Last week on Roots Music Canada, house concert promoter Joanna Mills brought us Part I of her series on booking successful house concerts. It led to lots of great discussion over on the Roots Music Canada Facebook page. Today, we’re excited to bring you the second and final part of her series.
Part II: Making Your House Concert a Success!
Once you’ve successfully booked a gig with an independent house concert presenter, there will be many details that need to be ironed out—probably more than you are used to when playing other venues. How you handle things from now on can determine how successful your show is, whether or not you might get a return invitation in the future, and what kind of recommendation your host will provide to other house concert presenters.
Firstly, thank your host and ask if you can settle on some details immediately. You have a busy life as a touring artist, and your host also has a busy life. Getting details set early can avoid lots of frustration and last-minute panic. Again, each independent presenter will have their own preferences, but the following suggestions will help you to make any house concert a positive experience for you, your hosts, and the audience.
- Handle the communication personally. Just as it is with trying to book a house concert, it’s always best to work out arrangements for your show between you and your host directly. Your booker or manager should only be involved when absolutely necessary. This helps to ensure that there are no misunderstandings, missteps, and lost information along the way, and also helps to develop the relationship between you and your hosts.
- What date will the show be? Most house concert presenters will have preferred days of the week for hosting a concert, based on their own personal schedule and when they can get you the best audience. Try to be as flexible as possible with your dates.
- Is the show private or public? Some hosts only invite people they know to concerts; others are happy to advertise to the public in some capacity. Ask permission before advertising the show to your fans or inviting anyone!
- Determine how the show will be publicized. Does your host want to do all the publicity, do they want you to do all the publicity, or do they want to share this responsibility? Agree on how the show will be publicized by email and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media.
- Ask your host to help you set an admission price that is in keeping with their usual audience. Many house concerts are “by donation,” but hosts often post a suggested donation amount, and some concerts have a set ticket price. Don’t simply base your price on what you usually charge at the door of a public venue. Ask your host how much they think you should charge; they may suggest a higher amount than you are expecting. Conversely, just because you were able to sell out another house concert at $30 per person, don’t expect that you will be able to charge that price every time. Your host knows their audience best. Trust that they are trying to get you the best audience possible and help you make the most money you can.
- Ask your host how/if they or you will report the shows to SOCAN (or another licensing body), and let them make the final decision on this. Be prepared to provide a set-list after the show if needed.
- Ask your host how they like to sell tickets. Some like to pre-sell tickets, sometimes by using online ticket vendors, and others prefer to simply take reservations and collect cash at the door.
- Determine a guest-list policy. If you would like to invite some guests for free (eg. other bookers or promoters, family, friends etc.), make sure you ask your host for permission first, and let them know how many seats you will need.
- Do you want to bring extra musicians? If you plan to have some extra musicians join (that you didn’t mention when you originally booked the show), ask your host first, and don’t ask anyone you don’t know and trust! You need to be sure they will be a good guest before inviting them in to someone else’s home.
- Determine how and when your host will pass the gate on to you. Will they hold some of the money back to cover any expenses (eg. snacks, SOCAN, other expenses)? If you have any restrictions on the way you can accept payment, let your host know as soon as possible. Agree on how they will pay you (eg. cash, cheque, e-transfer) so they can make the arrangements before the show.
- Set the program for the show. Ask your host what time they want the show to start and end, how many sets you should perform, and what they would like to happen during the intermission. Find out if encores are acceptable and/or expected. Remember, they know their audience best, and probably have a system in place that works well and sells seats (and merch). If you are bringing a show that depends on a certain flow, let your host know ahead of time and work out a good program together.
- Discuss filming, photographs, and live-streaming so that both you and your hosts are on the same page and the audience can be informed at the start of the show.
- Ask your host if they prefer an acoustic show or if it’s okay (or even necessary) to be amplified and mic’d. If you absolutely require some equipment (ie. for looping), make sure you let your host know how much equipment you will be bringing and determine how much amplification is acceptable to them and their neighbours. Also check that there will be easy access to an electrical outlet or extension cord if needed.
- Ask your host where you should park and if there are any costs involved. Be prepared to cover those costs yourself.
- If you have pet allergies, find out if your hosts have any pets and come equipped with your remedy of choice if needed.
- Establish how to communicate with your host in an emergency. Up until this point, you may have only been communicating via email. Make sure you have each other’s cell phone and/or house phone numbers to call in case of last minute problems.
- Ask your host when the doors will open and what time they would like you to arrive before the show. Let them know how much time you estimate you will need to set up and sound check. Remember that your host has a busy life outside of house concerts, and their schedule may be tight. Try your very best to show up right on time and communicate with your host if you are going to be unexpectedly early or late.
- Help with setting up. Once you’ve finished setting up your own equipment, ask your host if they need any help getting set up for the show (eg. moving furniture, setting up chairs, tidying).
- Establish with your host if they will introduce you to your audience or if you should introduce yourself. If they will introduce you, let them know if there is anything you’d particularly like them to say. Will your host say a few words at the end of the show, or will you have the closing remarks? Be sure to thank the audience AND your hosts before you leave the stage.
- Ask your host if it’s all right to sell merchandise at the show, how much space you will have to display it, who will handle sales, and when the sales should happen.
- Avoid making changes to your plans once you have settled on all these details. Your host probably won’t have the time or energy to alter their arrangements, especially at the last minute.
- If you need overnight accommodation, feel free to ask your host if they can house you and your band-mates, but be respectful about it. Limit your request to one or two nights, especially if you don’t know your host well. Don’t push if your host seems reluctant or says no.
- If you are not staying overnight, ask your host if there is somewhere you can store gear (so you don’t need to leave it in your vehicle), and a space to use as a “green room” before the show.
- Although not required, a host gift of wine or flowers is always a thoughtful touch, especially if you will be spending the night and/or eating with your hosts.
- Don’t assume that your host will provide your meals. Have a plan in place to eat out unless your host invites you to eat with them. Most hosts are happy to refrigerate a few items for you if you have “road food” with you.
- If you are invited to eat with your host, let them know if you have any dietary limitations, offer to contribute something to the meal, and offer to help with the dishes or other chores afterward. Better yet, just dive in and start doing it! It will definitely be appreciated.
- Make sure you leave your guest room tidy when you leave and offer to strip the bed(s). Ask your host how to dispose of any waste and/or recycling properly.
- Accidents happen! If you break something, let your host know immediately, apologize, and offer to pay to replace or repair it. Don’t leave it for them to find on their own after you’ve left. You’ll probably never get a return invitation, and you’ll definitely get a bad reputation!
- Thank your host when you leave and, if they don’t have one of your albums, it’s a very nice gesture to offer one as a thank-you gift.
- The day after your show, you should also thank your host again in an email, and ask if there is anything you need to follow up on for them. Bonus points if you follow this up with a written thank you note sent in the mail, especially if you shared meals with your hosts and/or stayed overnight. This has happened to us a few times, and it means a lot!
This is not an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts, but it is based on our real-life experiences (both good and bad) at O’Hara House Concerts, and the experiences of our fellow hosts, Bob and Cat at BobCat House Concerts (Ottawa, ON), Lesley Marie Boileau at Hobbit House (Cobourg, ON), Leah & Mike at House of Harmony (Fingal, ON), and Nicole Colbeck at Westboro House Concerts (Ottawa, ON). We thank them for their input and for all their support and camaraderie over the years. We hope that by following these steps you will book many successful house concerts in the future. Happy touring!