Cozy concerts provide new venues and revenue for musicians


House concerts are intimate affairs, where musicians play for groups of friends and family and where guests may or may not bring their own food and drink. Courtesy Jim Fischer

Musicians have seen the music industry transform drastically during the past two decades. Free music and the increasing cost of touring have resulted in the emergence of many new revenue streams for musicians — and not just big-name, headliner types.

One of those emerging opportunities is the house concert. Increasingly, musicians are being booked to play private concerts at someone’s home. House concerts provide many benefits to both the musician and the attendees.

“The attentiveness is really great, and the fact that you get to speak with the musicians is a bonus,” said Jim Fischer, who has been throwing house concerts since 2007 at his home in Grand Haven. “They get the very attentive audience and the concert goers get the benefit of being able to make contact with the musicians, and in some cases develop relationships and keep in touch afterwards.”

Fischer’s first house concert was with local musician Brian Vander Ark. Vander Ark specifically books house concerts as part of his Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms tour. His website notes that, in the summer, he might play up to three or four house concerts in a single day.

After the success of the first concert, Fischer has continued to book musicians, and said he has definitely noticed an increase in house concerts. In fact, many of his friends are throwing their own house concerts after attending one of his.

One of them is Jim Leitch, who threw his first house concert this fall. He is planning his second for later this month. He said he is fortunate to have a great house for concerts, a grand piano on site, and a brother who is a professional musician and happy to play for a small crowd.

“We are going to do it in a pretty different way than most people that are doing house concerts,” Leitch said. “I think the trend is generally for singer-songwriters and small acoustic groups, but since we have the piano and my interests lean toward classical and jazz, that’s what we are going to focus on. This particular concert — it was tremendous, it was great.”

Fischer and Leitch agree house concerts provide an opportunity to bring in talented and significant musicians.

“We’ve had The Crane Wives over, which we initially would have thought would be unattainable, but we got in contact with them and they had a great time with it,” Fischer said. “It’s refreshing to the artist, from the conversations I’ve had with them, to be able to play that kind of intimate place, rather than a club where people are there to drink and they are kind of the sideshow rather than the main attraction. They really enjoy it.”

Since many musicians may travel through the area on tour but not necessarily play Grand Rapids venues, Leitch thinks a house concert will appeal to them.

“I’m going to try and bring in jazz and classical artists” Leitch said. “There are plenty of them around here that are local. But I think the ideal scenario for a touring musician — especially some of these really accomplished but not real famous people that are going from Ann Arbor to Chicago — they are coming through anyway, incurring all their touring expenses. Just add another day somewhere and make a couple hundred bucks, $500 — it’s very appealing to them.”

The Danemans, a Kalamazoo-based, husband-and-wife jazz band made up of Ashley Gonzalez Daneman and Benje Daneman, also are aware of the growing house concert trend.

“I think definitely house concerts are on the rise,” Ashley Daneman said. “The thing that makes a house concert special is that you get that intimacy with the musicians and you get an experience beyond, in terms of being able to speak with them and hearing even more detail about the music and create that relationship. I feel like, in a time where we are all connecting online and the pace of life is so fast, it’s kind of old-school refreshing, in a way, to do something different: ‘We are going to go sit in someone’s living room and listen to musicians play.’”

Daneman said that when considering hosting a house concert, some things to take into account are space and where the musicians will perform, sound travel and volume, and the instruments and what might be needed, such as available power outlets. Additionally, budget and expectations for the concert are important.

House concerts vary in cost; a $200-$1,000 range for the musicians’ fee could be considered typical. Many house concerts include supplying food and drinks to guests. Fischer said he provides his guests with homebrewed beer and food during concerts. Sometimes he has the food catered.

All of those things add to the experience and allow a homeowner to customize the concert experience.

“It’s a way for the homeowners to express themselves and say, ‘This is us and this is something that we think is great, and we want to share it with our friends,’” Daneman said.

Though Fischer and Leitch didn’t note any real challenges in hosting the concerts, they did mention that traditional venues might be less enthused by the trend. Some club owners see house concerts as competition and believe they are hurting their business.

Still, seeing that house concerts used to be the norm, with musicians regularly playing for small groups gathered in people’s homes, and that musicians don’t make the money they used to from performing at traditional venues, it seems likely the trend will continue.

“I think it is a fantastic thing, and it’s not just because it is part of my livelihood, but it’s really people getting personal about the arts and re-infusing music as part of the arts, really, into your own home,” Daneman said. “It’s such a personal way to bring music back into the fabric of our lives and that’s so important. Otherwise, when do people see live performances? Some people are concertgoers, but many people aren’t. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

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