Dear Mother Maple: house concert conundrum

Mother Maple wants to help. Photo by Roaring Graycloud (http://www.flickr.com/photos/08201971/)Welcome to the first instalment of Dear Mother Maple, where there are no stupid questions. There are only stupid people with questions. I’m just kidding you, my dears!

The lovely young boys behind Roots Music Canada have asked me to put down my dulcimer and take up my pen to help answer some questions that are plaguing the rootsy folk of Canada and the world, on this Whirligig Web thingamabob.

Here’s our first question:

Dear Mother Maple:

“Last night at our Local Folk Society meeting we were discussing house concerts and creating a policy or guideline around reimbursing our hosts. With the rising cost of food and the like we felt that there should be some remuneration for individuals who are opening their homes for our performers especially when the audience reaches numbers over 50 – do you have an expert available on your website that could help advise on this matter?

Anxious Andrea

Andrea: Don’t be anxious, dear. It will ruin the show for everyone! And yes, of course we have an expert: it’s ME.

Instead of paying the presenter, perhaps you could arrive early and clean their house or make a piping hot Apple Brown Betty for them. Surely their car could use a vacuuming, or the chrome on their mic stand a shining?

I know when I host a house concert, my bunions act up something awful. Rather than a couple of sweaty, crumpled $20 bills, why not take a page from that lovely young Corin Raymond and offer to give the host a foot rub? Her bunions will thank you for it. Oh, I’m awful!

More to your point, dear, I think that if someone is together enough invite you to their house and exert enough friendly persuasion to see 50 warm bodies waiting patiently for you to get the bunion smell off your hands and start playing music, they probably are together enough to deal with the food issue.

Mother Maple loves potlucks! Especially when someone stays behind to help the hostess with the dishes…

Do you have a question for Mother Maple? She’d be tickled to help. Just ask, dears!

Mother Maple’s home-made advice is also available on The Twitters.

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  1. avatar
    Beth 22 April, 2011 at 10:36

    Dear Mother,
    I couldn’t agree more – if those lovely hosts can seat 50 people in their home for your house concert, they can certainly cover the cost of tea and twinkies. I’d like to hear from Andrea why she would be a member of an organization that wastes such precious time on policies surrounding house concerts. I’m wondering if they have policies regarding the reuse of dryer lint. Or the rightness of having a dryer at all.

    My policy re: houseconcerts is: invite people over and make some music. If they are talented, so much the better. If they are traveling and singing, give them a good meal and a pillow. And all the money you can help them stuff in their suitcase. Musicians have enough to worry about without having to share their tiny morsel with me and my household expenses.


  2. avatar
    Nicole Colbeck 22 April, 2011 at 10:47

    Oooh, well said, Ms. M!

    The subject of compensation or remuneration of sorts is always one that confounds folks and makes’em squirm, some. Those who attend these living room, magical evenings are occasionally surprised – nay, shocked! – to find out that hosts are not compensated; those who play these gigs shake their heads gratefully in disbelief that their hosts are being so generous; and, those who attend for the first or second time and are smitt’n by the whole idea for themselves, begin to ask questions in view of doing it themselves… well, they ease into the idea of it, with wonder in their hearts. Many seasoned concert hosts smile and nod and repeat, “that’s right: the artist gets 100% of the ‘suggested donation’ and all CDs sales revenue… and that’s how we wanna do it.”

    Now… there are some hosts who, with prior agreement with the artist, may keep a nominal percentage of the “door”, and there is absolutely *no* shame in that. In fact I had the pleasure of meeting a Maine house concert host at the ECMAs last week, whose name is gold amongst the artist community, and his “cut” of the door is gratefully agreed to.

    In fifteen years of hosting house concerts, a few of the most wonderful of such situations for us included these… when the artists showed up with bottle of tasty libation and some sweets to contribute to the table (names are removed to protect the innocent, but I will mention that one of them brought Oreo cookies – just sayin’)… or when one artist who was staying overnight in our guest room actually attended our daughter’s soccer game the next morning with us — just because she asked him to!! Heck one of our artist-guests stayed long enough to cook an amazing supper for our family on another night (again, protecting the innocent, I will only mention bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin — all free-range and grass fed – YUM!)

    And of course, rare has been the artist who has not offered his or her CDs in grateful compensation for the event — at least those CDs in their catalogue, that were missing from our collection.

    Artists, rest assured that — though, as Ma’Maple says, a warm thank-you gift is very, very appreciaed — your house concert hosts are doing this because…

    … they LOVE it!

    Bask in the love,
    nicole colbeck
    Westboro House Concerts
    Ottawa, ON

  3. avatar
    David Newland 22 April, 2011 at 13:39

    I’ve hosted a bunch of house concerts and never charged. In fact, I confess I’ve topped up the “hat” with my own cash to make sure the artist got decent compensation for their work.

    The way I figured it, I was getting entertainment for my matinee, or soiree, so no big deal to toss in.

    But then I’ve also heard from people who won’t even host a house concert, they are so uncomfortable collecting money from their own guests.

    Personally, I don’t object to hosts being remunerated on principle, but I do think it’s a slippery slope of responsibility in what’s already a legal grey area.

  4. avatar
    Bob LeDrew 22 April, 2011 at 15:55

    I’d feel kinda queasy about taking money from the performer. I always figured that it was my job to GENERATE cash for the artist, not liberate him or her from it.

  5. avatar
    Scott Merrifield 22 April, 2011 at 22:32

    After more than 20 years of presenting house concerts in my home and those of other hosts, I agree with everyone else who has posted. When the receipts are healthy, (which they almost always are), and with advance notice, I will take expenses such as rental of chairs or a PA out of the door, but otherwise 100% goes to the artist and that makes me and the rest of the audience feel good. A CD is a nice gesture of gratitude and quite sufficient for most hosts.
    However, the situation of some hosts may be different and, as long the deal is clear and transparent up front and mutually agreed upon in advance, I have nothing against any arrangement that the parties may agree upon that makes the gig possible and worthwhile for everyone.

  6. avatar
    Julie Corey 23 April, 2011 at 11:40

    I am a newcomer to the house concert scene. And I share the sentiment that others have expressed – I came to it out of a love for live music and a desire to support local musicians. I have no desire to cheat musicians out of their well-deserved income; however, if covering my expenses means I can afford to offer concerts once a month rather than once a year (and maybe improve the seating and lighting situation) then I hope the folk community would find this appropriate.

  7. avatar
    Daryl 24 April, 2011 at 23:30

    Having hosted many house concerts of over 50 people in the past few years, I have found that the reason for the event is community. A community of musicians, neighbours, colleagues, and family enjoying an intimate evening of music together. There has never been a concern over food, renumeration, or compensation. As hosts, it is a privilege to share our home with the afore mentioned community for the purpose of showcasing some of the great musicians that pass our way. Musicians have expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to share their craft in a venue with an appreciative audience. It’s a win-win situation with all people involved being the benefactors. Our lives are so much richer for having had these experiences, richer in more ways than material rewards can offer.

  8. avatar
    Kev Corbett 25 April, 2011 at 10:59

    I had a friend ask me about HCs once because his house is a big, beautiful money pit, and he wanted to figure out a way to monetize it. I told him it probably wasn’t his scene.

    That said, as an artist, I have met hosts who get burnt out on it and I totally don’t mind if they need a little slice, because often they’re laying out of pocket for food, room improvements, there’s time and house re-org involved, often much admin and managing and tracking of the invite list/FB/website, high-traffic cleaning, and I’m just glad to be there. I’ll do dishes, I’ll sit up until 2 and answer questions about other hosts’ places (happens all. the. time.), I’ll vaccuum, chop wood, whatever convinces you to do this again for somebody else, y’know? Karma.

  9. avatar
    Jives 30 April, 2011 at 11:20

    To comment on the comments:

    There was never any question of taking money from the door to reimburse hosts at our house concert series. The whole endeavour had blown itself way out of control and, when sixty or seventy people come to expect a buffet in addition to music, it can deter hosts from offering their living rooms.

    In the end we decided to remind our audience members to bring a libation of choice and something to add to the table if they choose: back to the initial concept.

    Thanks for all the fond memories.

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