Web exclusive: How to host a house concert 

The model for hosting a house concert is straightforward: invite musicians you’d like to play, tell your friends and like-minded music lovers and open your door. Simple, right? From there, it can get a little more complicated.

Booking the music

Finding the musicians is usually the easiest and most fun part of the planning process. Once you’ve decided on the artist, discuss the parameters of the show with them. Living room shows are typically totally acoustic or have light amplification. Often the musicians will tour with a small PA system or you may need to provide one. Set the expectations for the performance. Will there be one set or two? How long will the sets last?

Discuss the fee structure. Consider how many people your performance space can hold. Will the musician get a flat rate, the proceeds from the door or a percentage of the money collected: as the guests arrive, or in a donation jar or by passing the hat during the show? Discuss how the show will be promoted. Do you want them to promote the show on their Web site and to their e-mail lists?

Talk about logistics for the day of the show: Do they need time to set up equipment, transportation to your house and lodging?

Inviting the guests

Send out invitations for the show. This can be accomplished via e-mail, fliers or online sites such as Evite.com. Open an e-mail account dedicated to your house concert series; it helps keep all of the concert information in one place and you’re not giving out your personal e-mail address to the rest of the world.

Let people know that the music will be the focus of the evening, not in the background. Explain why you chose the artist and include a link to the artist’s Web site. Let people know the ticket price. Explain how the show will work, if children are welcome and any other factors guests need to be aware of (steep stairs, pets in the house or food restrictions). Ask for a firm RSVP.

Once you’ve received a commitment, send a confirmation note with more specific information: the address of the show, the parking situation, pets, allergies, smoking rules and children. Remind people to bring cash for the admission price and for CD purchases. Discuss any potluck details: Do they bring food to share and drinks? If there are food restrictions, spell them out very clearly: no nuts or shellfish because of allergies or no red wine because of white carpets. Ask for a telephone number in case there is a last-minute change or cancellation. 

Preparing your house

Figure out the seating configuration and where the performer will play. The “stage” can be as simple as a rug or, for an outdoor show, a tree. Keep in mind any electrical needs and lighting. Make sure the area is out of the traffic flow and can be seen from the rest of the room. You may need to move furniture and position sofas and chairs so they naturally face the performance space. Add lighting to the stage: It can be as simple as a floor lamps or inexpensive clamp-on lamps from a hardware store.

Set aside an area for the musicians to display their CDs and any merchandise they have for sale. It does not have to be in the room they are playing in. If the house concert includes snacks or a pitch-in, make sure you have adequate counter or table space. Provide plates, napkins, silverware and cups. Some series ask their guests to bring reusable tableware and travel mugs to keep the show as green as possible.

Think about where you will have people stash coats, umbrellas and coolers if they are to bring food and drinks.

Let you neighbors know about the show or, better yet, invite them to the show so they feel included. Having them prepared for the influx of extra cars and people goes a long way in keeping the peace.

Two days before the concert

Send reminders to the confirmed guests and check in with the artist. If you still have room for more people, encourage your guests to bring friends and let the musician open the show to their mailing list. Reiterate that their participation is the essential ingredient for the success of the house concert. Include a telephone number they can use to reach you if they need to cancel at the last minute. If the show “sells out,” make sure you keep a waiting list so you can fill in any cancellations.

Confirm details with neighbors and anyone that is helping the day of the show with chairs, equipment or setting up and tearing down after the show.

The day of the concert

Set up the room. If you need help moving furniture and arranging chairs, invite a few of the guests to come early. Make sure your house is stocked with the essentials: bathroom supplies, a way to collect the money and bins for recycling. Have cash on hand for making change.

Provide a room for the musicians to stash their gear and warm up. 

Have a friend come early to help greet guests, collect money and direct people.

Open your front door and revel in the community that you have created in your living room.

Frequent concerns

Will my insurance cover a house concert?
Marty Dezelan, director of business development for Dezelan-GDM Insurance, suggests “checking with your insurance agent before hosting a house concert” and “making sure that you have an umbrella policy.” An umbrella policy also fills gaps in coverage under basic liability policies. “The big issue that comes in to play is the sale of liquor. If you have a cash bar then you would have to have liquor liability insurance — and that could get expensive.”

I don’t want strangers in my house.
They’re not strangers, really. All of your guests will be friends, friends of friends and fans of the artist. Don’t list your address on any fliers or the initial e-mail.

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