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We just experienced the perfect house concert, and I say “experienced” because I’m about to speak for Susan as the artist and myself as the booker/tour manager. We have done a lot of house concerts together, and some are awesome and some are less so, for various reasons explored below. For a brief rundown of a house concert, see Concerts In Your Home. Basically, people have an artist play in their home; it makes for a special atmosphere for music and community. I am using Rockin’ Box 33 in Lubbock, TX as an example of the perfect house concert set up. Hosted by Melissa, it’s 100% pro and therefore 100% joy.
Some notes on what makes a house concert such a success…please note that these are all my own opinions and not anyone else’s, and some of this sounds hardcore…but it is, because I help run a business.
Good House Concert Stuff
- A core group of attendees. Rockin’ Box has a devoted following because the venue is cool, the hostess is cool, and the roster of artists who play there is cool. Melissa is picky about who she brings in, but she encourages her crowd to come see people they have never heard, and they do it because they trust her. This brought in a large amount of folks who had never seen Susan before and consequently became fans.
- Open to new attendees. Sometimes places seem a little closed off and uninviting…that’s when you start questioning if you are doing a house concert or a private party. There is a difference. Rockin’ Box 33 has a great website to promote each show and many of Susan’s Lubbock fans who hadn’t been there before attended. They got a great show in a new setting and Rockin’ Box 33 got some folks on their list who will probably come back. Win/win.
- Honest about business. Melissa had no qualms about explaining to her crowd that the money at the door was all going to the artist and this was how we make a living, so please give appropriately and buy CDs. It is so awesome when the host points this out; sometimes money is a weird topic, and sometimes it is hard for an artist to gracefully include a plea for funds in the middle of a heartfelt set, even though the need to make a living is just as heartfelt and the songs the artist writes. When the host sets out the money expectation and follows through on it, the artist can do what they do best…put on a kickbutt show.
- The “door collection” versus “suggested donation” versus “tip jar.” It’s all in the verbiage and the set up, friends. Melissa had her lovely assistant at the gate to the yard collecting the money, and everyone gave the same amount. To go through the gate you paid the money. It gets sticky because technically, house concerts are not businesses, so they are not allowed to charge a cover, hence sometimes we get a “suggested donation” or a “tip jar.” I have personally found that anytime folks are presented with the option to waiver from a flat fee, less is given on average. Human nature, I suppose. My very non-scientific estimation is that by ratio, a “suggested donation” of $10 – $15 will net about $7-$8 on average per person, and a “tip jar” makes it a free for all, people sometimes throwing in $3 and calling it good. (Thanks to the good hearts who throw in more, it’s beyond appreciated!)
I’m going to digress a moment and say that many house concerts function as great places to build audiences who are truly interested in acoustic music, and most house concert hosts have the best of intentions and a love of music. However, it is disheartening sometimes when on paper it looks promising…$15 a person times X number of expected attendees, then to get a nice full house and to see a rockin’ show (worth $100 a pop, if you ask me)…and then discover the collection/donations/tips to be a fraction of what was expected. It’s like having your CPA do your taxes and throwing them a $20 for the 6 hours of work…which would never fly for other professional realms…why do it in music? Mini-horror story…sometime in the past a while ago somewhere…there were about 60 people in a crowd and we took home less than $150. Do the math.
- Money collection placement. As I said earlier, someone literally stood at the door and took money from people coming in. Other times, baskets or jars are strategically placed around the home. This works too, but only if the host is adamant about people contributing and keeps an eye on who has given their money or not. It sounds like hounding, but when people received the invitation or Facebook post or whatever about the show, they knew they were signing up for something with a $15 price tag. No need to be shy about collecting, and it makes a big difference to the artist’s bottom line.
- A listening atmosphere created. Again, like money collection placement, it’s simple psychology sometimes. Enter a room where all the chairs are facing a stage, and you expect to watch the stage. When things are less organized, attention might not be on the show. Melissa is proud of the fact that she can shush people if need be; that rarely happens because her folks are well-acquainted with show etiquette, but if someone is having a conversation during the show, she has no issue with asking them to take it outside the venue. Everyone there paid to hear the music, not hear some guests talk about their guinea pigs. Really.
- Not over-saturating your core crowd. Remember when I said Rockin’ Box 33 has a core of people who will come to the show no matter who is playing? That is gold for an artist because new fan acquisition is part of what keeps the wheels on the road. Once a month, folks know they can spend a relaxing evening at Rockin’ Box 33 and see a great show. Melissa makes it a point not to keep her schedule too busy, because it is easy to tire out a crowd. Over-booking will kill a certain kind of venue, and she knows too many shows is the difference between 40 in attendance and 80, which is a big deal. This makes is hard for me as a booking agent to schedule things sometimes, if a venue only has 12 spots open a year, but the good points far outweigh the booking difficulties.
I say all this after 4 years of house concert observance as a tour manager/merch girl, and even more of attending as a fan. I will reiterate, this is my favorite kind of show to book and attend, because we get to see people face-to-face and actually talk to them, sometimes share a meal, and make a good connection. It’s a lot easier than loading into a smoky bar, too. The vast majority of people we work with do a really great job. These are simply some of my observations and notes from seeing so much of this go down, and I hope it might help some upstart house concerteers to have smooth sailing with their series. My sincere thanks to Melissa at Rockin’ Box 33 for setting the bar high.