HOW TO HOST A HOUSE CONCERT
House Concerts are a growing phenomenon. Already popular in North America, they are becoming more and more popular in Europe as well – and with good reason. As someone who has both performed at, organised and attended a number of House Concerts myself, I can say from personal experience that House Concerts are some of the most rewarding musical experiences I have ever had. They are a chance for audience and performer to interact in a more personal and natural environment. They provide everyone involved with the chance for a really human and connecting experience. They are an opportunity to make new friends. They are cosy, relaxing and can yield some of the most special music of any concert environment. They enable the host to invite performers they have always wanted to see to their home and to have a chance to invite friends, family and colleagues to a unique evening of music.
If you are interested in holding a house concert yourself, I am offering you this article as an information source to help take those first steps. Holding a house concert is fun and easy and I would love to encourage as many people as possible to hold these special events.
Below are some things to consider when creating your house concert.
Choosing Your Performers
You will never lack for talented performers who would love to come to your home. Many singer-songwriters and folk acts are growing more and more interested in making the human connection in music and appreciate doing things in a more grassroots way. A house concert is a straightforward thing to arrange for both performer and host and can easily be fit into a tour schedule, especially if you as the host as willing to be somewhat flexible.
As a host for a house concert, you get to choose from a virtually unlimited number of talented acoustic performers. Most up and coming musicians are happy to perform for whatever money can be raised by donations. Even some of the more well-known folk acts and songwriters may still be open to performing at a house concert, as it can be such a rewarding experience for both performer and audience. If there is a songwriter or musical ensemble you particularly like, it is always worth asking them.
I would also suggest looking for performers who have the ability to really be present and connect with audiences. Some performers thrive in the close and open environment of a house concert. Other performers may find they feel too vulnerable when they are only a few feet away from their audience.
There are performers bring a particular spirit and openness to a house concert. It is with these artists that you can have not just a fun night, but a really special, and often heart-opening musical journey. Some of my favourite UK-based artists who can bring this kind of magic to a house concert are: Rebecca Maze, Domenic DeCicco, Tina Bridgman, Carrie Tree, Martha Tilston, Susie Ro and Ayla, Chris Ellis & Rosie Toll. There are many others!
How Does a Host Find and Contact Performers?
There are many ways to find performers who would come to your home to do a concert. You can search sites like Facebook, Spotify or MySpace. You can do a seach on MP3 sites like CDBaby for musicians that are similar to your favourite famous acts. You can have a look at house concert websites from around the country to see who they are booking. Also, you can check out local art centers to see who is touring and who might like an extra gig. In my experience, most performers (unless they are hugely well-known) are open to doing house concerts, and enjoy the special environment they provide. If you find an artist online, you can usually access an e-mail address which will either get you the artist directly or their booking agent.
Another thing you can do is join a house concert network such as “The House Concert European Hub”, which is a site where hosts and artists can find each other and network. I have also set up a local 'house concert network' for my city on Facebook, where people can suggest performers they want to see and can post concerts that are happening locally.
Keeping it at a grassroots level and close to home is a great thing to do. There are usually extraordinarily talented musicians in your local area, who are not yet widely known and who would love to perform in your home. Most people already have within their network of friends some fantastic musicians. You can always ask your friends for their favourites.
What Do You Need to Host a House Concert?
A Room in Your Home with Enough Space
How much is enough? Well, it really depends on what kind of concert you would like to have. Some people would say no space is too small. I have done house concerts in very small rooms for only a few people and have also performed in houses with large spaces accommodating 40-50 people or more. I once attended a house concert in the living room of a friend, and I was amazed that they were able to squeeze 20 chairs into the room. Usually, the larger the space, the more possibility you will have of attracting more professional touring acts. This is because they are trying to earn a living and if there is a chance sufficient numbers of people can attend for them to be reasonably paid, then you are more likely to be able to book them. This is not a hard and fast rule, though. Whatever the size of your room, there is usually something that can be done there.
A Network of Friends, Family & Colleagues
Most people have an e-mail list of friends and family that they can contact about an upcoming concert. Usually this works very well and can bring in a sufficient crowd to make the evening lively and worthwhile for everyone. All you need to do for publicity is put the word out to friends, family and work colleagues. You can also ask your friends to pass the word on to their networks as well. Some hosts find it helpful to create an e-poster which they can attach to e-mails to send out to people. You can also choose to do some local publicity if you wish. However, this is not usually necessary as word-of-mouth and your own social networks are usually enough to fill a room.
If you are booking a touring act to perform in your home you may need to offer them accommodation either in your home or the home of someone you know.
Refreshments for Performers and Audience
It is important to make sure there are drinks and snacks available for those attending. Some house concerts I have attended have included a potluck meal (where guests brought food to share). I have also heard about hosts around the country who regularly include a full cooked dinner with their house concerts. While this can work well in some situations, in my experience I have found it best to keep it simple. Sometimes a big meal can detract from the focus of the music. One of the nicest house concerts I attended offered chai tea, flapjacks and various other lovely cakes and finger foods during the break. At the concerts I recently organised, some offered homemade mulled cider or teas and coffees as people arrived and at the break there were homemade cakes and crisps. It doesn't really matter what the refreshments are as long as they are something you would enjoy and provide people with something to eat and drink before, after or during a break in the performance.
It is customary to offer the musicians some kind of savoury meal prior to or after their performance. What we did with our recent house concerts is provided a separate eating area for the performers with light savoury foods like sandwiches, rice cakes and hummus, olives and veggies. The best thing is to negotiate with the individual performers. Professional touring acts coming from further afield may be more likely to need a good solid meal. However, this is not always the case. I had one performer recently who arrived after a 4 hour drive and asked only for a glass for the diet coke she had brought herself. So it's worth checking!
One common structure for a house concert evening is to have one act do two sets of 45 minutes each, with a break in the middle. One of the concerts I organised recently had this format, and it worked well. We have also varied this by having a local support act for some of the house concerts. In this case, we had a first set of 30 minutes, followed by a break of 20 – 25 minutes and finishing with a set of about 50 minutes.
Below are some sample timings.
For an event without a main meal:
Doors open 7:00pm.
First set: 7:30pm to 8:15 pm.
Break: 8:15pm to 8:40pm
Second set: 8:40pm to 9:25pm
This is just one possibility. You can vary timings to suit your tastes. For example, you can open the doors earlier or later. We actually opened the doors for our concerts at 7:30 for an 8pm start.
If you have a support act, your performance times might look like this:
Doors open: 7:30pm
First set: 8:00pm to 8:30pm
Break: 8:30 to 8:50pm
Second set: 8:50pm to 9:40pm
It is worth keeping on top of the timings. It helps the audience to have a more enjoyable evening if the music is long enough, but not so long that they lose their focus and start to get tired. Also similarly, there is an optimum length for a break. It should be long enough to have a drink and use the loo, but short enough that the focus for the event is not lost. 20 to 30 minutes is about right.
Provided your house concert fits within the guidelines for a 'private' event, you will not need any licenses. From the 2012 Music Licensing Act: “Live unamplified music may take place anywhere (this means indoors or outdoors in any place) between the hours of 8am and 11pm on the same day regardless of audience size without licensing requirements.”
According to PRS, no PRS licence is required for performers to play in a private home provided that: “ the attendance of guests is by personal invitation only (except for staff, performers, etc.); the function is held in a privately-booked room, not at that time open to the general public; there is no form of charge made for admission; there is no financial gain to the function’s organiser or host (e.g. the person hiring the venue).”
In order to comply with these guidelines for the house concerts I organised recently I did the following:
I advertised to both those I know personally as well as to a wider audience. When people contacted me about attending the concert, I informed them that there were no tickets being sold because the event was technically a 'private' event. Instead, I reserved places and sent each person who contacted me a personal invitation by e-mail, containing all the details they would need such as the address. Though I advertised that the concert was happening, I never gave out the address unless a person actually booked a place.
Also, the events were not open to the general public on the night of the concert. Only those who had pre-booked a place and had been sent an e-invitation in advance were able to attend.
This being said, usually with house concerts the hosts have enough of a network of friends, family and colleagues that a fairly good-sized audience can be gathered through that alone, and in this case, you do not necessarily need to go through sending out official invitations. As long as you have confirmations from your friends, family and colleagues that they are attending and they all have your address, that can be enough.
One further note on audiences... In my experience, there are always a couple of people who book a space, but do not turn up. If you find your event is full, it is worth sending out a reminder to people a day or two ahead of time, to make sure they remember. It is also worth keeping a waiting list if your event is full, so that if people do cancel, you can fill their spaces with someone else.
To be considered a 'private' event here in the UK, a house concert must not have tickets for sale. However, if you wish to have a professional performer, it is important to give them some kind of a fee and expenses. What I have done is similar to what other hosts around the UK are doing, and that is to ask your guests for a suggested donation.
For the recent house concerts I organised, I set out a donation tin with a sign that said, “Suggested donation £10 - £15. All money raised goes to the artists. Thank you!”
Often people were quite generous. Nobody gave less than £10 and some even gave £20. However, there is no set amount that the donation has to be. You can judge this for yourself. If you want to organise a house concert and feel your friends would not be able to pay £10, and therefore you want to set your suggested donation lower, you will need to discuss this with the performer you are booking, to make sure they are okay with it. For many professional acts, doing house concerts is part of the way they support themselves.
Usually all the money raised from the donations at a house concert goes directly to the artists. However, taking some minimal expenses to cover the costs of things like buying extra teas and coffees etc. is okay. Some hosts don't take expenses. Some do. House concert hosts around the country are generally holding house concerts for the love of it, and to support this special form of live music, and do not expect to earn anything. Also, as mentioned above, to be considered a private event, a house concert must be a not-for-profit event, with neither the host or promoter (if there is one) earning any income.
PA versus Unplugged
House concerts do not generally require a PA. In fact, I have found that one of the greatest charms of the house concert is that there is nothing between you as a listener and the music. You get to hear these artists in their purest form. Though, depending on the ensemble, some performers may require a little amplification for their specific instrument, such as a bass guitar or a keyboard. This can be gently and sensitively done. Some performers may find that a small PA or amp is preferable to doing it completely unplugged. Some house concert hosts around the UK do offer performers the choice of using a PA or not. It could depend a lot on the size of your room and its acoustics. It is best to check with the artist what they would like to do. Many performers have their own amplification systems. However, I would caution people to keep any amplification used in a house concert to a minimum. It can really be a negative experience for an audience to be in a small room blasted with a volume that is too loud. My favourite house concert situations both as audience and performer have involved little or no amplification at all. And to keep your event within the guidelines for music licensing, it is simplest to keep it unplugged if you can.
One-Off or Regular Event
There are house concert hosts around the UK who have become known for their events and are now sought out by musicians who are touring and looking for places to perform. It is up to you whether you would like to consider hosting house concerts on a regular basis. The best thing to do is start with one, and likely you will find that it is such an enjoyable and rewarding experience that you will want to do it again.
House concerts are a wonderful way to experience a sense of community. Rather than being an isolated audience member, separate from the other people in the audience and from the performer on stage as is often the case at traditional professional music events, at a house concert you get the feeling you are really part of something. House concerts are a place for laughter and joyful connection. This is especially true if the performer you have booked is someone who is really able to be present in the room and make use of the house concert environment to bring people on a journey and reminds us of our connection to one another.