Article

Our House: The Cozy, Complex, Interconnected World of House Concerts

I've been hosting house concerts in Winnipeg, MB on a casual basis since 2002. Among the artists I've had the thrill to host are Chuck Prophet, Jon Dee Graham, Pat Dinizio, Amy Rigby & Wreckless Eric, Martyn Joseph, Lindi Ortega, Mike Plume, Leeroy Stagger, NQ Arbuckle, The Devin Cuddy Band, Whitney Rose (who brought along The Mavericks' Raul Malo with her!) and many more. 

The caliber of artist willing to do house concerts constantly amazes me - those artists listed above are some of my favourite artists of all time - and there's others out there I'd love to have, but living in a city as isolated as Winnipeg it's hard to make it worthwhile for the artist to come up here. Offering Jon Dee Graham 3 gigs in 3 different house concert homes (along with a decent hotel room to use as home base while he was here) was one novel idea. But I'd really like to get a circuit of hosts set up between Minneapolis and Winnipeg in order to entice other top shelf artists up here. If anyone in that area is interested in joining that circuit, please get in touch with me!

Whitney Rose & Raul Malo @ The StuDome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0KlOeE-CJ4

Good to see this movement getting more attention (my own exploration can be found  here: http://www.riverfronttimes.com/2013-10-31/music/wood-house-concerts-livi...), although the key is balance, as we'd never want to get to a point where house concerts are cannibalizing wonderful bar venues like The Continental Club or Tractor Tavern. But as a means for getting name artists into smaller markets they'd otherwise skip, house concerts are invaluable. As an aside, the ubiquity of the television show Bones never ceases to amaze me.

I love the Continental Club, etc., but that's not a venue for what I do. I don't see most of the acoustic players depriving the more rockin' clubs of booking opportunities. That said, there are some surprisingly large, nicely done "house" concert venues in Austin, capable of hosting a few hundred folks comfortably in gorgeous backyard settings. While there is some overlap there with what the clubs might offer, these are infrequent events.

A giant threat to the clubs is real estate development.

It's worth noting that in Canada there is a kind of formalized house-concert-based touring operation that seems to be working well, at least for some artists.  That is Home Routes, based in Winnipeg but having circuits through much of Canada.  http://homeroutes.ca/fullSite/

I was with them for a couple of years, and saw some great performers, some of whom I've stayed in touch with.  Led me to engage others locally.  Great experience, although as it turned out my available space really didnt' work all that well.  

I love going to house concerts, and I think it can work very well for the artists as well.

R.

 

  I'm finishing up my 13th -- and best -- year of hosting house concerts in Norfolk, VA at www.northshorepoint.com with shows by Carrie Rodriguez and Kim Richey next month. I've hosted Slaid Cleaves, Aoife O'Donovan, Sam Baker, The Black Lillies, and Chris Smither already this year.

I think audiences, once they get to know the joys of house concerts, can't get enough of them.

Here's my take on the community of house concerts, written during the tenth anniversary a few years ago. The good/bad news is that since then rain has not become an issue. A regular who passed away gave me money towards a huge canopy tent and others chipped in so I could make the purchase. 

http://jimsravesnrants.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/magic-moments-a-decade-o...

 

One question Jim. Why wasn't I invited? Sam Baker.......so so jealous. Keep up the great work.

 Hal,

Thanks.

 Sign up for the mail chimp notices on the site. I get people from NC regularly.

Sam was great, of course. His second time here. (And it was the only one of those shows this year that didn't draw more than 135 so I had room).

 Here's something from that show, a song Sam rarely performs. But then you get moments like this at house concerts. We all know the story, but not this song live.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyCfFjqYHhs

 

Thank you, Kevin, for my favorite piece on house concerts yet, well done! We have been hosting outsite of Nashville for 7 years and you have told our story the best I've read so far. The moments of community that have occurred in our living room are what I will point to as my life's contribution to this world. And it means the world to me to be a part of this activity.

The benefits generously tip the balance to the positive in spite of the stress of filling a room for richly deserving artists in an area saturated with live music choices and many music makers but not necessarily an overabundance of savvy music lover/supporters. Steve and Jubal Lee Young, Malcolm Holcombe, Ed Snodderly, Otis Gibbs, Eric Taylor, Krista Detor, Keith Sykes, Michael Kelsh, Verlon Thompson, Grayson Capps and so many more have honored us by playing in our home, bringing their stories along with the songs. We were beyond fortunate to have hosted Larry Jon Wilson and Bill Morrissey before they passed on. I echo Cathy's statement that it is artists with music we feel a personal connection with that we hope to book. For that reason an artist who approaches us that we aren't already familiar with rarely gets booked, but it is no reflection on their abilities. It's just that we already have a list of favorites that is a lifetime long. 

We are always looking to connect with fellow music lovers who would be interested in checking out our house concerts. We'll do the work, you come and support live music in our living room and leave with memories you'll cherish. Win - win!  :-))  

Denise Williams
Hillbilly Haiku House Concerts
www.hillbillyhaiku.net
www.facebook.com/hillbillyhaiku

Denise,

It's house concerts like yours that I have found myself modeling our series by here in Columbia.  As KO mentions in the article we are fairly new to the house concert scene.  This is just our third year.  I indeed was one of those who sat in the audience of a friends house many many times and walked away saying, "I want to do that".

I was honored to be interviewed by one of our local Columbia Music Journalist, Kevin Oliver.

Cathy  Stayman

Little Yellow Music House

www.littleyellowmusichouse.webs.com

I've played quite a few house concerts and have to say they are my favorite thing. Especially like them when the host has a PA so we don't have to bring one. Yes, this is the future and it's ok by me.  The folks are there to listen and then if they like what they hear they but CDs.  And of course they pay to hear you as well. How much more can a working Americana recording artist want? Beats a lot of the alternatives.

Enjoyed this article very much!  Thank you for helping to spread the good word about house concerts. 

My husband and I been hosting about 10 shows per year since 2011 in our home near Austin, TX  Among the artists that we have been privileged to host in our living room are: Jack Williams, Small Potatoes, Richard Berman, JohnSmith, Tim Grimm, George Ensle, Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines,  Danny Schmidt, Carrie Elkins, Sam Baker, Steve Seskin, Aengus Finnan,  Butch Hancock, BettySoo, Shake Russel, Brother Sun, The Carper Family, Ken Gaines, Steve Brooks, and Bob Livingston. 

One important point that you missed entirely in your article is that, in order to avoid legal entanglements with ASCAP, SESAC, and/or BMI,  house concert hosts need to be very careful about how they spread the word about their house concerts.  These performance rights organizations (PROS) collect licensing fees for the "public performance" of any music in their catalogues.

If you are thinking about hosting a house concert, you need to be aware that, as a host, YOU can be held liable for licensing fees even if you simply ask for donations and 100 percent of the money collected goes to the artist.  YOU can even be held liable for licensing fees if you DON'T collect a single penny from your guests and you pay the artists out of your own pocket!  And, the fact that the performance happens in your private living room will not automatically protect you.   The thing that determines whether or not licensing fees are due to the PROS is whether or not the show is a "public performance."   If your show is deemed to be a "public performance" then ASCAP and or the other PROS can demand licensing fees.  And, if you refuse to pay and they can prove that any songs from their catalog were played at one of your concerts, they can sue you for copyright infringement with penalties up to $20,000 PER SONG  plus legal fees.  You should also know that ASCAP has never lost a copyright infringement suit.

The current legal definition of a "public performance"  is any performance that occurs "in a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered."  So, as a host, to protect yourself,  you basically need to make certain that all persons who attend your concerts are either family members OR social acquaintances of yours and that you keep your living room from being considered "open to the public."  If anyone can come to the door, ring the doorbell, and immediately be allowed in - even if for just on the night of the performance - then you home would be considered "open to the public" for the performance.   And unfortunately, as far as I know, the law has not yet defined what constitutes a "social acquaintance."  Friends of friends are probably OK.  In this day and age, Facebook friends would probably pass muster.  But it seems reasonably clear that, in order to be a considered a "social acquaintance" a person HAS to have had MORE social contact with you than "they heard/read about your concert series in the newspaper or on Reverbnation and showed up at your door with a $20 donation in hand." 

You should also know that the way ASCAP works is that, when they learn about a venue that is not paying licensing fees, they usually send a letter demanding that the venue pay the fees.  Then, if the venue doesn't knuckle under and pay, ASCAP sends one or two undercover agents to the venue to take note of what songs are being played.  If the undercover agents hear anything from ASCAP'S catalogue being played, ASCAP can file suit in the name of the songwriter/copyright owner - without the songwriter ever knowing anything about the lawsuit.  So, if the songwriter playing in your house happens to sing a song written by his best buddy who happens to be a member of ASCAP, ASCAP can sue YOU...even if the songwriter himself has given his singing friend permission to perform the song and is delighted that the song is being sung at house concerts!   

The best way to protect yourself as a host is to make sure that your house concerts are clearly PRIVATE, by invitation only events so that no undercover ASCAP agent can wind up in the audience.

For this reason, we are careful about NEVER posting our house address on our website, on our facebook page, or on anything  else that we create to spread the word about our series.  And we also stress to artists that they must not post our physical address on their tour page.    Anyone who wants to come to  one of our concerts HAS to email us via a form available on our website.  We then email them back and usually have several back and forth emails BEFORE we send them our address.  And, we have a guest list at the door and check folks off of the guest list as they arrive.  I know this can be a bit frustrating to the fan who just wants to come out and listen to his/her favorite musician - especially if it is someone who has never attended a house concert before and is already a bit leery about the whole idea of going to someone's house to hear a concert.  But we feel that this process necessary in order to establish a "social acquaintanceship" to avoid legal entanglements with the PROS.   

There HAVE been a number of house concert series over the years that have been forced to shut down because the hosts suddenly found themselves on ASCAP'S radar and got demands to pay up hundreds or thousands of dollars in licensing fees or face potentially hundreds of thousands in legal fees and fines for copyright violations.   

If you want to host, another idea to help avoid legal problems with ASCAP and BMI is to join Folk Alliance International.  (http://www.folkalliance.org/)  Folk Alliance has a blanket agreement with ASCAP and BMI that Folk Alliance members are not subject to PRO fees for house concerts.   As I understand it, Folk Alliance uses a portion of its membership fees to purchase an umbrella performance license from these two PROS which then covers Folk Alliance members who choose to host house concerts.  Note two things however: 

       1)  The Folk Alliance agreement that members have to sign to be covered by Folk Alliance's umbrella agreement with ASCAP and BMI  limits you to hosting your house concerts in exactly the same manner that should, in my opinion, keep your shows from being deemed a public performances anyway.   And, if you're doing that already, why should you have to join Folk Alliance and pay their membership fees in order to be allowed to do what you already the legal right to do anyway, that is, host a PRIVATE performace?  (Disclaimer: my husband and co-host IS a member of  Folk Alliance and there are many other excellent reasons to join Folk Alliance.) 

      2) The Folk Alliance agreement is with ASCAP and BMI only.   SESAC (the third PRO) is not a party to the Folk Alliance agreement.  So, even if you join Folk Alliance and are protected by their umbrella agreement from being harassed by ASCAP and BMI, you still have to be concerned that SESAC might come asking for licensing fees.  Fortunately, SESAC has historically been a bit less agressive about pursuing licensing fees from small venues like house concerts than ASCAP and BMI have been.

As a performer, if you want to play house concerts, you can help to protect the nice folks who host you by:

   1)  Carefully following whatever they ask you to do with regard to posting information about their house concert series on your website.  If they ask you not to post their home address, please don't post it!

   2)  Play your own original music as much as possible.  Even if you are a member of one of the PROS so that your music in in the PROS catalogue, I am fairly certain that you, as the original copyright holder, still have the right to play your own music anywhere you want to without the venue operator being subject to licensing fees from your PRO.  And, even if not, I think a PRO would be laughed out of court if it tried to sue a house concert host on your behalf for licensing fees when YOU were the one who played the so-called infringing songs.

   3) DO NOT  EVER report any of your house concert performances to the PRO you belong to.   While doing so may net you a few pennies of royalty income from the PRO, reporting the house concert performance also puts the house concert venue on the PRO'S radar!  I know of the owner of a very small art studio in a small town that was allowing local independent song-writers to use her side patio and yard about once a month for live performances.   Donations of $10/person were collected at the gate with 100 percent of the money collected going to the musicians.  The owner of the art studio provided cheese, wine, and other snacks out of her own pocket; bought folding chairs so the audience would have places to sit, etc.  The preformances were AFTER HOURS when the art studio was closed. Thus, there is no way one could argue that the owner of the venue was profiting, or even attempting to profit, from the music.   The only advertizing was by word of mouth and via a small sign posted inside the art studio itself and I doubt that attendance ever exceeded 20 people.  Yet, less than two years after she started hosting music once a month, ASCAP sent a demand letter for  $200/year in licensing fees!  Apparently one of the musicians she allowed to play had reported playing his own original music at the venue to ASCAP.   Faced with a choice of starting to take about $20/show out of the door donations in order to pay ASCAP,  or forking out another $200 out of her own pocket, or closing down the music, needless to say she stopped having music!  

   4) Avoid covering popular songs or songs by well-known songwriters at your house concert performances.  If an undercover agent from one of the PROS should have managed to slip into the audience,  the well-known songs are the ones he/she are most likely to recognize and report back on.   So save those well-known cover tunes for another night. In my experience, house concert attendees are true music fans and don't want to hear the top-40 pablum anyway!

Just my 2 cents.

Bev Angel

Arhaven House Concerts

BTW - if you want to understand more about PROs and how they operate, here ia a link to a website that, I think, doed a pretty good job of explaining the PRO system.  I'll admit upfront that it takes a dim view of the PROs and I'd be happy to post another link that took a more positive stance but I couldn't find any.... except for promo pieces written by the PROS themselves to get musicians to sign up with them. Nothing by a musician or venue operator with experience with that system and nothing by a disinterested observer of the system.

http://www.woodpecker.com/writing/essays/royalty-politics.html

 

Very detailed  and probably needed manual on house concerts. But after reading it I felt like I had just visited the doctor and I found out that the medicine prescribed to cure my malady  may have side effects such as heartburn, dizziness, suicidal thoughts,  depression, drowsiness, sleeplessness, etc......

Who knew?

 

 

Sorry Hal!  I absolutely did NOT intend to scare anybody away from hosting house concerts.  As I said, DH and I have been hosting them for four years now and love doing it.  We've also assisted several other folks in hosting their own first house  concert.   

What I wanted to do was let everyone know about the potential of falling afoul of the PROS and how best to avoid that risk.     Try to think about what  I wrote as more like finding out the medicine to cure your malady may have side effects such as heartburn, etc, BUT ALSO being told that you can avoid about 99.99% all those potential side effects by ALWAYS aking the medicine with a full meal instead of on an empty stomach. 

Wouldn't you rather know about the risks and how to avoid them than have your doctor simply tell you, "here, take this med with meals" and not tell you WHY you needed to take it that way.  If you're like me, without an explanation of why the meds needed to be taken with a meal, there would eventually come a time when taking it with a meal simply wasn't convenient... so I'd take it on an empty stomach.  Might get away with doing that occasionally but, if I kept it up, I'd probably end up with one or more of the nasty side effects.  

It is similar with advertizing one's house concerts.  It is NOT convenient to have to keep one's home address secret until after establishing a "social relationship" with a potential guest.   It is not convenient to take the time to monitor the web postings that our artists make after booking a show at Arhaven House.  And it can be a real PITA to have to contact one of our artists and demand that they IMMEDIATELY revise their website because they didn't pay attention to our proscription against posting our home address.   If I didn't so thoroughly understand WHY these things need to be done (i.e., to ensure that our concerts continue to be "private performances" held in a "private place") I wouldn't bother.  

But if ASCAP or BMI or SESAC came demanding licensing fees, DH and I would be forced to shut down our series...and I think that actually would lead to heartburn, suicidal thoughts, depression, and sleeplessness!  LOL! 

But if ASCAP or BMI or SESAC came demanding licensing fees, DH and I would be forced to shut down our series...and I think that actually would lead to heartburn, suicidal thoughts, depression, and sleeplessness!  LOL! 

Hey, this is folk music, Bev, and you left good ol' fashioned murder off that list! ;-)

 

Arhaven,

I must say, that was worth a great deal more than 2 cents,,,, that was at LEAST a buck and quarters worth of info. 

Thank you very much for the thorough explanation and list of caveats. 

If I am aver in Austin again, I'll be sure to email you a bootload of times before arriving as I would like to be on the guest/friends list for any one of the artists you mention who have graced your livingroom; an impressive list to be sure. 

 

WEB 

Happy to have you join us for a concert anytime!   In fact, if you'd like to be added to our email list, go ahead and send me an email now via the form on our website.  http://www.arhaven.org.  But it has to be turn-about. LOL!  I travel some for business and am ALWAYS on the lookout for house concerts happening in any town that I'm stuck in overnight.   Even a so-so concert by an artist I've never heard of and who doesn't happen to play my favorite kind of music is a whole heck of a lot better than an evening spent sitting alone in a hotel room watching TV. 

I actually caught a very fine performance -  and got a free dinner  - once  when I got stuck in Raleigh NC due to a missed flight connection.  I only found out about the house concert via a web search while I was waiting for a taxi to take me to a motel.   Emailed the hostess about 45 minutes before the concert was supposed to start saying "please call me if you have room and I can come."  Ended up taking the taxi straight to her house and one of her guests took me to my motel afterwards!  Wonderful night.

 So if you host, let me know and I'll send you my email address so I can get on your friend's list as well!  Who knows, someday I might be in your town on a night you're hosting a house concert. 

TWO free guides for house concerts... one for artists, one for hosts.

http://www.concertsinyourhome.com/CIYH_House_Concert_Guide.html

We've been educating the world about this since 2006.

Great article. I have been hosting 6 to 8 house concerts a year for the past 23 years in Northern Ontario. When I started, the only regular house concert series I had heard of was in San Francisco. Great to see how they have spread. I think it's time they came in from the cold though. I am pretty public about what I do and I don't mind paying SOCAN licensing fees so the artists can get their royalties. I take it out of the door receipts, but the royalties more than make up for it.
 

Spoken like a true Canadian!  :-)  If the US had one PRO and they actually paid the artists that play house concerts as SOCAN does, I'd pay today. 

Hello Scott,

When you say Northern Ontario, how far North are you? I often get up to the Haliburton area ( in fact I will be up there next week looking for moose) and was wondering how far North of that you are located. Are we talking North Bay ish, above that ? 

 

WEB 

Sudbury.  About 90 minutes drive west of North Bay. I have a show with Meaghan Blanchard from Prince Edward Island on Oct 25. Good hunting.

Thanks Scott, the home of the Big Nickel! 

When I was a young boy, my father worked in Sudbury mining and would make the drive back to Windsor every weekend, it was a long haul especially with the quality of the roads back in the mid 60's. 

I will ceratinly check in with you if I am ever going to be in your neck of the woods.

I just checked out a few songs of Meaghan's most notably a song called "Brown Paper Bag" .... There must be something in the water our east.....  very nice stuff indeed! Enjoy the show on the 25th. 

Have you heard of Amelia Curran, another Canadian artist from down East, and also well worth listening to! 

 

 

Thanks for the hunting wishes! 

 

WEB  

I am a huge fan of Amelia Curran!  So much great music has come from the Atlantic provinces: Ron Hines, The Once, J. P Cormier, Dave Gunning, Old Man Luedecke, the Barra MacNeils, Jimmy Rankin (all the Rankins), Rose Cousins, Mo Kenny, Jim Payne, Geat Big Sea,  Gene MacLellan, Joel Plaskett, the Dardanelles, Tim Chiasson, David Myles, Rita MacNeil, John Allan Cameron, Hey Rosetta!......I could go on and on.

Big smile here man... you obviously have your finger on the pulse!

 

Here's hoping I can get to a house gig of yours in the not to distant future.

 

WEB    

Kevin - Catching up on some ND reading, enjoyed your detailed article on the House Concert experience and resulting comments. Nice to hear first hand experiences from both artists and hosts. In DC area we are fortunate that the various house concerts support one another and will often work together to host an artist for multiple days, allowing them to play for different audiences in the same metropolitan area. Again, enjoyed the read, best wishes.

This was an excellent article. Great to get comments from all sides of the House Concert equation. Thank you for posting.

 

Great article, and timely as my wife and I began to talk about this idea for the first time just this week.

Ha! Like the Little Yellow Music House lady the first house show I ever put on was Dannie and Carey!