As a touring musician, there’s only one thing better than connecting with an audience of thousands of people…. doing it again. And what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not the number of people that matters, but that connection. Of course, the more people listening and connecting and buying merch means I can keep touring and making this music as my living. But it truly does come down to the one-on-one intimacy that only happens when the audience (one person or ten thousand) has their ears and hearts open, and I wear mine on my sleeve (heart, that is… not ears. That could get messy).
With all that said, I have come to find a nice little niche of music venues where the audience is primed for connectivity . . . living rooms and backyards.
People are making it easier for themselves and their friends, family and colleagues to enjoy good music without having to deal with parking traffic, Ticketmaster fees and binoculars. They are bringing the concerts home.
The way it works is someone (the future host) hears of a musician (for this example, let’s say me) through friends, radio, TV, or the internet. They get in contact with me usually through my website. They either say that they have a private event already scheduled and would like me to perform, or they would like to build an event around a performance. We set the date one or two months out. In between, the host and I get busy (separately). I send the host a few copies of my album so they can share the music for potential guests. The host sends out invitations, sometimes as formal as mailed cards, other times as simple as an email. The host also arranges catering or plans some sort of refreshments.
Meanwhile, I am booking my band (if a band was requested…. oftentimes I play solo to increase the already-busting-at-the-seams intimacy) and working out travel logistics. Hopefully, at the time of the booking, the host and I have worked out a payment plan and I can incorporate my traveling within the budget of the night. Mostly, hosts pay me a flat fee, allowing their guests to enjoy the music and have a choice to purchase CDs and merch. Occasionally, a host will collect money from guests prior to the show or afterwards, or pass a tip jar around. And rarely, a host will purchase a set number of CDs for their guests, guaranteeing me payment for the evening. To be intimate is to be full of possibility, so I stay flexible.
On the day of the party, I show up on time, earlier than the guests so I can set up. I love love LOVE it when the host has a piano in their home; I don’t need to lug mine, AND I get to try out a new piano (hopefully it’s in tune- something I remind the hose a few weeks prior to the party). I then spend some time mingling with the guests, who commonly don’t realize I’m the “entertainment”. For some reason, I think they get more exited when I first sit down at the piano, like “hey! I was just talking to the star of the concert about macaroni and cheese! She’s a real person!” It makes me, as an artist, more accessible.
Anyway, back to the living room. After the host gives me a brief introduction, I play a set of about 40 minutes, mostly playing my original tunes. I always throw in a few familiar cover songs; my Sheryl Crow (makes for great banter- “the other, slightly more famous Cheryl wrote this”), a Beatles song, my jazzed version of a Christina Aguilera tune. Keeping it interesting. I occasionally share what drove me to write a particular song, especially if it’s more unique, like, “I had a girlfriend who asked me why I always write songs about guys and when the heck was she gonna get a song. I could have pulled a Sara Bareilles and said ‘I’m not gonna write you a girl song’, but I did write a song for my girls, and this is it.”
After one set, I take a quick break, allowing the audience a quick meet and greet, more mingling, to grab a desert or drink, and give them the opportunity to “take me home with them”. . . in the form of a CD. I usually play one more, shorter set, keeping things personal and professional and musical, leaving my audience feeling that they shared in something special and creative, that their presence and listening inspired my performance. If that doesn’t result in CD sales and future bookings, I’m playing the wrong game.