A Singer-Songwriter’s Guide to Throwing a Great House Concert
I’ve talked about house concerts quite a bit in this column. I believe they are the modern singer-songwriter’s saving grace. You can’t beat a venue where the audience is on your side from the get-go and most of the door money goes into your tour kitty. Of course, there are also major pluses to playing shows at clubs and theaters. I thought it might be nice to dedicate this week’s column to a list of things that would combine the best of both worlds. So, what follows is a guide of sorts, for how to throw a great artist-friendly house show:
1. When an artist arrives at your house (after you’ve provided them with the address), the best thing you can give them is a room with a door that closes, a glass of water, and the passcode for your wifi. If you are hosting the artist for the night, showing them right to the room where they will be staying is a really considerate act. This is not to say that they don’t want to hang out with you, but sometimes there is work to do that isn’t possible while driving. A little respite from the road to check in with the back-end work of being a traveling folksinger/salesperson is a very welcomed thing. Then, with a mind clear of unwritten emails, the artist can move on to sound check.
2. Get a sound system. Your living room might not be big enough to need one, but they are a really good thing to have around if you are hosting musicians. I know that folk fans don’t tend to be in the wealthiest one percent of humanity, but you can borrow, rent, or buy a reasonable sound system and not break the bank. If you are a technophobe, you don’t necessarily even need to know how to use it, as the artist most likely will. It could make the show sound so much better, and it will up the ante in terms of professionalism.
3. Have chairs. You can rent chairs from a party store. You can have each audience member bring their own chair. It’s also helpful for you to set aside a table for the artist’s merchandise. Have a clear, large receptacle for the suggested donation. Have your own email list out for people to sign, to get info about upcoming shows. Have fliers with your calendar. One of things that’s so special about house concerts is that they come with a dedicated audience. The best house concerts have large, well-trained audiences who know how to listen. The host is the flow-master for the evening. It’s lovely to have a quick introduction, a well-delineated stage area, good lighting, and a reminder to buy albums and give the proper donations. Then sit back and give the artist room to do their thing. (I have played house concerts before where the host sat front and center and talked to me the whole time. It was very distracting, almost like being heckled.)
4. Make sure that you’ve told everyone you know about how badass the artist is. You booked them for a reason, right? It’s a ton of work promoting a show, but when you fill a room with people who are ready for the tasty morsels of music your musician has to offer, it feels great. The energy is electric. Laugh loudly at the jokes, it will encourage others to laugh too. Dance a little. If you are at ease, everyone is at ease.
5. Provide a delicious meal for the artist either before or after the show. I know this seems like a given, but check in with the artist ahead of time to see if they’re vegan, gluten free, paleo, raw or if they prefer to only eat burgers and fries. This kind of thing means so much to us. Chocolate is good, too.
6. Try to get the audience members out the door relatively quickly after the show. This can be a hard one because artists love to socialize and they also want to connect with you, their lovely host. But one of the hardest parts of the job is socializing until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. every night. It gets wearing on an artist to be the heart of the party 5-7 nights a week. A lot of the time I was on the road, I wanted to go to sleep as early as possible so that I could get up and go on a run or do yoga before the day’s drive. If a conversation or hang is flowing naturally, that’s wonderful, but maybe give the artist an out if they’re yawning.
7. Love the job. If you don’t love hosting musicians in your home, don’t do it. If you are burnt out on it after 15 years of throwing parties, stop. It’s a labor of love and no one will blame you if you’re not loving it anymore. In the same vein, if you really want to be a star at hosting, do it! Look at websites of your favorite independent artists and email them or their agents. Tell everyone you know, offer free food or wine, and get people in the seats. Save folk music, one starry night at a time.
Photo: Andrew Pressman, Anthony da Costa, Raina Rose, and John Elliott playing at a house concert in Oklahoma, from FOLK documentary.