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

by Brian Vander Ark

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.