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Every Possible Detail About House Concerts

Wanna host a house concert? Write to me, marian@mariancall.com, and always put your city/state/province in the subject line.  And let’s talk about it! I’m stoked that you’re interested! Also, I am a child of the nineties, and I say “stoked.”

Tons and tons of information is below…

My tours consist primarily of house concerts. Yet most of my listeners have never attended a house concert — even fewer have hosted. Most of my shows are with first-time hosts and first-time house concert attendees. And you know what? They are GREAT! Most folks immediately want to do it again! So what’s the deal? Here’s the deal.

Let’s go back in time, back to the millenia before television brought Mick Jagger at halftime into your living room through a glowy blue box. If you wanted live music, you had to make it happen in your own house, yard, church, pub, temple, piazza, or outhouse. The best modern equivalent is a house concert. I’m not saying those old days were better, but I am saying it’s probably been too long since you’ve listened to fantastic music up close and live in a quiet environment — that’s a transformative experience. It’s way different than going out, way different than listening to MP3’s, way different than anything the glowy blue box can bring you. And YOU still make it happen. And making it happen feels good. Besides, it’s entirely simple, cheap for everyone, friendly, fun, environmentally smart, economically smart — and the food and alcohol are way better and cheaper than what you get going out.

How does it work? Simple. First you contact an artist, set a date, get confirmation and work through simple logistics.  Then you invite your friends by e-mail and take RSVP’s, you plan for food or drinks (if you want to), you clean house a little, and then I show up, set up my gear, and play for you!

Things prospective house concert hosts ALWAYS say to me:

  • “I’d love to, but my house is too small.” EVERY host says this at first. No, it’s not. I’ve done house concerts for 5 people in a tiny cabin in Alaska and for 25 in an even smaller crowded standing-room-only flat in Hollywood, with everyone shoulder-to-shoulder. I’ve even played a dorm room. Your house can fit way more people than you think. Pretend it’s a club in Manhattan — your living room is probably capacity 75.
  • “I’ve never done anything like that before.” You probably have. Take any kind of house party you can think of — a drunken BYOB bash, a child-friendly family potluck, a birthday party with presents, a backyard BBQ, a fancy wine and cheese event — and just imagine that the theme of the afternoon/evening is music. The artist (me) will provide absolutely everything related to the music part of the show; all you do is put on a very normal party, invite people, set out drinks, and wait for all of us to show up.
  • “I don’t know if I want strangers in my house.” No need to have any (besides me). You can host your “house concert” at a local community center, apartment common area, school, place of worship, restaurant back room, park, swimming pool — anywhere! People get very creative, using these concerts for fundraisers, community events, conventions, kids’ time, etc. The host sets the parameters. Also — in five years of house concerts, I have never had a true problem guest, someone scary or icky. Awkward, yes. Scary, no.
  • “It will take so much time!” Well, it can, but it doesn’t have to. I’ve played some elaborate, carefully coordinated house concerts, and some that the hosts just allowed to happen. Potlucks, especially, are low-to-no maintenance and take only a few e-mails to coordinate — no need to prepare food at all. It doesn’t have to be an ordeal if you keep things simple.
  • “My place is a mess.” Everyone says this, and nearly everyone is lying. Maybe it’s a mess now. But by the time I arrive you’ve usually scrambled for thirty minutes and made at least the living room look lovely. (If you need an excuse to clean up, this would be it…) * (see footnote)
  • “Wow, that was amazing and special and unforgettable. And it was so much easier than I thought!” I hear this nearly Every. Single. Time.

Most hosts and guests are thrilled by their first house concert. Get out to one in your area if you want to know how they go! There are lots of normal folks like you ALREADY hosting monthly or quarterly concerts because they’ve found it’s so easy, fun, and memorable. Just google one in your area. Artists love to be asked to do house concerts — after the bars-and-cafes circuit, where you get ignored and underpaid, they’re a pleasure. Your favorite local artist would probably be thrilled to play one for you. Why not ask? If I’m not in the neighborhood anytime soon, think of a local artist you love and invite them!

MORE DETAILS ON MAKING IT HAPPEN

I ask again, wanna do it? Then write to me, marian@mariancall.com, and put your city/state/province in the subject line. If I’m coming through your area soon, I’ll get in touch. If not, just wait a year or so. That might seem like forever — but I have frequently called on people two or three years later, with thanks for their patience, and then we have had such a wonderful time!

If I can’t book a show with you soon, I’d like to say in large, friendly letters: DON’T PANIC. I still love you, and I will nearly always provide you with a personal invite to another nearby show. Please don’t be bitter. (If you want to know what makes me choose some shows over others — larger house concerts will probably be better than small ones if they’re in the same area; public ones are preferable to private ones, so other fans can come; kids have no influence on the yes or no vote, I just need to know about them; we can’t play in a house with cats when I am traveling with certain guitarists; if you or your community can lodge me for free, you may have a slight advantage (though no lodging is not a dealbreaker); money overall is less important than connections — i.e. lots of people barely listening is worth less to me than just a few people really listening and caring.)

If I do choose your concert: DON’T PANIC. It might stress you out at moments, but trust me, when you look back you will find it was pretty easy. And it will be really fun. I’ll notify you, we’ll iron out the details and reserve the date, we’ll arrange a (very informal) contract, and I’ll equip you with what you need to set up/advertise/invite/manage RSVP’s and so on.

WHAT WE NEED FROM YOU, DEAR HOST:

  • Some comfortable space (indoors) where people can stand or sit and mingle, and later listen attentively to music. With light and one electrical outlet for our use. We have a tech rider here if you’re curious.  Socializing and potlucking outdoors before/after the show is OK, but after six years of experience, we don’t plan to play outdoors anymore.  Trust us, we know it is a bad idea.
  • We usually need a cat-free house. Sorry. People have frequently reassured us that the cat is never in a certain part of the house, or that they’ve cleaned really well, but to date nothing has ever been cat-free enough to avoid the allergies agony. We can work out an event at one of your friends’ houses, though, or in a community space nearby, so it can still be your party! Just without Fluffy.
  • Dogs are OK, but they need to be kept away from the actual concert room, and the space needs to be dog hair-free, both for us and for guests. Super-excitable dogs who will bark a lot at every guest might be best sent to visit a friend for that day.  I know, I know, your dog is the best dog. Everyone says that.
  • We can’t play in a smoky house (tobacco, marijuana, pipe smoke, incense, anything). Sorry. No judgment, but we have to play every single night, and stuff in the air makes that totally impossible. We can work out hosting in another location though!
  • You also need to provide at least some of the people — most house concerts are populated partially by the host’s friend and social circle, though fans who are unknown to the host will also RSVP.
  • Choose what kind of food scenario you want — appetizers, cookie party, BBQ, sit-down dinner, wine and cheese, beer and brats. You can make all your guests bring it if you don’t feel like preparing anything. Whatever food is provided, my guitarist and I will need some separate healthy food set aside for us, veggies, salad, etc. — we can’t eat party food every single night, even though we wish we could.
  • You don’t need to have enough chairs, but you do have to prepare listeners to bring their own, or else borrow or rent some (they’re super cheap).
  • We need either AT&T phone service or else wifi that is unlikely to quit on us.
  • We don’t necessarily have to stay overnight, but we do need a room somewhere with a door that closes and a clean bathroom to prep ourselves and keep our stuff out of the melee.
  • If you do want us to stay overnight, please read this for details on what works best with food and sleeping arrangements.
  • Your biggest responsibility: send out invitations, keep track of RSVP’s, and send a day-before reminder to your attendees. More details on invitations and promo below.
  • We need to have at least 20 confirmed adult guests for most shows, and 25-40 is better. If you plan on a small private party, a minimum guarantee is an ok substitute (the exact minimum will depend on our travel expenses, ask if you want to know). If the concert date is a week away and you don’t have 20 guests or enough interest, you need to let us know so we can promote the show harder. If we reeeeally can’t get any more guests, then we can talk with you about what we want to do. But don’t be afraid to let us know what the state of your invite list is — if we know what’s going on, we can work with it.

Once it looks like we are ON, here is all the info we will collect from you! Just copy, paste, and send this list to us with answers:

  • What’s your name, phone and email address?
  • What is the venue address?
  • What are the nearest large metro areas to you?
  • What time do you want guests to arrive? What time do you want music to start? (We usually publicize both times.)
  • Are kids/minors allowed? Is your house childproof? Babyproof? Is it accessible for folks who have trouble with stairs?
  • What are your plans regarding food and drink at the show?
  • Is alcohol ok and how will it be managed with regard to minors?
  • What email address should we use for folks to RSVP to you?
  • Have you read the requirements above, and does everything work for you? No cats, dogs put away, no smoke, healthy food, clean enough?

Things we will confirm for you:

  • Confirmation of final date and time of the show
  • Marian & guitarist’s arrival time
  • Overnight plans (stay or go)
  • Contact info for the week of the show

Some FAQ’s:

How does the event flow? …Usually the event starts with about forty-five minutes to an hour of mingling and food and drink as people arrive. When the moment feels right (or right on the clock, however you like it) you invite people to claim their space for the show, and I begin performing. I usually do two forty-five minute sets with a break. During the show at some point, I invite people to give money, usually $10-15, and/or buy CD’s, and I leave it at that. The host can keep their hands clean of the money business for the most part; I’m used to doing it myself. After the show people mingle some more, in varying stages of sobriety, sometimes staying all night and sometimes going home right away. When everyone’s gone usually you and I crack one last beer or heat one last cup of tea and sigh and chat about things. Then I drive away (or sleep on your couch, depending) and provided your guests are the good kind, you’re left with minimal mess.

What about the *gulp* money? AwkwardI understand completely. Asking guests for $$ is awful. If you mention it up front, in the e-mail invitation, it’s actually less awkward — and if we leave a basket by the door, instead of passing the hat, again, less awkward. People don’t like letting other people watch them pay. A good way to phrase the invitation is to say there’s a “$10-15 per person recommended donation for the artist, pay-as-you-can.” I’ll reinforce that with a friendly announcement that I’m used to making. I never begrudge folks coming and not paying, or paying less than $10. But I do have to make ends meet. So the idea is to prepare guests for what to expect before they’re in your house.

• Are you sure you won’t play outside? We have the prettiest backyard! …I love you, but no.  No more outdoor shows.  After the last tour I am done with them for good.  I can share stories about this decision if you need to hear them, but just trust me.  If you want to have a backup outdoors space in case of a Glorious Weather Occurrence, that is acceptable, but the primary concert space needs to be indoors.

INVITATIONS

How do I best promote the event? Do I have to post my personal information on the internet?To get the word out, e-mail invites and a Facebook event usually do the trick; some folks use a service like evite, but I’ve never seen that go well. I recommend against it unless you have a specific community that already does everything that way. BUT the very best promotion in the world is word of mouth. If you’re excited, if you talk about it a lot, your friends will be too. If not enough people are coming, communicate to them your excitement and how important this is to you.  NOTE:  You never need to post your address or phone number publicly, in fact I recommend strongly against it! Keep all your personal info in emails. And if you email the whole guest list, *please* BCC everyone for their privacy.

Here is an invitation/promo timeline for a successful house concert:

  • 6 months to 4 weeks ahead: confirm all details with Marian
  • 4 – 6 weeks: tell friends to save the date, and arrange for helpers or any stuff you need to borrow
  • 3 weeks: create and send email invitations, tweet or FB about it, and begin your guest list. Keep an eye on your spam filter, it catches RSVP’s from strangers!  Respond to strangers’ e-mails promptly with the address so they can decide whether to come.
  • 1 – 2 weeks: check in with Marian about guest list (full? empty? questions?)
  • 1 week: send reminder email to folks who have not responded
  • 2 – 3 days: send confirmation email to people who did RSVP with directions, parking, date, time — and let folks know that if they cancel, they should call you, in case someone is waiting to get in. This confirmation is the most important step!  People forget about the show they RSVP-ed for with shocking regularity!
  • 1 day: if you have cancellations and folks on the waiting list, help them to get squared away. Keep an eye on your email and junk folder as many people wait until the last minute to RSVP.

I try to check in with you periodically as the show gets closer, to make sure you have what you need. Sometimes I have an awesome assistant do it for me. If you occasionally get a group e-mail, a form letter, or a contact from an helper of mine during the booking process, I hope you’ll pardon me. Tour is so huge and SO much work, especially while traveling, that I need a little help and a little automation to manage it all. Forty to sixty shows to coordinate at once are a LOT. But the good news is that streamlining the boring work makes it possible for me to meet you in person sometime soon!

To make a stellar invite: Materials are here and here, including a bio, descriptions of the music, and photos you can use (with a photo credit). I recommend sharing links to your personal favorite streaming song or video online. Photos are very effective, though linking to them is better than attaching them.

A few personal words from you at the top of the invitation will help more than anything; this isn’t just a generalized campaign, it’s something you’re personally doing — maybe say a word or two about why. People care more about that than any flashy graphics!

I have a prefab invite or two below to give you an idea of what some folks have done in the past. They’re easy to design! You can certainly make your own using the photos here. Or just steal one of the images below and edit edit edit.

Things it’s important to clarify when you invite people: 1) this will be a house concert, not a house party, and the music is for listening to; 2) bring your own _____ (chair, food, beer, whatever they should bring, as people want to know); 3) whether kids are welcome, and if they are, what age/whether childcare will be provided; 4) it’s free, but a $10-15 donation per person is recommended. It’s best if people know that coming in.

Photo by Brian Adams

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Final FAQ:

Can I really do this?Absolutely! And to paraphrase most of my house concert hosts from around the country, it’s a fantastic and memorable and [insert many glowing adjectives here] experience.

You’ll be so glad you did. So will I. I’m proud of you!

All the best things to you,

Marian Call

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*Re. Clean Houses: I have played at two or three truly awfully dirty houses, but that is out of hundreds of sufficiently clean ones. I don’t intend to do play or stay in a filthy house again, even though I love the people I met there — just a question of staying healthy on the road. Here’s a simple test for cleanliness: when company comes over, is any surface in your house sticky when it’s dry? Is there any rotten food sitting out in the open? Are there scraps of food in any area outside the kitchen? Are there resident insects — not just intruders, but resident colonies? If the answer is no, then your house is clean enough for a house concert. Almost every house is. At least by the time we see it. You might have some clutter, but clutter is not a problem, clutter is just life.

If your house does not pass the cleanliness test in the preceding paragraph (when company is coming over), we love you and we do not judge you, but we would like to visit a different house please.