[This post was written by Ryan Holiday, an international EDM artist who performs at intimate venues and house concerts.]
I am a professional musician. During the past 20 years, I enjoyed the highs of getting signed, selling out CBGB’s on a Friday night, and working with well known producers. I also weathered the lows of being dropped by a label, sleeping in puddles of beer while on tour, and watching multiple bands dissolve due to personal issues. After two decades, I had a revelation: I was tired of playing clubs.
As a solo artist, I combine pre-recorded loops with live vocal- and sound-manipulation. My style fits perfectly in intimate settings like art galleries or small rooms, but I typically played clubs, because that’s what musicians are supposed to do. I spent all day preparing for a 35 minute show, which was inevitably sandwiched between two bands who sounded nothing like me, and whose audiences had no interest in my hybrid of electronic and organic sounds. I stuck around until the end of the night, only to earn maybe $20 for my trouble. More often than not, I immediately spent it on alcohol to help ease my frustrations that grew with every concert.
In 2014, I began to think about house concerts. A house show is when an artist comes to someone’s home and performs in front of an intimate audience. The room is usually filled with the host’s friends and family who like the same kinds of music. House concerts are a great way for musicians to connect with old and new fans, and by cutting out the middlemen (such as clubs, sound-men, promoters, and bartenders), musicians actually have a chance to earn a living. I was inspired by Shannon Curtis’ book No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender – How I Made 25K On A House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too). Curtis, a singer/songwriter, completely abandoned traditional venues for house concerts back in 2012, and couldn’t have been happier with her decision. I loved the idea of doing house shows so much, I contacted Shannon and her producer husband Jamie Hill (who would eventually produce my album Selfish Bruises). Both encouraged me to take the leap into playing house shows.
In 2015, my revelation took hold, and I took the plunge.
I put the word out to friends and family, and was able to schedule a couple of shows right away. When I played my first living room, I was astonished by the sheer goodwill of the host throwing the event. She was so excited about the event, she even made little finger-foods for her guests.
She was surprised at the way the music warmly filled the room without ever feeling loud or obtrusive. Her fears about having an electronic musician in her living room were completely forgotten by the end of my first song.
During my performance, I had time to tell stories. Whether I was opening up about the divorce that inspired my newest songs, or showing the audience what it means to be a laptop musician and a sound manipulator, I was able to intimately talk with the crowd, answer questions, and truly share an experience. This has become a staple for each house show. Following the performance, I spent the evening chatting with the guests in a way that was far more relaxing and personal than anything I ever experienced in a club – either as a musician or a listener.
Nothing about the experience felt like work; instead, it was like sharing my favorite songs with some new friends. Complete strangers being open to new music was a new experience to me. I left the house with the feeling that I connected with people who I would stay in touch with (and with many of them, I have). That night I made nearly $200 in donations and CD sales. With around 12 people in the apartment, it was a success like nothing I had experienced before.
Not So Fast
House concerts have been growing in popularity for some time now, but are usually reserved for acoustic artists. I am a singer, and I am a songwriter, but I am not an acoustic artist. My goal is to keep the music electronic but build on its relatively quiet and intimate nature. I succeed at this goal with every performance. Whether I play in a small apartment in a big city, or a mansion in the German countryside, my sound is a blanket that wraps the crowd in warmth. I transport the listener into a different world without blowing out the windows.
While those first house concerts were successful, I had a difficult time convincing people that my electronic music wouldn’t turn into an EDM rave. Electronic house shows are an anomaly. In fact, I am the only artist who is doing them. I contacted numerous house-show booking agents, but was immediately dismissed because they couldn’t understand or support my type of music.
During this time I was approached by a small German label to release an album in Europe. I was so excited by this proposition, that I put the house shows on hold while I focused on the album and subsequent tour. I went back to traditional venues, because I thought it would be easier.
Electronische Haus Konzerte
While on tour in Germany, I added some house concerts to fill in some dates. The house shows turned out to be far more successful and fulfilling than the traditional venues. I sold more albums and made more connections than I ever could have hoped. Most importantly, people were engaged. The roar of the small but dedicated audience was incredible and inspiring.
Towards the end of my tour, I was so tired of the lack of support, the empty rooms, and the low pay that I decided to rededicate myself to electronic house concerts. I have proven on two continents that the electronic house shows work. Now that I’m back in the United States, I’m excited to bring this experience to like-minded music fans.
The Revelation Realized
This year I am not only challenging people with electronic house concerts, but also with the concept of album releases. Recently I completed Perspectives, a musical and visual introspective look at a failed marriage, as told by each partner in the relationship. Perspectives will only be available live and in concert, much like a musical. It is a living breathing thing, and each night will be slightly different.
Best of all, Perspectives will happen in the living rooms where people are living their daily lives. It will bring music, art, creativity, and friendship to a space that we so often limit to mindless TV and after-work naps.
Perspectives is music about life, and I am thrilled that my early performances (in my own living room!) were met with incredible enthusiasm. I am honored to be part of the movement that is bringing music out of the clubs, and I am grateful to be helping move music in a new direction that I never anticipated 20 years ago.
Author bio: Ryan Holiday is an international performer based out of the US and Germany. He has released 15 albums, written scores for movies and TV, and produced his own musical. After a decade of playing in traditional venues, Holiday now creates intimate theme performances in art galleries, small theaters and homes. In 2016, Holiday will embark on his first full-length European tour to support Perspectives.