I first got that question when I said to my wife, “With the remodel, we now have a space where we could hold a house concert.” I must admit when planning for the remodel the thought of hosting 30 to 50 people for concerts was not on my mind. I was looking for an open space where we could place large furniture, a piano and enjoy the fireplace.
After some convincing and a visit to a house concert in Montrose CA with Eddie and Martha Adcock, Joanna was willing to host a potluck with music. Since then she is hooked on the camaraderie, the music, the planning, and even the anxiety.
For the uninitiated, the house concert protocol, for us, involves booking a musician who is willing to work for whatever gets put into the donation jar. Then we invite all of our friends, relatives, acquaintances and anyone who will listen to me go on and on about a musician. We rearrange the living room, clean up the guest room if the musician is spending the night, and gather reservations from people who might be coming. We are very selective about the music. Generally both Joanna and I have to be very excited about the music for us to reach out to a musician. We have to see them play live. Interaction with the audience is important as well as musicianship.
We do a potluck before each show. We provide 20 to 40 pizzas for each show too. Pizzas are unusual for house concerts, but we have a brick oven and like to make pizza. Most house concerts put out wine, cheese and a few cookies. We were worried our friends might not want to come hear a musician they had never heard of, so we promised pizzas. It has become a signature for our concerts.
When people arrive they often bring a dish. When they come in they drop off the dish, stop by the donation jar and hang a coat on a chair. We suggest a $20 donation. I don’t monitor the jar except to count the money for the musician.
We maintain an extensive list of names of people who have expressed an interest in attending. A month or so before a concert I send out an email hoping to get a few people interested in coming. Planning a month ahead is hard for most folks, but usually a few people reserve seats. A couple more times I send out similar missives to remind people about the upcoming show. I also send a reminder to people who said they are coming, I want to be sure they have the address or want to opt out. Our concerts do require reservations. We have limited seating, it is important to have a reasonable count. We always have a few no shows, and occasionally a couple who show up without reservations.
How much money can I make hosting house concerts? I get that question once in a while. I give 100% of the donation jar to the musicians. I don’t try to recover the cost of anything. Several reasons for that: The musicians deserve to be paid, I can not run a business where I live, and I don’t want to involve the TaxMan, BMI, or the Homeowner’s Association. I do know a few people who live in rural areas who keep some of the revenue for their house concerts. Mostly they are just trying to recover some of their costs. I don’t advertise to the public. Advertising is expensive. I rely on my email list, word of mouth and the musicians website to get people to fill the seats.
Why do musicians do house concerts? House concerts usually give 100% of the revenue to the artists. Bars, coffee shops, and theaters keep 20% or more of the money at the door. Every venue is different. Some do a percentage of the alcohol sold. Also musicians like house concerts because people listen, are respectful, and they buy CDs.
We have a rudimentary sound system and most of our shows have been done without amplification. A friend loaned us (or stored in our living room) a nice Bose system that has added something to the atmosphere. Some musicians really prefer to have some amplification to allow them to be more expressive with the lower sounds. Others like the amplification to help them preserve their voices.
We have a light bar to light up the stage. Most people get by with a couple of strategically placed lamps and some string lights. I am still unsure the light bar is necessary (it puts out a pinkish hue) but I made the investment so I use it.
I have started giving people name tags. I am trying to build community and I want people to know one another. I also am really bad with names. I make up name tags for all the folks I expect to arrive. I leave them by the donation jar. People seem to like them. Most people take one or make one if there isn’t one with their name already.