House Concerts - Part 2 of 2

In this post, I mention some scripts and a manual we send to our hosts to help them prepare.  I put a lot of work into that manual and I will be happy to share it with you, but in return, I ask that you follow and subscribe to me in the following places...choose one project:

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Afterward, click here to email me a request for the manual.  Thanks!

Ok, so in part 1, I explained why house concerts are some of the most rewarding, fulfilling, and magical experiences you can have as a performer.  Before I go on to the tips, I have to say that this past summer tour, which included something like 16 house concerts, was the most fun I've ever had on a summer tour.  Somehow, despite all of our intentionality in planning the tour, we forgot the one advantage a house concert tour has that made it the best tour ever; because a good number of the house concerts were held in the homes of colleagues, family, and close friends, we basically spent the summer traveling from the homes of people we love to other people we know and love.  And got paid to do so!  And through the magic of house concerts, we quickly became close with the people who opened their homes to us who we didn't know as well.  I'm usually fairly exhausted both physically and mentally by the end of my summer tours, but my personal tank was more than full after this tour, even after driving 5,000 miles. 

Also, I got to do this:


Ok, so how did we do it?  Well, first we went and purchased Shannon Curtis's Book "No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too)."  You will really appreciate, as did we, how In this inexpensive and short read, fellow DIY musician Shannon Curtis gives easy step-by-step instructions on booking and running house concerts, including some really helpful advice to help get you past some rookie mistakes.  Our tour was almost entirely based on the model and information in this book.  So go buy it and support Shannon now.

I'm not going to rewrite everything she already wrote about, but I will try to fill in some more advice based on what we've learned up to this point.

I'll break it down but first you have to understand the basic model.  We took Shannon's suggestion to use a donation based model, meaning guests are informed on the invitation that they'll be asked to make a donation to the band in whatever amount they would like after the concert.  We don't charge the hosts a fee or anything (though they almost always participate in the donations) but they are asked to bring a strict minimum of 20 adult guests.  Again, read Shannon's book because there are some important details, but that'll at least help the rest of this blog make sense.  Now on to some pro tips.

Booking - Most people want to know how to find the houses/hosts for the concerts.  A couple times in my life I've seriously considered which is supposed to connect performers with hosts that are interested in hosting house concerts and, in theory, have experience doing so.  Years ago there were a couple sites doing this, and a google search will probably find some in your area (AirBnb also recently launched an "experiences" type of platform that people are using.)  For you have to 'audition' and there's an annual $400 fee to join.  If I personally knew anyone who had used the service, or if there was an option to "try before you buy" I might consider it, but I've never actually applied.  All we did was compile a list of people we knew who might find an event like this exciting and made sure they had a space that could comfortably seat all of their guests.  We also made sure they knew in no uncertain terms that if they wanted to book us we needed them to get 20 adults to show up so that we wouldn't literally lose money to play there.  That means they should be inviting 45-50 adults minimum because we've found that on average about 50% of invitations are declined. 

(*Side note - House concerts have become much more popular over the last decade or so, but they are still a foreign concept to most people.  You'd be surprised at how little and how big people's imaginations run when you mention a house concert.  To that end, I slapped together the video at the bottom of this email...I know it's not a great video, so it's unlisted on YouTube but it's good enough to paint a picture for would be hosts, and perhaps you.)

Hosting - We provide the entertainment and have some needs but by and large, this is the hosts' party.  If they want to wine and dine their guests, that's great.  Potluck and BYOB are great too.  I suppose you could not have food/drink but who wants that???  In addition to providing the 'venue' for the night and inviting guests, the important role that hosts play is in introducing you before the show and outro after the show, during which time they make sure to mention the donation jar.  We provide scripts in the manual which hosts can use...they should be free to adapt it, but make sure to cover the important points, including the donation jar.  

Guests - Adults. No kids. No pets. No exceptions.  Ok, mature young music fans aged 10 and up allowed.  We love dogs (not cats, though you wierdos!) and we love children.  But they will absolutely interrupt the evening and have for us on several occasions when we were trying to be nice.  Nothing like a dog barking and chasing it's tail on stage, right at the peak of your intense love song.  (To be fair, we've had some adults do the equivalent too...saving those stories for the memoir.)

Invitations - Must make clear that guests are expected to make a donation.  You don't want to surprise anyone with this.  Check out our manual for some language we wrote that people could just copy and paste into, email invitations, and/or Facebook.  We learned this great line for the invitation from one of our hosts: "Please make a reservation only if you can commit to attending, as empty seats deprive the artist of revenue."  Love that.  Added it to our manual.  Again, you need to send a minimum of twice the number of invitations as people who you'd like to show up.  We provide some hi-res pro photos that people can insert in their invitations and have even recorded a video for one of our hosts to share as part of their invitation.  

Donations - Several different points on this topic which I'm sure you're dying to know:

  • Some people like to give a suggested donation amount.  We didn't because we would regularly receive amounts several times the figure we would suggested.  Also, we don't want some people to not come because they can't afford that suggested amount.
  • All of the above being said, and per Shannon's suggestion, we used a clear jar and pre-filled it with some $20 bills to help 'suggest' the order of magnitude of donation.  Sorry for the math term there...mechanical engineer in me comes out from time to time.  What I mean is, a typical concert ticket these days not including parking, food/drink, etc is usually $25-$100 bucks.  Your guests are getting front row seats to a boutique type of event.  They should be donating amounts in the order of $10s not $1s.
  • In the introduction and after your show, your hosts will remind the guests of the donation and point out the jar.  We hide at this point because it can feel a bit awkward and we don't want anyone to feel like we're watching them make a donation.
    • Pro pro tip - make sure to have the donation jar out, visible and have your host mention it and physically point to the jar in the intro.  At a recent house concert, about 20 of the 60 or so guests left early and we forgot to have the jar out so we missed out on potentially a considerable amount of income.

(*Side-note - We've run into some would-be hosts are uncomfortable with the donation based model.  They may be uncomfortable doing the request, or with the idea of asking people to make donations at all.  We've played a couple concerts where the host generously paid us a fee, and we know some hosts sell tickets.  You'll have to figure out those figures and models yourself, but if you're going donation-based, the host really should be the one reminding their guests about the donations.  Remember, the guests knew they were going to be giving donations when they RSVP'd and showed up.  Also, some hosts are REALLY good at asking for the donations...they make it fun and explain very matter-of-factly that this is how we make our living and think about what you would pay to see other musical artists of our caliber.)

Seating - Make sure everyone is in comfortable seats and can see and hear.  Nobody likes standing for an hour, or watching a show with partial view or partial hearing.  Seriously, you are going to all be transported by this experience so make sure everyone keeps all arms and legs inside the ride at all times.  Also, arrange the seating before guests arrive to make the audience as close to you and as close to each other as possible...think public transportation plus an inch or two on all sides.  In all my years of performing, I have ALWAYS found that the less personal space, the more people enjoy the concert.  

Sound - Make sure everyone can hear well.  Rooms with carpet swallow a lot more sound and you may find you have to play or sing much louder.  Though the fully acoustic shows are amazing, if you can amplify yourself, it can really help.  It may surprise you but even for a crowd of 20 people it may be difficult for you to be heard by the furthest audience member if you're fully acoustic.

Lighting - If you can, consider trying to dim the 'house' and light the 'stage.'  It's a home and there aren't usually separate lighting zones in a room, so I try bring a few of my professional LED stage lights to light up the stage and then dim or turn off the room lights.  Outdoor flood work lights work well for this, in a pinch.

Merch - Bring it and set it up...people are going to want to a souvenir of this experience, with your signature.  Especially so they can say they "knew you when..."  Also, you gotta hit the iron when it's hot.  Know how many times people have gone to the website when I'm sold out of an item in person?  Maybe one time in 11 years.  Also, have your host mention your merch table in the intro and outro, and you should mention it several times yourself.  If you're uncomfortable with this, either get over it, or just come to terms with the fact that you'll get relatively few sales.  Know why you see the same TV commercials hundreds of times?  Because studies have shown over and over again that people need to be told things multiple times in order for it to be heard. Science. It's real.  

Mailing List - Definitely head over to my post on mailing lists but during our set, we actually pass the mailing list around the room.  We usually get close to 100% sign-up rate in the room when we do this.  The opposite is true if we just leave it on the merch table.  

The Schedule - Here's more or less what Shannon suggests and it works great for us.  Do one hour of meet and greet with drinks/food, then about one hour of concert, then another hour of merch sales, more meet and greet, and food/drinks to cap the evening off.  For you (and your hosts) there's additional setup and teardown on either end of that.  Here's a typical breakdown for us:

  • 4:00 PM - Arrival and setup
  • 6:00 PM - Guests arrive for meet/greet and food/drinks
  • 6:50 PM - Announce that show will begin shortly and ask guests to fill up on food/drinks and use restroom one last time
  • 7:00 PM - Showtime
  • 8:00 PM - Merch sales, more meet/greet and food//drinks
  • 9:00 PM - teardown

*Side note - Shannon explains that 1 hour of meet/greet and drinks is ideal and I fully agree.  It's enough time for people who are late arrivers to get there before the show begins, to have some drinks and ease into the space which is hard for some people, get some time to meet us, and get situated in seats.  But it's not so much time that people have too many drinks for their state of mind or for their bladders during the concert.  And yes, we ask that people use the restroom before the's just an hour.

Pics and video  - We encourage people to take pictures and video throughout the show.  Some artists get on a high-horse about 'experiencing the music in the moment, man'...I get that and certainly don't want one guest to block another guest's view with a phone.  But if I'm doing something that someone thinks is cool enough they want to document it and share it with others, I'm more for that.  In fact, not only do we allow it, we actually tell people to take out their phones a few times during the show and not only document it but to share and tag us on all our socials....telling people to not take their phones out...ridiculous.  

Thank you's - Remember to thank your hosts and the people who came out during your show.  You know how hard it can be to get people to follow you on your socials, which is just clicking a button.  These people actually planned and spent money to come see you.  Your hosts put a lot of time and effort to making the evening happen.  Make sure they know how much you appreciate it.  When possible we try to bring small gifts to our hosts (like bagels from NYC) and we mail handwritten thank you notes after the show.  

The rub - Ok, you still want to know, how much are you gonna walk away with at the end of the night?   Well, put simply, on a few occasions we've brought in $1400 accounting for donations and merch sales.  Yes, on average we make less than that, and sometimes far less than that.  So even if I wanted to stop doing Jewish music, and I don't, it wouldn't make financial sense.  But I'm fortunate to be able to choose what gigs I want to do, and aside from all the other benefits I list off in Part 1, for me, these can be a great add-on to another gig if I'm already in the area.  

Very last point....PUT ON A GOOD SHOW!  You might think that since it's at a house, you can be more lax about your prep.  In fact, I think the opposite is true.  Your audience is close and will be able to see and hear everything.  Make sure your show is dynamic both in audio and visual.  

That's it for me for now.  The video I mention in the "Booking" heading above is below.  If you have anything to add or ask,  you know what to do.  

Keep rockin' out there!

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