1 of 2
2 of 2
House concerts are a vibrant aspect of the local live music scene in many parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe. The phenomenon has helped to fill in the gap created by the gradual disappearance of small listening rooms, where music lovers could formerly go to hear acoustic concerts. The unique experience of a concert in such an intimate and unusual setting is part of the appeal for both the performers and the audience. The chance to connect directly with people on an individual level (for the artist), or share a cerveza with one of your favourite singers after the show (for the audience) is a lot of fun.
In spite of its popularity in other parts of the world, the house concert trend has been slow to take root in Spain. Barcelona is one of the few cities where the idea is finally starting to catch on. So if you fancy playing host, let’s get the show on the road...
So, what is a house concert exactly?
Generally speaking, a house concert is exactly what its name implies: A concert that’s presented in someone’s home or private space. Think art studio, terrace, garden, lounge room in a hostel—any space that is not a typical bar or concert venue. Some house concerts are a one-time-only event, and others are presented as a series (e.g. every month or every other month). Usually, the size of the audience is smaller than at a bar or club due to the confines of the space: 20-50 people at most.
Who goes to house concerts?
If this is your first show, it will probably be mostly music-loving friends and acquaintances. House concerts are often conducted by invitation only, just as if you were throwing a house party. (If you decide you want to start hosting a series of shows, a Facebook group or email list is a good idea, but for now let’s stick to the basics). It is a good idea to ask guests to RSVP, so that you know how many people to prepare for, and can control who comes in and out of your house. In addition, the ability to state, truthfully, that everyone in your home is an invited guest at a private party means you won’t be breaking any laws, i.e. running an unlicensed music venue.
Who plays at a house concert?
The ideal performer at a house concert is a singer-songwriter, or any acoustic-based music. More often than not, the performer is solo, just voice and acoustic guitar. An acoustic duo or trio could also work. The artists could be local musicians or even touring acts. Performers can round out their tour schedules profitably while building new markets, and enjoying the opportunity to interact with an appreciative audience at close range, all with minimal setup.
Setting Up the Space: Where to Begin?
You’ll need, first and foremost, a stage area of some kind—it could be as simple as a corner in your living room, with your cool Habitat lamps rearranged to provide some mood lighting. Be creative with your set-up. Move furniture, rugs, plants, string some lights…although lighting candles is not necessarily recommended. Remember to always be safe.
The audience will need seats of some kind or even just space on the floor, which they can get to without tripping over each other or the musicians. You can use your own furniture, rent a few folding chairs from a party or restaurant supply store, or borrow from your neighbour. (In fact, you should invite your neighbour to the show—this makes them even less likely to complain about the party next door).
Often there is no amplification in a house concert, the musician(s) play 100 percent unplugged. At most, they may choose to bring a small amplifier or sound system.
What you’ll need for (and from) your guests.
Explain to your guests that this is a concert, not just a party. They should arrive on time, and expect to sit and listen throughout the performance. Refreshments can be simple or elaborate, donated by guests or provided by you. The ‘pot luck’ donation formula tends to work best, as it saves the host time and money.
Drinks can either be provided by the host, or the show can be BYOB (bring your own beverage).
What you’ll need for the musicians.
Your performer will need a stool or chair onstage, water, and a small area to display CDs if he or she has them for sale.
Ask performers to arrive an hour before the audience for setup if possible. Agree on set times beforehand. If you have more than one artist playing, agree on who plays first and for how long.
Accommodation: It is customary to offer the performers food and drinks, and if they are on tour, sometimes lodging is part of their compensation. If the musician is not local but you cannot offer accommodation it is not necessarily a deal breaker, but it is always best to mention that up front.
But this show is in my house, right? Do I pay the artists?
Just like in any other concert, the musicians are providing a service and should be paid. You can pass the hat or choose to set a fixed rate, but most house concerts work based on a suggested donation. You set the minimum, and your guests can choose to give more if they are feeling generous.
The typical price for a first-time house concert is €10 per person, plus a dish, snack, or drink to share, but you can decide for yourself what you feel is appropriate. The money collected usually goes straight to the performers, though sometimes the artist and the host work out a split where the host takes a percentage to cover costs.
Most house concerts are on weekend nights, and start earlier than your average show for the sake of noise regulations. 8pm or 9pm is a good time to have the music begin on a Friday or Saturday, 6pm or 7pm on a Sunday. Guests should be asked to arrive 30 minutes to an hour before the start time, this gives them a moment to chat before the music starts. The musicians play a set (usually 40-45 minutes), take a 15-30 minute break, and play another set. After that, the hanging out part of the night can wind down or last as long as you like!
Will this be difficult to pull off?
Not if you’re organised. Keep in mind that it’s pretty much the same thing as hosting a party, with the added element of live, acoustic music and a small cover charge to pay the costs of the host and musicians. There are resources available online to help you get organised, in fact there is even a website for the European house concert network (houseconcerthub.ning.com).
One reason why there are not more house concerts in Barcelona may be because most apartments in the city centre are relatively small. It can be difficult to find an adequate space in which to host a house concert. That being said, some apartments in the Eixample, or even outside of the centre (Sant Andreu, Horta) are perfectly adequately sized. A masia in the countryside is also a nice alternative. Be creative. And enjoy.
Alex Zayas is a Barcelona-born blues guitarist and singer who has been playing music professionally for almost 20 years. He has played several house concerts in the city, most of them private events, but he plays many more of them when touring in the US and Canada. He enjoys the highly personal atmosphere that you don’t get in a club, as it gives him a chance to connect with fans on a personal level. But, Zayas warns, “If you want to host a concert, that’s great, but it’s important to do it right or not do it at all. You have to understand that this is not just an ordinary house party, the musicians are there working.” In other words, make it a good time, but make sure to remember that the main idea is the concert, not the party.