Okay, Conrad the peasant aside, it's time to jump in here. We have put on, hosted, produced, whatever, 50-some house concerts, 2 mini-festivals, four workshops. We have performed at dozens. We have hosted performers such as Rosalie Sorrels, David Essig, Tanglefoot, Bryan Bowers, Don Ross, Ken Hamm, Doug Cox, Gary Fjellgaard, Laurie Thain, 3 Sheets to the Wind, Flatland 6, Fred Eaglesmith and so on. The only one we went looking for was Bryan Bowers (I play autoharp)--the rest heard about us and called. We began with folks we knew or were friends and word got out. Some became friends. Ken Hamm, for instance, is producing our new CD (June release) of old-time goldrush music.
They were all given the same deal--dinner, a room, breakfast, 2/3 of the door and good treatment. We encouraged people to buy product, and often this doubled the door. We charged $12 including refreshments at the break (donations did not work). We consistently filled our "hall" with 40-50 people. If it was a poor door we gave it all to the performer. We always took whatever nights were open and left the weekend nights for the larger towns several hours away. We filled in those dead nights that would have been spent in a motel or on the road.
Over the years we have done this (about 6), we have managed to break even (except for the festivals). Originally we used our dining room but I spent a couple of grand and fixed up an out building (we are on a ranch) with heat, carpets, some stage lights, interesting decor, etc. We bought some old "director" type chairs that were comfortable and foldable. We expanded our venue and encouraged two other folks in nearby towns to join us, so we had a small circuit of 3 gigs. We all agreed to book whoever the others wanted, though usually we were the originator. We all offered the same, except Bill.We encouraged Bill to try and show a small profit if he was going to be able to keep giving concerts.
Bill printed tickets, Bill advertised (paid), Bill gave 10% to the owner of the hall, Bill bought dinner. Bill printed posters. Bill lost money and had to quit giving house concerts.
All performers accepted this deal and all went away happy. We only had one or two bombs--and still don't know why. We get good support from the local papers. We send a press release and a photo and two comps. We poster, we phone, we e-mail.
We have built an audience that trusts us--so even new performers draw a crowd. We built an audience and a community--and it was open to anyone.
Rules Conrad? Damn right. No smoking, no booze, no boo-boo-talk-alots. This was a listening audience that wanted to hear the performers, up close and intimate.
Free music? Free to whom? Performers had to pay to get here and live and we had minor expenses. You want free? Offer to work the door, do the cleaning, buy toilet paper, fill up the gas tank, bring the refreshments, cook dinner and breakfast for the performers, wash the bedding. Come and spend 4 hours on my tractor ploughing snow for parking in mid-winter. A few of our regular audience did help and still wanted to pay. They believed in supporting Canadian music.(read musicians who eat.)
Downsides? We have never had anything stolen, but we have someone in the house during the breaks and if someone leaves during the concert they are followed quietly.(We are in a rural area os we know most of the audience.) Usually it's a guy going to pee behind a tree. Guests bring in mud and dirt, so we have to clean the floors of the house and the "hall" each time. We heat the hall with wood, so there is little cost but some work.
Downsides? Who did not support the series? For the most part, (always exceptions) local performers did not support. Some called for bookings and we always said the same thing. Come and see what we are doing first.
Downsides? Paper work. SOCAN busted us. Wanted $$ per show. We don't need more paper work and we don't need a paper trail for Revenue Canada who in some cases have demanded bookkeeping on all house concerts. (There is no profit to tax but again, who wants the paerp work--that is our regular life.) We tried to keep it low key so as not to attract fire marshals, buiness license inspectors etc. Have you ever had a phone call or letter from SOCAN? Ours were always threatening, rude ---who needs it? They always left a sour taste. So we worked out a deal with SOCAN--we stopped giving concerts. The 3 venue circuit is now dead, after approximately 100+ shows that conservativily brought in $40,000 in cash to performers.
There is a difference in doing 1 or 2 concerts a year and one a month. You can afford to lose a few bucks on one or two--not on 40.
Profit? As Robert Theobold said: "Bad people get paid for doing bad things. Why should not good people get paid for doing good things."
We wrote a piece on house concerts for a music cataloque and it was on our website until the SOCAN fiasco. If you would like a copy leave a message and I can fax or e-mail it.
Oh, Conrad--how many house concerts have you hosted?
We believe in house concerts and so do many performers. Costs are low and audience enjoyment is high. We are trying to figure out how to start up again.
Richard Wright in the grasslands of BC