The Art of the House Show
House shows are an excellent tradition in DIY music. Indie bands worldwide have long taken to garages, backyards, basements, and living rooms to put on shows that are often free and have a communal, no-boundaries feel. For bands, it’s a great tactic to growing a fan base. For would-be promoters, there are few better ways to learn the ropes. Ask any booker on Red River and it’s likely they got their start organizing house shows.
I’ve put on a few house shows myself, and while they’re tons of fun, house shows aren’t always as easy as they sound. Here’s some tips on throwing a house show that goes off without a hitch!
First, pick the house. You don’t have to host a house show at yours; talk to your friends. The best houses are those that host parties often. Co-Ops and band houses are particularly good for this. What’s the space/capacity on the house? Weigh that against the amount of people you hope will show up. Packed house shows are fun; house shows that people can’t get into are not. Empty ones are just a bummer.
Location is another important consideration. The more centrally located and/or easy to find, the better. The most important factor is the neighborhood. If your neighbors are the type to call the cops on loud music after dark, then your house isn’t the place to be throwing a show. If at all possible, talk to your neighbors a couple weeks before the show to let them know that it’s happening.
Next, you need a concept. Be willing to think outside the box. You could do a traditional all-punk show, or you could bring together a bunch of different bands that all have the same word in their name. Get creative! And you can switch it up with timing as well; I’ve thrown really chill acoustic shows in the middle of the afternoon.
Now that you know what your concept is, you want to start inviting bands to be a part of it. House shows are usually free, which means that no one makes any money, including bands. You’ll need to be clear with the bands about this. Throw in a beer or two to sweeten the deal. If you're going to charge at the entrance, then figure out finances with the bands.
With your important details worked out, time to promote! Unless you’re throwing a house show in a mansion, you’ve got limited space. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s a total turn off when there isn’t enough room. In other words, don't promote too widely. Try to keep promotion within your segment of the scene. Facebook invites, texts, and super selective posters are cool. Things like postering are not advised.
Finally, the most important thing about throwing a house show is to stay relaxed. It’s a house show, things will go wrong. Police may get called, guitar strings may break, people may get rowdy. It’s great to have a team of friends who can back you up and help if something goes really wrong. And since house shows often turn into big parties, it’s even more imperative to have some totally sober people to deal with any emergencies.
Be aware of all the possible issues, but don’t let it freak you out. Austin's a pretty house-show-friendly town. Most of all, let yourself have some fun! Few things are a bigger rush than getting to watch a cool band play on your couch.