A Singer/Songwriter In A Sports Bar World

Tips For Perpetuating A Life As A Musician

Stop Giving Your Music Away! Find Fans With ‘Disposable Income’.



Listen, I get it. I know that it’s important to get the music out there, and that file sharing can help bring your music to the masses. You give your music away in hopes that people become so addicted to your songs that they absolutely HAVE to come see a live show.


I love interesting new music, but I am probably not going to come see you or your band. I have young kids, and most people who have young kids have to discern how to spend their one night out a week. I can’t waste getting a babysitter then convincing my wife that you’re band is going to be great, under awesome conditions. The reality, of course, is that you are most likely going to be playing in a shitty club, where 4 other bands are going to be playing that night. I can only hope that you go on first, but YOU are hoping for a headlining spot. Sorry. You go on after 11pm, and I’m done for the night. So, giving your music away to me, is not going to entice me to come see you. Honest to God, if Paul McCartney was coming to a small club and going on after 11pm, and gave me his new album for free in return for going, I would probably pass.

But here’s the thing. If I like what I hear, I will give you money to hear more. Call it guilt money for not coming to your shows, or whatever. But take my money. You have to SELL your music to me and others like me, because WE are the ones with the disposable income.

If you want to give your music away to your poor fans, you can do it without sending digital files to them directly. Make a cheap video, or spend some money on one, and let people watch and share on youtube or vimeo, or whatever other video landing site you want. But they’ll have to stream it. Of course, they can easily ‘rip’ the audio, and have it for free, but the majority are too lazy to do it or don’t know how. And if you have fans that spend their time “ripping” files from youtube, then seriously, you need to go out and get a higher quality of fan. Ones with…DISPOSABLE INCOME.

Young musicians, learn that phrase; DISPOSABLE INCOME. We want to help you. We have money to spend on music and concerts. We call it “contributing to the arts”. I can give my money to the art museum or ballet in town, but I would rather give it to you!
And there are many more like me out there.

More and more, I see bands giving it away, or asking that people pay what they like to receive it digitally. Much of the time, it’s coming from a major indy label. It’s better than NOT getting your music out there, right? Wrong. Your friends and family (with disposable income) want to help you.

One last thing. Many of you are not even doing the packaging anymore. You may think what’s the point? Most people take the CD out, import the tracks, and toss the package. And packaging is expensive. I get it, believe me. I can get 1000 CDs for $2500, but I only need 500. What will that cost me? $2200? Makes perfect sense! (sigh).

Sell the CD with the packaging and offer to autograph any message that the purchaser wants on it. A real fan, and supporter, will want his personally signed CD. “Steven! Thanks for believing in us!” kind of thing. For that you can charge $20. The people that care about you (not your slacker friends) will pay.

So, unless we are playing on the same bill one night, I probably won’t see your band. But I WILL support you if I like what I hear. I’ll talk about you as well: Word of mouth is one powerful marketing tool. And “rich” old guys like me LOVE to brag things like: “I helped them get their start”.

Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer for the multi-platinum selling band, The Verve Pipe. He is also an obnoxious know-it-all, and can be perceived as rude and aloof in his blogs. He assures you that, on occasion, it rings true in person as well. Especially when he has low blood sugar. However, if you want the truth about what it takes to perpetuate a life as a performer, he’ll give you the cold hard truth, in hopes that you’ll check out his website.


Traveling Tips For Musicians: Flights

imagesFlights. A major budget killer for any musician. Too many times I’ve made the mistake of agreeing to a show that required a flight, thinking that I’m charging enough to cover that expense, only to find that a simple flight costs far more than a complicated one.

An example of how inane the whole process is: I just logged onto Kayak, a fairly reliable ticket discount site. A flight form my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI to Chicago, Il (400 miles, round trip) is $300 more expensive than a flight from Grand Rapids to Los Angeles (4000 miles round trip). Exact same amount of days booked, over the same weekend.

So that’s what you have to deal with.

What I’ve discovered is, though it makes no sense at all, if you book a multi-destination flight, you’ll save a ton of money.

For instance, I just went through this scenario, with astounding results. if I have a gig on Saturday night in New Orleans, and I want to fly from Grand Rapids, it’s $537. If I add a gig in Baltimore the night before, and book a multi-destination flight, it comes to: $529.

I’ve just added a gig to my itinerary in a city 1,000 miles away, and all of my flights combined are less than the original one flight gig.

In this scenario, it may even be worth it just to stop in and visit a friend in Baltimore just to book the multi-destination flight. I would still save money.

I would say that 90% of the time, i can find my way around high prices by booking multi-destination flights. I usually book on Travelocity, and because I do so often, I’m a VIP member, and they wave most of the extra fees.

Speaking of extra fees, here’s another tip for musicians traveling by air.

Bags. Avoid fees AND the baggage claim area.

Bag fees were killing me, until I figured out a little trick that the airlines have not caught onto yet.

I’ve discovered that most airlines allow me to carry my guitar on the plane. It will fit in the overhead compartment on an average sized jet, with room to spare. Here’s my trick: Use a soft case. My soft case has four rather large pockets. And I pack the hell out of them. I pack my clothes in the main compartment with the guitar itself (it offers some protection as well!) then fill the other pockets with my merchandise. Now, if you travel light, like me, and plan on wearing the same jeans at least 2 days in a row, this is quite easy to accomplish. You have a guitar case full of your stuff, and still you are allowed another carry on bag. In that bag, I may pack more clothes, toiletries and a guitar cord or two. Plenty of luggage for up to a four day trip.

On occasion, in smaller planes, you may have to leave your guitar at the door of the plane with the baby strollers, large carry ons, etc. First, ask the greeting flight attendant if there is a closet on board that you may be able to stick your guitar into. If not, give it up to the valet. My guitar is packed tightly with clothes and the cushion in the soft guitar case. I’m confident it will survive. Again – I’ve been using this method for years, and have had NO damage whatsoever to my acoustic guitar.

Another rare occasion. If you are the last person on the plane, and there is no more room in the overhead bin, you may be asked to check the guitar in, at the gate. I’ve had to do that once or twice in the last 5 years of flying. Yes, it makes me nervous. But I’ve realized that by the time I give it up at the gate, my guitar is the last thing on the plane, and will probably end up on the top of the pile. (Please – Let me have my fantasy). Again, snugly cushioned in that case, crammed with my soft clothes.

Hmmm…$50 per bag, per round trip, saved? 20 trips a year for me on average, means $1000 per year I’ve saved. in 2 years, I’ve saved enough to (god forbid) pay the replacement cost of my guitar, should anything happen to it.

The key to being a successful traveling musician is to find ways to save, save, save on travel. At every turn.

Your comments, suggestions on saving money are welcomed by me, and other traveling musicians. Feel free to share.

Brian Vander Ark offers his sometimes ridiculous advice, in hopes you will check out his website.

Travel Tips For Musicians: Booking Hotels




As a traveling musician who has logged 100’s of thousands of miles over the years, I’ve made many costly mistakes.  Paying twice as much as I need for hotels,  baggage fees (damn merch case!), and excessive dining takes it’s toll on a musician’s budget, and subsequently drains him/her of their most important resource in the quest to stay out of a ‘day job’;  a savings account.  The ability to cut costs at every turn, and put that savings into an account to eventually subsidize studio costs, living expenses, merchandise purchases, etc, is what separates those show are serious about a career in music, and those who are in it for the occasional (and expensive) party.  No, i’m not here to take the fun out of your music tour.  I’m here to help enable you to extend that fun for years ahead. 


I’m dedicating the next few posts to traveling inexpensively.  Let’s start with accommodations.




A budget killer!  There are a number of us who are not comfortable staying in the homes of our fans, no matter how nice the accommodation.  I’ve had to decline invites to stay in some pretty fine houses over the years.  But ultimately, i need a place to be able to wake up and work out, write and relax before the next gig, and paying $50 to $60 for a hotel room is worth it.  


I use Priceline for hotels.  And like every other person in the world has a BETTER cure for your cold and flu, you probably have a better site for me to use (and IF you do, please post your suggestion in the comment section, so we can all take advantage). But I know my way around Priceline, and I’ve had great success with it.  


I have a few standards.  I’ve traveled enough to know that I won’t sleep comfortably knowing that my car may be broken into, or worse yet, the room itself getting broken into.  So I look for deals in the 3 to 4 star range.  


If you are looking for a hotel in a large metropolitan city, I recommend choosing a hotel by the airport.  I always look there first.  Yes, the appeal of booking a hotel next door to the gig where you can walk back to your hotel is a great one, and if you can swing it, wonderful.  But booking near the airport always saves me about 50% on that 3 or 4 star room.  


So let’s go step by step.  Let’s say that I need a room in Philadelphia for the night.  Here’s what I do:


I go to Priceline.com.


I type in my destination city and the dates I need the room.


Once the available hotels page comes up, I sort by star rating.  I usually click the 3 to 5 stars.  The first hotel that comes up is the 4 star Westin for $125 per night.  I don’t care if the Westin is $85 per night, most downtown hotels come with parking fees, so right there I’m paying too much.  So I scroll down and see that the Hilton by the airport is 3 and half stars, and they are asking $84 per night.  Scroll down further, and I see that the Four Points Sheraton (again, by the airport) is 3 stars, and $76 per night.  Now, sometimes I just want to nab these sales when I can, and sometimes I want to take a chance and ‘bid’ on a hotel in hopes of knocking that price down further.  I click on the Name Your Own Price icon, in hopes of saving that 60% they advertise (I’ve never gotten that deep of a discount, but 20 to 30% is achievable.)  Click on the area that you wish to stay (I choose Philadelphia Airport), then click on the star level you want to bid on.  Clicking on 4 stars, I see that the median price for a four star hotel in the area is $119.  (Clicking through all of the other areas, the median prices are MUCH higher.)

I click on 3 and 1/2 stars and it has an average price of $102.  3 stars, $109, and 2 and 1/2, $110.  Why do the prices go up for the lower star ratings?  Who knows.  I can only assume that some hotels are more desperate for your business.  


So, I take a shot at the 3 and 1/2 star, because my budget is right around $75, and I’m pretty confident I can get that.  So I bid $65, knowing that the fees are going to bring me right around $75 or $80 final price range.  After I bid (and sign in on my account, which is free) it will send me to a page that breaks it all down, before the bid is placed.  At $65, the fees come up at $17.38, bringing my total to $82.38.  Not too bad.  I enter my debit card number, and the Book Now icon.  


Priceline will try to find a hotel that will accept my bid, and if they don’t I will be sent back to choose a few different options.  You can’t just increase your bid by a few dollars each time.  You have to give them the option of putting you elsewhere.  You will have to change your star level as well.  (up or down).  Once you’ve done that, you can bid again.  I usually increase my bid by $5 at a time.  


Within seconds, someone accepts my offer and I get a 3 and a 1/2 star hotel for $87 (fees included).  Only then do I find out the name of the hotel, and it’s usually fine with me, because it met my 3 and 1/2 star standard.  And I’m satisfied with the price.  


If you are looking for a hotel in the $40 to $50 range, my advice is to go through the same process, but pick a lower star level.  It’s important to read the reviews first, however.  Finding a 2 star hotel with great reviews is very possible, and can save you big money.  (Be wary of hotels that only have one or two reviews.  Many times, that’s the hotel owner or manager writing it.)


One last thing:  Smaller cities are even easier to get the exact hotel you want.  Booking in Briighton, MI?  When you filter through the star rating and choose 3 and 1/2 stars, you find that there are only 2 possible hotels you will get when you bid.  Sometimes, there is only one.  Then, when you bid, you will know EXACTLY what you are getting in for.   


That’s a lot of info for you, and I apologize for getting into such detail.  My goal is to get more and more musician’s back out on the road again, without the worry of blowing their budgets within the first couple of shows.


Again, anyone who has tips on HOTEL savings, feel free to share your insight with the rest of us.  We are all in this together, striving to raise the musical bar back to where it belongs. 

Brian Vander Ark offers this free advice to young musicians in hopes that readers will check out his music. Go to brianvanderark.com for more details.

“Hello, 911? There’s A House Concert In Progress!”

House concerts are trending. There’s no way to deny it. I can tell, because music venues are starting to feel the competition, and are now pushing back.

I read an article in the Kansas City Star about it. Club owners are complaining that house concerts are taking away their business. “We got incredible hostility from club owners and regular promoters,” said Louis Meyers, executive director of the Folk Alliance International, which is in the process of moving its headquarters from Memphis to Kansas City. “They say, ‘I’m losing acts to house concerts. They don’t have (licensing) fees, they don’t have insurance, they don’t have a liquor license, they don’t pay advertising fees, they don’t have thousands of dollars in bills that every venue deals with to (present) the exact same artists.’

I recently experienced this “hostility” while performing at a house concert when the police were called by a local listening room owner. When confronted, he admitted to making the call but not because of the house concert. He was concerned that alcohol was being served without a liquor license. (This same owner has also complained of having to compete with a local church offering free acoustic performances during the services on Sunday morning.) When the police arrived and saw that it was merely a house concert hosted by a very sweet, music loving couple, they warned the hosts to put away the donation bowl, and the concert resumed.

So, this is where it’s going. Many club owners are pissed off, and for pretty good reason. There was a time when clubs and coffee houses could get away without paying for acts to come through. There was a time when they didn’t have to spend any time or money on advertising upcoming shows. Instead, they would leave it up to the musicians to use their social network to promote themselves. They would force bands that wanted to play on their stages to buy tickets from the club itself, and resell them to their fans. Didn’t sell enough tickets? Sorry, your show is canceled.

Many club and listening room owners have gotten lazy. They don’t want to have to work to promote. They don’t want competition. In fact, the aforementioned club will not allow musicians to play house concerts within their vicinity, if they are booked to play in their room within a certain amount of time. A hard working musician that comes through town and tries to make a few extra bucks by playing a fan’s home will be shut out of playing a public show at the club. That’s not ‘artist supportive’. It’s narrow-minded. A real fan comes to your public shows, as well as hosting (or attending) a house concert. My fan base has grown exponentially since I started playing house concerts 6 years ago. The one-time host that comes to a public listening room show has the bragging rights to say, “This artist just played in my home!”

Inevitably, music venues will come and go. Music fans grow older, and want nothing to do with going to a venue where it may be smokey, or dirty, with rude patrons there for the social scene and not for the music. House concerts are the new haven for artists. Out of over 400 I’ve played, I have not yet had a bad experience. I can’t say the same about my experience with clubs.

Musicians, friends: It’s your turn. “Pay to Play” venues will go along the wayside. Soon, you will no longer need to purchase 100 tickets from a club to resell them to your fans, in order to fill a room. Pretty soon, you will be able to perpetuate a life in music by spending your time on your music, instead of spending hours posting on music based sites, begging for people to come to your shows. House concerts may not be the answer, but clearly they are a good start.

Music fans who are looking to host a concert: List your concert as BYOB on the invitation. Look into your local laws to cover yourself.

Meanwhile, I’m sticking to my general rule: Leave the assholes behind.

Onward and upward.

Brian Vander Ark considers himself a one-hit wonder. He also attributes his lack of follow-up success to the fact he’s never been arrested. You can help by purchasing some of his music, or by reporting him to the authorities.

Live Music In Your Home! How To Host A Successful House Concert.

I was recently watching a documentary on Hugh Hefner. My wife would probably say that I was as interested in his life and successes about as much as I’m interested in reading Playboy for the articles. Regardless, there was a segment in this documentary that spoke of “Playboy After Dark”, a swanky, televised party on the penthouse floor. Hugh Hefner was the host. He had terrific musical guests like Joan Baez, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis, Jr., to name a few. They would come in and sit in his living room, and perform. No PA system, just a guitar or piano, and a voice. it was a scene out much like one in those classic old movies, where a party included a musical performance by someone. It wasn’t background music. It was entertainment in your home. Gather ’round the piano friends, and let’s sing a few numbers.

That’s the essence of a house concert.

House concerts are becoming more and more popular, and for good reason. Music loving adults are tired of braving the smokey bars, loud patrons, and slew of sub-par opening acts, all for the sake of seeing their favorite artist.

The good news is, anyone (and I mean anyone) can host a house concert. You don’t have to have a big living room, or a brand new deck. You don’t have to own a piano, or have lots of friends with similar musical tastes as you. All you have to do is invite your favorite artists to come and perform, and provide them with a quiet, listening room for them to perform in.

I’ve done house concerts in one room apartments. I’ve done them in mansions. I’ve played on the back of a speedboat, on rooftops. Anywhere that people may have a place for me to sit where I can pick the guitar and sing my songs. I’m thankful that I’ve had so many great fans who have booked me over and over again. Many of them have had me back 4 or 5 years in a row. And I don’t ‘weed out’ the smaller houses, in trade for the larger. It’s all about the vibe for a musician. And you, as a potential host, can create an atmosphere that is welcoming to a traveling musician. You are not only supporting the arts, you are showing off your great musical taste.

A few years ago, I booked a house concert with Todd Van Hammond in Appleton, WI. Todd had never held a house concert before, but his instincts were right on. The living room was set up perfectly, he gave me an introduction. He and his lovely wife Jen served food. It was a great success, and he had me back only a few months later for a second one. When I returned, he had built a mini-stage for me! (Todd has since become my right hand man when it comes to booking these shows. You should write him at spoiledbratmanagement@hotmail.com, and he would be happy to answer any questions you have about hosting.)

Here are a few simple tips to help you book and host a successful house concert. For those of you that have booked me at a house concert, believe me when I tell you that I have NEVER had an experience that wasn’t fun and unique, even if you hadn’t followed these guidelines. These are merely suggestions.

Choose an artist. Go to your favorite artist’s website to find out if he or she performs house concerts. If they do perform them, go through the proper channels to book them. Some might book them on their own, and others will use an agent. If your favorite performer doesn’t have any information on house concerts listed on their website, perhaps you could entice them to come and perform in your home. Believe me, it’s rough out there on the road for performers. My guess is that many of them can easily be convinced to perform in a great atmosphere, for very little money, just to subsidize the costs of touring. If they aren’t thinking this way now, they soon will be.

Negotiate. You would be surprised at how inexpensive a house concert can be for you. In fact, many that I do for the 3rd, 4th and 5th year straight have actually made money for the host. Here’s how. Offer your favorite artist a specific amount. Let’s say, $300. That’s good these days for an unknown artist. Now, consider this: It’s perfectly appropriate to charge your guests a fee. $20 per couple? 15 couples and you’ve just covered that cost. Offer food, and charge more. It’s not uncommon for those who host me to have been able to put on a great house concert, and walk away with a few hundred dollars that they’ve made. Another good negotiating tactic is to offer gift cards, gas cards, hotel accommodations, even frequent flier miles! Young artists will eat this stuff up. Even consider offering these things as a tip at the end of the night. (Note: a tip is never expected, and shouldn’t be assumed but they artists.)

Set up your home for a house concert. Make no mistake: As a host, this is your show. It’s up to you to set the tone of the concert. If you are looking for background music, while your guests mingle and chat, then house concerts are not for you. But if you are looking to expose great artists to other music fans in your home, then set up the room as a listening space. A simple chair with no arms or a stool in the corner of the room or in front of a fireplace is a great “stage” for the performance. Arranging chairs to face this stage is a great way to subtly tell your guest that they were invited to hear music. Don’t worry if you don’t have chairs for everyone. Many people will prefer to stand back and enjoy the music. Merely lining up a few chairs in a semi-circle will give the room a listening environment.

Round up the guests and let them know the show is going to begin. YOU are the emcee here. It’s your responsibility to let your guests know that it’s time for them to settle in and enjoy some live music. Once you have their attention and have corralled them into the concert area, say a few words about your artist, introducing them. I’ve done shows where there was no introduction they’ve gone very well. But if you are comfortable with it, your guest will want to know the connection between you and the artist. For example: Tell them about the first time you heard the artists music, or why you appreciate their songs so much. Or tell them how the night came about.

Don’t let a talkative or rude guest ruin your night. Listen, not everyone can sit for an hour and listen to music. We all have friends who are chatty or drink too much and become boisterous and obnoxious. It’s best not to invite them, but if you must, then keep them under control. If they are talking loud during the performance, casually ask them to join you in the other room. In fact, sometimes it’s better to set up another area in your home for those who aren’t interested in the show.

Let the performer perform. A good performer will include his audience in his performance. He’ll tell stories about the songs or about his experiences on the road. Once you’ve introduced them, let them take the reins. Not everyone will know the songs by your favorite artist and may not want to hear the 11th, 12th, or even 20th song by them. 45 minutes to an hour is plenty of time for a concert. Don’t force your performer to stay up there going through his catalogue of songs that only you can enjoy.

Don’t be offended. If your artist is like me, they probably won’t eat or drink anything. Consider this: I’ll play a hundred house concerts a year, many of them with food and drink. Party food is usually BBQ and treats. If I would eat at every one of these, I would weigh in at 300 lbs. Same deal with alcohol. Your favorite artist may not wish to drink (I rarely do). Don’t make them feel foolish by peer pressuring them. And yes, you may have an amazingly comfortable guest room with a flat screen TV and it’s own mini-bar, but chances are pretty good that your artist has made other arrangements for the night. It’s always nice to offer, however, and many will take you up on your wonderful hospitality.

That’s about it. Follow these simple tips and you can host house concerts year ’round. You’ll never have to deal with the hassles of seeing your favorite performer under not so favorable conditions. You are in control. You are the host. You are responsible for supporting the arts, and will be revered in the musical community! We could not do what we do if it weren’t for music lovers like you. And hosting house concerts is just about as supportive as you can be.

Brian Vander Ark offers this free advice in hopes that you will support him by purchasing his music. You can check some of it out by Clicking Here.

Performing At A House Concert: Prepare Yourself.

This is part 3 of my house concert advice series.  To start with Part One, Click Here.


So you’ve sent out the email to your fans, friends and family, and you’ve gotten a few bites.  Inevitably, one of the early questions that has been asked of you is how much do you charge.  Hopefully you didn’t answer, and left it up to your “agent”, who squeezed a tiny bit more out of Grandma Jenny’s purse, or Uncle Ben’s wallet.  Or perhaps it’s a Pass The Hat show.  Either way, prepare yourself for the performance.  

A house concert performance is not like any other performance you’ll do.  There are no opportunities to “take a break” like there are when performing at a coffee shop or local sports bar.  When it’s a public show you are playing, the expectations are not nearly as high, because chances are, there are patrons who are there to play pool, watch one of the numerous televisions hanging from the ceiling, or spending the night hitting on each other.  Of course, you still give it your all.  But most times, there might be a private room for you to tune up, warm your vocal cords, or have a few drinks to loosen yourself up.  Not the case in a house concert setting, especially one where you may only know the host, your biggest fan, and the room is filled with his family and friends, the people that he or she has been bragging you up to.  

I’ve done over 400 house concerts and I can tell you this:  You can never be late, and you have to be ON when you ring that doorbell.  (I usually park down the street for a half hour or so, and prepare myself in the car.  That way, I’m there on time, and psyched up for the performance.)  You also have to humble yourself.  You have to put on a smile and make your host feel comfortable.  Your host (whether it be a relative, friend or fan) is nervous.  After all, they are taking a chance on you.  They are counting on your ability to deliver, to prove to their guests that you are worthy of their undivided attention for those 45 minutes or so.  Hopefully, your host has set the scene for the house concert, by setting up chairs in a circle or in “listening room” fashion, giving you a center stage to perform your songs. (More on how to host a house concert in an upcoming article.)

Most of you will have material that is not familiar.  Playing 60 minutes of your original songs is a lot to ask of a listener.  Consider a 45 minute set.  I recommend 30 minutes (or under) of your own material, and 15 minutes (or over) of cover songs.  Before you dismiss this, consider that where local clubs have a pretty specific demographic (ages 18 to 30), a house concert will have a wide variety of listeners.  You want to keep everyone interested.  By playing 3 of your original songs, then playing YOUR rendition of a popular cover song, you’ll keep everyone happy and interested.  And interested, happy house concert attendees means $$ for you in merch sales.  There is absolutely no shame whatsoever in playing cover songs.  I perform Springsteen’s Thunder Road, Proco Harum’s Whiter Shade Of Pale, Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed on a regular basis, but put my own spin on it.  Those three songs on acoustic guitar is enough of a variation for me. (Free download of these songs by clicking here.)

If you have released CD’s in the past, then by all means, promote that CD by performing the songs on it.  But make it a “Story Teller’s” performance.  Don’t just run one song into the next.  Tell the story behind the lyric or how it was recorded, or an anecdote that relates to it.  The point is…be entertaining!  You have the room’s attention, don’t lose it by staring at your shoe for the entire set.

If your host, or anyone in your audience is also a performer (even kids!), I highly recommend that you asks them to perform a song with you.  So what if they don’t play or sing well?  The house concert audience will LOVE to see them perform with you.  After all, this is a party.  It should seem somewhat spontaneous. The better the time people have, the more merchandise you will sell.

One more rule I have.  Unless the hosts are good friends of yours, don’t stay longer than 2 hours.  One hour (or 45 minutes) for performing, and the rest of the 2 hours should be selling merchandise, having your picture taken with fans and signing CD’s.  Besides, getting in and getting out means that you can get to that 2nd show and 3rd that you’ve booked that night.  

You have the tools.  What are you waiting for?

Brian Vander Ark offers this free advice in hopes that you will check out his music and potentially purchase some of his music.  You can download songs at the usual digital outlets (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) or check out his website, brianvanderark.com SIgn up on the mailing list near the bottom of the home page, and receive a free song, instantly.  Brian’s house concerts were the subject of a very funny, enlightening documentary film called “Lawn Chairs And Living Rooms”.  You can order it by Clicking Here.

How To Book House Concerts (And Make Great Money At Them)

This is part two in the series.  If you’d like to read part one, Click Here.


Assuming that you have at least 30 minutes of original material (and some cover songs to fill in the set), you’re ready to get started booking and playing house concerts for money, whether charging a fee or ‘passing the hat’.  And getting started is as easy as sending out an email.

Send an email blast out to your mailing list.  If you don’t have much of a list, send it out to your family and friends.  You want to offer this to the people who will support you the most.  Don’t try to book yourself at the numerous house concert venues that have sprouted up lately.  It will only frustrate you.   You are looking for support.  You are looking to hone your skills as a performer in a house concert setting (more about performing in the next article).  And most importantly, you are looking to make some money. And there is no place better to go for making some extra cash, then by offering shows to the people that know you personally. The ones that know you are a struggling musician.

I’ve sold about 3 million albums with my band, The Verve Pipe.  I had to humble myself dramatically  once the money dried up.  So, I came up with the idea to go into people’s homes and sit pretty much anywhere they wanted me to, and play an acoustic guitar.

Here’s a portion of my first email that I sent out to fans.  I sent this six years ago, when house concerts were more of a concept than a reality.

“Dear Friends,

In the past few years, many changes have occurred in the music industry. Slumping record sales and massive firings have major labels scrambling to come up with new ways to capitalize on and exploit new talent.

Fortunately for me, having shunned the major label route, I am somewhat unaffected. Relying on my friends, and the good will of my fans, I have been able to sustain a living recording the music I believe in, all the while touring as much as possible without going broke.

The good news is, it’s time to record a new album. The bad news is, having spent the majority of the profits for the last album on a self supported tour, I don’t have the money to record it. 

What I am offering are “Living Room Concerts”.  In an effort to raise money for the new album, I would like to play shows in the living rooms or backyards of the fans who have been so true to me over the years. I imagine that I can play 3 to 4 shows a week (or more!), anywhere in the country, at your request. Imagine a one hour (or more) show with me sitting on your couch or at your dining room table or in your backyard, playing at your birthday party, or your daughter’s “off to college” party (or whatever) performing your favorite songs from my solo career or songs from The Verve Pipe. That’s right, you would be able to choose the setlist, any song written and recorded during my career!

Costs.  I’ve always tried to be a friend to the working man. I’ve worked as a waiter, a car washer, a chicken cleaner (!), a sales rep, a bartender and more. You name it, and if I didn’t DO it, then I applied for it! That being said, I want to keep the costs at a minimum. I probably would not travel with a PA system, so when the parties are a little more intimate, I will sing with no amplification. Just me and the guitar. If the party is going to be larger (25 people or more invited) then you’ll need to rent one of those little portable mini PA systems.

I’ll consider ANY offer. (Please keep in mind that this is a fundraiser, so I’ll have to make SOMEthing!) I would ask that the weekend days and nights be a little more money. I would have to ask that travel expenses (flight, hotel and car rental, if applicable) be extra costs for you, included in your total price. I don’t fly first class, or stay in expensive hotels, etc., so I can travel cheaply. Those of you who have read my journals know that I am no diva, and I’ve been known to sleep in my car on occasion.

You can charge admission to the party, but I would ask that it be by “invitation only”, so we can make it for you and your friends only. If everyone chipped in, ultimately, your cost would be nil. 

That’s about it. If you are interested, please contact David at spoiledbratmanagement@hotmail.com as soon as possible. This will have to be a first come, first serve, booking situation.

Thanks so much for all of the support over the years, especially my insistence on trying to pull off “crazy” stunts like these!  Best, and hope to see you soon!”  

I had no idea what I was doing.  I was just being honest.  Author Tony Rubleski printed that very letter in his marketing book called “Mind Capture: How You Can Stand Out In The Age of Advertising Deficit Disorder.”  Apparently, I did everything right.  Who knew?  (Tony has booked me for 2 house concerts as well).

When I sent that email blast out, I had hoped to book a dozen or so shows.  I booked 50.

A note about that email I sent:   Notice how I used a different contact than myself to book the house concerts.  I highly recommend that you ask a trusted friend to help you with these bookings.  You should take yourself out of the negotiating process.  It will be much easier for someone that doesn’t have a personal relationship to the host to ask for a little bit more money.  Where you may be comfortable saying, “Uncle Jerry, thanks for booking me for a house concert.  How’s $100?”, a friend who doesn’t know Uncle Jerry can ask  “Thanks for making this possible for (your name).  You think you can put up $150 to have him?  It would be really helpful.”  You take yourself out of the equation, and when you see Uncle Jerry, there’s no ‘weirdness’.

Less than a week after sending the email, I played my first house concerts.  I booked a show at a very supportive fan’s house in Indianapolis, on a Friday night.  I got an email from another fan in Bowling Green, KY, who wanted me to come to his place after.  It was the only time they would be able to have me.  It would be close to midnight by the time I arrived, but it didn’t matter to them.  And for me?  Driving 3 hours, then going on at midnight had been the norm for most of my rock and roll years as a headliner.

I arrived in Indiana, and played the show in the host’s backyard, for about 40 people.  They had a small PA system set up for me, as required.  I set my guitar case out in front of me, with CD’s to sell.  I told the small crowd to help themselves.  “Just toss whatever cash you like in there, and take the CD’s.  Make your own change.”  I think people assume that most CD’s cost $15, so that was the average paid.  However, one thing that I hadn’t expected was that because this was a fundraising effort for my upcoming CD, folks were throwing $100 checks in there as well.  The host even handed me and extra $700, in support of the new album.   I left Indianapolis that night with well over $1500.  It was crazy!

After the show, I made the 3 hour drive to Bowling Green, KY and played for a couple of old school fans, and their very pregnant wives.  In fact, that was much of the reason that they wanted me there.  I think both ladies were due and day now, and missed going out to shows. The four of us sat in their living room, and I played the songs that they had requested.  They had a piano, and so we moved into the living room, and I plucked away at another song.  It was a great night.  No merch was sold, and the offer for me to come down was a bit lower than normal since the show was so late, but I didn’t care.  It really was one of those defining moments, when as a musician you can say, “This is the reason I do what I do.”  And the icing on the cake was that the host gave me the perfect name for my tour:  Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms.  Thanks, Adam.


1.  Send the email out to fans, friends and family.  Have a friend agree to help you with the booking, avoiding the awkwardness of negotiating with family and friends.

2.  Have a reason to go out.  Raising money for a new album?  Trying to buy a new trailer?  Just make sure it’s legit, and have something to show for it in the end.  Offer to put the hosts name in the ‘Special Thanks To’ section of the liner notes.  Post a picture of your new trailer on your Facebook page, and say “This trailer could not have been purchased if it weren’t for these very supportive music lovers” and list the names of the hosts.

3.  Be realistic in your expectations for money.   Don’t expect to make the kind of money that I made on that first trip.  Coming home from playing a show with as little as $100 can be considered a success.  When is the last time you played a show as a singer/songwriter to a group of people who were quiet for your entire set, listening to the songs you’ve crafted, where you walked away with 20 new names on your mailing list, a handful of CD’s sold, and $100 on top of it?  Book just 2 a week and you’ll end up with $10k for the year.  And that’s probably the minimum.  Hard to come by in the sports bars and rock clubs.

4.  What to charge.   Get what you can, but be fair.  Someone may offer you $1000, some may offer $100.  Just because you may know that someone is financially better off than others, doesn’t mean that you should take advantage of them.  The point is, try to average it out where you can make enough money to continue traveling.

Here’s an example of how to do it for those singer/songwriters who are a bit more ‘established’:  Most people will want a Friday night, or Saturday.  If you have more than one offer in the same town for the same weekend, play as many as you can.  I do up to 4 a day.  (I used to play 4 or 5 sets a night, so I can handle it.  You can too.)   It keeps the costs low for everyone.  For instance, let’s say that someone wants you to fly to Dallas to do a house concert on a Friday night.  Maybe you have other fans there that have expressed interest there as well.  Have your ‘agent’ friend tell that potential host that you can be there for $1200 (always book your own travel – flights, hotels, rental cars, and include it in the price.) Then tell them that the price will drop significantly if you can book a few more shows, so stand by.  Then, your agent friend sends another email out to anyone within a 3 or 4 hour drive (a cousin in Houston or Austin?  A fan in San Antonio?) and ask if anyone else is interested.  You’ll be in the area, and can do it for a very reasonable fee.  Someone offers $300.  Another person offers $500.  You can now drop the $1200 price down to let’s say, $800.  (This first host will be delighted, and most likely have you back again.)  You spend the weekend in Texas having booked a cheap flight, hotel and rental car.  Depending on where you are flying from your cost will vary, but for me, flying out of Michigan, it’s typically $500 for a flight, hotel for 2 nights is $120 (usually 3 stars quality for that price at Priceline.com), and a car rental for 3 days, another $120.  Total cost?  $740, give or take.  Income? $1600, minus $740 = $860 net profit.  And that doesn’t include CD sales.

For those young performers who aren’t quite seasoned yet, realistically, you are not going to get those kinds of offers.  But ‘passing the hat’ is a pretty good way to earn the cash too.  ‘Pass The Hat’ house concerts are very popular.   It’s just like it sounds;  you play a show, and pass a hat around to take a collection.  if 20 people put in $10, there’s $200 per show.  Book 3 shows, and add some CD sales, and that’s the cost of travel to another state.  (Unless you’re driving, which would be mean even more savings.)  You can also stay in a guest room if you’re comfortable with that, saving even more money.  You can even have one of the hosts pick up the flight as payment for a show All told, you are now a traveling musician, getting your music out to potential fans.  You have a quiet audience, listening to your songs.  You sign people up on your mailing list.  Some other music lovers who are at the show want to book you in their home, because this experience was so unique.  And, because it’s a party and you are the guest, everyone will be nice to you, feed you, and do everything possible to make you feel comfortable.  No surly sound men in this situation.

I hope this has been helpful.  Like I’ve said before, I want you to succeed!  The future of acoustic music depends upon you.  Feel free to leave a comment, suggestion or concern.  I’ll answer all of your questions the best I can.

Next week:  Your Performance At A House Concert:  How To Make It A Great, Musical Experience.

Brian Vander Ark offers this free advice in hopes that you will check out his music and potentially purchase some of his music.  You can download songs at the usual digital outlets (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) or check out his website, brianvanderark.com SIgn up on the mailing list near the bottom of the home page, and receive a free song, instantly.  Brian’s house concerts were the subject of a very funny, enlightening documentary film called “Lawn Chairs And Living Rooms”.  You can order it by Clicking Here.

House Concerts Can Pay The Mortgage

A Brief History. The last rock album that my band The Verve Pipe recorded was called Underneath.  It had been our best offering yet, the one that we were most proud of.  Unfortunately, it was released on Sept 11, 2001.

Refusing to promote the album during that national crisis, it failed miserably.  My RCA rep called me to let me know that “It’s the end of an era.”  Translation?  “You made two albums that didn’t sell for shit.  We’re dropping you.”

I sold practically everything I had, except for my acoustic guitar.  I bought an RV from my recently deceased stepfather’s estate, and toured the country as a solo musician.  I took a lot of opening gigs, honing my skills as a solo artist.  And though I played our biggest hit “The Freshmen” just about every night for the next 6 years (to appease the patrons I like to call the “One Hit Wanderers”), I tried out new material as well.  I released a few solo albums in the process.

During that time of getting back to my roots as a songwriter, there weren’t that many listening rooms to play.  The country was peppered with a few, but there wasn’t an honest to goodness scene or easy trail that led from one to the next.  And house concerts?  Conceptually, it hadn’t caught on yet.

In 2007 I had a mortgage that wasn’t getting paid and unless I started thinking outside the box, it wasn’t going to get paid.  Something had to happen.  It hit me on a jog one morning.

Lawn Chairs And Living Rooms Tour.   I offered this to my fans:  Book me into your home, I’ll play in your backyard, or living room.  I’ll let you choose the setlist.  You pay me, but then you charge your friends and family to make up for the cost. The show has to be private, by invitation only (That would weed out the one hit wanderers).

I booked 52 house concerts that first summer.  The next summer was 112.  I played a maximum of 4 a day, going from one to the next.  I played for an hour, and hung out for an hour, teaching kids a few chords on the guitar, or jamming with other musicians in the group.  Then I drove to the next one.

The point is, I got tired of playing solo public shows in sports bars and rock clubs.  Shows where “The Freshmen!” was yelled out from song one.  Shows where the smoke was so thick, it was nearly impossible for my throat to perform the next night.

So, I’ve been there.  And I’ve found a way around it.  House concerts are becoming more and more popular, and for good reason.  You have a listening audience of music fans that WANT you there.  They laugh at your jokes, they request songs of yours, they want to feed you.

Pitfalls?  Hmmm… I’m hard pressed to find one.  And I’ve done well over 400 house concerts.  One thing that some might consider a downside.  You don’t have the opportunity to not be ON.  You don’t have a back room for privacy where you can psych yourself up.  But these people will do anything to make you feel comfortable.  Remember:  You are a guest.  When’s the last time you had a club owner/bar manager/sound man treat you that way?

An important tip:  You have to put your complete trust in your fans.  You are showing up to someone’s home that you have never met before.  I admit, for the first few years, I had a fear that I would arrive at the hosts house, and it would be one lonely, middle aged woman answering the door.  Perhaps she would have lied to me and said that there were going to be more people there.  Perhaps she’s in a wedding dress.  Perhaps she wants to hear the same song over and over and over….

But that never happened.  Every house concert is different.  Every one of them special in their own way.  Like the time I played a show in the middle of absolutely nowhere, to a group I didn’t know in their little backyard, when a thunderstorm broke out, mid set.  We all ducked into their one stall garage, and I played, surrounded by 50 people in a very tight circle, my head above most of them, turning and turning through the set, so everyone could hear.  Or the time I played for a young couple who had just had a baby, and wanted to hear music in their living room to celebrate their 2nd anniversary.  Just the three of us.  Baby was off with grandma.

The point is, being a singer/songwriter is pretty easy.  Anyone can write a song and sing it, good or bad.  Finding places to perform where you have the attention of 100 percent of the people in a room is the hard part.

So here’s a tip for the singer/songwriters of the world:  Jump on the house concert craze.   I’ll give more specific details on how I made it work in the coming weeks.

I’m going to dedicate this blog to offer tips to those of you who have a desire to succeed as a singer/songwriter in today’s sports bar world.  I’ll give you advice on how to perform at a house concert, and everything else that comes with it.  But this blog won’t be just about house concerts.  I’ll offer songwriting tips, and let you in on cheap travel secrets as well.  Any information that I have to help me continue to be a full time musician will be available to you.

You see, I want you to succeed.  We are losing the battle to the talentless that are in absolute control.  Today’s hit songs are becoming so dumbed down that soon they are going to consist of only one long note, with a quarter note dance beat, and a lyric that repeats the line “This is a lead vocal”.  But we can write.  We can always write.  We are songwriters.  We get up early and write in quiet spaces, while our families are still asleep.  Or we stay up late, recording a harmony on our laptop in the basement.   We have endured the countless eye rolls from fathers of the daughters we’ve dated.  “Ooooh…A musician.’  Translation?  “Lazy, partier.  Will amount to nothing.”   But we’re much better than that.  We write music.

I’ve been fortunate in my career.  Mostly fortunate that I have a couple of hit songs under my belt.  The money that comes in is enough to keep me afloat in the very hard times.  But I understand what it’s like to work your ass off for no money, in hope that you sell a few CDs.  It still happens to me.  But making the right decisions along the way has also kept me afloat.

Along the way, feel free to comment, offer tips of your own, engage me with your own stories. I’m sure that some of you have ideas to share as well.  Either way, let’s find a method that will help us all perpetuate a life in music.

Now, go write something.


Jump to next article, How To Book House Concerts (and Make Money At Them), by Clicking Here.

Brian Vander Ark’s Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms tour was the subject of a documentary in 2009.  It follows Brian one weekend in July, where he played 6 shows, including a Verve Pipe concert. Plenty of music, raw language, and one dented Airstream.  You can find it by Clicking Here.

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