) Your neighbors can be a great resource for free chairs (especially barstools – which make a great back row) as well as audience members. Don't feel obligated to overdo it. You don't have to create Carnegie Hall in your home.

Options:

Ask me about my house concert shirt

We feel there are few spaces more cozy than a living room. However, basements work too. If you live in an apartment or condo, there is often a clubhouse or common area that can be reserved at little or no expense. Some hosts, who aren't satisfied with their space recruit like-minded friends to co-host the shows in their homes. It can be terrific to work with a close friend as a partner in these events.

Tip:

Most people underestimate the number of guests they can comfortably fit in their living room. To get an idea, clear the middle of the room (coffee table, etc.) and move the couches to the side of the room if possible. Then, start arranging available chairs (dining room, kitchen, breakfast nook, office chairs) to get an idea of the number of people it could hold. Once you've set up a few rows, it's easy to imagine how the rest of it would fall into place. Remember to allow a 4' by 6' area for the performer -  more if it's a duo or group.

Choosing the date/day of your House Concert

Calendar

Basics:

If you choose the act first, then you'll need to collaborate with them to choose a date that works with their touring schedule. 

However, if you plan on hosting house concerts on a regular basis, it can be helpful to choose a consistent schedule that makes it easier to plan and build a strong repeat audience. For example, hosting events on the first thursday of every month, except for the winter months. That would give you 8 or 9 shows per year.

Consider:

Doing weekend shows (Saturdays are very popular) makes it easier to draw a larger crowd, and avoid having to pull things together quickly at the end of a long day at work. However, choosing other times (Sunday afternoon, thursday evenings) can give you a great edge for capturing amazing talent when they tour through your area. You will be astonished at the caliber of artists who would be grateful to fill a thursday night show for a modest crowd and a free place to stay. 

Options: 

  1. Find the artists you most want to play, and look at their touring schedules to see when they would most likely be willing to play in your home. Email them with potential dates that would also work for you. 
  2. Join the "weekend circuits" program at CIYH, and we'll help you tie in your concert dates with other hosts in your region. 
  3. Do both!

Tip: 

Be aware of local events and celebrations in your area that could interfere with the audience turnout of your event. Sporting events (especially playoffs) can wreak havoc on concert attendance. It's also very challenging to keep a concert/listening atmosphere if you combine your house concerts with birthday celebrations. It's best (at least until you have an established audience) to keep it about the music. 

Change your mind anytime:

These are guidelines, and there's nothing wrong with trying different methods at different times. It's your house concert series… do it the way you want!

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