[This is an excerpt from Fran Snyder’s forthcoming book, House Concerts and Modern Touring for Small Acts. Snyder is the founder of ConcertsInYourHome.com, which is the most active house concert community on the planet. Stats and opinions in this piece come from 8 years of watching and helping thousands of house concerts take place.]
You’ve undoubtedly heard of house concerts, and how they’ve become consistent “life-savers” for small touring acts. It’s tough to beat a show that gives you a place to stay and eat for free, a captive audience, and 100% of the money. Consequently, many touring acts are trying to inspire their fans to host shows for them, and that’s great. Except they’re doing it all wrong.
Yes, it is very gratifying to play a house concert for 30-40 people and make $500-1000. However, if these are the expectations you set for fans you’ll have three main problems:
1. You’ll get very few takers. Most will think their space or list of friends is too small.
2. Those who try will want to host weekend shows, especially Saturdays, instead of the key off-nights that threaten the profitability of your tours.
3. Many newbie hosts fail to draw enough people to make a weekend show worthwhile. You’ll fall short on nights where you need to make the most money (Saturdays), and leave yourself and well-intentioned fans disappointed.
For most people, it is very difficult to get 30 people to show up at your house and pay to hear an act they don’t know.
Imagine trying to crowdfund a CD where the only amount you could contribute is $500 or more. Think of all the fans who would be unable to contribute. Similarly, getting 20-30+ people together is not doable for most of your fans. To make matters worse, a fan could try very hard to promote a concert with you only to wind up pissed at their unresponsive friends and feeling like they let you down. You want to build up your fans – don’t set them up to fail.
The best way to inspire more fans to host shows is to promote your house concerts as an exclusive opportunity – one that is small and easy enough to host on a weeknight. Isn’t that when you need the most help booking gigs?
TenTen Concerts could be the magic combination to unlock the true value of your inspired fans.
Ten songs, for ten guests, for ten bucks.
I know it sounds small. However, in a world where musicians have to make the most of every opportunity, this is a big deal. Stay with me and you’ll get this.
First, let’s get my assumptions out of the way. It’s not necessary that they all apply to you.
1. You need gigs in new markets where you don’t have the fans or resources to promote well.
2. You often need weeknight gigs on your tours to keep from losing money.
3. You’d rather play for 10-15 attentive people than for 30+ in a noisy bar or cafe.
4. Making $100-200 on a weeknight, plus food and lodging, for a one hour show, is often acceptable. But you aren’t going to drive 3 hours out of your way for it.
5. You enjoy close contact with people and have good manners.
And, you are probably a solo, duo, or very small trio act.
The downside of small shows is that they are small. But you may not realize there are downsides to doing big house concerts:
* They often don’t lead to more gigs. People who pull off big house concerts are special, and most of the people in the audience will think they can’t host you because they can’t do anything on a similar scale.
* You won’t get to know the audience as well, and probably won’t sell as much merch as a result. Artists who are engaging and friendly can turn small shows into a distinct advantage.
TenTen Concerts as a Limited Fan-Appreciation Event
Some artists are uncomfortable telling the world they are willing to play for ten people. That’s why it’s important to make these shows exclusive, especially in your home town. What if you announced that you are doing a fan appreciation program where just once per month, one lucky fan can host a private TenTen Concert with you. What if every time you had someone buy a CD or download a song, they had the opportunity to be in a drawing for that one show a month? What if every local gig was an opportunity to book a TenTen concert with someone in the audience?
All the winner has to do is gather 10 friends on a weeknight, and you get an easy one hour gig, close to home, where you make some money and thrill a fan.
Small Starts Can Have Big Endings
Here are a few things that can happen.
1. Some of your hosts will get excessive RSVPs and ask if they can do something bigger, like 20 or more. You still have that option!
2. Some of your hosts will succeed and have a great time with the TenTen and want to do it again, and maybe bigger next time.
3. Some attendees will want to do a TenTen with you at their place because they saw how easy and cool it can be to do a small concert.
4. Some attendees may want to team up with your host to host a bigger show next time.
Worst case, if the event is a struggle or a bust, you haven’t lost a key weekend night.
The Numbers Fine-Tuned
“Ten Guests” is the target as well as a minimum expectation. We don’t count the host as part of the number of guests, so we’re really shooting for 11-14 people depending on who lives there.
TenTen hosts understand there is a $100 guarantee (Ten Guests X Ten Bucks), so they know that no-shows will cost them money. This is an incentive for them to be serious about collecting RSVPs, promoting early, creating a waiting list, and sending a reminder message two days before the show.
Since the successful host (with ten paying guests) is not expected to pay, they only have to spend money on a couple of pizzas, maybe a salad and soft drinks. The point is to make it easy for people to attend after work (provide food) and allow them to bring their beverage of choice.
Another powerful aspect of having a finite guest list (e.g. ten people), is that it makes the event exclusive. For a host that wants to do these on a regular basis, they should invite enough people so that they are turning away at least as many as they are accepting. The only way to train people to RSVP and to commit to attending events is to turn them away when they don’t. If people don’t get turned away once in a while, they take the concerts for granted.
Unlocking the Value of Your Fans
What are you asking of your fans? Are you spending countless hours creating a campaigns to sell your recordings for pennies? Instead, what if you enabled most of your fans to create $150-$250 one-hour concerts for you all year round?
Consider the value of lodging, food, merch sales, and not having to promote the show. Depending on your situation, the value could be much more than I describe.
TenTen concerts are not destination gigs. They are a tool to create opportunities where and when you need them. Make it easy and fun for your fans to solve your touring problems, and you’ll increase your enjoyment of the road by a factor of Ten.
Join the story at TenTenConcerts.com.
Fran Snyder is an artist and the founder of ConcertsInYourHome.com. In addition to these two roles, he’s also hosted many shows and written more on the subject of house concerts than anyone. Snyder is committed to solving the “touring problem,” and has been featured in American Way Magazine, Billboard, and the New York Times. He continues to innovate different ways that artists can package their live show. Thanks to his work, many artists thrive on small successes, instead of starving until the big one. Read more at www.fransnyder.com.
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