A Different Model For Touring: House Concerts

from the watch-the-innovation dept

We recently posted a report pointing out that touring revenue wouldn’t be an acceptable substitute for a loss in recorded music sales. A part of that report suggested that there just weren’t that many efficiencies that could be wrung out of the live touring business, while also noting how expensive it can be to put on a tour. Part of my problem with that report was that it focused very much on an old model of touring, and didn’t consider that new technologies could, in fact, really change the way people think about touring.

For example, plenty of folks have pointed to the success Jonathan Coulton has had with touring, by using services like Eventful to guarantee a large enough crowd at a certain location and showing up for a “strategic” concert in a place where he’s guaranteed to make some money out of it. But some are taking it even further. We’ve certainly talked about backyard/house concerts before (in fact, we’ve been suggesting them for about six years), and we’ve seen Jill Sobule use them as part of her model to fund her latest album. She ended up doing five or six of them, and said they were lots of fun (and she’s still open to doing some more).

However, I recently came across a story from a band who basically did an an entire tour based on (mostly) house concerts. The story is from February, but I just found out about it, seeing it mentioned in the comments on a post from Andrew Dubber about how he wants to attempt house consulting for bands (an interesting idea in itself).

The story of the house concerts tour is really fascinating, though, in a variety of ways. Basically, the band — based in the UK — were able to book a bunch of gigs all at people’s homes around the US. They did most of the booking via Twitter, from people who followed them, noting how much more efficient this was than the traditional system of begging different venues to put on a show:

Method for our tour: “talk to lots of people on twitter >> make friends >> allow them to discover music as they get interested in who we are >> tell them we’re touring >> invite them to host gig >> Book in the dates” – the audience is a shoe-in, cos most people can fairly easily find 15-30 friends who are up for a crazy night of music making in a house. It’s a nuts idea, it’s fun, and it has the added benefit of being validated by a friend of their’s… if Tracy/Linda/Angela/Steve/Gus etc are willing to book this, it MUST be good. The person who books the show then emails the links to what we do around (no need to send out CDs) so people have an idea what to expect. Everyone comes to the gig, eats, listens, buys CDs, and we go home with money and loads of new friends. Win-Win.

Other benefits were that the gigs were tons of fun and the band saved on hotels since they usually were able to crash at the house that put on the house concert. They note how many amazing people they met, and how much of a connection they made with folks by playing in such an intimate setting. Also, an advantage of such house concerts is that it was a great way to expand their audience and fanbase, since the “host” basically would go out and recruit a bunch of friends — most of whom knew nothing about the band before seeing them play.

Perhaps most interesting of all: the band made more money on this tour than they did in the past touring clubs. They noted that the “risk” and costs are much lower. While they say they aren’t getting rich this way, they are earning money — and more than the “old” way of doing things.

So, once again, this obviously isn’t a model that works for everyone — and no one’s saying it is. But it does show yet another business model that can work for certain bands, by taking a very different look at the market and coming up with creative and innovative ways to get themselves out there, and do so profitably.

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Comments on “A Different Model For Touring: House Concerts”

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Weird Harold (user link) says:

House concerts (particularly collecting money from other people and paying for the act to appear) may run afoul of a whole host of local ordinances, from zoning to failure to collect amusement tax to running an illegal business, etc.

We won’t even touch the concepts of things like noise and other issues with your neighbors.

But hey, if you want to push it as a valid business model… 😉

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re:

Now I’m positive, you’re an attorney, trolling. That explains all the Chewbacca Defenses and straw men.

Zoning? Failure to collect amusement tax? Yeah. You’re probably in a bureaucracy oriented firm as well. A couple more posts and I’ll narrow down who you work for specifically and what your beef with techdirt is.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:


Sorry, you are missing the point. Done on an occassional basis from time to time, maybe an entire neighborhood might see one of these every couple of years, it wouldn’t be an issue.

Done as a business model, the cities and neighbors would likely get involved and start blocking these events. Commercial event in a non-commercial location, etc. It’s okay when it’s under the radar, but get it above the radar, and many places would react.

Think of the scale – tens of thousands of bands all playing in people’s houses each weekend in front of 50 or 100 people who each paid $10 to get in.

Picture your neighborhood with 20 events on the same Saturday, 25 cars each parking on the street, a couple of thousand people coming into the area extra, plus the more rabid fans that might just show up anyway to try to get in, autographs, etc. Road crew, tour buses, whatever.

Scaled it, and it fails. So it’s a nice aside but not a business model.

Luci says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Incorrect. A house concert is a hired event. Not the same thing. I can hire a band to come and play in my backyard, and so long as it doesn’t go past a certain time of night, the police aren’t going to care. Why? Because I hired them. They didn’t just set up and start selling tickets. Now, I DO know that in SOME areas you have to have a license to even have a garage sale, but you can’t just say out of hand that this isn’t a business model OR that it’s illegal. Good luck, though.

nasch says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Think of the scale – tens of thousands of bands all playing in people’s houses each weekend in front of 50 or 100 people who each paid $10 to get in.

Did you miss this part? “the audience is a shoe-in, cos most people can fairly easily find 15-30 friends who are up for a crazy night of music making in a house.”

And this? “So, once again, this obviously isn’t a model that works for everyone — and no one’s saying it is.”

You could at least pay attention to the blog post you’re trying to criticize.

Jesse says:

I think Mike recognized it wasn’t for everyone. And yes, you do a good job of describing how numerous laws/ordinances can get in the way of people trying to earn a little money. You’re absolutely right; it is nearly impossible to do anything without a full team of lawyers okaying your every move. Of course, the answer is always to add more legislation, right?

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Jesse, your sarcasm is coming through loud and clear.

What I think you (and Mike at times) is missing is that all sort of underground, novel, one off, whatever ways of marketing / promoting artists isn’t anything particularly new, but things that aren’t done often because they are in the end more destructive than constructive. There are particular circumstance where they work, and have worked before, and will work again. It isn’t “new” in the slightest (I think my first “house party” with a band was 35 years ago or so). Most of them end up with a knock on the door and the boys in blue complaining about the noise, or the cars parked all over, or any number of other issues that happen when you try to get 50 people into the same place at the same time.

They can do what they like, but this is just another example of skirting the law of the land to try to save a dollar.

Booger says:

Re: Re: Re:

35 years ago? What were you, like 6 months old, and you remember that? Wow!

I’m just saying, you said the other day that Fat Albert was before your time, but I’m only 44 and I remember watching Fat Albert for years.

By the way, I don’t think we’re talking about the kind of house party that you are. Every community I’ve ever lived in had at least a few homes with an acre size lot or larger and those regularly hosted parties, get togethers, or family reunions much larger than 50 people and many used live bands.

A Folk Singer says:

Re: Re: Re:

Poke around the web a bit and you will find that there is a right way and a wrong way to hold a house concert. The fact that your “house parties” ended with a knock on the door from the boys in blue says more about your house parties than whether or not this is a useful, successful strategy for artists.

You might be surprised at the number of “big names” with label deals that add house concerts to their tours. Even the PROS such as ASCAP have reached agreements with organizations such as the Folk Alliance as to guidelines to exempt house concerts from performance licensing fees.

As a previous poster noted, the Folk, traditional and Singer/songwriter community has been doing this for years to great effect, and (99.9% of the time) without a bit of bother to the neighbors.

yogi says:

The amazing thing

is that so many people are concerned about musicians making money.

It’s as if there was no art and no artists before copyright and the RIAA.

Artists make art because otherwise they would die.

Making money from art is an entirely different matter and should be left to the artists, if they want to get into it.

The very fact that this site and many others dedicate so much time thinking about ways to help musicians make money is evidence of the success the RIAA has in brainwashing society to believe that music is impossible without a corrupt, sleazy, money-grabbing,child-molesting middleman.
(ok, maybe not child-molesting, but the rest is true).

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Actaully, Woodstock was a massive failure on so many levels. It’s only success was some of the performances (others truly sucked), but as a business standalone it sucked, as a model for festivals it sucked, on a human scale it truly sucked, and so on.

Woodstock was actually the start of the end of the 60s and all the festivals that were so popular (capped off by the killing of a fan while the Rolling Stones played in California).

As a business, Woodstock was terrible, a disaster on so many levels. It made potential promoters of such events wary to do them, and you really didn’t see that many more huge festivals in America for a long, long time, until they worked out security issues and all that other stuff. When there is no money to be made, potential backers don’t line up to do these things.

So yeah, Woodstock was a success on some levels (for the artist who got exposure they otherwise would have never gotten) but in the end, it was such a monumental business disaster that it marked a generation.

Steve (profile) says:

...not sure what happened there...

most of my comment got cut off somehow.. anyway, what I was saying was that in relation to the discussion of legality and scale, the tour that we did (the one linked to in the original post) broke no laws that I’m aware of, and certainly wasn’t a nuisance. I know people who have their TV louder than our concerts are. None of our audiences were bigger than about 35, and we still managed to take home more money (in donations, none of the gigs were ‘public’ in the way that a gig in a bar would be, and most were actually by invite of the host only). Often, the audience was made up of neighbours, so cars being strewn around a neighbourhood wasn’t a problem… You could easily have had three or four houses in a street holding events on the scale of the ones we played without there being any visible disruption to the normal functioning of people’s lives.

“Scaled it, and it fails. So it’s a nice aside but not a business model.”

I’m not sure why it would need to ‘scale’ in the way you describe to be a business model. It’s already MY business model, and a much more viable, less risky one than playing clubs/coffee houses ever was. But more than that, it’s enjoyable, engaging, creatively inspiring and adaptable to the kind of event that best suits the music.

win-win, from where I’m sat…

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: ...not sure what happened there...

Steve, the problem comes because it could be a win-win: Once someone starts winning, everyone wants to do it. So now who is going to decide which bands or artists can and cannot have house parties? What happens if someone buys a house only to have house parties every weekend?

The win at best is temporary until too many people do it. Then it sucks.

Esahc (profile) says:

Re: Re: ...not sure what happened there...

“So now who is going to decide which bands or artists can and cannot have house parties?”

The Fans.

“What happens if someone buys a house only to have house parties every weekend?”

I new someone who did this, the house was in the center of two acres of farmland only 10 minuets from the city. You never payed to get in, it was BYO(BBB), and always word of mouth. They also rented rooms to local artists. All local sound ordinances were followed. The owner of the house made money, the artistes living at the house had cheap rent, the bands that played made decent money. WIN.

I knew of three houses in LA that were similar (didn’t know them personally, but went to quite a few parties).

I am willing to bet that every small to large sized city in America has at least one of these houses (if not more).

Crayzturk says:

@ Harold

You sir, sound like you live in a white, stuck up, rich, pinkey finger outstreached tea sippin, incetual and too much into their “society” of back scraters and back stabbers type of neighborhood. Watch stepford wives and you’ll know what i mean.

If a ban was to book 20 of these shows in 20 homes in the US where the neighbors wouldn’t mind such a concert and might actually participate in it. Cause see in the rest of the country where us semi-normal people come from, people enjoy good music and don’t see it as polution. Last i also checked i’ve never gotten a noise complaint during the day, only after certain hours of the night, so you suggest that all concerts have to be loud, offensive and clearly go late into the night because that is how YOU see them. Not narrow minded at all.

If i have a house on a big enough backyard where we can put in a dirt bike circuit on the back half and race bikes untill nightfall (because imagine this, there is respectful ones in all the holligans out there that YOUR world seems to be filled with)
Then i think we could have a 30-40 person concert, and actually park all/most of the vehicles on the property (which we have done so many a-night when we have raging parties with music blaring… neighbors were involved also, so late night wasn’t an issue)

Tell me exactly which part of these type of parties are illegal… last i checked hanging out with 30-40 of my closest friends was not, and if i invite a band to entertain them, the better. It’s not illegal to buy cd’s or t-shirts and that so called ammusement tax your talking about, i’m going to guess that it’s got some kind of minimium occupance, subject to the proper business providing entertainment in a special zone. If your stated tax was correct, then lots of americans are currently breaking the law by getting married in backyards…

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: @ Harold

let’s start out with #1 and important fact: I ain’t American. The rest of your personal insults you can keep for your family, I am sure they would be proud of you.

How can I explain this? No single event is going to be an issue. There are plenty of house parties all over the place. But if it becomes a successful way for artists to reach their fans, the next band that wants success will do it a little more, and a little more, and so on.

Again, it is completely functional on a single shot basis. When it becomes the norm and a business practice, problems will start and it’s all over. It’s a nice one off thing, but NOT a business model.

Anonymous Coward says:

im not sold on this one

if it worked for them great if others can profit from it as well even better, but i feel its too much hastle (in addition to what WH posted) for so little income.

granted i dont have any numbers too look at but if COD’s numbers are anywere close to reality then we are talking loss or best case scenario breaking even so that would be more a cool trick for marketing/Pr than real revenue.

Steve Lawson (profile) says:


As far as a I can tell, the ‘house concert’ scene is semantically distinct from the ‘house party’ scene. I know of very few people putting on house concerts who allow acts with drummers at all. It’s much more a way of turning pop/rock/folk/jazz into new-chamber music, playing quieter music in more intimate settings, optimised for the kind of listening that’s required.

there’s very little advantage in turning a house into a rock venue, for the legal reasons you’ve said, and because the scene is pretty well served by pubs and bars.

The house concert movement (such as it is) is about putting the emphasis back on the music, on interaction and learning from the musicians, on democratising the relationship between artist and audience (I came away with way more people I’d now class as friends from this tour than I did detatched ‘fans’…)

There are, as you’ve said, already laws in place to deal with the noise intrusion and distruption. However, there’s a huge scene for people playing smaller gigs, doing acoustic tours between band tours, and for artists that drop outside of what clubs deem to be good drinking music.

And that is not only a stellar business model, it’s sustainable, very low risk, and the social return is enormous. Even if I was touring at break-even point, I’d rather play to 25 people who were engaged with what I’m doing than 150 who couldn’t give a shit.

House concerts are a way to create that space, to keep it small and make it pay – no-one’s getting rich from it, and that’s exactly why it will work. Any attepts to ‘game’ it as a big business will head into the territory you outline and fall foul of various domestic laws.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will continue to make a reasonable living playing shows and selling CDs to people who want to hear it and are grateful for the chance to interact.



Pär Berglund (user link) says:

I’ve run house concerts a couple of times and it was a a huge success in many ways. There are many people who normally don’t attend concerts (did anyone say children?), but a concert at a friends house is something within reach.
The artists enjoyed a very close, aware audience in a friendly environment. The event of the year for many.
Everyone had a great time, and that’s all that matters.

spaceman spiff says:

House concerts are the boss!

My wife and I hold anywhere from 4-8 house concerts a year, often playing B&B to the artists. We can host up to about 35 people in our large basement music room – and have had some really fine shows over the years, including such as Andy Statman, Sparky and Rhonda Rucker, and many, many more. The artists are paid from the “donations” made by the guests, and as many CD’s as they can sell. As said, they don’t make a lot, but a substantial chunk of change, and they get people excited by what they are doing.

As I write this, we have a workshop going on in our basement music room – 25 people + Dan Gellert leading. These events also make a fair amount of $$ for the artists, plus we get to host them for a couple of days of jamming and partying. Alternatives do work, and are working, especially for really good musicians that are in genres not of particular interest to the “Top 40” labels. None of them object to people/fans sharing their music, because they realize that 1 shared song results in several CD’s sold at an event like this, or from their web sites.

Stephen Pate (user link) says:

House Parties starvation wages

On the house parties story, that’s old news among indie artists. I play with some 25 year olds who have been touring that way for 3 years. Do the math 25 times $5 a head isn’t gas money. They usually do it on their vacations from day jobs. The tour will have house parties and maybe a gig at the local indie bar the next night that pays $300 for the band. They kids are starving but they love their music and it’s interesting if not fantastic. Every once in awhile a group will catch my eye. It’s a long love affair with music with little pay for these young artists

Stephen Pate

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

About community

Many singer/songwriters swear by house concerts. They do better with them than a typical coffee house gig.

However, as some have already pointed out, it’s not really a way for most artists to make a living.

(1) I don’t think most on the house concert circuit make $1000 per evening. And even if they did, grossing $100,000 a year would require 100 shows a year, which is pretty ambitious.

(2) If every touring musician did this, the house concert system would be overwhelmed.

On the other hand, if we use the house concert concept to reinforce the idea that music is really about community, and that both artists and fans do it for love/passion and not to support themselves, then I think it is the future of music.

Go into music with no expectations of earning your livelihood from it and you’ll probably be very happy with the outcome.

JustMe says:

It is a party for friends, not a "concert"

Just remember that ‘concerts’ require permits. However, anyone can have a party for friends. And if those friends happen to invite other friends, well, the more the merrier.

I have been to over a dozen house/backyard shows since I discovered them in 2008. I also make it a point to buy a CD in addition to paying a cover charge.

Noise doesn’t seem to be an issue. Either make sure there is enough room on either side of the house or invite the neighbors.

Jason (user link) says:

Come on, guys. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of independent music knows that bands have been doing house shows for decades! There are probably several house shows going on in your hometown this very week. The American touring circuit was built on shows in homes, community centers, VFW halls, churches, gymnasiums, and other non-traditional venues. There is absolutely nothing new or different about this. And also FYI, many touring indie bands don’t stay at hotels, crashing at someone’s house is standard procedure.

Gunnar says:

As someone who has played houses, this is much harder to pull off than you might think.

First, it’s very rare for a single band to play, so you’re splitting the money with the other bands, and whoever is hosting the show deserves a cut for the wear and tear on their property.

Second, finding 15-30 friends willing to pay $20 at the door isn’t going to happen. The door is going to be closer to $5 than $20.

Third, half of the house/basement/backyard show’s I’ve been to have been shut down by police. That number is closer to two-thirds if you take out frat houses.

House shows are a ton of fun, when they work, but they are far more effective for connecting with fans than they are for making money.

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