HOW DO I GET BOOKED
AT A HOUSE CONCERT?
The following letter was written in 2003 by Russ (of Russ & Julie's House Concerts) in reply to the often asked question, "How do I get booked at a House Concert?"
Julie and I recently were guest speakers at a local meeting of Just Plain Folks where we gave a talk and answered questions about House Concerts for a few dozen musicians. Here's a summary of a longwinded answer we gave to the question "How do I get booked at House Concerts?" While this applies mostly to our series, it should be adaptable for you with others...
HOW DO I GET BOOKED AT HOUSE CONCERTS?
ANSWER: The bottom line answer is that it really is not easy... though there is a good alternative to trying to get in to an established House Concert series. We'll get to that in a moment. First, the facts. And we don't mean for this to be condescending in any way. We are just being very open and honest with our answer, since you asked. (Sorry if this is kind of long.)
We pick our performers with a combination of the following four methods: (1) We have about 3 dozen past performers who have expressed an interest in coming back. We usually limit ourselves to just 2 or 3 return engagements per year. (2) We get unsolicited CDs, press kits and EPKs from musicians around the world. We are contacted by artists from all around the world at a rate of at least 3 - 4 per week and sometimes several in a day! (3) We get lots of referrals. Referrals from past performers account for a good percentage of the artists we've hosted. (4) Lastly, we also contact musicians that we would like to host a show for.
Between these four categories, we have more than 125 musicians and bands on our current list of people that we might like to host a House Concert for in the near future. Since we only host between 10-12 shows each year, we're obviously very backlogged. One of the things we are doing to try to accommodate more performers is that we are trying to book more shows with double billings. In other words, two artists or bands in the same evening.
[Added in 2006: These days we are finding a large percentage of the artists we book through the Folk Alliance Region West (FAR-West) annual conferences. Information at: www.far-west.org. We try to save a couple of slots each year for performers we see at the annual FAR-West conference.]
[Added in 2013: It's funny looking back on this 10 years later and seeing it say that we have 3 dozen past performers looking to return. Currently that number is closer to 250! It's more than a little overwhelming.]
As you can see, we've been overwhelmed with musicians. So the real dilemma is, if you are a musician, how can you get in to perform at our House Concert series? Our short answer is that it is next to impossible. (In spite of saying this at our presentation, we still had a half dozen people hand us CDs and press kits afterwards!)
If you will try, then we have a few suggestions....
First: Get us a copy of your CD and press kit. This isn't as easy as it sounds because our website doesn't list our address and when you send us an email, we'll send you a form letter saying that we're not taking submissions at this time. Most artists stop there... and you probably should, too. However, if you are still going to try, then write back and say that you understand how backlogged we are but would still really like to send us a copy of your CD. We'll eventually relent, so long as you understand how backlogged we are.
Second: Follow up. Again, this isn't as straight forward as it sounds. We have piles of CDs and press kits. We do go through them all and listen to at least the first 3 songs on every CD... but it can takes us weeks or even months before we get the chance. (We both work full time and hosting House Concerts is a hobby for us.) So you don't want to follow up too soon... and you DEFINITELY don't want to follow up too often. A simple email a couple of months down the road to say "Did you get the cd? What did you think?" is enough to show your continued interest. Don't call us several times a year to see if we can fit you in yet as that's really annoying.
[Added in 2006: These days we generally find Electronic Press Kits (EPKs) sufficient. If we want or need more, we'll request it, but we do get to EPKs much quicker than hard copy press kits which often can pile up and get lost in the clutter. We try to get to EPKs within a few days of submission.]
Third: Make sure your CD is very good! When we listen to the CD and read through the press kit, we'll make notes that we will add to our "list" of those who have contacted us. Only a small fraction of the CDs we get fall into the "bad" category. Most of them are "good". Only once in all the years of doing this has a CD stood out so much that we immediately booked the band. Generally, we'll go through about two to three dozen CDs at one time and see if we can pick out one or two that we like enough to add to our "possible future shows" list. (We've booked a number of these several years down the road, a few have gotten booked sooner, and most are still on the list...)
Fourth: Let us know when you are performing in the area. If we can find an opportunity to see you perform in person... it can really help. Most of the people we have booked, we have seen perform in advance. We find that many acts are much better live than their CDs might indicate. There's something about the energy of a live performance. Also, such opportunities give us a chance to see if we think the performance would fit in our home.
[Added in 2013: Again, the Folk Alliance Region West (FAR-West) annual music conference is great for this. We are able to see dozens of performances in a single weekend. Information at: www.far-west.org.]
Fifth: Name drop. We know that sounds stupid to some, but we have two reasons for it. First, let us know if you have worked with or know any of our past performers. As we said, recommendations from past performers make up a good percentage of the people we've booked over the years. If you know them, contact a past performer of ours and ask them to recommend you. Also, should we eventually book you, we have to promote your show. Being able to say that you toured with Joan Baez, opened for Bob Dylan and have both Dar Williams & James Taylor on your CD is going to help sell the show. (Anyone out there fitting this example... please call us.)
Remember, our House Concerts are in our living room. Before we book anyone, we BOTH have to really enjoy the music and BOTH have to feel comfortable having that artist in our home. There's lots of great music out there, but only a small percentage of it is going to fit into the type of music we personally like to present. I doubt all House Concert presenters work the same way, but this gives you an idea of what you are up against.
Now about that more reasonable alternative...
Our suggestion is to reach out to your existing fan base and let them know that you are open to the idea of performing at a House Concert. Explain in simple terms what a House Concert is and that you'd be willing to help them out. Your fans are already the best commercial for your music. Some people DREAM about having their favorite musician perform in their very own living room... but they probably think it's nothing more than a dream. You can make their dream happen and get a quality performance in at the same time!
Of course, performing at an established House Concert venue has its benefits. We have an established mailing list, "regulars" who will attend the show, and we already have it down to a routine and know what we need to do. Someone hosting their first House Concert may need to have their hand held a bit about how to pull it off. (The "Frequently Asked Questions" section and the "House Concert Resources" section of our website are two good places to send someone thinking about hosting their first House Concert.) We believe that this is the best course for most musicians looking to perform House Concerts.
[Added in 2008: If you are new to House Concerts, you should definitely check out www.concertsinyourhome.com which may be the best way to hook into the House Concert community.]
Sorry if this was a little on the long side. Others are bound to do things differently, but I expect that most of the basics are similar.
I hope this helps a little.
Russ & Julie's House Concerts