House Concert How-To Guide
Adapted from the article of the same name,
written by Ben Deschamps of The Heather Dale Band.
Used with permission.
So you're interested in hosting a Wax Chaotic house concert, but you're not sure where to start. To help answer some of your questions, we've compiled the following how-to guide, adapted from the "House Concert How-To Guide" by Ben Deschamps of The Heather Dale Band. If you do not see your question answered below, feel free to contact us.
There are two kinds of house concerts, but both look the same (more about that in a moment). In each case, we (Katt McConnell, Allyson Clarkson, and Riley McConnell) arrange to come to your home, set up our instruments, and perform a relaxed and fun concert for your guests right in your living room. We all have a chance to chat, laugh and socialize before and after the actual concert portion of the evening/afternoon. But there are two kinds of house concerts, right? The difference is in how the concert is funded. Option 1.) Each of the attendees brings some money as a donation to the artists (we usually suggest $5 to $10, but we're flexible). Option 2.) The host arranges to pay us a flat fee beforehand (usually a couple of hundred dollars, especially if you are outside of the Indianapolis area) and doesn't ask the attendees for a donation. In both cases we encourage people to bring some extra money to buy our CDs, t-shirts, and other nifty merch items to take home with them. Either option is great with us!
Well, the point of hosting a house concert is to have performers that you like playing music in your living room. If you're on our website, we're goign to assume that you like our music! If you like having friends over and having a good time in your own house, then a house concert is probably your kind of thing. If, and I say this in all seriousness, you are the kind of person who doesn't like having people around, or who gets overly stressed out about having people in their house – then hosting a house concert probably isn't your kind of thing. If that's the case, but you'd still like to see Wax Chaotc in your area, perhaps talking to a friend who might be interested in hosting something at their house might be a better idea, and working with them to set something up.
House concerts tend to function best with at least 15-20 people in the room. Unless you are confident in party management, having more than 40 people at a house concert becomes something of a logistical challenge, and an alternate venue (church hall, etc.) is generally a better bet. But many people are surprised by how many folks can fit comfortably in their living room, rec room, or dining room...a few extra folding chairs can do wonders.
Don't be afraid to invite lots of people. In our experience, usually about 60% of invitees will RSVP to say they're coming; on the actual concert night, there are always some RSVPs who suddenly can't make it (sometimes as much as 30%). Asking for an RSVP or reservation (just write down their name and phone number on a list, with the number of seats they'd like) is strongly encouraged — it helps you plan out the seating, munchies, and other logistics. It also encourages people to remember the show in their busy social calendar. And if suddenly EVERYONE you've invited calls you to make a reservation, then there are always options: You can look for an alternate venue (a friend's larger house, a community center room, or church hall) or host a second night, if you're up for it.
One of the best parts about this style of concert is that it brings people together. Don't just think about inviting your close friends...what about your neighbors? Co-workers? Members of any clubs you belong to? Other parents from your childrens' school? Invite everyone you can think of, even if they might not ordinarily seem like they're interested in folk or filk music — you never know which of your co-workers might be looking for something new to try. This is a great opportunity to host a cheery yet relaxed party; there's plenty of time to chat and mingle before and after the concert, as well as during the intermission. Just be sure to let the invitees know that the artists are paid by donation, and that there will be some CDs and other merch items available for sale. Otherwise people forget to bring their wallets. On our side of things, we're always trying to introduce more people to our music, and inviting a wide range of people really helps us with that.
If you live in a house in North America, the answer is very probably yes. A normal-sized North American living room will readily accommodate 30+ people, even if it doesn't look like it will. If you have a room that is about 20'x20', that should be plenty. You should also have a table or countertop with munchies and beverages, a table for merchandise, and a functioning washroom (can't stress this one enough!). The space should be easily accessible – not up a difficult staircase, etc. – and if you can manage to make one end of the room slightly more lighted than the other so that the performers are visible, then even better.
We've also been known to perform outdoor concerts, but this obviously comes with more limitations than performing indoors. You have to worry about the weather (too hot, too cold, too wet), you have to worry about the lighting (especially if it's an evening concert, or either us or the audience will be facing directly into the sun at any point during the performance), and various other natural hazards (stinging insects, poison ivy, etc.). Outdoor venues also largely required some sort of sound system so we can be heard. But the upside is a pretty major one - there's much more room for seating.
What about kids, you ask? Our concerts are family-friendly (lots of stories, laughter and chatting with the audience), and we don't have any problem at all with having older children in the audience. Most younger kids can have a fantastic time too...but we'd suggest having a backup plan in place, in case the little ones start to get fussy or fidgety. Each half of the concert is about 45 minutes to an hour long, and that can be a long time for a youngster. What about setting up a 'movie room' or play room in another part of the house, so that parents can take their kids away from the main concert if necessary?
Chairs, for audience and performers. Folding chairs make best use of the space, but the other chairs and sofas you use every day in your house will doubtless be popular if moved to the back of the crowd. It's a good idea to only set up about half the chairs in advance; a smaller but completely full set of seats always looks more encouraging than a bunch of empty chairs. The performers tend to favour armless chairs (the arms get in the way of the instruments).
Munchies – you can do a pot-luck situation, or just grab some chips and pop at your local grocery store of choice. Some people like to bake cookies, and I for one am OK with that! Coffee is also an excellent choice. If you want to serve beer and wine, that can work, but we generally steer clear of too much hooch at the shows, and BYOB tends to be a bad plan.
A small table (or corner of a larger table) – to display the CDs and other merchandise we have for sale. Preferably placed somewhere near the munchies, easy to reach, and with enough room around it for a few people to peruse our wares at the same time.
A hat – for putting the door collection in. We usually bring our own receptacle, but having a spare just in case never hurts. Other containers can serve just as well.
We like to call it a "suggested donation" for a couple of reasons – 1.) it's a little icky to charge friends for entry into your home, and 2.) because for insurance/fire marshall purposes, you are not operating a business, you're simply having invited guests over who donate towards the entertainers. That being said, we tend to "suggest" $5 to $10, which goes to the band to cover the expenses incurred by performing out on the road. We often suggest a reduced rate for kids (house concerts are a great way for kids to learn about different kinds of music, and children are 100% welcome at our house concerts – with appropriate parental supervision of course). The guests will of course have the opportunity to peruse our CDs, t-shirts, and other merch items as they become available.
Somewhere between "nothing" and "very little". The host certainly doesn't pay to see the show. If you decide to put out munchies for people, it tends to be a fairly minimal expense. Alternatively you can set up the house concert as a pot-luck, which is even cheaper. The host doesn't pay for our travel expenses, except in rare circumstances (for example, if you simply must have us come to somewhere far outside of the Midwest). Please let us know in advance if you don't have a guest room where we can sleep overnight; an unexpected hotel room can add considerably to our costs, but with enough notice we may be able to stay with other friends in the area.
Most people find that they can organize a house concert with a minimum of difficulty. On the day of the show, we are usually happy to lend a hand with some setup. If you have a friend in financial straits who would really like to see the show but doesn't have $10, then sometimes it's good to have an extra set of hands available, exchanging a bit of grunt work for admission to the show.
Social media – This seems to be the big one these days. Lots of people like to put together a Facebook event; this helps to gauge response as well. Feel free to link to WaxChaotic.com as that way people can listen to the music and see what they're in for!
Local & college radio – We don't get much airplay on commercial radio, but college radio and locally-owned stations are generally much more receptive to what we do. If you know of a folk/indie/Pagan/acoustic music show, by all means let them know about what we're up to. Generally with these types of stations, it's best to contact the hosts of each show directly, and let them know that we're coming to town. They might even be interested in having us do a phone interview, or playing in studio, if the timing is right. And if you have to give your copies of CDs to a DJ, just let us know, and we'll replace them for you. You also have our explicit permission to make copies for DJs.
Posters – We put posters for house concerts on our Press Kit page that you can download and customise to include the specific information for your event. Put them up wherever you like! We find you'll have better success with targeted postering than a huge random campaign – consider independent bookshops, music stores, English and History university departments, libraries, churches, etc.
Spread the word to local filkers - If you're involved with your local filk scene, your filker friends would be an excellent group to advertise your house concert to. While "twisted folk" means that we don't stick exclusively to any one genre unless we feel like it, the bulk of our repertoire could be correctly described as filk.
And last but certainly not least:
YOUR NEIGHBOURS! Knock on their doors! Make them a little invitation! You might think they wouldn't like this kind of music, but these days we often don't really know our neighbours, and we really should get to know them. Invite them, it builds community and makes the world a better place.
That happens. Sometimes the date is bad, sometimes people are just burned out from other things, sometimes Ozzy Osbourne is playing in town and everybody wants to go see him instead. Don't take it personally, that's just the way things are – next time we're in the area, maybe we'll have better luck scheduling something. It's generally best to get one well-attended house concert in an area than two sparsely attended ones, so sometimes we try to put prospective organizers in touch with each other to spread the workload and get more people involved. But we only do this with permission from all parties, so don't worry, we're not going to play matchmaker.
While we definitely appreciate any venue suggestions people have, it's quite often best to play a house concert in a new area before approaching any venues. That way we have an established fan base in an area and can negotiate appropriately with venue owners for future shows. But for our first few trips to an area, playing house concerts is definitely preferable in most cases.