How to Book a House Concert Tour: Advice from Singer/Songwriter Jon Troast

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Singer-songwriter Jon Troast – whom critics have described as “a shaggy acoustic troubadour with a keen wit & soulful voice” and “the long-lost love child of Lyle Lovett and Jack Johnson” – has built an enthusiastic, supportive fan base for his music literally one home at a time.

Years of touring the country through “house concerts” has allowed this prolific artist to hone his craft, catching the attention of “Prairie Home Companion,” PBS’ “Roadtrip Nation” and Sirius XM’s “The Coffeehouse” along the way.

I met Jon at the 2012 Folk Alliance Conference in February. We talked about his touring schedule and his unique approach of making house concerts the MAIN event, as opposed to just supplemental gigs on a larger touring schedule of clubs and coffee houses. Kindly, Jon agreed to share with us his experience and advice.

An interview with Jon Troast on how to book a profitable tour of house concerts

1. How big a role does the house concert circuit play in your music career? How many shows a year? What percentage of your live gigs?

House concerts have played a huge role in my music career. In fact, for the past 4 years, I’ve basically made my living from playing in people’s homes. I’ve played close to 600 of them from coast to coast (in 2009 I did a run of 100 concerts in 100 days!). Probably 95 percent of my shows are house concerts.

2. How did you first get into performing at house concerts?

I was falling asleep one night, and evaluating my life/career. At that point I had been playing music full time for 3 years. I was making a living playing coffee shops, bars, etc., but when I stopped to think about why I was playing music in the first place, I realized I was off track. I was paying the bills, but not necessarily connecting with the audience. So many times I’d be in the corner just hoping someone was listening. I decided I’d rather play for a small group in someone’s living room, than a room full of people who never caught a word. So, the next morning I sent out an email to my email list introducing the idea. I had no idea what kind of response I’d get.

3. How did you grow your house concert network from there to where you’re at now?

I booked the first tour within a week of sending that email. I tried to work anyone who signed up into my route. I went from Wisconsin to Maine, to North Carolina, to California, and back to Wisconsin in a little less than a month. The stops on the first tour led to other people signing up. I played at a guy’s house in New Jersey, then at his brother’s house in California and his sister’s house in Pennsylvania, then a friend of hers in Pennsylvania, etc. It’s become a widespread interconnected network. I now have almost 1000 people signed up to host, mostly from word of mouth. Sometimes I’ll stay in the same city for almost a week, so I’ve really cut down on my travel time between shows.

4. Can you describe a typical house concert experience, from booking it through the performance– up until you head out to the next gig?

One of the things I love about house concerts is each one is unique. I don’t know if there’s a “typical” experience, but here’s the general process.

About a month and a half before the tour starts, I sit down at my computer and map out all the potential hosts for the region I’ll be touring. Then, I start sending out emails, usually offering a couple potential dates at a time. Since each concert in the route is dependent on the one’s before it, I try not to get too far ahead. After emailing back and forth a couple times, the host confirms a date. I send them the official host email which gives them some helpful info about hosting- arranging the seating so that guests can sit and listen, etc. Once it’s booked, it’s just a matter of doing it. I usually try to show up an hour or two before the show to give myself time to set up. Sometimes I’ll get to sit down for dinner with the family. I play a one hour concert. Beyond that, it’s up to the host if they want to make it an all night event or have everyone leave when the concert is done. Some people will have appetizers or desserts before or after, or a buffet or a potluck. If I have friends or family in the area, I’ll stay with them, but many times I sleep at the host’s house. Sometimes I’m on a couch, sometimes I’m in a guest house. If there’s time, they might take me to see some of the local sights, or we’ll play a board game or hang out for a bit.

5. What would be the difference between a typical house concert and an ideal house concert?

The goal is to connect with people, so an ideal house concert would have more connection- people actively listening, asking questions, buying cds. I love to hear people’s stories. An ideal house concert would include time to hear them. Good food is always a plus. A comfortable bed with some privacy. Each one provides a unique experience though. Sometimes, the concerts where I end up sleeping on the couch and getting woken up early because the kids are getting ready for school are some of the coolest experiences. It’s amazing to have people just welcome you into their day to day family lives.

6. Do you look at house concerts as supplemental to a tour schedule of club gigs?

Right now, definitely not. They’re my main gig, and it’s a great way to build a loyal following. I’m planning to start playing some club gigs in cities where I’ve done a lot of house shows, but I don’t want to forget the purpose of the house shows- connecting with people.

7. What are the drawbacks of this approach? What are the pluses?

The main drawback is that house shows are not open to promotion. It’s limited to whoever the host wants to invite. So, you play for a smaller audience. The pluses? A whole bunch of them- the people you play for are listening and interested, you eat well, get a good night’s rest, meet interesting people, learn a lot, etc.

8. How do you perform differently for a house concert audience and a club audience?

The house concert is a little more casual. People are free to ask questions. I probably tell a few more stories than at a club show. There’s no stage diving at a house show. Maybe couch diving?

9. What’s next for you?

I’m in the process of releasing 4 EPs within a year. The third one, “C”, will be on iTunes on May 1st. This fall I’ll be releasing a compilation with songs from all four EPs (A, B, C and D) called “All the Brave little Critters kept Dancing”. I’ll be playing some club gigs this fall around the record release, still doing house concerts too of course! I’ll also continue connecting with people in Nashville (my current home town), working on publishing, licensing, management, etc. It’s going to be a pretty busy year, but I love it!

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Thanks again to John for chatting about all this stuff. Check out his music HERE.

What has been your experience with house concerts? Let us know in the comments section below.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

Sell your music directly from your website with CD Baby’s Music Store Widget!

 

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  • Zoe

    Some good insights there, I'm trying to organise the same thing over here in the UK for artists and hosts with http://www.giginyourhouse.wordpress.com (you can find us on twitter and facebook too!) Still in the early stages but we're hoping more people will email and show they're interested in playing/hosting so more musicians can have experiences like Jon Troast's.

    • Awesome. Thanks for sharing the link. Hopefully some of our readers in the UK will check it out.

  • Great idea, have heard of others around here, San Francisco, trying to, or starting a similar idea.

    Makes sense, a generally receptive audience and I'm sure a much cheaper evening for the participants, at least for food and beverages needed. Of course, the savings can then be put towards better or higher quality entertainment. Probably a unique experience that many audiences will never forget.

    • Well, generally the ticket prices or door charge or suggested donations are pretty high to ensure that the musician is well paid. BUT… you're right. In the end, I think it works out cheaper because you can bring your own beer or wine, or perhaps the host has provided drinks and food. So in the end, you spend less money, have a more intimate evening, and the musician earns good money without having to stay out until 2am to collect payment.

  • Socialmediamonsterko

    Great article. My band booked a 50 city tour across the us and Canada this fall that was 40% house concerts. By the last tour we were 50% house concerts and now we leave for Israel and Europe on Saturday and 80% are house concerts. Words travels fast and we love the connection, thanks for the great write up!

  • Great site, and cool organization. How often do shows happen? Is there a central organizer who helps out with logistics, filming, audio, booking, or anything else at all the various locations? Or are you each kinda just in charge of your own region/venue but work together to promote and feature the bands/content?

    • There are some cities like London and New York that hosts the shows about once a month (sometimes twice a month). Other cities organize them about every two months. But overall between the 15+ cities involved, there are a few shows each week. There are a few guys in London who stared it all and guide everything, but generally the local leaders in each city take reign since each of us know our local music scenes best. It’s a tight network though, we’re always helping each other out in different cities. Would love to have CD Baby staff + readers attend!

  • Great article! It’s nice to hear that there are musicians that see high value in this. I’m actually involved with a group that organizes living room gigs in cities around the world. We get 3-4 bands to play each night. They are really fun and it’s nice for the artists to have a captive audience. The gigs are free, but we video tape and help promote the artists online. http://www.sofarsounds.com

  • Yeah. Please keep us posted (on anything happening in the Pacific Northwest, especially).

    • Definitely will! We should have something going in Portland and Seattle soon!

  • anonymous

    Great post!! Learning how to book a concert is a great thing for those producers.

  • Tpennerty

    I have had the pleasure of attending Jon’s house concerts a couple of times, and they are a very unique and intimate concert experience. I look forward to his next trip through Phoenix

  • Oldavis3

    We’ve PROUDLY hosted 2 shows for Jon … GREAT guy and a WONDERFUL musician … we look forward to the next time he’s in town!

  • Good to hear. He seemed like the kinda guy you could rely on not to trash your house.

  • How do you get paid? Does the host collect money at the door for you?

    • There are a few ways to do it: 1) The old-fashioned "charge for entrance" method where the guests pay at the door (or in advance) — collected by the host — and paid to artist; 2) the artists asks for tips/suggested donation during the performance and "pass the hat"; 3) you play for free and hope your merch sales make it worthwhile.

      • Thanks Chris, – since you have so much experience doing this, do you recommend one method over the others, or do you sort of work out with the host which they think would be best? It seems like while some costs are defrayed by being able to stay with the host, you would still want to work this out to your best advantage to make sure you don't LOSE money.

        Another thing: You don't mention how you perform, solo? Purely acoustic? Do you use any amplification at all (even vocals?) While I can easily do an entire set solo, I play electric instruments. Do you think this would be an obstacle?

        Thank you for sharing your experience. I have done a few "non-traditional" shows that were extremely successful and have friends who have done house concert "tours" like you. I think it could be a great thing for me if it weren't too problematic.

        • Well, this article is about Jon Troast — so he's the guy that's really making a living doing this. I've only performed at a few house shows and have done all three methods. If you can, go with the set price and have the host collect it. The fact that they've paid upfront creates a sense of expectation and the audience is really aware of the value of the experience and willing to listen. That being said, most house concert audiences are attentive and appreciative no matter what — so they're pretty willing to tip, purchase merch, etc.

          I've done solo and duo (unamplified, as well as with very small PA). Not sure how Jon performs. Electric instruments are fine at a very low volume, obviously. You don't want to blast people out unless it's one of those punk rock basement house shows.

  • bethdpench

    House concerts are really cool! I've played a few and attended some as well. The intimacy with the audience is wonderful. I think the best method for getting paid is by a suggested donation collected in advance and/or at the door with reservations required. (The amount of the donation varies according to what is being provided in terms of food and drinks etc along with the performance) I really like the idea of doing a tour of house concerts.

    Happy New Year!
    Beth http://www.bethduncan.com
    bethduncanjazz@gmail.com

  • Maya

    Unfortunately the actual title question ‘How to Book a House Concert Tour’ wasn’t answered. How does one go about dotting a tour especially when most house concert websites don’t provide a map with host dotted so you can map your tour…