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March 2024
Vol. 23, No. 6
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Smoke Signals

House Concerts

by Jeff BerkleyJuly 2023

Never heard of it? I doubt it. At this point house concerts or house shows, if you like, have become a part of our culture. Most folks have been to someone’s home to see live music in some way or another. Call it a concert, a show, a salon, or just a party. Either as an audience, member, or performer, we’ve all known the absolute joy and sometimes terror of experiencing live music in a small room.

One of the best perks of being an acoustic, singer/songwriter type is that I’m able to play all types of shows. Unlike a band with lots of gear and people, I can squeeze in relatively easy, do my thing, and breeze right on out to make room for the next thing. Travel and all of that are pretty self-contained, and open up all sorts of options for gigs.

Acoustic music, folk music, traditional music, or whatever you call it has always relied on patrons of the arts to help. There’s just not a lot of money to go around and not a lot of “listening room” environments for singer/songwriters to do their thing.

How many times have you been to a bar where there was a singer/songwriter in the corner being drowned out by people having fun? It’s no one’s fault. People go to a bar to have fun. People don’t always go to a bar to hear sensitive songs about life and pain. Lol.

To really succeed as a singer/songwriter, we need folks to be able to hear the words and melodies and stories in between songs.

Throughout American folk music history, there have been all kinds of coffeehouses, speak easies, street corners, churches, and parks where acoustic music thrives.

Venues are wonderful! I have no idea how the venue owners do it. It’s so hard to keep the doors open with the overhead of a “traditional“ music venue. Whether it’s a rock club or a listening room, I’m so thankful for those folks who stake part of their business model on creating a space for singer/songwriters. Surely there’s a special place set aside for them!

House concert at Michael Rennie’s house with Jeff Berkley & the Banned. Photo by Liz Abbott.

The house concert host is a very different kind of angel! Most of the house concert hosts that I’ve run across are people with a big group of wonderful friends, a space that’s conducive to creating a listening environment, and a willingness to have way, way too many people in their house! It’s not for everybody. I personally have a panic attack and lie in the corner in the fetal position if too many people are in my house. The house concert host thrives in that environment! They love having folks there, and they absolutely find pure joy in watching the artists and crowd interact.

Those of you who have been to house concerts know that when you walk in, it is apparent that the host has created an area for seating with a defined performance space or stage. The stage area is even lit up a little bit more than the audience. This signals to the audience—immediately and without words—that it’s a concert and not a party. Don’t get me wrong, I love a party, but with a house concert, we’re trying to create a listening space so the audience and performer can engage. It’s not a difficult thing to do, but it’s definitely no accident. I’ve played house concerts all over the world and some are just a few people hanging out in the living room with no sound system while others are a huge backyard with a thousand people, a stage, lights, a backstage, and all the stuff that you would see at a big rock show! You really never know what it’s going to be and that’s kind of exciting.

Every host does things differently. Some make it a potluck, some bring in catering, some have liquor, some don’t. Some rent chairs, and some have people bring their own chairs. There are all sorts of ways to do it, and sometimes working with the artist is a great way to learn how to host a house concert. The artist will know what’s needed. I promise.

Almost every house concert I play charges at the door or beforehand, online. The donation fee is different for everyone. For some folks, it feels weird to charge other folks to get into their house. That’s another thing that house concert hosts seem to be fine with. Once the patrons understand what the donation is for, they are usually cool about it all. The host can include all of that in the invitation. The whole idea of a house concert or House show is to support the arts and the artists. That being said, I do believe the key to success is charging at the door. Charging beforehand is fine as well. The Internet has made that really great and easy. Sometimes hosts want to pay the artist a flat fee and not charge people to get in. This is extremely kind of the host but it doesn’t work as well. People simply don’t pay attention as well if they didn’t pay to get in. They don’t have “skin in the game”. They don’t have a reason to experience someone they’ve never heard of before. They won’t open up their hearts and minds to the artist.

What you charge is entirely up to what you think people would be willing to pay to get in. It’s amazing to me, but most house concerts I play are $25-$35 per ticket, and the host generally gives that all to us to take on the road. Some folks are charging $100 per ticket nowadays. Some folks charge five dollars per ticket. No matter what you charge, it’s the most wonderfully supportive thing you can possibly do aside from just giving $1 million to your favorite local artist! I highly support that idea as well. DM me for my Venmo! Also, I’m looking for someone with their own private jet who’s willing to let me use it, free of charge, all the time.

I’m so thankful to get to play a ton of house concerts! They are the only way we are able to tour. We play venues for sure, but the house concerts are where we make the money to keep ourselves out there. A lot of times we can stay with the folks who are hosting, but we always seem to make enough to get lodging if needed.

More than the money though, house concerts are the most heart-fulfilling shows that we do. We get to hang out with the audience in a way that we don’t seem to at other venues. Even the show itself is just a hang out. We can look people right in the eye! At first that’s really scary, but after a while it becomes something to look forward to. We can really get the point across in stories and songs when the audience is with us like that.

There are all sorts of places to access existing house concerts. The truth is that starting your own house concert revolution is really the best way to go. You can go to conventions like folk alliance and showcases for talent buyers and house concert hosts. You can also just send out a message to your mailing list! Ask THEM if there’s someone who would love to host a house concert. Then you just help them make it happen.

Acoustic music has always been grassroots. Lately, I’ve played a couple house concerts with a full band that has gone amazingly well also. I think house concerts can be a huge part of where music is headed in the future—even more than it has throughout the ages.

I know I speak for all artists who have played house concerts and shows when I say that we just couldn’t make it without them. We are so grateful for and to our hosts.

See you all out there! If you want to host to house concert, call me! (www.jeffberkley.com

 

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