(Photo from our first ever DIY house concert, December 12, 2015: In photo: Dominick Sotis-lead vocals and guitar, John Seaborn Gray-drums, Willie Guy Arnot-bass)
On December 12, 2015, my husband Paul and I hosted our first ever house concert and overall, it was a success!!
In this post, I will detail the factors that motivated me to come up with my personal concept for our house concert, the steps we took to plan for it, the execution of those plans, which elements of that plan worked extremely well, and which elements will need some modification to improve future house concerts. I will also detail how I broke down the payments towards the bands and others who contributed to the production, and provide some direct quotes from people who attended.
WHAT MOTIVATED ME TO COME UP WITH MY HOUSE CONCERT CONCEPT
I came up with this concept for a house concert a few months back. The main factor motivating me stemmed from my observation that here in Houston, very few “middle of the road” venues exist where bands can steadily build their draws and get paid fairly. Many venues in this city are now charging bands high rental fees to play. A few other venues operate via a pay to play system, where they require the bands to presell tickets to a show, which can determine whether or not they get paid, or even sometimes whether or not they are able to play the show at all. Some venues don’t pay the bands at all, and tell them that if they want to jump on a larger bill, they can play for exposure. In essence, they expect the bands to take a cut in pay, or pay them exorbitant fees to play, while they, the venues, cover themselves 100%.
These same venues also continue to take in profits through alcohol sales. The bands help contribute to these alcohol sales by bringing people to see them play, who in turn buy the booze the venue sells. So in that regard, the bands are not only paying the venue a rental fee (or playing for nothing or close to it), but they are also bringing the venue more profits through alcohol sales. Some venues reportedly don’t even offer the bands drink tickets, forcing them to buy their own drinks, which further contributes to the venues’ profits. In essence, the bands are the venues’ vessel to bring them profits. Paying the bands are not the first and foremost goal. In my view, this modus operandi annihilates a local scene, and quickly at that. Although some artists do not care about getting paid for their work, there are many that do, and those artists may be forced to stop giving their business to these venues that are operating from this model. Another factor to note is that these venues generally do a minimal to no level of promotion for local shows, but heavily promote their regional and national shows. The whole system should function symbiotically, where both the venue and the bands do equal amounts of work and both can profit at the end of the night.
While I do understand that these venues are trying to survive (and I must note that I WANT to see them survive), I would rather not see them attempt to do so at the expense of making it nearly impossible for local acts to play shows there and get paid fairly. Whether or not the bands make any money is typically insignificant to the venue because covering their own bottom line is the main concern. When a venue operates from this business model, it is sure to disappoint many local bands and cause them to seek another place to play where they can be paid fairly. Unfortunately, with the exception of a handful of local venues, the bands are finding that they have very few options left to turn where they will be paid fairly.
Hence, I decided that I would take action to assist these bands in their quest for not only a place to play where they would not only be paid fairly, but WELL, where there would be no rental fees to pay, where they wouldn’t be required to shell out presale tickets, and where they could have a truly enjoyable EXPERIENCE all the way around. I also wanted to find a way to create a very unique experience for the audience, something more intimate that offered something different than a venue could offer them AND at a lower price. The action I decided to take was to host quarterly house parties at our home. One in winter, one in spring, one in summer, and one in fall. Our home would be DONATED, meaning that I WOULD TAKE IN NO PERSONAL PROFITS to host this event. The money brought in would go mostly to the bands that played, a little would go to cover the cost of food, and some would go to cover those people who were in some way contributing to the production of the event (cooking, sound, etc).
THE BRAINSTORMING AND PLANNING FOR THE EVENT
First, I began by surveying some friends on Facebook about how much they spend when they go out to see a local show. The costs included everything from the admission , the amount of drinks consumed (and how much those drinks cost each), the tip on the bar tab, if they had to pay to park somewhere, and if they bought the band’s merchandise. I asked them to provide me with a general figure. Most people told me they spent around $50-$60 on any variation of these factors. Those that had to pay for parking spent considerably more, as well as those who bought merch from the bands. Of course, the venue that one visits also plays a role in how much one spends… for example, if you’re going to House of Blues, you are most likely going to pay more per ticket (plus any surcharges that process incurs), and you’re going to pay MUCH more for drinks there, as the drinks are priced higher. This scenario would change if you went to a smaller local venue, where drinks are more reasonably priced and admission price is lower. But overall, $50 to $60 was the average amount most people quoted they spent when going to see a local show.
So, I began weighing in factors that would increase audience satisfaction by giving them more of a unique experience for a lower price. I already knew that I wouldn’t be charging the band rent, that I wouldn’t be requiring them to sell tickets, and that I would be able to provide them with a PA and even lend them some of our own gear, (which would enable them to bring less gear of their own) since the event would be in our home where we practice. I already knew that I was going to charge a door fee, but I wasn’t sure what that amount would be and what it would include. I began thinking what could make our house concerts truly special, something that people who attended would want to tell others to come to the next time we had a house concert.
I thought, “let’s provide a really bad ass meal, and include that in the admission price”!!! I immediately got in touch with one of my friends who is a sous chef at a local restaurant, and we discussed the matter further and he agreed to come cook at the party. We decided on a menu and I agreed to buy all the food and he would cook it.
Next, I made the party BYOB. No bartenders to pay, no tips, no reason to have to spend more than the admission fee unless you wanted to buy your own alcohol. Even then, people were still spending less than what they would spend to go to a venue to see a show, and so far, they were still getting a greater value for their money. GREAT, I thought! What else could we do to make this even more bad ass?
Here’s how. One of my very close friends who has provided laser lights for our band’s shows before volunteered to provide his lighting services for our house concert. I said to myself… NOW this is going to be over the top! It’s going to be more like an actual show! I was really thrilled! The plan was really starting to come together.
The next step I knew I needed to take was to acquire a sound permit from the city of Houston. This would allow me to have music until 10 pm, and avoid getting ticketed for a sound violation as long as the decibel level wasn’t over 75 DB from the end of my property line. This is ALWAYS a good thing to have if you are going to have a house concert somewhere in a suburban area, or even if it’s in a location like a warehouse or other building near residences.
After taking all of these factors into consideration, I decided that $20 would be a great admission price. The meal was included, the audience could have a mind blowing intimate experience with some great local bands, they could bring their own alcohol, and it would still cost less than having to go to see a show at a venue.
THE STEPS I TOOK IN IMPLEMENTING THIS PLAN
The first thing I did was create a Facebook event and made it PRIVATE. I only invited a select number of my friends, and allowed them to invite a guest. I explained the details of what we would be providing, the set times for the bands, the admission price, that we would have a sound permit… anything and everything that someone who planned to attend would need to know.
The next item of business was to decide where in our home the bands would play. We figured since it was December, and the weather would be cooler, we could have them play in our garage. We felt that keeping the garage door closed and buying foam insulation to cover it from the inside would help prevent sound issues and also would keep more heat in for the guests and bands. So, we began cleaning out our garage fairly quickly. Our very good friend Steve Boriack assisted us immensely in this process, helping us sift through and haul away loads of trash and items that were no longer usable. He was a massive help to us. Steve is also the individual who offered to provide his laser lights for our party, so he also came and set those up in the garage. We took him out to a nice dinner afterwards!
Steve and Paul also moved our PA from inside our house into the garage and also discussed what gear the bands would need to borrow from us. Amps, cables, mike stands, mikes, and an acoustic guitar were all on the list.
I also bought our sound permit online. It was around $33.00 and it took about three days to get it approved.
Next came buying everything for the feast! We thought fajitas would be great and fairly simple to cook in large quantities so I went to the store and bought everything from chicken to beef skirt steak to portabello mushrooms (for the vegetarians), seasonings, minute rice (to make Spanish rice), beans, tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, chips, cupcakes, candy… anything I could think of that he could prepare easily in mass or I could just set out for people to enjoy while the meal was being prepared. I spent $220 on the food.
The days before the show mostly involved cleaning and decorating our house. My fabulous sister in law donated her full size christmas tree and indoor and outdoor lighting, and my mother in law donated ornaments, a wreath, and some smaller trees. We bought some additional outdoor and indoor lights ourselves and my husband picked up a Darth Vader light up yard decoration that we placed on our porch! We also had help from friends cleaning the house and more decoration donations! After all was said and done, the house looked really great!
The day of the show our chef was the first to show, and he immediately began preparing the meal and putting the meats on the grill outside. I printed out a list of all the guests who had hit “attending” on the invite and also wrote down other names that those guests had indicated to me that they would be bringing. I did this so I could keep track of how many said they would attend vs. how many actually attended, and how much each person donated. In this way, I could track how the event itself did at the end of the night, and also compare or contrast data from this event to the next event we would have.
Paul and Steve were also busy prepping last minute details in the garage, making trips to Home Depot to get additional items, and generally tightening everything up for the performance. They had set up seating in the garage, as well as tables to set food and drinks.
By the time guests began to arrive, everything was set in motion. Most people arrived right around the time the bands were setting up to play. It was great to see so many other local musicians attend… Ian, Sarah, and Josh from Jealous Creatures, and Sherita Perez all showed up to support!
We had the bands load in through our garage door, which was an interesting process because one of the cables that connected to our automatic garage door system ended up being sliced as the garage door rolled back, but we were able to repair it. During this repair time, the garage door stayed about half open and it had started raining, which made for a challenging load in! I rerouted some of the band members through our front door and helped them any way I could getting their gear in safely. Whew, that was unexpected!
The drummer for Glass The Sky was kind enough to share his drum kit with the opening band, so we had them set up all their gear and do a sound check so they could start playing right after the opener had finished their set.
The opening act was a student of mine named Dominick Sotis. He is 17 years old and is a total bad ass on guitar. His set included some covers from John Mayer, Joe Bonamassa, and Cream and also some of his own original music. Two of the teachers from Sessions Music (where myself and both of them teach) backed him up that night: our drum instructor, John Seaborn Gray, and one of our guitar instructors, Willie Guy Arnot. I even joined them on playing and singing “Good Love Is On The Way” by John Mayer. THAT was super fun!
Steve had his light show going in full effect at this point (shown in the picture above). There were lasers, a fog machine, and other additional lighting and it looked GREAT!
Since the weather ended up being warmer than expected, Steve also brought a unit that converted the outside air into cooler air inside, but we had to leave the back door in our garage open to access the air outside. We also had a fan by the bands inside. The garage door was closed this entire time, and we also placed the sound proof materials that were purchased at Home Depot over the entire garage door on the inside.
About 20 minutes into the show, we got a visit from HPD. Someone had made a noise complaint. A guest alerted me that the officer was at our front door. I made my way outside to talk with the officer, and at the same time I opened the door another guest was arriving. The officer looked at our sound permit, which was placed outside on our mailbox. He had noted that the complaint had come from someone from the street in front of us, not from anyone on our street, but he didn’t know precisely who on that street had made the complaint. He told me that the noise level was above 75 DB. He did not measure this with a decibel meter, as I found out from the guest who arrived at the same time as the officer. He didn’t ticket me, but noted that if he had to make a second trip, he would ticket me. He was friendly about the matter, and simply suggested that turning down an amplifier would help immensely… but I must admit at this point I was very hyper sensitive of the sound level coming from the garage.
We had to ask Steve to shut off the air conditioning unit and close the back door. We also had to stop the show briefly to explain to the bands what had just happened. Dominick turned down his amplifier level, and John played with hot sticks instead of traditional sticks. My husband Paul grabbed another fan from our practice space, placed it in the kitchen, opened the door from our house to the garage, and blasted the fan fully. It did help immensely in circulating air to the garage, but was most likely not in the most convenient space! All the food was already laid out in the kitchen, and the fan was a little noisy, so even though it wasn’t an ideal solution, it worked better than having the cops come out again and ticket us. Sometimes, you just have to roll with the punches, which was what we did. Dominick and his band continued to play, and the guests were having a great time.
By the time Glass The Sky went on, it appeared that our sound issues were settled. Throughout their entire set, we didn’t have another visit from HPD. Glass The Sky’s performance was FLAWLESS and Erin Rodgers, their pianist and clarinet player, even performed a song on acoustic guitar which was AMAZING! They also sold some merch to guests that had never heard them before! I was very excited for them!
THE RESPONSE FROM THE GUESTS AND BANDS
Overall, the guests and the bands had a great time and were very pleased with the experience. They said the food was amazing and were also very pleased with the bands. All the musicians gained some new fans and everyone got to mingle in a more relaxed environment.
Here’s a very nice “thank you” from Glass The Sky:
“On behalf of Glass the Sky, I want to say thank you to Tessa and Paul for hosting such a lovely gathering and say thanks to everyone that listened to us play and bought our music. It was an amazingly fun night!”-Michael Mazzela (Glass The Sky)
Dominick Sotis was happy with the whole night as well: “Thanks for looking out for the up and comers and being totally awesome!”
John Seaborn Gray also enjoyed the party: “It was an excellent party. Job well done!”
Erin Rodgers from Glass The Sky also told us: “We had a great time and the sound was awesome!”
(Photo: Glass The Sky from Houston, Texas playing our house concert)
BEING TRANSPARENT: THE NUMBERS AND DATA
It did rain on the day of our show, so the number of people that actually attended was cut nearly in half. We had 51 people saying they would attend on the Facebook invite (10 of which were myself and Paul, the bands, our chef and Steve, who volunteered to do lights), plus those who we had contacted via text or phone, and then the additional list of people who said they would attend from our other guests. At the end of the night, we had 21 confirmed people who paid, and three of those people donated $40 instead of $20, which brought us to a grand total of $540. I took out $100 to pay myself back for slightly under half of the food, and paid each of the bands $220. Glass The Sky also was able to sell some merchandise. Two of the band members from our opening band donated their pay back to the $540, and the next day, a friend stopped by to contribute (who had donated decorations but couldn’t attend the party) $30, so we used that $30 plus an additional $50 to pay our chef. My husband volunteered to do sound and took no money for it. Of course, I took no money for myself either. In the final equation, I was able to pay myself back for nearly all the food, pay our chef, pay the bands well, Glass The Sky sold merch, and both musical acts gained new followers. I would assess that this first show was a success but still had some kinks that needed to be worked out to make the next event flow even better.
HOW I FEEL THIS CONCEPT CAN BE IMPROVED UPON
We will have the bands play inside our house the next time instead of the garage. First, it will be springtime and it will be hotter outside, so playing inside will keep the guests and bands more comfortable. Secondly, our practice area is already 100% soundproofed, and there are no residences behind our house, so we plan to move everything out of our living room and have the bands play there. We will use the garage again for our winter concerts, but we will definitely have the bands play at a lower level and make sure the back door is closed! We will use more fans for circulation, if needed, but not place them inside the kitchen!
Our chef commented that he wanted a light for outside by the grill in case it got dark early. He was still grilling when it got dark, and our porch light didn’t provide enough lighting for him. We had a large outdoor umbrella placed over the grill since it was raining, and that covered him entirely, but he definitely needed more light. We will make sure has that light!
Paul and I also downloaded decibel reader apps on our phones. This way we can check the decibel level outside to make sure it is within range. If for any reason the police ever do show up again, we can show them that the sound is within the 75 DB range as we plan on keeping it that way!!
THE SUCCESSES OF THE HOUSE CONCERT
The main success of this first house concert was the level of satisfaction of the guests and the bands. I was also happy to see video and photo shares of many of the guests on social media. Everybody loved the food, the relaxed environment, and just hanging out and talking about music, our music scene, and generally just enjoying each other’s company. All the guests wanted to know about when we would be throwing the next party!
In conclusion, I personally would love to see more people expand on this concept. I cannot lie, it’s a lot of work, but it’s extremely rewarding work. Plus, if you get a great team to help you, it will really come together in a more creative fashion and be something special for everyone. You can help some local musicians make some good money without all the frills that many venues impose on them, and also create a unique experience for guests that they can’t get at those same venues. You will also save your guests a ton of money that they can’t save when they go out! The way I see it, this city is calling for more of these parties. Until the venues change their ways, house concerts can really change the dynamic that the middle men here have created. I had a lot of fun doing this and I cannot wait until we host our spring show!
Thank you for taking the time to read!