House Show Manifesto, Part 3: A Guide to Respecting Others

Aaron J. Shay - Pyragraph

Photo courtesy of Aaron J. Shay.

Read parts 1 and 2 here: House Show Manifesto, Part 1: Where Do Audiences Come From?
House Show Manifesto, Part 2: How Does Money Happen?


Welcome back, one and all, to The House Show Manifesto, a series discussing the hows and whys of house shows and living room concerts.

The best that you can do is cultivate an atmosphere where people feel comfortable participating.

Today, we’re gonna talk about Respect. It’s at the core of all our relationships (friends, lovers, fans, family, community), and by extension it must also be a critical part of a successful house show. There are three parties involved in an event like this: the artist, the audience and the host. Each of these parties have unique ways to show respect to the others, so we’re gonna go step by step through this.

Each of these entries could merit its own article entirely. I’ve seen firsthand how a surplus of respect can transform an ordinary evening into a fantastical Artistic Event, and also how a lack of respect can turn a great opportunity for intimacy into a complete and utter shitshow. For now, however, I just want to tackle the basics.

Audience respecting the artist

  • If you’re not onstage and you’re not the host, you count as a member of the audience. Yeah! Even if you’re performing during another part of the evening. So be polite and unless you have a fire to put out (figuratively or literally), sit down and pay attention to the other artists, like you’d want them to do for you. The Golden Rule applies here!
  • Regardless of who you are, try not to monopolize the artist’s time after their set, especially if they’re running their own merch table. They gotta sell their stuff and meet all of the people! If you want to congratulate them on their set, that’s cool. If you want to give them your card, talk about potential opportunities that might interest them, or mention other art that their work reminded you of, that’s also cool! But just do your best to respect their time, and if they look like they’re getting antsy during conversation, don’t take it personally.
  • Do not heckle the artist, even if you think you’re the FUNNIEST PERSON in the WORLD. A small amount of unexpected interaction is to be expected in an intimate setting like a house concert, but don’t forget: It’s the artist’s show, not yours. Chill out.

Artists respecting their audience

Because of the particular intimacy of a house concert, there’s only one piece of advice I can really give artists for how to properly respect their audience. It applies to many other venues, but perhaps none more so than a house show:

  • Do not shame people for failing to participate in or engage with your performance.

Some people might not want or be able to participate for any number of reasons, be it anxiety or self­consciousness or sickness. The best that you can do is cultivate an atmosphere where people feel comfortable participating and engaging. The things you say on stage, the kind of songs you perform and the stage presence you present are all useful tools that help construct that atmosphere. Positive tactics tend to work better than negative ones; if you lead people with a carrot, they’ll like you better than if you whack them into place with a stick.

The exception to this rule is hecklers. Feel free to make fun of the hecklers. They’re trying to take over your show. Don’t let them!

Artists and audiences respecting their hosts

Both the artist and the audience are guests in the host’s home, and because of that, they bear similar responsibilities when it comes to showing their host respect.

  • Don’t go into any rooms that aren’t public (bedrooms, basements, attics, playrooms, etc). Come on, now. Didn’t your parents teach you this stuff?
  • If the host is making food for the event, offer to help! They might not need help, but it’s often nice to ask, especially if you weren’t able to provide an offering. The first salad I ever made was at a house concert because I offered to help. Think of the horizons YOU could open for yourself!
  • Treat the host’s stuff nicely! Accidents happen, and possessions are by nature transitory, but don’t be reckless. Don’t juggle the fine china (unless you are a professional juggler and the host says it’s fine).
  • Feel free to ask about the host’s etiquette. Some homes are shoe-­free, others not. Some homes are cuss­-free, some are pro­cussing. The host will appreciate your consideration!
  • Artists, do what you can to help run the show. If there’s a sound system provided, help set up the equipment and set your levels before folks show up. That will smooth the transition between shmooze time and show time!
  • And artists, don’t forget to thank the host! Chances are, if you’re having a good show, it’s because the host did a good job.

Host respecting the audience

My main advice here is to do what you can to make your home accessible and comfortable to all people who may attend. You may have attendees with unique needs that you are unaware of. Many disabilities are invisible, and those who suffer from them might not be comfortable asserting their needs in a stranger’s house. So, if you can, do the work on your own beforehand.

Of course, you can’t accommodate everyone (some houses will just never be wheelchair accessible). But some little things go a long way. Here’s just a few ideas:

  • Out of respect for folks with allergies and respiratory problems, refrain from lighting scented candles/incense, or smoking cigarettes/marijuana indoors. If you want to allow smoking, encourage smokers to go outside! If you want to set an atmosphere, consider string lights instead of candles! They’re much safer and easier to control.
  • If you provide food, or if attendees bring food, encourage people to make signs for each item listing the basic ingredients. Those of us with food allergies or food restrictions will deeply appreciate it! Remember: It’s much easier to label the food you provide than it is to give someone a dose of epinephrine when they go into anaphylactic shock.
  • A little bowl of feminine products in the bathroom can be a godsend for people who are having their period. This is above and beyond the call of duty, but it would be really nice of you.

This is a mere a taste of the possibilities. And again, not everything can be accounted for. Just do the best that you are able to do!

Host respecting the artist

  • One of the most important roles of being a host is being a behavioral role model for the audience. If you sit down and pay attention to the music, and encourage others to do so as well, the whole audience is more likely to follow suit!
  • Offer the artist a meal, if you can. An artist on tour is bound to have trouble finding healthy, tasty food on the road, and this is doubly true if they have any allergies or food restrictions. Trust me! They’ll appreciate it.
  • Offer the artist a place to sleep, if you can, even if it’s just a couch or an unfurnished room. If they decline your offer, that’s their prerogative, but the offer is generally appreciated.
  • And if you offer them a place to sleep, do what you can to make it private. A friend of mine once was trying to sleep after she played a house show, and an “overzealous” fan barged into the room and tried to give her a hug. Take what steps you can to prevent things like this from happening!
  • And on that note…DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT HIT ON THE ARTIST, especially if they’re female­ identified and especially if they’re on tour, away from their home city and their support network. Hitting on an artist or making a pass at them is entirely unprofessional and will probably make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. If you are providing a place for them to sleep as well, this puts them in a terrible position: If they turn you down and you get upset, where can they go? Don’t do it. Just don’t do it! How many times do I have to say it? Don’t hit on the artist. It’s not a good thing to do.
  • If you use the whole Facebook event invite system, then invite more people than you think will come. From my experience, the number of people who show up constitute around 10­-20% of the people you actually invite. It’s not terribly respectful of the artist to book them and then only bring a handful of people to watch. Do what you can to bring a proper crowd!

This is just a taste of the many ways you can show respect at a house show. Remember: We’re all amazing and faulty biological machines with possibilities of genius, terror, conscience and ignorance. Mistakes are bound to happen and well-­intentioned people are bound to miscommunicate. Just do the best you can and deal with your fellow humans compassionately.

Next week brings us the thrilling conclusion of The House Show Manifesto. The plot twist will shock you!


Make sure you’ve seen all of Aaron’s House Show Manifesto: Here are parts onetwothree, and four.

Aaron J. Shay

About Aaron J. Shay

Aaron J. Shay  is a writer, performer, and musician from the Pacific Northwest. An active and independent recording artist, Shay has self- and co-produced 8 EPs since 2010, some for his own projects and some for his friends and collaborators. More recently, he has been active in theater, writing/producing two one-man singer-songwriter shows, and also serving as musical director for fringe productions. Shay currently lives in Seattle, WA, where he doesn’t mind the weather.

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