Why I’m All In for House Concerts

About a month ago, I got home from a 60-show summer tour, on which I didn’t set foot in a single music venue or club. Every show took place in the living room or backyard of someone who supports my music. We did shows in 19 US states and one province of Canada. We drove around in our VW Jetta (335,000 miles on the odometer and going strong), and we had the time of our lives.

This is the third summer that we’ve done a summer house concert tour, and just like the previous two years, this year’s tour exceeded our projections and expectations. I think it’s safe to say at this point in time that this is my jam. I love house concert touring, and I’m never looking back.

Why? I could probably go on for longer than you likely want to read, so I’ll distill down to 3 reasons why house concerts have been so powerful for me.

1) I can make real money at house concerts.

I’ve done countless shows at traditional music venues over the years, and one thing that was constantly frustrating for me was that even though I would do a whole bunch of promotion and get people to come out, I would often leave with not much more in my pocket than gas money to and from the show. That’s because there were always other people to take a cut of the money that came in at the door – the bouncer, the bartender, the booker, the other artists on the bill.

In my house concert model, there is no one else to take a cut of the money made at the event, and so 100% of the proceeds from the night come directly to me. And since the experience for the audience at a house concert is so intimate and connective, guests at the shows seem eager to show their appreciation in a generous way (in the form of donations and merch purchases), especially when they know that everything they give goes directly to benefit the artist.

When I say “real money,” here’s what I mean specifically: the title of my book about my house concert method includes the phrase “How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour” – that’s the amount I earned in the 50 house concerts I did on my 2013 summer house concert tour. If you do the math, that’s an average of $500 per night of guest donations and merch sales. I don’t know about you, but that blows away any average earnings I’ve had on any other kind of touring. And that was 2013; this year was significantly better.

2) I make a lot of new fans at house concerts.

Every house concert I do is hosted by someone who supports and loves my music. The guests at the show are people the host has invited because she/he wants to share my music with them. This results in two important things that add up to more fans: 1) every person at the show has been given an endorsement of me and my music by their trusted friend, the host, so I’m set up for success in winning over the crowd before I even play a note of music; and 2) each show is populated with an entirely new group of people I never would have encountered if I weren’t in this particular host’s home. I essentially create a new market for my music at each house I play.

There is also no other performance experience I’ve had that is as intimate and connective as a house concert. What this means on a practical level is that there is a much greater chance that the people in the audience will form a bond with me and my music than they might at a traditional venue. At a venue, there can be a lot of distractions – noise from the bar, a coffee grinder buzzing behind the counter, inattentive chatter. And the physical infrastructure between the performer and audience in a venue can create an emotional barrier – I’m talking here about things like a stage, a big sound system, and bright stage lighting. At a house concert it’s just me, the music, and the audience, all in the same intimate space.

As an example from my 2013 tour (which is the tour on which I based all the figures in my book), I added 500 new names to my email list over the course of those 50 shows. That’s a much better email list signup rate than I’ve ever had in traditional venue shows.

3) The deep connection I make with people at house concerts creates a community of supporters who will support me and my music for years to come.

I keep hearing people talking about how if an independent artist can create a solid group of superfans, that she/he can sustain a career over the course of years from that kind of hyper-dedicated support. I’m here to tell you that it’s true, and I can’t think of a better way to develop that community than at house concerts.

The connections I make with people at these shows go way beyond the casual fan-performer interaction in most traditional venues. The bonds forged here result in relationships that, when nurtured, become part of an ever-growing community that supports me in everything I do as an artist. They’re the ones hosting house concerts for their friends, buying every album I release, and supporting my crowdfunding campaigns for new projects.

Sound interesting? Want to know how to get started?

Start with the people you know. I believe that the power of this model is that every artist can create their own market through connections within their own community. Maybe you already have a budding email list of fans, or maybe you just have some good friends and family members who support the music you’re making – reach out to those people and ask who is interested in creating a fun, unique, and memorable night with you in their home. In my model, all they need to become a host is a place to gather and a minimum of 20 adults to come to the show. It’s a low enough bar for entry that you should be able to get some nibbles.

The cool thing I’ve experienced about house concerts is that they can be viral. At nearly every show, a guest approaches me and says how much they’d love to host a show at their own house the next time we tour. We’ve gone from 1 show in Houston to 3 shows in Houston. We’ve gone from 2 or 3 shows in the Seattle area to 7 or 8 shows in the Seattle area each time we come through.

As for all the essential details of how to run a successful house concert, I’ve been educated by a lot of trial and error over the last 3 years, and I’ve written down everything I’ve learned in a how-to book I created for artists who want to learn from my model. It’s a great place to start if you think this is something you want to try, and the cool part is that you can tweak it to match your own style and your own community of supporters.

But I think some of the best news of all is that you don’t have to wait for anyone to get started. Unlike so much else in the music industry, where there are gatekeepers who let only a few people in to the game, this model is completely in your own hands, on your own terms, and totally within your ability to achieve once you decide to do it. The only question that remains is, “What are you waiting for?”

  • Ron Tippin

    I read this book (a couple times so far!) and have listened to a couple podcasts which featured Shannon Curtis. She knows what she’s talking about, and her excellent, meticulously-detailed house concert how-to guide maps out her tried-and-true formula for others to benefit from. This is the real deal here, and I for one am immensely grateful that people like this are at the forefront of pioneering an alternate path for the musicpreneur of the new music age! 🙂

  • I have the book and it’s worth it!

  • NigelMusicNZ

    Thanks. Some helpful hints and it’s on my to do list for the next tour.

  • Eden Moody

    INSPIRING!!! House Concert tour is on my to-do list, so this article (and suggested book) is GREAT! Thank you 🙂

  • I found it very hard and expensive to get onto the House Concert. An outfit called Concerts In Your Home has a monopoly on the business. You have to pay $10 for an audition – and if accepted another $250 for the contacts and that doesn’t even guarantee you’ll get a gig. I just wanted to see if I could get a local house concert gig in my area. But you have to be a full time touring musician to get into it.

    • Shannon Curtis

      Hi Bill! This is Shannon, the author of the article. I completely feel you about your experience in researching the established house concert networks out there. That was my exact experience and reaction when I first researched them several years ago. I thought it seemed like just another gatekeeper that wanted my money to be able to play the game, and even then I wouldn’t be guaranteed the kind of result I would need to sustain a tour, let alone a career.

      That’s why I think it’s super important to realize that my method for setting up house concerts has nothing to do with those established networks at all, who do seem to have cornered the market within the network of established house concert “venues.”

      I operate under the premise that I establish my own network, my own market, when I partner with people who are already in my community (whether that is people who are fans of my music, or even friends and family as a place to start) and put on great house concert events with them, then use the connections I make with guests at those shows to grow into doing more house concerts at their homes (with their new, unique community as guests), and so on and so on. These are not “people who host house concerts”; they’re just people who like me or my music and want to share me with their communities. So, I’m not competing with a bunch of other artists who bought the master list of house concert hosts for a spot to perform at their home venue. I’m working with people who know and like me, and who are eager to do something cool and unique with me for their group of friends and family.

      The book I wrote details every bit of how we have learned to make these events super rewarding and successful in this model. It sounds like perhaps you’re interested in playing house concerts in your own area, and not going out on a big tour? If so, I think that my model would be a perfect place for you to start. I’ve heard from numerous artists who have employed the tactics in my book to play house concerts in their own hometowns, and they’ve told me that they had a better time and made way more money than at any recent local public show they had done. You might consider giving it a try!

      All my best to you, Bill — shannon

      • Hi Shannon and thanks so much for getting back to me about this. I will give it a try for sure!!! I agree, if you want to get something done right, do it yourself!! I can do this. I can create a network. Takes time, but well worth it. Thanks again! You’re great to provide such a lengthy and informative response.
        Best to you as well!

        • Shannon Curtis

          thank you, Bill!! – shannon

  • Lettie Lawman

    This is really awesome and thank you for sharing.