San Francisco-based singer/songwriter Garrin Benfield performs at a house party in Berkeley, CA.
Sometimes it can take convincing to get your friends and fans out to hear you in an 11 p.m. slot at the club downtown; you’ll draw out those with evening jobs and those who love the nightlife, but your early-to-rise fans will likely wait for an earlier show to be posted to your mailing list. And solo performers might be looking for an alternative to the café gig, playing for tips to the backing track of hissing cappuccinos. Off the grid, you’ll find the house concert—an engagement that is both profitable and intimate, where the audience comes to listen, socialize, and get to know you as an artist.
For singer-songwriters, house concerts are an absolute dream: You perform for a captive audience, who’s hanging on every word. For bands, they can be a great way to perform acoustic versions of your songs for a truly unique evening for your fans.
Ian Crombie, executive director of the West Coast Songwriters organization (westcoastsongwriters.org), suggests that house concerts are ideal shows to book in this challenging economy. “The audience you’ll get at a house concert is totally different. Even though they might not go to a show at a club, they are happy to donate $20 and watch you at their neighbor’s house, drink wine, visit and hear all about you, and not worry about driving home. Guests are happy to take home a CD or merch item as a memento.
If this kind of gig sounds like something you would be interested in adding to your calendar, consider a few tips from San Francisco-based house concert promoter KC Turner. He has built a strong brand for house concerts, KC Turner Presents (kcturnerpresents.com), featuring talent of his choice, both national and local. Turner offers a few tips for artists interested in booking a house concert:
Go to your fanbase first Rather than pitching yourself directly to promoters of house concerts (who are typically picking the talent based on their own tastes), reach out to your fans. See who might be interested in hosting you for a concert. Then work out the details of production. Tips on hosting concerts are available on Concerts in Your Home: concertsinyourhome.com.
Understand production needs “In planning your show, think about how to make it successful and interesting from the audience perspective. It’s important to schedule time for breaks for stretching, socializing, and getting to know the artist, whether there are ten or 80 folks in the audience,” says Turner. With his shows, he advances all of the production, including pre-production, sound, scheduling, introductions, and so forth. If you are working with a new host, KC recommends he or she watch the videos on hosting to optimize the experience. Be sure to confirm that the host understands that donations will be accepted; otherwise it should be set up as a private party.
Be ready for high interaction with fans Turner adds that artists should plan to bring more energy to a house concert than they might for a venue, as they will be expected to interact with every fan that attends. “You’ll be making personal connections with everyone before the show—connect with every attendee, and have the energy to really embrace the people who are there,” he says. “Make this concert as special as possible.”
Turner adds that house concerts are great shows to fill in dates on tours. Reaching out to your fans via your email list and social media, you may find you can fill in dates that otherwise were maxed out in markets on the road. For a recent tour he booked for artist Megan Slankard (meganslankard.com), they successfully notched 80 shows in 90 days—filling in club dates with house concerts from her fan base, and often turning the profit in these intimate shows. Often, hosts and bookers will want to see clips of your live shows before committing, so get started by hitting up the open mics and have a friend video you—and/ or perform for a few friends in your own living room. You might consider adding a “house concert” tab to your website as well, letting your fans know that you are available to offer this experience.
Try another angle: Host a house concert at your own home, for an exclusive fan experience. You could pick your top ten fans and host a show sharing your brand-new songs and get their feedback—or perhaps host a show in connection to your next album fundraiser. I hosted an industry-only concert after my album was released and found my peers in the industry were thrilled to have the social time together and also hear music in this intimate space.
Dig Deeper: Web Resources
Check out these online performer resources and a few examples of successful house concerts.
See Sean Hayes’ KC Turner Presents House Concert performance of “Powerful Stuff,” which was featured in a Suburu commercial. (youtube.com/ watch?v=soSEmwGw8qE)
Watch John Craigie’s performance—complete with audience sing-along—of “Chuck Norris’ Tears Cure Cancer; Too Bad He Never Cries.” (youtube.com/ watch?v=RKEz1M9dlbE)
Visit KC Turner Presents (kcturnerpresents.com) to review some of the artists he has booked, as well as his approach to promoting house concerts in your city.
Visit Megan Slankard’s website (meganslankard.com) for an example of a way to engage your fanbase in house concerts.
Check out West Coast Songwriters (westcoastsongwriters.org) for insights on advancing your career as a songwriter.
Kaitlin McGaw is a freelance writer and musician, who can be found rocking for kids with her hip-hop group Alphabet Rockers, or behind the piano composing as a singer-songwriter. For more information, visit kaitlinmcgaw.com.