For many folk and roots artists, house concerts now make up a large part of their tour schedules, but booking an independent house concert (and making it a success) can be harder than it appears. We at O’Hara House Concerts, with the help of some other independent hosts, have compiled a list of dos and don’ts to help artists get a booking at a venue and then make the show a great one.
Part I: Booking an Independent House Concert
Booking an independent house concert is very different from booking a club, a bar, or even an established house concert series such as Home Routes. Each independent house concert host will have their own preferences and processes, but, based on our real-life experience, most of us can agree on the following:
- Do your research! Check out prospective house concert venues on the internet and social media and speak to other artists who have played there to find out what type of music and artists they usually present. Determine if you really are a good fit for them before you contact them. If you are a straight traditional act, and they usually present blues artists, you’re probably not a good fit. If they have only presented solo or duo acts, they might not have room for a large ensemble.
- Don’t try to sell yourself as a good fit if you’re not. It’s still worth a try—maybe they’re ready for a change—but be honest. Say, “I know we’re not your usual act, but…” and then sell yourself. Maybe they’ll be interested, and maybe they won’t, but honesty is key. If the host tells you that you’re not the right fit for their series, don’t give them a hard-sell or argue with them. Just thank them for their time and leave it at that. If they do see you live in the future and change their mind, you don’t want to have left a bad impression!
- Show potential hosts who you would be in their living room. Don’t send them video links of you playing a noisy club or on a big festival stage; that won’t tell your host how well you come across in a small, intimate setting. If possible, show them video of you playing other house concerts or listening rooms that show your personality and how you interact with a small audience. If you recorded a CD with a full band, but you’re touring alone, the hosts need to know how you will sound solo. Conversely, if you plan to invite other musicians to play with you, be up front about it. Nobody likes surprise guests!
- Try to meet the hosts in person before trying to book a house concert in their home. Remember that you will be entering somebody’s personal and private space, not playing a public venue. Most people don’t invite strangers into their homes, so don’t be a stranger! Many house concert presenters attend industry functions such as FMO, CD release parties, and benefit concerts or fundraisers. Do some networking and see if you can meet them there.
- Put prospective hosts on the guest list. If you’re unable to meet the hosts in person at another event, try introducing yourself by giving them free tickets to one of your shows the next time you’ll be in their town, and ask to meet them after the show. That way they get to see your act live and meet you, which increases your chances of booking something in the future. If they are unable to attend, try some networking. House concert presenters are well connected with each other; maybe someone else can attend and vouch for you!
- Personal, individualized communication is key! A house concert is a very personal and intimate event, and hosts are usually looking for personal communication that shows you’ve done your homework and are a good fit for their living room. Don’t send a form letter, and keep the communication (at least initially) directly between you and the host.
- Find out about their usual booking practices. Unless you’ve already established a relationship with the hosts, and they have indicated that they are interested in presenting you, don’t send them a list of dates that you will be in town and ask if they can fit you in. Establish your relationship with them first, find out how far in advance they like to book, and ask if they are open to last-minute shows. If not, keep them informed of general periods of time that you will be in town as far in advance as possible, and let them take the initiative after that.
- Only involve your booker or manager if it is absolutely necessary. Managers and booking agents are mostly experienced with booking public venues and, as with any industry, use special language and processes to expedite that business. They are probably booking many clients at any given time, and might not have the time to answer individual queries from house concert hosts. You should handle as much of the communication with a prospective host as possible. Only involve your booker or manager if you will be touring somewhere that makes it difficult for you to stay in touch. If your booker or manager is handling communications, remind them to keep in mind that a house concert is not a regular venue or a business. They need to keep communication clear, friendly, and polite! They should not use music business jargon, and they should never assume that a house concert host will understand things that someone in the industry would take for granted. Be patient and detailed when responding to questions from your host.
Next week on Roots Music Canada, Joanna offers advice on making your house concert a success.