House concerts are exciting! As a matter of fact, they are our favorite type of venue! When considering house concerts the opportunities to play in your community, and literally around the world, increase to the n’th power. Joanna and I started playing house concerts in our community, and they became our primary way to survive multi-week cross-country tours with our family. Many times it can be a challenge to fill a room or worship area at a church where no one knows you. Booking a church concert can also be harder on week nights than on weekends or on Sunday. Let’s face it… it is hard to book churches even on optimal days. If you are traveling, those nights you don’t get to play translate to lost opportunities to share in front of people in the places you are passing through, not to mention extra out-of-pocket cost.
Finding someone who would be willing to host a house concert may be the solution. Even though you may have a smaller audience you will most likely have a room that is more full which is very fun. This atmosphere also tends to be more personal which gives you a wonderful chance to share more in-depth about your art and ministry. Also there is great potential for more people to join in a financial and/or prayer partnership with you and your ministry in this setting.
****Near the end of this post I will be sharing a link to a “How to Have an Awesome House Concert Experience” cheatsheet to share with house concert hosts!****
Get the ball rolling
Write a list of friends you know in the area where you want to play. Do they have their own living space or know someone who has living space that could be opened up for a house concert venue? Some of these people may genuinely have a home that is too small for guests, but don’t make that decision for them. Often times even small homes have a good open concept space (especially when furniture is rearranged) or a nice outdoor area where a concert can be hosted. Next, contact your friends with some dates in mind and ask if they would be willing to host a house concert for you. Be ready to share with them a potential schedule of the evening events. If they have to figure it out and have to imagine what everything will look like themselves then they will be more likely to decline. Here are my recommendations for the evening schedule.
Recommended weeknight and Saturday evening schedule
- 4:45-5:30p Arrive for setup. If you have a sound system 4:45p is good time frame, if you’re just bringing your guitar 5:30p may be fine. Just make sure you are early enough to have your sound and table set before guests arrive.
- 6p Start out with snacks and beverages. This gives people time to arrive and visit with friends.
- 7p Have your host gather everyone up to formally introduce you and start the concert portion of the evening.
- 8p End your concert and hang out more with the guest. If you have a table, go hang out by your merch table.
- 9p Let your host know they can feel free to wrap up or wind things down by this time.
For Friday nights shift this schedule up one hour (7-10p). It’s not a school night, and people are more likely to stay out later on this day of the week.
Reasoning behind this schedule
- You get the best of both worlds. Friends get to catch up with one another and you get a dedicated concert time for an attentive audience.
- Late comers typically won’t arrive over an hour late. When someone walks into a concert late in a larger venue it isn’t a big deal. In a home it can be pretty disruptive. This gives you time to meet a few people beforehand as well.
- A one hour concert is a good time frame to keep your audience engaged. If you don’t have a lot of material it is an easy amount of time to fill in. It also cuts down on original material overload. People have trouble remembering new songs. (There is a reason why singles are released to radio and not albums.) Showcase your best original material during the hour. It’s even a good idea to play covers during part of the hour. When you play your original songs focus your storytelling efforts on these songs-let people know if it’s on a CD or if it’s posted somewhere like Youtube so they can know how they can hear it again.
- If you go long in any opportunity you run the risk of people needing to run out as soon as you finish. Leaving an hour at the end will provide an opportunity for people to meet you and purchase your merch. These conversations help you grow your following, email list, and may even produce another concert opportunity.
As soon as you get a yes and you put the event into your calendar. Give your willing host the necessary tools they need to succeed in hosting a good show.
- Get the Who, What, When, and Where info. and make an e-flyer that they can print or share via email or social media. Here’s a link to our stock e-flyer that I created in Pages on my mac. It’s not over the top creative. It’s just clean, functional, and professional looking.
- Create a Facebook event for them and make them the administrator so they can invite their friends. Let them invite their friends, and don’t invite your friends to their home. This is a personal venue so don’t ask your friends unless you know it is ok with your hosts. Send them a high quality image for any promotional things they would like to design. Encourage your hosts to invite friends directly. Social media invites work well to create a buzz, but they honestly aren’t the best way to get RSVP’s. Personal physical invitations in the mail are the best way to get an advance RSVP accompanied by a follow-up email or call.
- Let your hosts know that in order to get to the target guest goal they must typically send out twice as many personal invitations to meet their goal and that they will need to accept a few more RSVP’s than their area may hold. Invitations need to be sent out 4-6 weeks in advance of the concert to improve chances for a good turnout.
- Check in with your host on week one to see if the invites have gone out and how many they have sent and a couple of weeks out to see how their RSVP’s are coming together. Encourage them if they don’t feel like it’s going well. Help them brainstorm if necessary. Work, parents of their kids’ school friends, church, social clubs, social networks, computer phone and email contacts, etc. are all good places to consider building their potential guest list from.
****Here is the link to the cheatsheet “How to Have an Awesome House Concert Experience” to help you and your host. It will tell your host exactly what to do leading up to and for the night of the concert. The more you help them with prep. the better the night will go.****
Because of our target demographic, children are always welcome at our house concerts. We have rarely had problems with kids at our performances-including our own. We talk with the host about having someone dedicated to our one year old. Our 9 year old will play with the other kids. We are just sure to talk with the host to see if there is a dedicated area for kids to play in that is separate from the concert area-a basement, the yard, an upstairs rec. room, etc. Sometimes a baby sitter is hired and adult volunteers supervise while other times the kids are on their own. We’ve had some concerts where the kids came in and listened through the whole concert. Whatever the case may be just come to an agreement with your host home regarding children. That way when they send out RSVP’s guest with children will be able to know if they will be able to bring them.
There is also nothing wrong with making it an adult only crowd. The guests will coordinate their own childcare and be able to have a night away from the kids. You may run the risk of having a few choose not to come when kids aren’t invited, but it does have some positives. Let your comfort level with kids help you make these decisions with your host.
At this point you may be saying-this sounds like a great opportunity to gain a few more followers, but will it be worth the time from a financial standpoint. I think you will find in these concerts that if your content is solid and you have impactful music to share, people will exceed your expectations when it comes to providing for you financially. Here are 6 possible things to keep in mind.
- Have the RSVP and other forms of invitation let guests know that a donation will be taken for the guest artist during the event.
- Set up a merch. table. (Make sure your host is aware of this and has in mind where to put it.)
- Build your email list. This will help you sell products and book concerts in the future. There is nothing more important in your social strategy than your email list. There are many reasons for this and I will explore them in another post.
- Ask the host to pay you an agreed upon rate for the evening.
- Charge a ticket price.
- Make a request for monthly patronage if you are a for profit artist or a request for monthly partnerships if you are a non-profit artist during the concert. There is a lot to consider with these options, so in the future I will dedicate a blog series to this topic.
For most artists solutions 1, 2, and 3, are the best options for monetization. For donations I would suggest that you prep your host to make a request for you at the end of your concert. Have them avoid words like tips or change. Ask them to let their guest know that this is a way that you are supporting yourself or your family.
If you are just starting out and you don’t feel comfortable asking for money that is totally fine. Grow at your own pace. There is nothing that says you have to do this for money. Over time as your confidence grows your mindset might change.
After your concert send out a thank you letter to your host and let them know you would love to do it again sometime. Let them know how much you appreciated their hard work and for their willingness to introduce you or your band to their friends. We struggle with this but we are growing and getting more consistent with our follow-up. We’ve had to get in out mind that this is the closing of our concert with the host and hopefully a continuation of a relationship.
This video really opened our eyes to how house concerts can become a part of our ministry sustaining strategy. Shannon Curtis does the best job of any person I’ve seen talk about doing an effective house concert and how to make a great income doing it in the process. This video really surprised me and I would highly suggest that you watch it before your first call.
In this post you’ve gotten some really helpful tips about how to book and help your hosts plan for a successful house concert. Now it’s time for you to move into action. Make a goal of booking your first house concert by making your list and contacting the people on it this week. When you get your first yes, schedule your first or next house concert 4-6 weeks down the road. If you don’t have an hour’s worth of material, spend the time leading up to the concert preparing your show. Nothing is more motivating than an upcoming concert date that YOU are doing right? Between speaking a little between songs, covers, and original music you will find that an hour is a very short time span to fill. You can do it!
Your turn to share!
In the comment section below, please share some positive experiences you’ve had either performing at or attending these events. Feel free to share some struggles or things that didn’t go well too. If you follow my action step and book a house concert, come back and share your results with us! These shared experiences will be valuable for us all moving forward!