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House Concerts: a win-win for everyone and a good time for all!

House Concert Experience

(adapted from MarkMaxwell.org)

In these economic times, we all need a little pick-me-up don’t we? Well, here’s an awesome idea: let’s create a House Concert Experience! They’re easy to organize, dirt cheap to produce, and most importantly – incredibly and intensely fun. In fact, you are pretty much guaranteed a packed house and an amazing experience. When you invite friends to a party, 30 or even more will come, right? So it is with a House Concert… Invite all your best friends, your favorite neighbors, the boss or co-worker you want to impress. Serve some soft-drinks or martinis, or make it into a all-day BBQ. Whatever. It’s up to you. The whole point is this: a House Concert is a gathering of friends for the express purpose of experiencing some great music in the comfort of your own home. What could be better? And another awesome thing about the House Concert: everyone chips in at the door to pay the performer & other contributors so the cost to the host is minimal. If this sounds interesting (and surely it must), LA saxophonist Mark Maxwell has put together a guide to answer any questions you might have and to walk you through the ins and outs of organizing a House Concert Experience. It’s pretty simple and straightforward. So here it is…

THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO CREATING THE ULTIMATE HOUSE CONCERT EXPERIENCE by Mark Maxwell, edited by Catherine Scholz

First, the House Concert defined: A live performance before an assemblage of music enthusiasts by a musical artist or artists in a private residence or equivalent setting, sometimes held in conjunction with other festivities, i.e. potluck supper, backyard BBQ, or a jam session.

Why organize a House Concert?

* It’s a unique opportunity to experience live music, up close and personal, without the barriers of too much sound or too much space.
* It’s a great alternative to the sometimes way-too-noisy-overpriced-and-crowded venues that we’re used to.
* It’s unique, fun, and hip, and will make you a great favorite among your friends.

Let’s face it: hearing great live music is one of the most enjoyable experiences in life. What could be better than experiencing it in the comfort and convenience of your own home? Now let’s talk about the basics of how to organize your own House Concert Experience. It’s really quite easy and can be boiled down to just a few simple steps:

1. Find a suitable spot for your concert.
2. Spread the word about your concert.
3. Set up the concert space.
4. Host (and enjoy) the show!
5. Pay the performer.

1. Finding a suitable space for your House Concert

This one is pretty simple: do it in your living room. Or your backyard. That’s why they’re called House Concerts, right? Attendance for an average House Concert is between 25 and 50, so if you have a good size living room (12? x 15? or larger), or a suitable backyard, you’re in business. Don’t worry too much if it seems like it will be snug. Part of the charm of the House Concert is its intimacy. Okay, you’ve figured out a good spot; now it’s time to:

2. Spread The Word

A word of warning here: you may find that your one-time House Concert Experience will be so popular with your circle of friends, and it may be so much fun, that it will turn into a regular or semi-regular event (and would that be such a bad idea?). House Concerts are so unique and interesting, you won’t have any trouble filling up your concert space. Start by talking it up to all your friends and neighbors, people you work with, all your favorite people, folks you would want to share something like this with {put it up on Facebook and Twitter about it}. You can invite anyone, of course, but the more love and friendship there is in the room the more fun you’ll have. Let folks know that you’re hosting something special, something rare and unique, something that doesn’t happen every day. Most everybody loves live music; tell people they’ll be up close and personal with an award-winning artist. You also might consider printing some invitations that you can hand out as you pass through your daily activities, and you might put together an email list and send out email invitations {Evite is a good resource}. If you have a wide circle of friends it probably won’t take much advertising to fill your space. People love to have fun, and this is something interesting!

You’ll want to get firm RSVPs if you can so you’ll know how much seating you’ll need and so the musicians will know what to expect in terms of payment (we’ll get to that shortly). As far as the timeline goes, a month is generally enough time to organize and stage your House Concert. Okay, your friends are all lined up and excited, and the big day has arrived. Let’s:

3. Set Up The Room

Generally, you’ll want an area in front that’s pretty well-lit with as much room as needed for the musical act. Or, if you have space you might consider the “Circle In The Round” format (musicians in the middle with seating in a circle around them). You’ll need to think about seating, of course, and whether or not you have enough chairs. Chairs {and/or floor cushions} are easy to come by (church, friends, school, etc.) but you’ll want to make sure you have plenty. All right, your room is all set up. Now it’s time to:

4. Host The Show

House Concerts typically consist of two sets of music, 45 minutes to an hour each. Musicians will take a break between sets – say 20 minutes or so – so people can stretch their legs, wet their whistles, and generally tell you how awesome and fun your House Concert is. Once everyone is settled and comfortable, simply welcome everyone and introduce the musicians and they’ll do the rest. Refreshments are your call and can be anything from cookies and coffee to a catered dinner. You might want to enlist the services of a couple of volunteers – perhaps offer them free admission for their help – folks who can help with refreshments and cleanup and someone who can collect money at the door and maybe help musicians sell CDs. It’s okay to put out a basket that says something like “Donations For Treats”to help defray some of your expenses if you want to. Well, we’ve had a great time, all your guests are totally jazzed about the great House Concert you had. Now it’s time to:

5. Pay The Musicians

There are a couple of variations on how you can pay the musicians. For instance, you could, if you’re in the financial position to do so, simple pay them out of your pocket; or, you could get together with a few friends and pay them as a group. But certainly the most common way to reimburse musicians comes from those who attend the concert by way of their donation to the event. And the simplest way to deal with that is to simply collect money at the door the night of the concert. If you’re not paying musicians directly out of your pocket (either you or you and your friends) then by far the best way to handle collecting admission is via pre-paid advance reservations. This way you’ll know exactly how many people to expect and how to deal with seating, refreshments, etc. Also, if folks pre-pay they’re far less likely to cancel at the last minute (and even if they do, musicians can still get paid). NO-SHOWS. Hey, life gets in the way sometimes and it’s not uncommon to have a bunch of folks who have sworn under oath that they’ll be there and not show up. It’s disappointing to be expecting a full house and then have a bunch of empty chairs at the concert! And it’s doubly disappointing when you’ve had to turn people down who wanted to attend because you thought you already had a full house. At the minimum it takes an audience of at least 25 people to generate the good energy for a really successful House Concert, so unless you’ve sold it out via pre-sales, ALWAYS continue to accept reservations, paid or unpaid, until you have the money-in-hand as proof of a sold-out show. If people are reluctant to commit to pre-sales registration, explain that it’s a first-come, first-admitted situation and that the only way they’ll be guaranteed a seat is with pre-sale before the show.

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Co-Producers. Enlist a partner or two. It might be easier and even more fun that way.

Start Time. You can start anytime you want to of course, but for the Friday or Saturday evening show the magic time is around 8 or 8:30. A weeknight or Sunday evening you might start a little earlier. The late Sunday afternoon show is always nice, especially if it’s in conjunction with a potluck or jam session.

Parking. Is there enough parking in your neighborhood for an event of this nature? One of the nice things about inviting your neighbors to your House Concert is that parking is no issue for them and they feel like they’ve been included in the loop.

Performer Accommodations. If musicians are traveling to someplace that’s not close to them, say within 2 or 3 hours or so, you may have to work out some kind of accommodations.

The Expandable Concert. You might just feel like going all out with this thing and turning the House Concert into an all day/night affair, with a potluck, jam session, cookout, pajama party, or whatever! This is good. This makes life bigger and better. Also, if you know musicians who are coming to the concert, you might invite them to bring their instruments so we can jam after the actual performance. It’s another charm of House Concerts that they so easily evolve into a loose and communal music exchange after the show.

Merchandising. Set up a little table somewhere and then let the artist/s sell some CDs and/or merch to your guests. If you create a series of house concerts, why not sell t-shirts, mugs, posters, etc.? Make a website. Do it up!

So that’s about it, folks. There are probably other variables to discuss {such as artist minimum}, but this is the main stuff. It’s all pretty easy and fun when you get right down to it – fun for the musicians, fun for you, fun for your friends, fun for all. House Concerts are a hip and intelligent thing to do. In the increasingly isolated culture we live in, people are hungry for an authentic experience of community and heart-to-heart connection. They want to be part of something real, and House Concerts – however humble – are very real. House Concerts prove that you can make things happen right there where you are, without the necessity of a lot of hype or expense. Something special, even magical, happens right there in your front room…

(This blog post was largely adapted from Mark Maxwell’s awesome page on House Concerts with a few small changes and additions. Thanks also to TR Ritchie for use of ideas and text from his essay on House Concerts.)

Here is a great example of a website for House Concerts in the Chico area: BirdHouse Concert Series. “The Birdhouse is modeled largely after The Acoustic Barn, a popular house-concert venue for touring folk musicians in Newcastle, Calif., owned by Kevin O’Dell, a friend of the Eldridges. It is a part of an approximately decade-old, growing house-concert movement across the United States, started by Russ & Julie’s House Concerts in the L.A. area the quintessential pioneers of the movement, as David described Russ and Julie Paris. The house-concert movement began and has gathered steam as a counterbalancing response to the prevalence of huge, expensive, impersonal, highly commercialized entertainment venues…”

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