Attending a live musical performance in a large concert hall, arena or even an outdoor stadium with thousands of other fans is an amazing experience. Even on a smaller stage, at a bar or coffee house, the energy and excitement generated by a gifted performer can be memorable. But in the U.S., a very different kind of performance space is gaining in popularity, with music lovers and with musicians, like Annalise Emerick.
The singer-songwriter tours the country, and plays a show most nights, in coffee houses, bars, auditoriums, and other small venues. But tonight, she's playing a really small venue: Kristina Shulz’s living room.
Shulz has been hosting concerts in her home for about four years, inviting rock musicians, blues artists, pop and folk singers to perform.
“An artist will come into my house and play music and I don’t have to go anywhere. All I have to do is provide the atmosphere, which I am absolutely happy to do.”
She’s had as many as 30 people attend, usually a mix of friends, neighbors, family and even strangers who find the shows listed on house concert websites.
Extra income, loyal fans
House concerts have become an important part of Emerick's income.
“I can play a bar for $100, but I can play a house concert and if there’s 50 people there and they all pay $20, I’m having a great night,” she explained. “And they’re all buying CDs. It’s amazing.”
Emerick says house concert audiences tend to make more dedicated fans. They stay connected, buy her new releases, and show up to hear her the next time she’s in town.
“It’s just a totally unique experience as opposed to playing like a coffee shop or a bar or something like that where people are usually there, but you don’t know if they’re always there for you.”
The show’s intimate setting appeals to first time house concert goers Janice and Steve Anderson.
“You’re just sitting around with a group of friends, you’re listening to music,” Janice said.
Steve observed, “Like sittin’ around a campfire outside.” She agreed. "Yeah, it’s just like a level you don’t get at a concert. It’s more personal.”
House concerts are gaining in popularity, but can be financially risky for artists, according to Charlie Dahan, who used to book appearances for artists like Emerick, and now teaches music management courses at Middle Tennessee State University.
“Most house concerts don’t pay guarantees,” he pointed out. “You have no assurity of how much money you’re going to make. In fact, most house concerts by law are not allowed to charge admission. Most of them can only do a suggested donation.”
On the other hand, he says house concerts can fill empty dates on an artist’s calendar and help build a loyal following.
Emerick says she’s played in some homes so often her hosts have become close friends, even family.
“They always say our door is open if you’re traveling through and you need a place to stay in Virginia or Maryland or wherever you are," she said. "So that’s been really nice too, ‘cause these people are just good people who love music. You know?”
Of course, not every house concert goes quite as planned. Emerick recently booked one in Idaho. It turned out the home was in a nudist colony.