House Concerts:
How To Book and Play Them



House Concerts: How to Book and Play Them
by Sue Basko

Several of my music clients have found that house concerts are very fulfilling for them, as well as a great way to build a loyal following. House concerts are also a great way to make money -- for the right acts under the right circumstances. Some very famous acts play house concerts and find they make better money than at clubs or bars. This blog post is going to tell you how to do it, but it is crucial to read the entire post and pay close attention to all the rules.

What Musical Acts are Right for a House Concert? Here are the rules:

1) Acoustic. To be right for house concert, you have to be an acoustic act. Many house concert acts are rock electric guitarists who play house concerts with an acoustic guitar and sing without a microphone. You have to be able to play live without any amplification. You could also be playing violin, keyboards, etc. -- but it must all be played acoustically, so no sound emanates from the house.

2) Drums and Bass. There must be no drums and no bass beat. For obvious sound reasons, you can't include drums or a bass. If the house is big and set on a large piece of property, an acoustic bass and soft percussion such as egg shakers or bongos played with brushes may work. Things that don't work are drum kits, bongos, cajon drums (unless played very softly), tambourines, anything electric.

3) No Microphones. There must be no microphones -- not for singing or for announcements. Microphones distort the sound, remove the intimacy of a house concert, and carry the sound out of the house. Explain this all to your host in advance in writing. If you arrive and your host has a Mr. Microphone and tiny speaker set up, politely decline to use it.

4) Suitable Repertoire: The repertoire for a house concert should include songs that are upbeat, fun, or pretty. Some sing-a-longs are excellent. Songs with sad lyrics or with off-color lyrics are unacceptable, since the host or hostess has a duty to provide comfort and happiness for his or her guests. No host or hostess wants guests to feel squeamish, offended, or to cry.

5) You must be a friendly, reliable person. You must be able to show up on time, keep to the commitment, smile, meet the guests, and make people feel happy. If you come attached with substance abuse problems, hostility, violence, paranoia, or a disinterest in meeting the public with a smile and a handshake, house concerts are not for you. You have to be willing to pose for pictures (with a genuine smile) with any of the guests.

6) Bring as few people as possible. Most house concerts are an act of one or two people. That is the goal. Try not to bring any entourage. If you are bringing anyone extra, let your host know well in advance. If you bring anyone, make sure the person is someone that is totally reliable to be sober, honest, and friendly. (One man brought a "friend" who insisted on going along, who then rifled through the coat pockets of wealthy guests while they were distracted by the house concert. Do not fall into any such traps. Your reputation must be kept secure.)

7) House Concerts are Listening Shows. Your voice and music are not amplified. This is suitable for people who want to gather round, keep quiet, chill out, and listen. The host should make sure everyone has a drink before your show begins. Food and drink tables should be placed in a different area so this does not interfere with your act. The host should turn off any stereo, TV, etc. Small children should be seated with their parents. Older children can be seated grouped in front of the performance, and may be specially included in sing-a-longs. Older folks that have trouble with seeing or hearing should be seated up close -- or far back if they are likely to be disturbed somehow. You should email such rules to your host at the time you confirm your booking. Let your hosts know to be sure there are no dogs, noisy birds, or other animals present at your show. A barking dog can totally ruin your show for everyone.

8) Your show is your show. Make sure you list this in your rules that you send to the host upon booking. Do not let the host or anyone share your stage with talking or joining you in playing music. An exception to this might be if you are playing a party at the home of a famous musician who wants to join you for a song. Aside from this, do not let your performance get wrecked by others that want to share your stage.

It is best to tell your host that you will introduce yourself. Host-supplied introductions can become lengthy, embarrassing, and boring. Take this burden off the host by telling in writing that you will introduce your own show. If your host insists on introducing the show, ask him or her in writing to keep it to 10 seconds or less; do not say one minute, as one minute easily turns to 5 minutes of rambling. Be very friendly and polite, but do not let your show turn into a mess.

9) Should you sell things? Should you sell CDs or T-shirts? Ask your host. It might be appropriate and it might not be. People may enjoy buying such things. It is always appropriate to give sampler CDs. If you sell such items, you must keep them to a minimum and there must be no sales pressure. Your host might find any selling to be offensive, so be sure to broach this topic well in advance.

HOUSE CONCERT SCHEDULE: The typical house concert schedule is a 2 and a quarter hour commitment. You arrive 15 minutes early, say hello to your host, set up your space where you will play, grab a drink of water. You then play music and put on a show for one hour. Then you hang around for 45 minutes and meet and greet. Then you spend 15 minutes saying goodbye, packing your gear, and leaving. Let your host know the exact schedule in advance. Let them know you will be starting and leaving exactly as scheduled and that you cannot extend your stay because you have further commitments.

Must-Dos. Bring a notebook where guests can sign up for your email list.

LAW AND RULES regarding house concerts: Any house will be subject to laws and/or rules. The source of the laws may be zoning law, a sound or noise ordinance, or other laws. If a house is part of an association, co-op, or condo, there will be association rules. Those laws and rules almost surely include the following things, but may also include other things:

In almost any house or apartment anywhere, these law or rules are most likely to apply:

1) It will be illegal to sell tickets or charge guests a fee. The only way you can be paid is directly by the host of the party. Someone wrote to me asking why this is so. This is what I wrote back to her:
Almost every location has laws that require an entertainment license to sell tickets for a show. Also, in most locations, running any kind of unlicensed and un-zoned business from a home is illegal. Using a home as an entertainment business venue in most cases is against zoning, licensing laws, fire and safety laws and will negate the homeowner's insurance. It can also cause a renter or condo or coop person to be removed and/or to forfeit ownership.
House concerts are strictly for a homeowner to host his or her own personal, known friends -- following all laws and limits, and paying for entertainment directly as a hostess.
This is similar to this: A homeowner can host a party and serve alcohol to guests. But if a homeowner charges for alcohol, that is illegal. It is similar with music. In one, the person is hosting a party, and in the other, the person is running a business that must be zoned, meet building codes, fire codes, have an entertainment license, etc.
This is actually extremely important. There was recently a party planned in a big mansion in Florida and tickets were sold. Very good acts were on the bill. But since this was illegal, it was closed down before the party took place. The person that planned the party now owes the money to all the acts, and also to all the ticket buyers. The house owner is also in trouble for renting the house for that purpose and may be removed from the home owners association and forfeit the right to ownership.
There are venues called House Concerts that are a licensed music venue in a big house. What a great kind of business! To do this, the business will go through the process of meeting zoning, fire and building codes, licensing, alcohol or food licensing, parking requirements, etc. This is just a music venue in a cozier environment.

2) It will be illegal to advertise in any way.

3) It will be illegal to rent out a house or apartment for the purposes of holding a party. A house party must be a private event in the home of the host, for guests known to the host.

4) It will be illegal to have any music or other sound that emanates from the house or apartment.

5) It will be illegal if anyone stands outside on the sidewalk drinking alcohol.

6) There may be rules or laws about how many people may attend a party or how many cars may be parked or where they may park. Some places have laws that forbid any street parking. Some places forbid more than a certain number of guests or a certain number of cars at any given time.

7) Some places have rules about how late any party can go. You should be booking your house concerts much earlier than this, anyway. But if someone wants you to play a midnight house concert, ask them to check the local laws and rules. Be paid in advance. Make sure the host knows that if the party is cancelled or halted, your fee is yours to keep. Put this in writing in advance.

8) Some places require a sound or noise permit if you plan to have the music outside. This is more likely with amplified music and this post is about unamplified music held indoors with the music not emanating from the house. But, if you plan to host music outdoors, check your local ordinances to see if you need a sound permit. Austin, Texas, requires this. This also may be required in New York City, Houston, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and other places. In many other places, the police will show up and make you turn off the music. That is why you are safest doing an acoustic concert indoors.

HOW TO BOOK HOUSE CONCERTS:

These are basic rules:

1) Start booking among relatives, friends, and loyal fans. Spread out from there. If you play shows in other cites, try to book house concerts in conjunction with this.

2) Use your email lists to book house concerts.

3) Use a simple contract that explains exactly what you will do, the time frame you will stay, etc.

4) Get paid upon booking. Get paid 100% in advance to secure a booking. End of story. You can charge 50% to hold a date and then the remainder within 10 days to secure the date. If the booking is made on short notice, get 100% upon booking.

5) Remain flexible about how much you will be paid, depending on how much you can get and how much the people have. If someone can only pay less, only take the gig if you can book a second house concert nearby before or after.

6) HOW MUCH TO CHARGE: The general going rates right now are $250 at the low end and about $2,500 at the high end. It all depends who you are, who your host is, what the event will be, and the length and cost of your travel. If you play local bars and clubs and the host is a supportive fan, and the location is nearby, the rate might be $250 to $500. If you have made successful records or your music is played on the radio, the price might be $300 to $1500. If you have big-selling records or play tours or on television, the price might be $700 to $2,500. If you work with a booker on these shows, add the percentage that the booker is paid.

Before you set your price, figure out your travel expenses to and from the event. This may include such things as gas, tolls, parking fees, airfare, hotel, meals, etc. If you can book house concerts in blocks over the same day(s), you can spread the expenses among the hosts. Whatever you do, make sure this is a moneymaking venture, not a way for you to lose money. If you want to play for free for a cause or charity -- do so, but do so as your own decision.

7) Try to get yearly repeat business. There are people who will want to make your house concert their yearly party for Christmas, early summer, Oktoberfest, etc.

8) Try to book several house concerts on the same day in the same general location. Or book a weekend trip where you will travel to a different city to play 3 or 4 shows in a weekend.

9) Have fun!

Please let me know how this all goes for you! Please email me your tales of success or of misadventure at: SueBaskoMusic@gmail.com