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PARTY PEOPLE IN THE HOUSE… …please, um… leave.

August 20, 2010

….annnd we’re back.

I’ve just gotten home after slightly more than five weeks of cross-country travel.  It was an on-and-off-again tour that amounted to one week West-to-East, one week visiting my folks, one week visiting my in-laws, about a week to tour the upper east coast, and then a week back across; East-to-West.  In this economy, that’s how we do it now, I guess.

The thing that had excited me most about this jaunt before I left was that over half the shows were HOUSE CONCERTS.  I’ve been singing the praises of the house concert for a long time now, and with good reason:  I have a long history of successful house concerts behind me, and I believe with all my heart that when they’re done right, there is no better way to experience what I do as an artist-performer-yadda.

I’m not changing my tune.  I’ve got more house concerts coming up this year, and will continue to encourage you to host them if your situation permits for ever-and-ever-amen.

But I’m running into a recurring situation, and it occurred to me that I may need to be a little less subtle about some common misconceptions.  I’ve touched on this before, but the message isn’t getting all the way through.

Here’s the idea in a nutshell:

A House Concert is NOT a “House party”.

A simple statement, and one that people say they understand, but experience has shown that this requires a little more explanation.

So here’s what’s supposed to happen:

#1) You book me.  You send invitations to the people you know who love music.

MISUNDERSTANDING #1: This doesn’t mean “invite everyone you know”.  You invite everyone you know to a PARTY.  This is not a party.  This is a concert; specifically a SOLO SINGER/SONGWRITER concert.

You should not invite your family unless they are avid fans of live music.  You should not invite everyone in your email address book unless you are a professional concert promoter.

You should invite the people you know who enjoy music, and who would come to your house for the PURPOSE of coming to the concert.   Don’t invite neighbors or work acquaintances just for the sake of “having a packed room”.   Quantity is not what we’re going for; QUALITY is.

If the “room is packed”, and it’s full of people who have no interest in sitting still and listening, we are going to have a miserable time.  I promise.

On a related note, make it abundantly clear in your invitation that the show will be PG-13.  Because it is.  I’m not Barney the Dinosaur, and almost everything I say or sing about will be above the heads of most pre-teens.  It is entirely inappropriate to bring young children to a house concert unless the performer is specifically promoted as “family friendly”.

It is not “rude” to make it clear to your friends that the night has an age restriction.  It IS “rude” to expect a performer to compete with unsupervised children.  Horribly rude.  If your friends with kids are too cheap to hire a sitter, they are probably also too cheap to pay the $10 donation to the performer, so don’t fret about appeasing them.

If you feel stuck because you have maybe ten friends who fit the bill, but that’s it, consider co-hosting with one of those ten friends, who may have another ten music-loving friends to invite (even though those folks may be strangers to you).  Then host it at the house with the more ideal set-up.

#2)  You transform your living room into a comfortable listening environment.

MISUNDERSTANDING #2: While there is a little flexibility on the “living room” requirement, a house concert should really be hosted INSIDE A HOUSE.

I have never said no to outdoor arrangements before, but I am considering banning them forever.  The problems with hosting a “house concert” in your backyard are obvious, though everyone feigns shock and surprise when the same problems happen over-and-over again:

Being outside takes away almost every bit of control over the environment.  Most outdoor shows are scheduled during daylight, and so there is unlimited visual stimuli for the performer to compete with.  
There are cars and trucks driving through the neighborhood; some with loud stereos.  There are people outside; strolling, talking, mowing their lawns, walking their dogs, playing with their children.  It’s LOUD.  
Being outdoors, many hosts think to set up the grill and have a cook-out.  The next logical step is a cooler or two for drinks.  Then it’s a keg of beer.

People have a tendency to sit further away from the performance space if they’re outdoors.  They have less of an inclination to check to make sure their phones are turned off; they may actually feel okay about ANSWERING a call during the performance.
People feel less punctual about outdoor events; they may stroll in casually halfway through the show, loudly greeting friends and family in their “outside voices”.  Some people may abruptly get up and leave early.  Outdoor settings just make everything feel like a picnic, and are almost always abysmal house concert circumstances.

(This past tour, I was actually playing outdoors one afternoon and cut my set short because a group of guests actually set off FIREWORKS while I was playing.  Not firecrackers, mind you; they set up and lit a ROMAN CANDLE.)

There’s also the weather to consider.  If you’ve set up your entire backyard for an outdoor event, and suddenly it rains…  well, unless you’ve provided for that possibility in your agreement with the performer, you’re still on the hook to pay them, so you probably want to have your house ready for an indoor show regardless.

#3)  You host the evening.  I do my utmost to give you the best show ever.

MISUNDERSTANDING #3: This means that First Priority for each of us is the concert.  All night.  It means acknowledging your guests, but it also means informing your guests what they are getting (both when inviting them and when greeting them at your door), and what is expected of them.

It does NOT mean leaving repeatedly to watch the kids, man the grill, pour the drinks, go to the store, or play games in another room/area.  It does NOT mean talking (even to family) during the performance, or otherwise setting a bad example for everyone else.  Tell everyone they should simply move to another room of the house (or outside) if they need to converse.

It means reminding your guests why they are there and announcing the performer before the concert begins.  It does NOT mean sitting in a corner, or worse, disappearing just as the concert is about to start, or meekly gesturing for the performer to “just start playing”.  Take responsibility for your home and pride in your event, and show respect for the performer you have invited into your space.  This is a concert, and unless you have arranged for someone else to emcee, YOU ARE the emcee.

Be aware that if you do not take care of crowd control, I will.  From the stage.  Sometimes in the middle of a song.  And you probably won’t like my methods.
If you allow the atmosphere to decay into something that resembles a noisy bar, I will treat the patrons like hecklers, and it won’t bother me if they leave, upset about how I will single them out in front of the room…  that’s how you handle a heckler, actually;  you embarrass them so that they shut up or leave.  I probably won’t know the person affected, and it won’t bother me.  But you probably will, and you’ll have to deal with it after I’m gone.

#4)  You handle the finances and, at the end of the night, we square up accordingly.

MISUNDERSTANDING #4:
This does NOT mean “whatever happens, happens, and I just don’t have any control over it”.  Some of my recent experiences have me re-evaluating the way I work my financial arrangements for house concerts.

The bottom line is that people behave better at a show they invested their money in. If you buy your $40 to $75 ticket for Ben Harper/Rob Thomas/Coldplay/Whatever, you are NOT going to just “not go” because of work, or because you feel tired that night.  In fact, you’re going to reserve tickets immediately, mark your calendar, and put in notice at your job that you ABSOLUTELY cannot work that night.  You’re probably not going to get there late, and unless the show really sucks, you are probably not going to leave early. You will have higher expectations and pay more attention.

Also, with the ticket price that high, you are not going to go to the show unless you REALLY want to be there.  At a house concert, charging at least $10 admission keeps away most people who are not interested in the music, and keeps the folks that RSVP relatively committed.

I have always agreed to be paid according to attendance, with a minimum guarantee in case of a surprisingly sparse turnout.  This is done in the good faith that the host will inform the guests of the admission fee, and then enforce it.  Increasingly, hosts seem to be too embarrassed to charge admission, and so they put out a jar in an inconspicuous place with no supervision and “hope for the best”.

What happens in this case is that at least a third of the guests pay nothing, about a third throw in a pittance (some people actually have the nerve to throw in CHANGE), and I end up making my bare minimum to play a show to a room of too many unappreciative people.

As goes that saying about bad apples spoiling the whole bunch, I am no longer doing things this way (excepting, of course, a handful of hosts I’ve worked with in the past who know the deal, and who are probably laughing heartily as they read this).

____________________________________________________________________________________

Don’t get me wrong; I realize that we are conditioned creatures…  we have “settings” we default to in certain environments.  When in a movie theatre, most people settle down pretty quickly.  In someone’s house among a throng of people, most people’s closest association is: “Party”, and unless they are reminded, they may default to that setting.

If you volunteer to host a house concert, you need to be aware that the job involves teaching people about what house concerts are, and helping them to develop a “new setting”.

Some folks think they shouldn’t bother me by asking questions about how to do this stuff, but honestly: I’m happy to help.  It’s far more of a bother to book me for a house concert and let me walk into a situation that embarrasses both of us without warning.

There are already two house concerts booked in October, with a handful more getting ready to confirm.  If you’re up to the Host 2.0 Challenge, get in touch, and let’s make some history.

Grateful for the support; and so thankful for the love I’ve been shown

Seth  :]

P.S.   Because it probably bears mention:

MISUNDERSTANDING #5: At least fifty percent of the booking inquiries I have gotten in the past year have been asking me to perform as part of a birthday, graduation, or a wedding.

These three events are all PARTIES, even if they are not labeled as such.  The music is entirely secondary, and the dynamics of these events are such that the “guest of honor” is NOT the performer; it’s the birthday boy/girl, the graduate, or the happy couple.  This defeats the entire point of a house concert, and making the performer into the Guest of Honor would defeat the entire point of the birthday, graduation, or wedding.  It just. Doesn’t. Work.  If the only way you can conceive of inviting people into your home for music is by piggy-backing it onto another event, then hosting one of these very special evenings isn’t going to work out just yet.  Give it some time.  :)

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