This latest trend in the independent music scene gives homeowners a wonderful way to support the arts while enjoying a lovely summer night on the patio.
A house concert is a private musical performance, usually open to the public, that collects donations or ticket fees to be given to the performer. House concerts are great ways to meet new people and support artists. Many hosts choose to set up a space inside their homes, but outdoor concerts are en vogue during the summer months. “There’s something quite wonderful about playing outdoors, about not being hemmed in by architecture,” said Steve Lawson of Birmingham, England. Steve, who uses the online moniker SoloBassSteve, is a well-known independent bass player and lecturer, and has graced the cover of Bass Guitar Magazine. Steve has performed around 100 house concerts.
To Steve, the main concerns about outdoor house concerts are volume and weather. “Volume requires the artist to be understanding about the needs of the environment, but also necessitates an upfront conversation with the neighbors— my advice is normally to invite them along.” The weather is the most obvious concern. “If you live in a part of the world where the weather isn’t always predictable (being in the UK, our weather is a total mystery!), you definitely need a plan B. And if you intend to do the outdoor gig undercover if it rains – in a gazebo for example – you need to square that with the artist first, because some people have instruments that don’t respond well to humidity, or electronic equipment that would be damaged even by a splash of rain.”
Your patio is great place for a private performance. It probably already has the necessary supplies for a house concert: space for the artist to set up, a power supply and several folding chairs or picnic blanket space on the lawn. But be aware: Steve warns hosts that a house concert is “not just a party with background music.” Hosts and guests may need to be educated on exactly what a house concert is. Artists are not coming to your house to be background music for another event. Their performance is the event. “You need to make sure that the audience arrives expecting to listen, that the seating is arranged so that the focus during the music is on the artist, and that the artist is lit and presented in a way that means everyone can see what’s going on,” Steve advises.
Setting up your house concert properly takes a little know-how, but the performer can give you a few tips. “Sound requirements are obviously hugely dependent on the nature of the act. A lot of house concert performers are essentially acoustic musicians and so require very little other than a quiet audience and a space away from traffic or industrial noise. If the [artists’ performances] are amplified, then making sure the speakers are directed towards the audience and away from any possible problematic neighbors is a must. It’s definitely worth drawing up a list of every possible eventuality, and if you’re unsure, ask the artist!” Steve said.
Here are a few other tips to consider:
Know the noise ordinance of your municipality. An 11pm curfew on noise is typical. An outdoor house concert should probably end by that hour. You can move into a quiet cocktail hour with a meet-n-greet with the performer after that.
As always, be very careful with electrical equipment. The performer should know what kind of power supply he or she will need for the musical equipment used during the set. Usually a few extension cords (and sufficient amp service) will do the trick, but double check on what will be required. Also make sure to tape down any cords. Setting up the stage area closest to the outlets is best.
Appoint a helper to take donations or sell tickets. Musicians deserve to be paid for their work. Whether you collect at the door or pass around a basket, make sure the artists do not have to solicit money themselves. Then, make sure the artists receive their donations at the end. House concert hosts typically lend their homes to the artist and patrons but do not take a cut of the donations, but if your event is a large one that comes with significant expense, you can work out a deal with the artists.
Set up a “merch” table and appoint someone to manage it. Many indie artists carry copies of their music on cds or usb sticks to sell at events. Some artists sell merchandise like t-shirts or pins and decals. Displaying these products professionally helps sell them. The artist depends on these sales for support.
Opening up your outdoor space to a house concert by indie musicians is a creative and generous way to support the arts. You probably know or are connected to an artist or two who will love the offer, and a private concert under the stars in your own backyard can be checked off your bucket list.