You might be wondering, “What is a house concert?” We hope this helps!
A house concert is a concert hosted in a private space (a house, apartment or community room are all common venues) as opposed to being held in a normal public venue (a bar or coffeehouse). Beyond that broad distinction, there are no hard rules for what constitutes a house concert.
Depending on the available space (and comfort level of the host), house concerts vary quite a bit in size and scope, from a dozen people in a small living room, 30 people in a Yoga studio, 50 people in a basement, or 250 people in a large backyard. 40 people in a medium-to-large living room is about average.
You do want to make sure there is adequate seating for your guests – whether that means gathering all the chairs from around your house, renting or buying folding chairs, or asking guests to bring lawn chairs, cushions and blankets.
What do you do?
Often, house concerts are BYOB and involve a pot-luck dinner or hors d’oeuvres. There is usually 30-60 minutes between when doors open and when the music starts. This allows for quick catching up with friends, noshing, and pouring of wine!
Whenever there seems to be a critical mass of folks in attendance, or whenever "start time" rolls around, the concert commences . . .
The music is often completely acoustic: unplugged and unamplified. Depending on the space, once you start getting bigger than about 25 or 30 people, you need to start thinking about having a small PA system to help supplement the natural acoustics. This is especially true for Across the Borderline, as the Dobro is a naturally very loud instrument and can easily overpower vocals or another guitar. Also, some guests may have a hard time discerning lyrics in quieter songs without amplification. You’d be amazed how much sound can be absorbed in a comfy living room – or how an echo-y room without sound support can really muddle the words!
We usually play two 45-minute sets with a short potty and cookie break in the middle. But shorter or longer sets are easily accommodated, as well. And we are happy to play whichever of our songs you'd like to hear most (provided we still remember how to play them).
Here's what's wonderful and unique about house concerts -- there's no vast separation to divide the artist and the audience. We are all sitting in a room together – sharing, listening, connecting. There are a bunch of songs that only work in this sort of setting, as well as a bunch of stories and song explanations we are only comfortable sharing in this intimate sort of setting.
In general, there's something very real and tangible and human about the whole set up that can be very moving and touching, inspiring and invigorating. And that goes for us as performers as much as for any listener. Probably more so.
Getting People to Show Up
Enthusiastic word of mouth is by far the most affective way to get folks to come to a house concert you are hosting. Share CDs with your friends -- talk it up big, and urge folks to visit the website to check out some more tunes. We have plenty of promotional materials available (photos, quotes, and other stuff - even a pretty e-flyer you can download! - in the Press Kit section of the site) to help you put together an enticing invitation to send or e-mail to your friends and family and co-workers. If you're excited about the house concert, spread that excitement among your friends. They'll be intrigued, at least.
It's our job to win them over once they’re there -- it's your job to make them curious enough to give the house concert experience a try.
One note: it's important to make sure, in the promotional process, that your guests understand that this will be a house concert, not a house party that has some music going on in the background.
It's usually a good idea to have some sort of RSVP system in place to get some idea of how many folks to expect – especially if there's a second tier of people you'd like to invite. Some folks have begun using Evite.com to keep track of their guest list. That seems to be a pretty good system.
Also, unless you're uncomfortable with it, we will post the house concert date on our website schedule (we do not publish private street addresses unless given permission) and ask that folks interested in attending contact the host via e-mail (or your preferred method of contact) for more specific details and to RSVP. This way, you maintain control over who you are opening your home to and how many people you're inviting in.
$$$ Money Money Money $$$
Typically, the host collects a suggested donation from the guests, either at the door (upon entry), or during the break. The suggested amount ranges from between $10 to $25 per person, with $12 or $15 being pretty typical. We tend to leave it up to the host (since you know the invitee list and the local market) to know much is an appropriate amount to ask of their guests.
We will never begrudge any guests who are unable, or choose not to, contribute. We know that at times, it can feel weird to have to be explicit with money with your guests. We've found it's best to just be as upfront and clear as possible from the start – and everyone seems to receive it just fine.
For instance, state it from the beginning (in invitations, etc) that there's an expectation that money will be involved in a more formal way than "passing the hat to help pay for gas." Having the money basket at the door is a good idea, and it actually seems to make things less awkward.
We don't usually ask house concert hosts for a guaranteed minimum, but we might on occasion depending on travel involved. In any case, it's a really good idea to discuss with us if you think the attendance will be fewer than 15 people, as that may help us to decide what other gigs we may or may not need to accept on that leg of a tour.
WHEN YOU RECEIVE A CONTRACT from the agent, please don't be intimidated! We have one standard contract that goes to all venues and/or hosts, whether it is a festival or a living room. Don't be afraid to call or e-mail back, saying, "I'm happy to provide this part of the hospitality but not this other... or I don't think I can provide these particular items on the technical rider..." etc. The contract is just a starting point for negotiation.
Thank you for considering hosting a house concert. Whether you're still interested (or not) or able to host one, we highly recommend that you keep your eyes open for house concerts of your favorite artists. Go attend some of them! We think you'll enjoy the experience.
Here's another good resource for you if you're interested in hosting a house concert(s!) . . .
Concerts In Your Home - House Concert Guide (PDF)
And big thanks to Danny Schmidt, whose guidelines we stole from liberally before making them our own.
To book Across the Borderline in your home, please contact
Nancy Fly Agency
Nancy Fly: NFly@NFlyAgency.com
KT Gardner: KT@NFlyAgency.com