How To Book House Concerts Without a Fanbase

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Ari's Take

How To Book House Concerts Without a Fanbase


I’ve played about 30-40 house concerts over the past 7 years or so.

They are some of my favorite shows I’ve ever done. Now, I’ve played everywhere from bars, theaters, festivals, colleges, clubs and arenas. You name it, I’ve probably played some kind of venue similar to it.

What sets house concerts apart from every other performance experience is the intimacy and the connection.

House concerts are always listening environments. As a singer/songwriter, you want nothing more than to play for a respectful audience hanging on every word you sing. Performing in a club that caters to rock bands with very little seating where the focus is on drinking is not an ideal performance location for solo acoustic acts. On the contrary, it’s very difficult to have an enjoyable experience in that kind of environment - for anyone. It inevitably turns into people chatting at the bar which then gives others permission to chat and no matter how great the performer is on stage, they become background music. So the people who actually showed up for the show are now getting a bar with “live music.” Sucks all around.

I remember downloading bootlegs of early John Mayer concerts off of Napster back in the day. There is this one recording I have of him playing “Comfortable” to what sounds like a crowded bar with people talking incessantly. As annoying as it is to listen to as a fan, it’s very comforting to listen to one of the most successful singer/songwriters of the past two decades’ play one of his best songs to a room where no one gives a shit.

What I’m getting at is, if the crowd sucks it may not be because YOU suck.

There are many factors that go into why this happens, but the biggest one is the environment. If the room is setup in a way that encourages listening, people will listen. If the room is setup for moshing, well, people probably aren’t going to mosh to folk music, but they aren’t going to sit on the sticky floor either.

You get the idea.

House concerts are not a new thing.

The tradition dates back to the 60s in the folk community where singer/songwriters would play pop up shows at their crashing pad on their off days. Artists of all sizes, of all ages, of all backgrounds have played house concerts.

But up until fairly recently there really hasn’t been a network where artists can book house concerts without doing a ton of outreach and education with their existing fans.

Concerts in Your Home was started in 2006 by singer/songwriter Fran Snyder.

In the past 11 years, CIYH has secured over 10,000 house concerts for about 1,000 artists.

Currently there are about 160 active artists on the network and around 500 active hosts. Fran told me via Skype:

“We might be the only site where there are more opportunities than artists”

How it works is an artist applies to be a part of the network. There is a $45 application fee. Every artist must submit two live videos and their website. The application is reviewed by 1-2 CIYM staff members AND 4-5 hosts in the network. Every reviewer gives written feedback to the submitting artist on why they were or were not selected. Fran told me that many artists tell them it’s the best feedback they’ve ever received.

Fran mentioned that when they started charging an application fee the quality of artists shot up. By adding a fee, it weeded out all non-serious musicians.

If selected, it costs the artist $245 for a 6 month subscription or $345 for a year subscription.

But because a single house concert averages around $500 for the artist, booking one concert pays for the subscription and the application fee.

Once in the network, artists can browse the 500-600 or so active hosts and ask to book a concert in their home. About 80% of the hosts are in the US, about 10% in Europe and the remaining 10% are split between Canada and Australia.

Fran mentioned that HomeRoots in Canada does a fantastic job booking house concert tours and if you’re planning to tour Canada they are worth looking into. And House Concerts Australia started by Michael McManus is the premier network Down Under.

Because CIYH is based in Florida, they have the largest network of hosts of any state in Florida.

As the network currently exists, Fran mentioned that it is not completely feasible to book a full nationwide tour solely with house concerts. And he doesn’t recommend it either. Fran is a strong believer of playing a wide variety of listening rooms - not just house concerts.

He has launched the Listening Room Network which is currently in its infancy to help singer/songwriters setup full tours mixing in house concerts and other, more traditional listening rooms.

“House Concerts can be the financial AND emotional anchors for your tour"

Once a date is secured between a host an and artist, CIYH job is done.

They don’t facilitate payment or any details. They send best practices to hosts and artists, but they don’t take commission or involve themselves much after the night is booked. CIYH encourages hosts to charge their guests a $15-20 suggested donation and recommends placing a volunteer at the door with the jar greeting people and asking for the suggested donation before the guests make their way in and get caught up in conversations. Fran found that when hosts pay up front they are more likely to spend more money throughout the night on merch versus waiting until the end where they justify not paying the suggested donation by purchasing merch instead.

Hosts are responsible for the crowd and most do a great job of getting together 30-50 friends for a special evening in their home. Hosts are required to keep these events private and only invite their close network. Promoting this house concert to the public in effect turns their home into an official venue subject to licensing laws.

It's also worth noting that CIYH exclusively work with acoustic acts primarily in the folk, singer/songwriter, country and bluegrass genres. They don't work with full bands and definitely no drum kits. That's not to say that rock bands can't play house concerts - on the contrary there is a long tradition of pop-up, DIY punk shows that dates back to the 80s. But that is not CIYH's community.

From the thousands of shows CIYH have secured, Fran has the experience and understanding of what works for his network.

Now, I must point this out because it was a deal breaker for me the first time I checked out Concerts in Your Home about three years ago. Their website looks HORRENDOUS. Now, I’m not talking somewhat outdated, it looks like a Geocities theme from 2003. The first time I visited I literally spent 30 seconds on the site until I was convinced it must either not still be active or was a flat out scam. Fran is well aware how “outdated” he says his site looks and he is working on a full revamp. Here’s hoping they get one going fast.

LA based singer/songwriter, Shannon Curtis, has made her name playing house concerts exclusively over the past 5 years and wrote a book on how she does it successfully.

She approaches house concerts quite differently than CIYH and only books them through her current network of fans. When she started, it was mostly just friends and family hosting concerts, but she grew her network and now she plays about 60 house concerts a year and 0 club dates.

She is not interested in playing any other kinds of shows and has found that the most fulfilling (and lucrative) performance experiences for her are in people’s homes.

Shannon never asks for a suggested donation, but has the host emphasize the tip jar at the end of the concert and asks guests to pay what they think the experience was worth.

Shannon explains that if you say the suggested donation is $20, no one puts a hundred dollar bill in there (which happens to her regularly). Shannon averages about $800 a show (from tips and merch) these days.

The nice thing about CIYH is that you do not need a network of fans to book your shows.

They have an integrated system where artists can solicit hosts in the network for dates. Artists and hosts are vetted by CIYH so there is comfort from both parties with booking.

Fanswell, which was launched about 3 years ago is another house concert network, however they are focused around the platform which facilitates the booking in-app. They require hosts to pay up front or get their guests to crowd fund to make the concert happen. I profiled Fanswell when it first launched a couple years ago. I haven’t heard much from team Fanswell over the past couple years which makes me think that the service has lost traction, but if you have a big fanbase they may be worth looking into if you don’t want to have to think about the money at the show.

Whether you go about it Shannon’s way, my way, Fanswell’s way or CIYH’s way, if you’re a singer/songwriter or a small acoustic project, house concerts are a great way to connect with your audience and make a solid living doing it.

Like these tips? Get my new book How To Make It in the New Music Business.

Enroll in the How To Make Money in Music course with me and Cathy Heller. Enrollment ends June 19th.

"How To Make It in the New Music Business might well be the best 'how to' book of its kind." - Music Connection Magazine

Ari Herstand (pronounced Ar*ee Her*stand) is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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