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All I wish is to be alone… Stay away; don’t you invade my home.

June 20, 2009

Let’s talk about House Concerts.

Aha! I just lost 80% of you right there, didn’t I?

I know… But by acknowledging that, I probably just piqued the interest of some who were about to stop reading.

I have been thinking about this, on and off, for a long time now; long enough that I think I can finally put my thoughts down in a way that makes a fair amount of sense.  Here goes.

House Concerts are something I bring up every time I book a tour, which has usually been once or twice a year, every year now since 2002.  I always get a decent number of responses each time I sound the call, but I would say that only one out of every five or six of those responses actually turns into a reality.

Now why is that?

There are lots of psychological barriers to get in the way of a house concert.  Most people are naturally anxious about letting groups of people into their home, and some people are very anxious about being in unfamiliar environments; more so when the place is someone else’s private property.

These feelings are completely understandable, and they’re completely easy to get over as long as you keep one very important thing in mind:

House Concerts aren’t supposed to be for everyone.
They’re not even supposed to be big.
They’re for the People Who Care About The Music.

A life-changing article for me was written by Kevin Kelly, and it’s called “One Thousand True Fans”.  He puts forth the premise that a person who means to live by creating (artists, musicians, etc) need not kill themselves in the pursuit of “Having a Hit” — that a decent living can be achieved if you have 1,000 true fans; people who enjoy what you make enough to buy it from you every time you make it.  He clarifies this to suggest that because of the decreasing price of compact discs, that musicians in particular should consider both their albums and their CONCERTS under the heading of “what they make”.

The idea here is that a musician like me shouldn’t get caught up in the game of “How many people can I pack into the club?”, because if I concentrate my effort on that instead of on giving an incredible performance, it won’t matter how many people show up…  if I suck, they’re not going to become long-term fans; in fact, they might leave before I’m finished playing.

The idea is that the new breed of musician should have the goal to play to a “Quality Audience”; not a “quantity” audience.  Having done this enough times to gauge it, I wholeheartedly endorse this mindset.  I would much rather play an intimate show to twenty people who are feeding off my music and sending their own energy back to me than play to a noisy, moderately attentive group of 50 to 100 people, some of whom are there because they want to be, some of whom aren’t interested at all…  the energy in THAT room is a mess, and doesn’t make for a good experience for anyone.

Using the idea of a thousand true fans, it seems that those twenty quality listeners are going to be at the show anyway — it doesn’t matter if the ticket price is $5 or $15, and it doesn’t matter if there are 80 extra bodies in the room or not — so if that is true, why not improve life for everyone, raise the ticket price slightly and just play a better show to better people?

…because the Live Music BUSINESS doesn’t work that way.  A venue owner WANTS a hundred people at a singer-songwriter show.  To the venue owner, that’s a “good night”, and the quality of the music or the experience is absolutely secondary to the number of dollars made. You can’t be mad at a venue owner for wanting to do more business though; you just have to acknowledge that you’re not working towards a common goal, and consider alternate venues.

And that’s where House Concerts come in, because someone throwing a house concert isn’t trying to make money, and they don’t want a hundred half-interested people showing up, either.

Many first-time hosts have thought they should apologize to me because they “only” had a dozen to two dozen people show up.  What it takes awhile for them to realize is that it’s not embarrassing at all — and small crowds often have the best experiences.  The sound isn’t muddy or too loud, the vibe is comfortable, the audience members don’t gather in cliques; they sit in a group and get to know each other over drinks or snacks, and I get to meet and have genuine interactions with most people there during or after the show.  Even the larger house concert series I’ve played have always created great performances, great energy, and great friendships.

All it takes is the right kind of person to host a house concert:  The Person Who Cares.

This isn’t someone who says, “Oh, music would be cool, and um, whatever else and stuff… Just like, show up and I’m sure it’ll be fun!”   No; that person is not ready.

The Person Who Cares thinks, “I love this music…  but there’s no place in town that hosts this.  It would be amazing if I could just bring the show to my house and invite over other people who are into it for a night.”

This person acts like a host: they handle invitations, and sometimes even allow strangers to attend if they’re fans of the performer; they take RSVPs and hold the money for the performer, they coordinate drinks and a potluck spread if they want.  When people show up, they greet them, and when it’s time for the show, they address the audience and remind them to be respectful, and they introduce the artist.  This person doesn’t invite “everyone they know”, because they realize that not everyone they know would enjoy the music, but they invite other People Who Care, and that’s what makes for an easy-going, enjoyable evening.  These people get some of the greatest concerts they will ever see and hear right in their own living rooms, and they develop a group of friends that they know appreciates the same things they do, which is rewarding unto itself.

If any of this has sparked your curiosity and gotten you thinking past your initial anxiety about “PEOPLE IN MY HOUSE!”…  drop me a line and we can talk more about it.  I’m going to be playing wherever people will have me once this album comes out; it’s just a matter of saying you’ll have me.  :)

Thanks for reading.

Be well,

Seth

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10 comments

  1. I had a Seth Horan/Ed Sheets/Tad Dreis house concert for my 21st birthday party, it was AWESOME!! I think there were about 15 people here, and we all had a great time :-D


  2. An encouraging article Seth.

    I worry about the audience size every single time we host a show. I don’t know when that shift happened (I used to think “It’s not about how many or how much but about how good…”) so it’s good to be reminded of the heart of why I do this again. I think so much of it is because I’ll be embarrassed for the musician and the audience if there’s a “small” turnout – it’s difficult to overcome that pressure.

    Thanks again for a nicely thought out and presented article.


  3. My blog pretty much tells my view, please take a look…and look again later in the week, it’ll be update with last week’s show, which brought together old friends with new friends and introduced their music to total strangers, and proved that house concerts do not even have to be at your house…particularly when normally my concerts are in my backyard and it was June in Texas when I could get all these performers on one stage!

    Great article, thanks to Whole Wheat Radio for sharing it, I’m sending it around!
    Karen


  4. Hi Seth and Seth Fans.

    I think the main reason that people don’t respond to house concert “pitches” is that they have a tough time imagining it. See if this helps…

    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=41B68C66FD52E420

    Best,

    Fran
    Concertsinyourhome.com


  5. Or, to see a little clip of Seth actually playing a house concert (no, not one of mine):

    (Sorry if that doesn’t show up as a link.)

    Watch the video and then tell me who WOULDN’T want that kind of quality entertainment in their living room?

    Yes, it took me a little while to work up the nerve to host my first house concert, but it was so much fun that I never looked back!


  6. Someday…for now, though, our gatherings are a little too fraught with chaos (read: children).


  7. Quality audience… i think it’s easier said than done. But i can honestly say that having that quality audience is better than any #1 hit. Being a jazz drummer i’ve felt like quitting. Now playing for sol jibe, ive seen the large scale AND the oh so small scale of shows/crowds. The kossuth house is a mecca. to bad im a drummer and will probably never be invited to play there… hahah but seeing Joel and Glen P. was a concert as big as an arena in my mind. hi seth ! G ! word to my doggy pipa


  8. Hey Seth, hubby and I will have you. Let’s chat!

    Marla


  9. This is my plan as well mate – house concerts are the future – small niche audiences are the future


  10. Oh my…I definitely fall in that “quality fan” category…enthusiasm with a capital E…except I have such a tiny house (weeps quietly at the despair of not being able to host a Seth Horan house concert).

    Wait a minute I do have Friends with larger houses…hmmmm…and I’m fairly convincing at times….ok…I gotta go make a few phone calls…..

    and remember…you can crash here anytime!



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