A House Concert Manifesto
by David Gans
“[David] has great technical facility as a guitarist, an excellent voice and most important, the ability to connect with and interact with the audience. His audience ran the gamut from a very young man in a tie-dye shirt and superhero cape to senior citizens, and he somehow made every person there feel like he was singing to and for them. He delivers his songs with great thought and feeling, enriching the lyrics with his very present presence and considerable smarts.” – Debbie Carton, Art & Music Librarian, Berkeley Public Library
House concerts are my favorite performing situation! The most intimate, high-bandwidth musical experience I know of.
In most cases, a house concert is a musical performance in a private home, organized by a host (or hosts) and attended by friends of the hosts and fans of the performer. Attendees make a donation to the performer. The concert is often preceded by a potluck dinner.
A house concert is, by definition, first and foremost a musical event. The social component is important, but it is secondary.
Based on a couple of unfortunate experiences, here are a few things I need you know about what isn’t a house concert:
• If you are serving hard liquor from an open bar (or a cash bar, for that matter), it’s not a house concert. It’s a party.
• If you aren’t asking the guests to pay for admission, it’s not a house concert. It’s a party. People who pay to get into a show are much more likely to commit to listening to the performance than people who get in free.
• If the event is in celebration of someone’s graduation, marriage, anniversary, etc., it’s not a house concert. It’s a party. If you want to stage a wedding between my sets (and this actually happened to me once), it’s not a house concert: it’s a wedding!
I am happy to play parties (and weddings), but the quality of the experience is very different from that of house concerts, so I require a flat fee for that sort of gig. For a house concert, I will invest my time and energy and rely on the audience’s generosity for my fee. (I sometimes say, “Pay what you think the show was worth or what you can afford – whichever is higher!”)
The ideal setting for a house concert is a large but cozy living room, basement/rec room, or patio. Good acoustics are desirable but not always attainable. If the weather is favorable, we can do it in the back yard.
We need plenty of places to sit. You can ask your guests to bring their own chairs if needed.
The potluck dinner gives us a chance to meet and socialize before the performance, and it takes pressure off the hosts for providing large amounts of food and beverage. Plus it usually results in the enjoyment of really fine homemade dishes! (It’s also possible to do a house concert without the potluck, as long as the guest are advised to eat before coming to the show). It’s up to the hosts to decide how much coordinating to do in advance of the potluck, to prevent an overabundance of tortilla chips and packaged sweets and an insufficiency of healthy main dishes. These things tend to work themselves out without too much effort.
In the west, I almost always travel in my own car and carry my own sound system. In the east, I travel without my own sound system. An adequate sound system can usually be rented for a very modest sum, using the following guidelines.
• A small powered mixer such as the Mackie PPM608 or Peavey XR8300 or equivalent.
• Two speakers that are compatible with the powered mixer. One will be pointed at the audience and the other will serve as my monitor.
• Shure SM-58 microphone (or equivalent) with a boom stand.
• The cables necessary to connect all these things.
I usually ask a “suggested donation” of $10-20, to give people some flexibility. My preference is to not refuse admission to anybody who can’t afford it, but too many freebies makes it hard for me to make my living. It’s ultimately up to the hosts.
Money can be collected by the host at the door, in a bowl on the food table, or some other unobtrusive but effective method.
The usual practice is for the artist to keep all of the money collected, but I’m happy to reimburse the cost of the sound system rental and other reasonable expenses from the proceeds of the event.
I record all my performances. You and your guests are welcome to record, too.
Wanna give it a try?
If you are interested in hosting a house concert, please contact me and we’ll talk it over.