Last month we featured acoustic/folk artist Jess Vincent. We planned to meet with her at Bath’s leading music venue Moles. Unfortunately a week before we were due to film, Moles suffered an electrical fire, causing the venue to close for several months. Rather than forfeit the opportunity to feature Jess I decided to invite her to perform an informal couple of sets to an audience of 30 at my home. At the request of some Music Unbuttoned readers, I will share with you my experiences which may hopefully encourage you to host your own house gig.
The first thing to consider before hosting a house concert is space. It is not necessary to have a big house with large rooms, any sized room (within reason) will do. But it is important that the room has a shape that will give the artist a presence. There is a fine line between making your house concert feel like an event, and feeling like a mate has popped round with a guitar. To overcome this I created a mini stage, using a rug with fairy lights placed around it. This created a distinction between musician and audience. I positioned this illuminated stage in front of the fireplace which helped make Jess Vincent the focal point.
Now that the stage is set I focused on the audience. We have all been to venues that provide uncomfortable chairs. When this happens it doesn't matter how good the artist is, if you’re uncomfortable it’s hard to enjoy yourself. With space at a premium it is hard to ensure everyone has optimum comfort, but I did the best I could with what was available to me. I made sure I didn’t invite too many people, limiting my list to 30 guests. I removed all unnecessary furniture, only leaving chairs for our older guests. For everyone else I provided floor cushions, bean bags, and rugs. As a secondary measure to ensure no one became uncomfortable, Jess Vincent performed shorter sets, only half an hour each.
The final thing to consider before committing to hosting a house gig, is payment for the musician. Different musicians have different prices and ethics when it comes to payment. For my house concert I explained to Jess Vincent that a hat would be past around asking for donations, However I also guaranteed a modest amount which would cover her expenses. Guaranteeing a small amount is important, it allows the artist to decided if they can afford to perform in a worst case scenario. It also protects you from angry musicians if your guests aren’t in a generous mood. It is also important to tell your guests in advance that donations will be asked of them, many people don’t carry cash so advanced notice offers them the opportunity to get some.
There are great advantages to hosting your own house concert, one is that you can influence the ambiance. Imagine greeting each guest with a Jägerbomb, now imagine greeting them with a cup of tea. Both events would have a completely different energy regardless of your chosen musician. For my house gig I closed the curtains to create a dim light and burn joss sticks. I provided a choice of Beer or Wine, and cooked a big pot of curry which was served during Jess Vincent’s interval. All of my guests including Jess Vincent appreciated the Indian themed afternoon, however no one had noticed it was all a ploy to disguise the fact that I didn’t have enough chairs. Sitting on the floor some how complimented the food, dim lighting, and aroma, it all seemed part of the same package and created a mellow atmosphere.
Another advantage is you can invite whoever you want, you don’t have to tolerated the smelly dude wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt who has been at every concert I have ever been to. Holding a gig in my home allowed me to invite parents and their children, which is a great way to introduce children to live music. But the greatest advantage to hosting your own event is that you can make it whatever you want. My experience may serve as a helpful insight but it is by no means a rule. Just make sure you indulge your own selfish desires, if you are enjoying yourself then you can be confident your guests are too.
If you would like a house concert without the stress, contact Music Unbuttoned.