Performing At A House Concert: Prepare Yourself.

by Brian Vander Ark

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, 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.