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It’s no secret that high gas prices coupled with a sluggish economy have many touring musicians and the clubs they play feeling the pinch. Bands require more money to sustain themselves on tour while many fans have less money to throw around on luxuries like concerts. But there is one trend on the touring circuit that has been gaining momentum even as other markets shrink: house concerts.
As the name implies, house concerts are performances that take place in a private residence instead of a commercial venue. The term house concert may conjure up images of a wild frat party with a live band playing in the background, but according to Fran Snyder [pictured above], a singer/songwriter deeply rooted in the house concert community, nothing could be farther from the truth. “It’s not a party,” he said, “its an intimate performance in a living room.”
And Snyder should know. In addition to performing several house concerts a year, he also runs concertsinyourhome.com, a website directory/database that connects house concert performers with the people who host the events. According to Snyder, the typical house concert is an experience best enjoyed by a small crowd more concerned with the music being preformed than whooping it up at the bar. “The biggest advantage of playing house concerts is those people attending are there to actually hear the music … [house concert artists] can perform their songs and tell the stories behind them and interact with the audience in a way that doesn’t usually work in the club scene situation,” he said.
Typically, the concerts are thrown in the living room or den of a host and are attended by 20 to 40 people who donate money directly to the musician. Due to a low overhead and direct-toartist payment, house concerts have been helping traveling musicians turn a profit even in tough economic times.
This success has helped the movement gain a lot of attention from both artists and fans, but Jack Williams, a veteran house concert performer, says that house concerts have roots dating back for centuries. “It’s been the quintessential folk music venue for years,” he said. “Even as far back as 1000 A.D., the first of the Troubadours roamed from city-state to city-state with a lute and all their belongings, staying and performing at the pleasure of each court.”
In the past, house concerts had been regarded as a good way to earn a little gas money in between weekend shows at clubs. But as the movement gains more mainstream attention and house concert attendance continues to grow, it’s not unusual now for performers to book tours with living room gigs on Friday or Saturday nights while resorting to commercial venues only when a house concert is unavailable. “It’s amazing the way the model has been flipped on its ear,” said Snyder.
In addition to being more intimate and lucrative for the performer, the bond between host and artist for a house concert is usually far stronger than the relationship between a professional booking agent and local concert promoter. Many times the hosts of house concerts are active members of their local music community. Befriending them could be a big advantage for a performer looking to grow in that particular area. “Several of my primary markets have been built up by house concert hosts who have helped me grow in those cities,” said Randall Williams, a house concert artist who has built a steady following by playing in living rooms instead of coffee shops or clubs.
While acoustic and folk music make up a majority of the house concert market, Snyder says it is not a requirement that a house concert performer be an acoustic singer/songwriter. Any act that can fit inside a living room and not be too loud to upset nearby neighbors could be the guest of honor at a house concert, he said. According to Snyder, the key to finding a suitable house concert market for any musician is to know your audience and then try to find someone that has hosted a similar act.
Finding the niche audience willing to host house concerts for non-acoustic or folk acts may seem hard at first, but wherever there are fans of your music, there is likely to be one or two willing to become an active participant in the performance. Ryan Simms, a house concert host for almost five years, is just such a fan. “This is the best possible way to enjoy live music,” he said. “Add to the fact that I’m helping to bring new and exciting music to people who have often never heard of the indie artists I book, and it’s a win-win situation.”