Acoustic Music Tips: Doing a House Concert
Written by Christopher Bingham (edited by Jessica Brandon)
What’s a House Concert?
House concerts are good alternative venues to perform, especially if you are a unsigned acoustic music act. However, more established acts have performed at house concerts, making this more popular these days
A house concert is a concert in a living room. They’re happening more frequently as artists find that 25 to 40 people can fit into a living room quite comfortably. There is much less overhead, no smoke, low or no amounts of alcohol to compete with, little advertising necessary and cover charges can be whatever the artist and presenter want.
Before you start to think that this is something that only amateurs do, think again – you’d be amazed at the quality and notoriety of artists that do or have done house concerts, even when they were filling clubs and getting airplay. Often artists who play house concerts will have a show at a coffeehouse or club the same week or weekend. Imagine seeing Dar Williams or Lyle Lovett in your living room the year before they were playing large halls. It happens.
Since 1991 we’ve presented some pretty amazing artists including: (Sorry if we’ve left you out – I’m doing this from memory!) Erin Corday, Gene Burnett, Chuck Brodsky, Hand to Mouth, Carolyn Currie, Jef Jaisun, Bill Bourne, Jim Page, Scott Cossu, Lori B., Craig Olson, Katya Chorover, Cristel, Spring and Carper, Sheryl Wiser, Amy Read, Reggie Garrett, Annie Gallup, Larry Murante, Bill Davie, Janice Carper
How to present a house concert
It’s best to start planning at least two months in advance, once you’ve started speaking with artists, though some folks do it in a month. Some people treat their concerts as an ongoing series and will book the artists a year in advance.
You’ll want to ask yourself honest questions about how much time you’ll want to spend presenting house concerts. If you have a difficult time with deadlines, the time to establish methods for overcoming this difficulty is BEFORE you book anyone.
Keep in mind that touring artists live by their performances. Take your commitment seriously – a low turnout is like showing up for work and having your boss inform you that today you’re working for less than minimum wage. Not fun for anyone. That said, it’s usually a good time for all concerned. Like many good things, sometimes a little work is involved.
Finding an artist
You probably have some idea of who your favorite small time artists are already. You may have heard them on a community radio show, as a local opening act for a touring artist, at a fair or festival or even at a another house concert. Other sources for house concert artists are non-profit arts groups, web sites or booking information on the back of a self produced CD.
Now that you’re in contact with the artist and he/she/they are excited about doing a show in your living room, it’s time to work out your arrangements regarding who gets how much of what money that is generated, where will the artist be staying, food needs, how “public” you want the show to be. Make sure all of this negotiated ahead of time with the artist, preferably in writing.
We’ve chosen NOT to make the presentation of house concerts a business. (Though that doesn’t mean we’re not business like – anywhere money is involved, it’s best to keep things orderly) We usually don’t take anything but mailing expenses. For us, presenting house concerts is a labor of love. We enjoy getting to know some of the artists we present by having them stay with us for a day or three on their tour.
Some artists like being able to stay in homes as opposed to hotels. Home cooked meals, participating in the lives of the people who present you and just the pleasure of knowing friends await you in the next town can be a positive aspect of being an artist on tour. It all depends on the people involved. Be flexible.
When to present / what to advertise
Our experience shows that Saturday nights are best, but other nights can work out well if things like rush hour, and early next work days are taken into account when it comes to deciding start times. The most important factor is that the show is advertised as a “sit down concert” – audience expectation will be the difference between having a party with some poor fool making barely audible noise in the corner and having a concert that changes peoples lives.
Our invitations are a mix between a postcard and a “party” invitation. We put some kind of interesting graphic on the front with an inviting scenario and then the vital information on the inside in larger type.
Here’s an example (sans graphic – be creative!) of a house concert we did a few years ago: (Some of the names have been changed for privacy issues.)
Imagine a cool summer evening,
the scent of fresh cut grass and resinous fir
You are led to a seat surrounded by cool stone and tall trees.
Someone puts a latte in your hand.
The sun begins to set
And the music begins.
Then on the inner right hand page:
You are cordially invited to a
will perform music from his latest CD
Saturday, July 11, 1994
7:00 – 9:00pm
(doors open at 6:30)
at the home of
David and Betsy Showmaker
Non-alcoholic punch, coffee and munchies will be provided
Please feel free to bring food or beverages
There is no cover charge, but we will pass the hat
$6-15$ SUGGESTED DONATION
(More if you can, less if you can’t)
Inner left page:
Art doesn’t happen until it passes between people. Come and Participate!
This will be a non-smoking, low alcohol event. It will be held outdoors (weather permitting) If you’re allergic to cats you might want to ingest antihistamines or leave your nose at home.
Insert DETAILED directions here, with ADDRESS!
Please RSVP to Chris at (206) 555-5555 or Betsy at (206) 555-6666 and let us know how many will be in your party.
Who to Invite
Make a list of your closest 50-100 friends and their addresses. Then make a list of another 50 people you know who you’d allow into your house who you think might want to see this particular artist. Our experience is that we get a 20 to 25% turn out. We’ve been doing it long enough that we have a fairly educated audience, people know what to bring and how to behave.
We recommend little or no alcohol. People tend to not realize they’re being loud when they’re drunk.
When to mail
Send your mailing out 3 weeks in advance (Two weeks in advance at the latest!) to the 100 to 150 people on the list. Getting the invitation into the homes of your audience with enough time to plan to attend is the most important aspect of the advertising!
We’ve found that if we send the invitation too early, (more than three weeks in advance) people tend to forget about the show. Too late (less than two weeks before the show) and people have made other plans. Take delivery time into account. A piece of mail in town will take form one to three days to be delivered. We assume the longest.
It doesn’t have to be fancy – a 4X5″ postcard with the essential information will do. This $30 – 50 dollar expense can be taken from the hat or can be given as your donation. Think about how much you might spend on party – some of my best friends might spend fifty dollars on alcohol alone.
Be sure to include directions to your house/apartment, your phone number, the date and time of the show, information about food, the amount of donation you expect, artists names, “IN CONCERT” etc. We’ve found that providing drinkables and some munchies before the show, with a potluck AFTER works best for feeding people and making the music happen.
If there is an intermission, people will grab food then as well. Keep the food simple and cheap. The focus should be the music.
If you’re short on chairs, request that people bring folding chairs or pillows. We usually end up with a half circle of devoted (and limber!) fans at the feet of their favorite artist. It’s never been a problem for us.
Creating a stage
We create a stage in the corner of our living room by putting a guitar stand there in a way that says “This is the performance space.” We set the stage as if the musicians are story tellers (they often are, they just sing their stories) and they deserve the same amount of attention as if we were sitting in a theatre about to see a play.
THIS STUFF IS NOT BACKGROUND MUSIC – IT’S THE FOCUS OF THE EVENING!
Handling money – getting the folks to give
The method that seems to work best for us (and it’s not the only way by any means) since we usually don’t charge a “cover” is to suggest a donation between $6 and $15 dollars in the mailing , (more if you can, less if you can’t) and pass the hat just before the fourth song before intermission or the end of the show if there is only one long set.
It’s vital to do this during the first set – you want to make sure that everyone who comes has the opportunity and encouragement to give what they can.
It’s important that the MC (that usually means YOU the presenter) get up, SEEDED hat in hand (we have a “lucky hat” just for this purpose) and announce that the artist(s) who has given us so much this evening lives by his/her (their) art, and that if we want to see more of these events we need to give in return financially.
I usually remind people of the last time they saw a show with some “name” artist, they probably paid 20 to $25 dollars, and that our artist is as good or better, and you saw them so up close you can shake their hand.
Keep it short, try not to get in the way of the artist, but get the cash flowing.
As performers, we’ve often made more money on house concerts than at coffee house shows with the same number of attendees. That allows for people who may not have money to attend, and for people with money who want to contribute more to participate at their level.
People give more when they are excited. Have a jar placed strategically for stragglers, people who need change and check writers. The hat or jar should have sign suggesting a donation of at least $6-$15.
We also provide a place for the artist to sell their CDs and tapes and to provide a mailing list. Since Suddenly Naked keeps it’s own list, we try to centralize the list for the evening’s show and mail a copy to the artist after it’s entered. Do the follow-up ASAP.
As an artist doing house concerts, we’ve NEVER performed a house concert that didn’t have someone ask us if we’d like to do this at their house. It’s a great way to build an audience, and folks who see you at house concerts bring their friends when we do the club dates. As an individual wanting to be more involved in the music community (or beginning to build our own!) it’s a great way to meet folks of like mind.
After the concert, enjoy good food and conversation! Encourage folks to by CDs and get on the mailing list.
Decentralize the music industry – support independent artists!
(Reprinted by permission from Christopher Bingham)
For more information on IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
Recording Acoustic Guitar
by Doug Young
I learned a lot from the process of recording my Laurel Mill CD. Before I forget what I learned, I want to write it down in case it can help anyone else.
First Pass: In the recording studio
My intention when I started was to go to a good recording studio to record. Although I had done some home recording before, I figured I should focus on the music, and let a pro handle the technical details. Also, I wanted the best quality I could from this project, and my home recordings certainly haven’t been pro quality. I don’t have the equipment, the room, or the ears.
On a recommendation, I went to Highland Studios, run by Joe Weed. Highland was created specifically for acoustic music, and has a great sounding room. Joe was terrific to work with as well. We recorded three tunes in the first session. The sound was wonderful, Joe took care of all the details, and it was all pretty easy. Perhaps too easy. I thought I’d played well, and went home happy. But when I got home to listen to the tracks, I was less than thrilled. The recording sounded great, Joe had done a terrific job. But my playing was far from what I wanted. I hadn’t made blatant mistakes, but tempos were all over the map, phrasing was not as good as I’d like, and so on.
I did learn a lot from the time in the studio. Joe used 4 mics, a pair of Neumann U89s, about 2 feet away from the guitar and maybe 3 feet apart, and 2 KM184s, in an X/Y setup, right in front of me, also about 2 feet away. He gave me some tips on using Pro Tools, editing, organizing my files, using reverb, and more, and sent me home with complete Pro Tools sessions for everything, even the sound checks and my warm up doodling. And of course, I learned that I perhaps needed some more work before I was ready to record.
At first, I considered just practicing for a few more years before I went back to Highland to try again. But then I began to think that part of the value of making the CD was focusing on getting my playing to the level I wanted, and that I could probably do that best at home, where I could record, listen, practice, then record again. At the least, until I got a demo recording on which I played the way I wanted to play, I probably wasn’t ready to tackle the studio again. But I also suspected I should be able to get a decent recording at home. I decided it was a reasonable compromise if I could get an acceptable (maybe not great) sound, but with a better performance.
I spent a fair amount of time rummaging around on the internet, reading rec.audio.pro, and so on. That’s dangerous, because a lot of the people that post there are audio pros, and a little reading will quickly convince you that you need microphones that cost more than your guitars (and that’s just the start). But I also learned a lot about microphone placement, room acoustics, and so on, as well as learning more about equipment. My experience with Joe Weed was also very helpful, in that I saw what he had done (although the micing technique he used worked best in a great sounding room – something I didn’t have.) With that background, I started putting together my recording setup.
I decided on a couple of pieces of equipment, to raise the level of what I had. Since I was only recording an acoustic solo guitar, I opted for a setup that recorded only two tracks, but at high quality. I already had a pair of Neumann KM184s. I added a Great River preamp, and an Alesis Masterlink recorder. The Masterlink is meant to be a mastering deck. It only records two tracks, at the same time. But it can record at up to 96Khz and 24 bits, is dead quiet (important if I was to be sitting beside it recording), and was relatively inexpensive (I got mine for $800). I put the equipment in a small rack case, so I could take it anywhere I needed to go to record.
Finding a Room
The next issue was identifying a place to record. I considered finding a building, maybe a church, that had a good sound. But going somewhere else was pretty much like going to a studio. I wanted the convenience of being at home, able to record anytime, even for a few minutes, then listening to the results.
I have a room that I use for practice, where I have my guitars, and so on. It seemed the most convenient, but it’s a small room (spare bedroom) and on my first try recording, I found that the other guitars tended to resonate and be picked up on the recording. If I had to move my guitars every time I recorded, things wouldn’t be so convenient. I tried most of the rooms in my house, even the bathroom. The bathroom sounds great when I play in there, like singing in the shower. When recorded, however, the sound was decidedly “tubby”. The living room was not bad sounding, tho it was a bit lively. Of course, my wife said no to the idea of adding Aurelex to the living room walls! Also, it was sort of in the middle of traffic, and therefore less than ideal for focusing on recording.
Finally, I tried the garage. Our garage is a bit unusual. It has been soundproofed and is used by my son’s punk rock band, The Muckruckers, as a practice space. The soundproofing wasn’t done in the interest of sounding good, of course, it was to keep the neighbors from kicking us out of the neighborhood. The room is very dead, all carpeted and padded, floors, walls, ceiling. I wasn’t too optimistic, my guitars sounded rather lifeless out there. Also, there was the furnace and water heater. Even when not running, the pilot flames could be faintly heard. However, a few test recordings convinced me that this room was my best bet. At the advice of John Stone, who was gracious enough to listen to a few early takes and give me some feedback, I added some reflective surfaces (sheets of plastic) around my recording area, which helped a bit with the deadness of the room. In fact, John had suggested this, but I hadn’t acted on the idea, until I tried to record a tune that I needed some music for. I placed a music stand in front of me, right behind the mics. When I listened back, I immediately noticed a much more lively sound than I had been getting.
Mics and Mic Placement
With the room selected, I moved onto mic positioning. Since the room itself was not going to add much to the recording, I focused primarily on close micing. I started by recording lots of sample sounds, using different guitars and all sorts of mic positions. I tried spaced pairs, X/Y, ORTF, NOS, a mic in front and one by my ear, one above the guitar and one below, and so on. I also tried different distances from the guitar, from almost touching to 3 or 4 feet away. Combined with trying different guitars, this made for huge number of sample recordings. I kept these short, usually only playing a few bars. One resource on the web that was very helpful for learning about my options in micing the guitar was Harvey’s Gerst’s “Big Thread” document, originally found at www.homerecording.com
I also spent a lot of time listening to all my favorite CDs, but focusing on the sound. I heard a lot of things I’d never really noticed when listening for the music. I’d notice the reverb, or finger squeaks, and so on, as well as just the tone. I found that a lot of CDs I like, based on the music, didn’t necessarily have a tone that I wanted to emulate. (Probably a good lesson – the music matters more than the sound, but at this moment I was focused on tone).
In my previous efforts at recording guitar I had tended toward using spaced pairs, hoping for a bigger stereo sound, and so I initially focused this type of mic setup. (My favorite sound from the Highland session was also the U89s as spaced pairs) But in the very dead room and with close micing, I started to notice some issues. The slightest motion of the guitar resulted in an image shift on the recording. The sound wasn’t stable; sometimes it moved back and forth between the speakers. There also seemed to be a subtle “hole in the middle” effect. It wasn’t like I was listening to one guitar with a big stereo spread, it was more like sound was coming from two different speakers.
Also, I noticed that one of the CDs I picked as having a sound I wanted to aspire to, Laurence Juber’s Altered Reality, was apparently recorded with an X/Y setup. Once I tuned into this sound, I found it to have many very nice characteristics, very focused, yet with a definite stereo effect. Ultimately, after a week or so of experimenting and listening, I converged on the ORTF arrangement, basically a slightly wider version of X/Y. X/Y is an example of “coincident pairs”, while ORTF is referred to as “near coincident”. The mics are about 7 inches apart facing away from each other at a 110 degree angle. Here’s a more detailed explanation and diagrams of this technique. I also settled on a distance of about 8″ from the guitar as having the sound I was looking for.
So I set myself up, as far away from the furnace as I could, amidst the Marshalls, electric guitars and other band paraphernalia of my son’s band. I had to move out periodically when they would want to practice, so I marked off the spots on the floor for the mic stands and my chair with tape, so I could return to the right setup quickly. The photo to the right shows my recording environment, with the band mascot perched overhead. Not exactly what I expected a recording environment for an acoustic fingerstyle project to look like, but it was home.
You can see the Masterlink in a rack on the stool, my Guitar Chair, and the mics at the right edge of the photo. I quickly found I needed a wind screen over one of the mics because I kept breathing on it, causing a very loud crashing sound that would completely ruin the recording.
I tried to make each take complete, but ultimately did some minor editing using SoundForge on a PC. SoundForge makes it easy to remove some small noises and make other fixes that would ruin an otherwise good take. I was able to read the Masterlink files directly into SoundForge, so everything stayed digital at the high sample rate.
Since I ended up recording this CD myself, in a less than optimal environment, I wanted to be sure to add professional mastering to the process before release. After looking around, I decided on David Glasser at Airshow Mastering in Boulder, CO. David has done some of Al Petteway’s CDs, and Al’s sound was one of the ones I had selected as a goal to aspire to. Airshow has many good references involving folk and acoustic music, so I was confident they’d know what I was looking for. There are lots of Mastering studio out there, but so many are advertising that they can “guarantee your CD will be louder than anyone else”, and so on. That might be great for my son’s punk band, but was definitely not what I was looking for for this recording. David was very helpful, and the entire process went smoothly, and added a lot to the sound of the final CD.
Finally, the last step was packaging. I shopped around a bit, but ended up using Discmakers. They’re near by and I could run in and talk to a real person. I gave them a bunch of digital pictures I had taken and they took it from there. For the cover, they used a couple of photos I had taken at the Laurel Mill Lodge in Los Gatos, which was appropriate for the title. One of my favorite photos is the picture of the Kathy Wingert guitar on back of the CD. I just took this photo of the guitar laying in the grass in my back yard. I didn’t think the original photo was very good, but the artists at Discmakers cropped it and made it look like a great shot.
This article is written by Doug Young
For more information on Acoustic Music Awards, go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
Son Of Legendary Folk Musician Co-Writes With Leon Russell, After Winning Acoustic Music Awards
International Acoustic Music Awards (IAMA) announces A.J. Croce as Overall Grand Prize Winner and Winner of AAA/Alternative for song “I Should Have Known” AJ Croce. AJ is the son of legendary folk musician Jim Croce (#1 hits “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “Time in a Bottle” )
Another legendary songwriter, 2011 Inductee into Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Leon Russell co-writes with A.J. Croce. The new song will be released later this year.
With a four star review in Rolling Stone, A.J. Croce’s last album Cage of Muses is a shining milestone on the circuitous road that the singer-songwriter has traveled. David Wild of Rolling Stone considers him “one of our greatest young songwriters” – and with good reason. A.J. won top honors at the 9th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) by winning the overall grand prize as well as the first prize in the AAA/Alternative category with his original song “I Should Have Known”. “I Should Have Known” was a co-write with the very accomplished singer/songwriter Steve Poltz and was released in 2006 on A.J.’s album ‘Cantos.’ Another well-known co-write for Steve Poltz was the #2 hit for Jewel “You Were Meant For Me.” In A.J.’s career he has won six San Diego Music Awards in various categories and a Pollstar Adult Contemporary Award in 1993.
Music Artists are judged based on music performance, music production, artistry and songwriting (or song selection). Over 12,500 entries were received for the event. A.J. Croce’s “Beatles like” song “I Should Have Known” beat out other notable winners at the 9th Annual IAMA such as: Wes Carr (Top winner of Australian Idol) who won Best Male Artist; Joel Rafael (Board of Director of Folk Alliance International) who won Best Folk/Americana/Roots; Mayu Wakisaka (Japanese Acoustic Musician), who won Best Open Category; and Virtuoso Guitar Duo Loren Barrigar & Mark Mazengarb who won Best Instrumental.
This week A.J. began songwriting with legendary musician and songwriter Leon Russell. Leon Russell is from Tulsa, Oklahoma and has been performing his gospel-infused southern boogie piano rock, blues, and country music for over 50 years. Leon was nominated with Elton John for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals in 2011 for his song, “If It Wasn’t For Bad”, from ‘The Union’ album. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011. His songwriting credits include “A Song for You”, “Delta Lady”, “Hummingbird”, “Lady Blue”, “Back To The Island”, “Tight Rope”, and “This Masquerade”. “It’s a thrill and a little surreal to collaborate with Leon Russell. He’s been an influence and an inspiration as long as I can remember,” says A.J.
Seven of A.J.’s albums have hit radio charts in a different genre, including Top 40, Independent, Americana, AAA, Blues, College, and Jazz, but apart from rankings, what makes A.J.’s music and performance special is its incredible variety. The son of legendary singer-songwriter Jim Croce, A.J.’s musical evolution was inspired by a broad spectrum of styles including classic rhythm and blues, folk, and British rock.
With his newly released track, “Right on Time,” singer-songwriter A.J. Croce is inaugurating the New Year with his most ambitious recording project to date. Twelve Tales, delivers a dozen new tracks recorded by legendary producers across a variety of American cities to be released one song each month, concluding with the complete full length release of the CD at the end of 2013.
A.J.’s notable producers are Nashville’s illustrious “Cowboy” Jack Clement (Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis); New Orleans’ ambassador of funk Allen Toussaint (Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton), and West Coast wunderkind Joe Henry (Elvis Costello, Solomon Burke).
The lead single “Right on Time,” tracked in Stamford, CT, is produced and mixed by five-time Grammy winner Kevin Killen, producer of five projects with Elvis Costello, and an engineer/mixer whose credits include U2, Peter Gabriel, and Los Lobos among many other luminaries.
A.J.’s career began with his first tour at age 17 opening up for B.B. King. At age 19 he was signed to Private Music/BMG where he released two successful albums. His subsequent albums were released on various independent labels leading up to 2003. As an independent artist, he formed his own label Seedling Records in 2003, this ambitious project marks the latest milestone on Adrian James Croce’s illustrious journey as a songsmith, vocalist, and an ever-evolving artist.
For more information on IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: http://www.inacoustic.com
Scottish-born Canadian, David Francey won top honors at the 7th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards) by winning the overall grand prize as well as the first prize in the Folk category. David also won three Juno awards up to date. Francey also had the honour of receiving the prestigious SOCAN Folk Music Award.
David Francey was born in 1954 in Ayrshire, Scotland, where as a paper boy he got his first taste of the working life. He learned to read at an early age, and by age eleven was devouring the newspapers he delivered. This helped establish his interest in politics and world events while developing the social conscience that forms the backdrop of his songs.
He was twelve when his family immigrated to Toronto. He says he can trace his love of the land, the history, and the people of his adopted country to weekend family drives exploring southern Ontario. Music played a large part in these family outings. They sang traditional Scottish tunes as they drove through the Canadian countryside. Dad and sister Muriel sang melody, while mother and David sang harmonies. His website can be viewed at:
Other notable winners inclue: Justin Rutledge (Canada), Joachim Nordensson & Brooke Wandler (USA), Roland Albertson (South Africa), Luke Doucet & The White Falcon (Canada) and virtuoso guitarist Tim Farrell (USA)
Here is the list of winners of 7th Annual IAMA:
OVERALL GRAND PRIZE WINNER:
The Waking Hour – David Francey
1st Prize: The Waking Hour – David Francey
Runner-up: Be A Man – Justin Rutledge
1st Prize: I Was With You – Joachim Nordensson & Brooke Wandler
Runner-up: Come Home To Me – Alathea
BEST MALE ARTIST
1st Prize: Broken – Roland Albertson
Runner-up: Last Love – Shane Cooley
BEST FEMALE ARTIST
1st Prize: Firecracker – Kelly Zullo
Runner-up: Faking Your Best – Suzy Connolly
1st Prize: We Don’t Smell the Home Fires Anymore – Horseshoe Road
Runner-up: What Life’s Like (Without You) – Stewart Burrows
1st Prize: Thinking People – Luke Doucet & The White Falcon
Runner-up: The Beast Within – Reed Waddle
1st Prize: The Most Beautiful Fear – Laura Hoover
Runner-up: Joe’s Bayou – Boomslang Swampsinger
1st Prize: Rosewood Alley – Tim Farrell
Runner-up: Once Upon A Western Sky – John Standefer
Artists are judged based on music performance, music production, artistry and songwriting. For more information, visit: