For fans of mainstream pop culture and arena-filling acts, house concerts are an unheard of phenomenon. You won’t see Katy Perry or Kings of Leon announcing a summer house concert tour. However, they can be an integral part of an up-and-coming artist’s touring strategy. For many, they can be the difference between coming out of a tour in the red or walking away with a profit.
House Concerts are private, intimate concerts of typically 30 people and are held in the home of a host family. This is not the same as hiring a band to play a private party. Attendees pay a $10-20 donation to the band to cover the cost for the artist. Artists also get the opportunity to sell merch and CDs. The host family typically provides lodging for the artist.
These small intimate shows can become an incredibly lucrative tour stop for artists on the rise. Donations alone can reach $500. For one-person acts, such as singer-songwriters (the most common house concert genre), this can go a long way.
Jesse Terry, an experienced house concert performer, says he can make over $500 from the door. House concert guests also buy lots of CDs and merchandise (more than the average club concert goer), leading Terry to regularly walk away with $700-1,000 a night. With the added bonus of free lodging, Terry says “it’s a pretty amazing deal for the artist.”1
A common tactic is to hold house concerts in cities where the artist doesn’t have a large following. This guarantees that the artist will make money, make new fans, and get free lodging. Ari Herstand, a Los Angeles based artist and writer of artist self-help blog “Ari’s Take”, suggests scheduling the shows “on nights where you haven’t been able to book a club or in cities where you don’t think you’ll have a draw”.2
Playing house concerts in areas that an artist has no fan base does not lead to sold out clubs the next time you’re in the city, warns Jesse Terry. About the audience growth from house concerts, Terry says it’s a slow build but a lasting one: “House Concert hosts and guests generally love house concerts; so don’t assume that your house concert fan-base will all follow you to the local club or venue the next time you’re touring through town.”1
Despite their reluctance to follow an artist to the local club, the intimate setting of a house concert fosters a stronger and more enduring connection between the artist and the fan. This connection creates a much more direct conversion from first time concert-goer to superfan. A superfan is a fan that will buy every album an artist puts out, purchase their merch, religiously follow their facebook page or newsletter, and see the artist perform every time they’re passing through the fan’s region.
For superfans, a house concert is an entirely different experience than any other performance. It is a chance to see their favorite artist in a small, intimate environment, hear the stories behind the songs, and be able to interact with the artist on a personal level before, after, and during the show.
Matt Lydon, a Senior Campaign Manager at PledgeMusic, works regularly with artists that offer house concerts for their fans. PledgeMusic is a direct-to-fan marketing service that operates as both a pre-order and crowd-funding platform for musical releases, depending on the nature of the act, and is a destination for superfans.3
Lydon says that house concerts have become a big part of the singer-songwriter projects on PledgeMusic. House Concerts are typically the highest tier of experiences offered. Artists typically offer full band house concerts and solo acoustic concerts, with solo versions being the more affordable option.
According to Matt Lydon, the house concert is responsible for the largest single pledge made on PledgeMusic at $25,000. This size pledge has been made a few times for top-level artists to perform a house concert. More regularly, emerging singer-songwriters will offer house concert experiences for $1000-$2500.
“The limited amount of house concerts offered by the artist don’t last very long, as fans generally pull the trigger on those experiences soon after the project’s launch,” say Lydon.4
House Concerts through PledgeMusic allow superfans to see their favorite artists in an intimate setting, even if the artist doesn’t typically do house concerts.
One of the most difficult parts in setting up a house concert show or tour is finding a host. Typically, artists will send out an email to their email list asking if anyone in specific regions would be willing to host them. When that doesn’t work, there is a website called Concerts In Your Home that connects artists with potential hosts.
Concerts In Your Home was developed by musician Fran Snyder specifically for this purpose. Artists must pass an application and audition process. Once approved, they pay an annual membership fee and get access to a database of house concert hosts. Sarah Blacker, a New England-based singer-songwriter, told Billboard that she will typically make the membership fee back in one show.4 Concerts In Your Home has over 300 artist members and 500-600 host members, creating an international community of fans of live music.
Despite the intimate setting and the benevolent nature of house concerts, house concerts can be a risk for the host if not done properly. Fran Snyder, founder of Concerts In Your Home outlines some of these risks.5
-One risk stems from the possibility of the house concert being viewed as a public event in the eyes of the law. This can especially lead to trouble in the event of accident or injury at the house concert.
-Moreover, homeowner’s insurance will not cover a homeowner claim if the insurance company discovers it was a public event. If someone gets hurt on the property, the host would be liable.
-There is also the issue of licensing fees for Performance Rights Organizations. ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC collect licensing fees for all public performances of music. This can lead to getting hit with an expensive bill from the three PROs if they decide you held a public performance in your home.
-Finally, it is important to prevent a house concert being seen as a commercial activity as commercial activities are often forbidden in residential areas. Charging a ticket or cover charge makes the concert a commercial activity but a “suggested donation ” of $10-20 keeps the house concert legal in the eyes of the law.5
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House Concerts are an expanding phenomenon. For the patrons of music, it is a great way to support their favorite musicians. For musicians, house concerts can be a vital method to remaining profitable and developing a loyal, supportive fan base. It is innovative ideas like these that allow more artists to stay on the road and continue to perform music for a living.
By Dan Servantes
1. Terry, Jesse. Personal Interview. April 23, 2014.
2. Herstand, Ari. “Booking Your Own Tour: A How-To Guide”. Ari’s Take. December 26, 2012. http://aristake.com/?post=60
3. Lydon, Matt. Personal Interview. April 12, 2014.
4. Trust, Gary. “House Music: Your Living Room Might Be Your Next Concert Venue.” Billboard. June 14, 2013. http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/1567029/house-music-your-living-room-might-be-your-next-concert-venue
5. Snyder, Fran. “House Concerts – You’re Probably Doing it Wrong”. Music Think Tank. http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/house-concerts-youre-probably-doing-it-wrong.html