Do House Concerts Make Live Music More Personal?

Usually, our favorite concert experiences happen in stadiums, arenas, large public parks at summer music festivals, or at the local club.

But as we’ve discovered in our exploration of redefined concert settings and virtual concerts, those usual concert locales aren’t the only places where live music can change our lives.

The culture and concept of the house concert has always intrigued me.

For starters, one of the reasons house concerts are amazing to me is because when you look at house concert history you’ll quickly realize that they aren’t specific to only one genre.

House concerts have been going on for years in basements, dining rooms and even bedrooms, where the stage is small and the atmosphere is palpable, intimate and inspiring.

And whether it’s a rock, hip hop, jazz, punk or folk concert, the roots of our most memorable concert experiences at clubs, stadiums and summer music festivals can most likely be traced back to a intimate performance in a house.

And we all know that the emotional allure of the VIP show, or a secret show is that it’s just you, a few other fans, the artist and the music.

And the more I think about house concerts, the more it becomes clear that they allow concert fans to get in touch with our sociological roots and basic human desire to gather in smaller, more personal and close-knit communities with like-minded friends.

And when music fans get together at a personal and intimate house concert, they can really take advantage of the emotional truth that a concert isn’t just defined by where you’re gathering, but by why you’re gathering or who you’re gathering with.

So how are house concerts being organized in 2010? How will they evolve further with social media?

How are concert fans finding a way to create more intimate and personal concert experiences in their homes?

How are independent artists finding alternative places to play live instead of at the usual concert venue?

And where does the culture and concept of the house concert fit in to our exploration of redefined concert settings?

To further explore those questions, I asked singer-songwriter Fran Snyder to tell us the story behind how he created Concerts In Your Home, and what favorite live shows he would like to re-experience at a concert in his home.

LF: What inspired you to create Concerts in Your Home? As both an artist and a fan, how have some of your favorite concert experiences influenced the mission and development of CIYH?

FS: CIYH was born out of love and frustration. After falling in love with the intimacy and impact of performing a few house concerts, I turned to the internet to find more HC opportunities. What I found was a tangled mess of incomplete, out-of-date, websites that did not turn out to be a productive use of my time.

After a bunch of bounced emails and wasted efforts, I decided there needed to be a place that would inspire instead for frustrate people, and help talented artists find their way to this oasis of good performing experiences – the house concert.

The mission has never wavered – “to find meaningful and rewarding experiences for talented artists to perform and earn a living.” The development is constant. There are always more problems to solve for our artists and community of hosts and fans.

You recently launched a new CIYH feature called ListeningRoomNetwork.com. How does it help artists get selected for a show?

ListeningRoomNetwork (LRN) is actually a place for us to support venues that operate with a similar spirit (as house concerts) but take place in public or non-home venues. It’s simply an extension of what we are doing, and allowing it to take place in all sorts of venues.

You’ve also recently unveiled another new program called DinnerAndSong.com. Since the live music experience can be very communal, what would you say in the biggest connection between sharing a meal and enjoying a concert with other music fans?

Many house concerts have a pot-luck dinner before the show, and it’s a great way to provide some social time for the participants. Since many attendees are neighbors, it’s important that they have time to greet each other and catch up. This allows them to get focused on the performer when the show starts.

DinnerAndSong is a shorter, simpler program designed to create events during the week, which for artists is usually the most challenging part of planning a concert tour. Hosts provide a meal for the artist and 6-10 guests, and the artist performs a short 35 minute show afterward. Each guest donates $10 for the artist, who usually is put up in a guest room for the night. It’s a lovely time, and a great way for artists to save money on off nights.

Seeing how you’ve integrated social networks like Facebook and YouTube in the framework of CIYH, how have those and other social media helped you to connect the hosts and artists during the shows?

We’re very much about building community – and these outlets allow our members and fans to connect in a personal, non-business way.

With the advent and evolution of the online virtual concert experience, how have you been inspired to develop new interactive aspects of CIYH?

We’re deeply involved in the creation of new opportunities at the moment (DNS, LRN) but we’ll soon devote more time to these types of ideas. Many house concert hosts have already embraced video sharing of their concerts.

What have been some of the best experiences that hosts and musicians have told you about? What are the biggest challenges you’ve face developing and spreading the word about CIYH?

There are tons of great stories, but something that is happening more often now (thanks to our “avails pages”) is that some of our hosts are actively solving problems for artists, by reaching out to touring acts who have gaps in their schedules, and offering a place to stay and sometimes perform. That’s very cool.

The biggest challenge has been that some people feel their homes are too small (DinnerAndSong solves that problem) and that they don’t understand how grateful artists can be to perform for a small group of attentive people. They think that a couple of hundred dollars, a meal, and a bed couldn’t be enough – but it often is.

If you could go back and re-live one of your favorite concerts in the format and setting of CIYH, what concert would you pick and why?

Great question! Peter Gabriel’s “Secret World Live” would have been a challenge to put on at our house. Shawn Colvin at Ruth Eckerd Hall (Clearwater FL, about 10 years ago) would have been better in my living room.

What is the benefit of an artist playing at a Concert In Your Home event? How can a setting like this help their live performance skills?

I spent a lot of years playing in bars and restaurants and tourist traps. You start pandering and playing songs you don’t enjoy. You stop trying to connect with your own music. You stop paying attention to what is working, and what is not, because you don’t get reliable information. “Did they not like that song, or just not as much as the Michael Jordan slam dunk that just happened on the TV above my head?”

Concerts In Your Home events have a rapt audience, and if you pay attention, you know immediately when you’re losing the audience, or when they get it.

For the fans, what do you think is the best part about hosting or attending a Concerts in Your Home event?

They love the face to face time with the artist, and the weird, funny things that happen when a performer lets their guard down. Oftentimes, it’s the stories, the real personal off-the-cuff comments that rarely happen on a big stage.

What’s next for Concerts in Your Home? How do you think it will impact our other live music experiences?

We’ve only scratched the surface of our plans. We aim to revolutionize touring for the small independent troubadours out there. And we aim to re-ignite the passion for live music that has left so many – people who’ve gotten fed up with going to venues that don’t provide a good experience. House concerts are just the beginning.

Thank you to Fran for sharing the story of CIYH and his live music experiences! You can learn more about hosting and attending a CIYH event at concertsinyourhome.com There’s also a free guide to hosting a CIYH house concert and other resources that you can get here.

Concerts In Your Home is also currently hosting a contest to pick artists for a 2011 house tour. You can learn more about it here.

What About You?

Have you been to a house concert or a Concerts In Your Home event before? Have you ever wanted to go but haven’t had the chance? What artist would you like to see perform a concert in your home?

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