So, you might be interested in hosting a house show, but you’re not sure what all it entails? This is great news. I have played hundreds of these, and I have a lot of information for you. I won’t write a book about it (yet), but I will tell you (hopefully) all you need to know to host a show.
Let’s start with the very basics:
- Weather-appropriate location with electricity
- Roughly 30 people
- $300 (not out of your pocket; I’ll explain)
If you’re still with me, let’s talk about the details:
I’m going to separate this into two sections: Essential and Inessential. There are a few things that, over the course of the last half-decade, I’ve seen work time and time again. These are the things that shows fail without. In the second half, I’ll give you a few tips for putting the show over the top if you have the time and means to do them, but you can easily host a show without those.
This might sound redundant, but you need a space to actually have the show. I’ve played in barns, by swimming pools, on porches, in basements, apartment commons areas, and a lot of living rooms. As long as you have a place with enough space to fit 20-30 people, and electricity that I can plug into, we can make a show happen.
I should also say that while outdoor shows can be really great, it’s important that you have an indoor backup plan, just in case it ends up raining or storming.
This is the one that I think a lot of people underestimate; I’ll need you to bring as many people as you can. I’ve been touring for awhile now, and once a fan base is established, I do start to bring more people to a show, but especially in new cities – if I’ve never played there, chances are that I will bring 100% of my fan base of zero-people-that-aren’t-you in a new city. : )
Even in cities I’ve played before, it can be a little tricky to bring people to house shows if they’ve never been to one before. It’s easy to think of it as a dinner party at a stranger’s house; like they’d be intruding. Of course, they wouldn’t be, and once they come to one, they realize that it’s actually an awesome way to make new friends. But until then, I probably won’t bring as many people as you think I will. A good rule of thumb is that if you can get 50 people to say that they are coming, then 25 will show up, and we will have an awesome house show.
2a. Friends of Friends. It’s easier to get to 50 if you have 20 friends say they’ll bring 1.5 friends each. Encourage them to tell everyone that it’s open to the public. Facebook events are helpful, but not enough by themselves (how many event invites do you get every day and totally ignore? If you’re like me, the answer is: a lot.) Phone calls, texts, personal conversations over coffee… let people know that you sincerely want THEM at the show, not just that there is a show and they’re generally invited just like everyone else.
**SIDE NOTE** At this point in the conversation, it’s pretty common to hear “If I make it open to the public, won’t my house end up looking like something from Animal House?”
The short answer: nope!
The longer answer: It totally depends on your friends. If you bring the guy that does keg stands in the Olive Garden parking lot, then there’s a good chance he’s going to talk throughout the show and maybe end up sleeping in your bathtub. But I’ve found, for the most part, that those guys really prefer the kind of music that I don’t make.
As for the “strangers” that I’ll be inviting: my “fan base” (see: friends) are generally really well-behaved. It’s less a “house party” crowd, and more a “listening room” crowd. I make pretty lyrically-driven music, and the people that return to my shows do so because that’s their thing. So you’ll have a fairly literate, if somewhat melancholy crowd coming to your house. They won’t drive a car into your swimming pool, but they might talk to you about philosophy until the wee hours of the morning.
3. Someone in charge of the “tip jar”.
I hate talking about money, and wish I could just play shows for free. But (especially now that I’m bringing my family with me next year), I have to address this:
Payment for house shows usually goes one of two ways, since there are no “tickets”. One, people will set a price ($5 or $10 usually, depending on what you think your friends will pay) and have someone at the door taking money as people come in. (Get your friend who isn’t shy) Secondly, some people prefer the “tip jar” method….
The “tip jar” method can be very successful, or very very unsuccessful. If there is someone in charge of making sure that it gets passed around during the set, it works fairly well. If it sits on a table by the door, hoping that people will notice it, it will usually fail miserably.
So the “Essential” part of this is that whichever way you choose is fine, but if it’s the “tip jar” method, please please have someone in charge of passing it around near the end of the set.
That’s it! That’s all the Essentials. A weather-appropriate space, 20-30 attendees, and someone in charge of the door money (or tip jar).
-INESSENTIAL (but still appreciated) THINGS-
Here are some things that I’ve seen done in the past that really help a house show memorable. Feel free to use any of these, or allow them to spark ideas in your imagination. Creativity is encouraged!
- Bring a local act! Then you get their fan base as well (as long as you let them know you’re counting on them to bring some people) I’m totally okay with an opener.
- Incorporate it into some pre-existing thing: a church group, a book club, a sorority social, etc…
- Lighting. It’s the simplest thing, but just a little bit of mood lighting really sets the tone for a nice “listening” environment.
- Introductions: I can’t tell you how big a difference it makes when the host is the first one to approach the mic. They can be the one to tell everyone “Okay, okay, we’re about to start; everyone put your phones on silent.” I always sound like a jerk when I say it, so I just never do. If you’re not comfortable on a mic, you probably have at least one friend who is. But again, it’s not essential.
- Because I’m bringing the family, we’re traveling in a 24-foot-long Winnebago RV. If you have a place for me to plug in, that would be awesome. But if not, that’s okay. We can get by for a few days at a time without plugging in.
- if you have a place to do laundry or take a shower, that would also be greatly appreciated.
I hate talking about money, but I’ll just leave this here: My expenses have gone up this year. An RV payment, health insurance, food for 4 people, diesel instead of gas…)
It’s going to cost me just over $300 to play every show. If we get 30 people to pay $10 each, we’re there. If we get 30 people to pay $5 each, then I only have to sell 1 CD to half of them to hit the goal.
I’ve found that 90% of the time, if I can get 30 people through the doors, I can hit that $300 mark.
I’m not going to hold you personally responsible if we come in under the mark. I just want to make sure you know how important it is to really aim for that 30-people mark.
Thank you so much for being willing to even think about hosting a show. I know it’s a lot of work, and I promise I will do my best, not just on the night of the show, but in preparing and practicing now, to make it worth your efforts, and provide a memorable night of entertainment for you guys.
All the best!