Many musicians are doing it very, very hard during COVID19. With venues for gigs around the country having been either fully closed, and seven months on, open only to very limited numbers of patrons, normal full-paying performance opportunities have been as rare as rocking horse shit.
Many musicians are ineligible for Job Keeper, as they have not been in continuing employment for the required lengthy period with the one employer, earning their money from a diversity of opportunities, now nearly all unavailable. Several I know are living off meagre savings and are very depressed about the near future.
Live streaming sites like Sydney Underground Streaming Sessions provide access to gigs for a small charge, most of which goes to the acts. Some artists have done full sets (here’s the inimitable Peter O’Doherty and Reg Mombassa from Dog Trumpet doing a full 75 minute set on September 18, and Terry Serio’s Candelight Sessions, but not charged or asked for donations.
You can run the picture through your TV and turn up the sound system to live gig levels, but the experience is always a pale shell of what it’s like being at a live gig.
House concerts are a wonderful way to help musicians and get your best friends to experience an intimate performance.
Last Saturday night we hosted at out house singer-guitarist songwriter Brendan Gallagher (ex-Karma County, and current Pinks and Dead Marines band member). It was a beautiful night. I’d done it with Brendan a few years ago and had 50 people pay to come, but this time NSW regulations limited us to 20 visitors (including Brendan), in addition to me and my wife, Trish.
Here are a few tips on how to run a good house concert.
Pick a musician you and your friends will like
It’s best to make direct contact with the musician, rather than go through their management or a house concert organising site. Both of these will be wanting their cut, so less of the money you raise will go directly to the musician. Most musicians have web pages with contact buttons, or Facebook pages you can message. Really big name acts will cost far more than you’ll be able to pay, unless you are loaded.
Acts with multiple members will usually cost more than solo acts, which will have budgetary implications.
Negotiate the fee you’ll pay
Ask the musician what they will charge to play. They’ll quote you the minimum price that’s worth their while. You’ll then know what to charge each person. We decided to think what our friends were likely to pay for an intimate concert with dinner when you were asked to BYO drinks. We thought back from typical dinner + gig + bar price drinks for a few hours would cost for a name act like Brendan, and thought there would be little change from $50-$60 a head.
We were not wrong. The price we settled on saw 20 friends snap the tickets up in the few minutes after my group email went out.
Make sure people pay you in advance. This is important because everyone says there will always be no-shows, if it’s cash on arrival and then the kitty is caught short.
We had amplifiers and a microphone from our band days, but if you don’t, most musicians will have these and be happy to bring them.
Finger food is strongly advised. If you try for a plated food night, there’s seating needed, the limited seats you’ll have then needing to be moved before the concert, mess to clear away, and an overloaded dishwasher. We put on homemade gourmet sausage rolls (these vanished instantly), a big range of good cheeses and dips, sushi and shrimp toast, and lots bite-sized cakes (all whooshed up). We set up a large iced esky for people’s bottles. A few guests insisted on bringing their signature finger foods and a generous neighbour ran up mini citron tarts.
We planned to hold it in our back garden, but the night turned out to be windy and chilly, with firepit smoke whipping around. So we moved it into a large living room which comfortably took the 22 people who were there throughout the two sets. We supplemented the available lounge and dining chairs with some camping chairs. If you plan to run it outdoors, let your neighbours know they may hear some sound bleed.Ours were all totally cool with it.
The 19 friends who came were enraptured, gushing about what a great idea it has been. We’ll definitely be running more. If you’ve held any yourself, please comment on how it went.
Here’s Brendan, backed by Trish, doing Absolutely Away