House Shows: How To Turn One Fan Into A Nationwide Tour
Guest Post by indie musician Callaghan
Music Fans – would you like to hear your favorite artist sing the songs you love in your living room and help them reach more people?
House Shows could be the answer for you too.
On Monday Billboard.com did a feature about my third an- nual house show tour. Callaghan Across America 2015 will stretch across May and June and from coast-to-coast, take in about 35 shows in 16 states, and cover over 10,000 miles all across the USA.
Here’s how it all came about plus a few tips on how to plan house shows as part of your touring.
I moved to the USA from London in Summer 2010 to record with one of my musical heroes – Shawn Mullins. I had reached out to Shawn via Myspace to ask if he ever produced music for other artists.
To my surprise he replied and said he loved my songs and wanted to hear more. Over a number of months we sent mes- sages and music back and forth and came up with a plan to record my debut album together and for me to open Shawn’s US tour as he promoted his new record.
Those few months on the road were a whirlwind as I tried to get to grips with the sheer scale of the USA. I was lucky enough to open for Shawn on several tours stretching from Atlanta to New York, New England to Seattle and Portland to San Diego. I wrote a song ‘Best Year’ about making the move across the pond, and the blue skies and endless horizons of the open road in the USA.
Once that touring was done I was left with a puzzle. I had a new record I was really proud of. I wanted to get out on the road, play as much as possible and keep building my audience. Shawn’s fans are an amazing group of people who took my new album to their hearts and became great advocates of my music.
So I knew there were 20 or more US cities where I could draw a nice crowd, but they were separated by hundreds or thousands of miles. There were also many towns and cities where I had never played. As an independent artist funding everything myself I had to balance the excitement of getting out there to play to as many people as possible with the financial reality that touring had to make sense. So the question was, how could I tour in new markets where very few people had heard of me?
For me house shows became a big part of the solution. I hadn’t heard about them before I came to the USA, but many musicians have been doing them for years and they’re becoming an increasingly
important part of the music scene, particularly for independent artists. The idea is a simple one. A fan or music enthusiast hosts a show at their home, they invite friends and fellow music lovers to come and hear you play, all the guests make a donation to keep you rolling down the road, at the end you sell your merchandise and hang out with the audience.
House shows can take you to living rooms all over the USA, backyards in Tucson and even Malibu beach!
For an emerging artist house shows can be a great way to tour. Here are just a few reasons why:
• House shows can build your audience in new markets – House shows beat the pants off social marketing platforms as a way to meaningfully reach new people. At a house show one of your fans is telling their friends ‘please come and hear this artist I love’…it’s a wonderful recommendation, which people really notice.
• Your only overhead is gas – I usually stay with the hosts of my house shows, so I don’t have any expenses for food or lodging – just the gas to get there. All the money people donate or spend on merch keeps me touring and making music.
• House shows are among the most intimate shows you’ll play – You’ll find yourself playing all kinds of spaces, often with audience members literally an arms length away. House shows have a relaxed pace, people ask questions and there’s plenty of time to chat with audience members once the show is done.
• House shows build your network of super fans – People who enjoy your performance at a house show really feel that they have shared a special experience and connect with you. These are the folks who become super fans and advocates for your music. If you’ve delivered a good show, the chances are some of your audience will ask how they can host one next time you come through.
• All your touring will benefit – the fans you connect with at house shows will come out to your pub- lic shows. From among hosts and guests at house shows I have formed many lasting friendships. As my touring continues I often stay with previous hosts – so I’ve got fewer and fewer hotel bills to worry about.
So if you’ve never done a house show how do you get started? The easiest thing to do is talk to your fans and find out who’s interested then plan a show together. You can find great resources on how to organise a house show and even a ready made network of hosts at the website www.concertsinyourhome.com. Here are some things I would suggest to help make your house shows a great experience:
– Start with your fans – put together a basic outline of how a house show works, pick some dates when you’ll be in a certain area, then ask your fans who wants to host.
– Make things as easy as possible for your hosts – Talk through the timetable and the lay out with your host so you have a shared vision of what the event will be like before you get there. A typical event for me would be: 5pm arrive and set up, 7pm guests start arriving for a bite to eat and drink, 8pm first music set for 40 minutes, 9pm second music set. After that hanging out and chatting.
– Provide a simple invitation and some copy with your picture on and links to your music which your hosts can share with their guests.
– Get a simple PA system and know how to use it. Your fans are opening their homes and recommending you – you need to take charge of delivering a great sounding show. You can pick up a great little PA for less than $1k. Many of your audience will not have seen you before, often most of them will never have been to a house show before – so make sure your production values are as high as you can deliver.
– Make sure everyone has a seat – it’s much easier to listen and be immersed in music when you’re comfortable. Get your host to introduce you to start the performance so that you have everyone’s focus from the start.
– Travel with someone – I’m lucky because my husband is also my manager so he sets up the sound while I get ready for the show. You need a friend, fellow musician or family member out there with you. Otherwise loading in, setting up, chatting with guests before and after the show, setting up the merchandise AND delivering a great performance is a lot of work.
– Agree a suggested donation and minimum guarantee – on the invitation suggest a donation to artist so that folks have a guideline before they come. Agree a minimum guarantee with your host so you can plan your tour with a base line of income. On the evening be relaxed about the money. More often than not audiences are really generous. Not everyone will donate, maybe they are un- able to at that particular moment, but everyone can enjoy the music.
– Have a great time! If you like sharing your music and the stories behind the songs you perform, house shows are a wonderful way to tour!
House shows have been a really important part of the growth in my touring. There are some artists who only do house shows and some who never do them. I see them as part of the mix. I love the in- timacy of a house show, but I also love an opportunity to play a show with the lights, sound and at- mosphere of a great venue. I’ve found that in new markets 2 or 3 great house shows give me a foun- dation to go back and play a successful headline public show. So for me house shows compliment traditional touring and help it grow.
This year I have a new album ‘A History of Now’ to offer on the house show tour. I can’t wait to get back out there and share the songs with people all over the USA. Over the last few years I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people opening up their homes and putting a lot of work into creat- ing really special events. You’ll have a lot of fun out there and some interesting challenges as a per- former; I’ve had a parrot who wouldn’t stop providing backing vocals, a toddler dancing in front of me throughout the second set and a cat playing the keyboard. You’ll also meet some of the most en- gaged and generous hearted audiences you’ll ever come across.
So if you think your music would suit the house show environment and you think some of your fans would like to host my advice would be to go for it!
Read Billboard’s latest feature article about the Callaghan Across America Tour here bit.ly/Billboard2015 . Find out more about her upcoming house show tour here. http://www.callaghansongs.com/house-concerts To preview and pre-order her new album ‘A History of Now’ click here. http://smarturl.it/callaghanAHON Contact her on twitter @callaghanmusic