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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.