For music lovers of all kinds, the shows are far more intimate and often family-friendly alternatives to massive halls and dingy clubs. And performers who dip their toes in the house-concert circuit often have a tough time going back to more traditional venues.
Its not an overstatement to say [house concerts] are all I do now, says singer-songwriter Fran Snyder with a chuckle. The 40-year-old from Lawrence, Kansas, played his first house concert eight years ago, and he has since remodeled his career around playing, hosting, and promoting such shows through his website ConcertsInYourHome.com, the worlds largest online community for acoustic living-room concerts. After half a decade of playing for friends and fans in their homes, Snyder built the site in 2006 to fill the promotional gaps that sites like MySpace were overlooking, particularly in connecting inexperienced hosts to independent musicians.
But for much of his career, the aspiring singer-songwriter was clueless about the house-concert concept, focusing his earliest efforts on the stereotypical small-time musician path: spending weeks on the road in a beaten-down van, hitting every nightclub along the way, and playing the occasional big-time opening gig. During a 2001 tour, he found himself with a night off, which he refers to as a night youre losing money. On a lark, Snyder called an old friend who lived in the area and suggested throwing a one-off show in his basement. He thought a few friends and fans might pay to attend.
The basement could comfortably seat 25 or so. With little advance notice, 50 fans showed up, so Snyder played two capacity shows that night. It was a fabulous time, and I was instantly hooked, he says.
Snyder began booking the occasional house concert, and since then, his touring life has completely changed. No more hunting for hotels or food -- Snyders hosts typically have potluck dinners on hand, along with a free bed or couch for him to sleep on. Attendees are far more engaged than audiences in a noisy nightclub setting are. And he no longer worries about nights of losing money. As an example, Snyder points to a recent show he hosted at his home for a Chicago singer-songwriter friend, Edie Carey. The night before, she made $60 playing at a club, he says. She played at my house and made $600.
While club profits have to be used for staff salaries and overhead costs in addition to performer pay, house concerts have to be generous affairs by default. By law, they cant be run for the homeowners profit, so guests donations (which typically are a suggested $10 to $20) go straight to the artist. In addition, house concerts draw devoted crowds that are likely to buy CDs after the show -- another key source of income for artists.