How to Make Real Money Doing Donation-Based House Concerts

(Photo: Steve Babuljak)

Shannon Curtis is an independent musician and recording artist based in Los Angeles. Her new eBook, No Booker, No Bouncer, No Bartender: How I Made $25K On A 2-Month House Concert Tour (And How You Can Too), is available from all major eBook retailers.

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How many times have you promoted the heck out of a club show, even gotten a good turnout, only to walk away with barely enough money to cover gas?

There are so many people involved in putting on a club show, and each of them has to get paid – the promoter, the venue, the staff, the sound engineer, the other artists on the bill.

But at a donation-based house concert, you can actually make money – real money! – performing your music. There is no one else to take a cut; you, the performer, get 100 percent of the proceeds. On my most recent house concert tour, I averaged $500 a night between donations and merch sales. Here are five guidelines to help you increase your bottom line:

Find evangelists. Start by finding hosts who are excited to share you and your music with their friends. In my model for house concert touring, all the audience members are there by invitation of the host – your fan. Once the host has talked you up, everyone will be primed to fall in love with your music before you’ve even played a note.

Helpful hint: Put the word out to your followers on social media to see who would like to host a show. Tell them it won’t cost them anything to host a house concert (because the show will be donation-based!), and you’ll get more people to respond.

Create critical mass. Make sure your host gets a minimum of 20 people to show up for the concert. Any fewer and it won’t feel like an event. And when you wow 20+ people with a stellar performance, you will start to see results in your donations and merch sales.

Helpful hint: Ask your host to invite double the number of people they hope will show up to the concert. In our experience, there’s usually a 50 percent show-up rate.

Don’t break the bubble. The most important thing to remember in setting up the environment for a financially successful donation-based house concert is that you’re playing a house concert – not a house party or background music for a gathering of friends. If you can captivate a roomful of people for an hour, taking them on a journey with you through your music and stories and giving them a unique and magical experience inside the little bubble you’ve created, they will show their appreciation via donations and merch purchases.

Helpful hint: Make sure everyone has a good place to sit for the entire show. A comfortable crowd is an attentive crowd!

Master the “ask.” When confirming the show with your host, make sure they know that they’ll be asking their guests for donations at the conclusion of your performance. On show day, walk them through the donation announcement, and underscore that the financial success of the night depends on the enthusiasm they convey. Some people are shy in front of groups, so draft a little script they can follow if necessary. Your host wants you to have a successful night – help them help you!

Helpful hint: Ask your host not to include a suggested donation amount in their invitations; it tends to have a downward effect on your income. If the host says the show is worth $10, no one will drop a twenty in the donation jar.

Sell your stuff. Be at the merch table from the moment the show is over until everyone has gone home. Guests will want to come talk with you, and if you’re standing by the stuff you want them to buy, there’s a greater chance they’ll buy it. You can make as much as half your income from merch sales, so work it!

Helpful hint: Having a variety of items and price points available will dramatically increase your sales.

If you put the work into setting up and delivering a unique, intimate, and connective experience for a house concert audience, you’ll reap the rewards in your bottom line. And the best part? You don’t need to wait for any of the traditional music-business gatekeepers to give you permission to make it happen. All you need is a fan to open the front door of their house and you’re on your way.


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