House Show Manifesto, Part 4: Tying It All Together

Aaron J. Shay - Pyragraph
Photo courtesy of Aaron J. Shay.

Read the rest of the manifesto here: House Show Manifesto, Part 1: Where Do Audiences Come From?
House Show Manifesto, Part 2: How Does Money Happen?
House Show Manifesto, Part 3: A Guide to Respecting Others

Welcome back to The House Show Manifesto. The previous three installments discussed best practices for house show etiquette, but now we’re going to delve deeper. Let’s talk about why house shows are becoming so popular in this particular moment in history. Let’s talk about why they’re important. In short, let’s get…revolutionary.

But first, we must go back in time.

Today, we see mid-sized venues become less inclined to go out on a limb for any unsigned artist.

There was an age when the recording industry had money, because buying a physical album was the only way to reliably access a recording. Bars, clubs and cafes that featured live music could be more profitable than those that didn’t, because a live band or solo musician could attract more people who would buy more food and drinks, which could potentially cover the cost of paying the artists.

Things are quite different today.

Today, we see most urban areas growing like never before. The wealthier classes of society that once preferred the suburbs are now moving to major cities in droves, sparking new, densely-organized luxury developments and forcing out the poor, the working class and the artists. If you’ve heard the word gentrification, you probably know about this already (and if you haven’t heard of gentrification before, then you’ve got quite a bit of homework ahead of you).

Today, we see more and more small venues vanishing from the urban landscape, their property demolished for the aforementioned developments, or renovated and replaced with chain stores (the highest bidders in our current economy). In Seattle, such things have happened to many of my favorite music institutions, causing much uproar in the community. Some of them have lived on by merging with other venues, or else they’ve moved to a more distant, affordable location, and some have cut their live music altogether.

Today, we see mid-sized venues become less and less inclined to go out on a limb for any unsigned or independent artist. With so many competing forms of entertainment available at the tap of a finger, it’s difficult to know what’s going to sell tickets and keep the doors open, the staff paid, and the lights running every night. I don’t blame the venue owners at all for playing it safe, even though I’m just the sort of independent artist that’s hurt by this dearth of opportunity. They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to keep their business afloat, and so do I.

It’s an expensive business to put on concerts. You have to buy sound equipment, hire someone to run it and someone to take money at the door; you have to pay a fee to licensing companies like ASCAP and BMI for all potential covers that might be performed (that aspect is a huge can of worms to be discussed another time). Venues also have to be financially prepared in case a neighbor files a noise complaint, and such complaints tend to become more common as neighborhoods become more dense and affluent. It’s tough to be a venue these days.

The old ways are no longer working.

The times are tough for everyone, and they’re tough in new and exciting ways. House shows are popping up to fill the void that small and mid-size venues are leaving behind. Cities are filling up with more residential spaces, while arts spaces are losing ground year by year. It’s only natural that the two spaces are becoming one. After all, people still need art, even in cities that are less and less friendly to artists. People are no longer just hanging art on the walls of their home; they’re letting more art be performed there, too.

There is one key advantage that a house show has over a traditional venue: The host presumably wants to put on the show because they love the artist, not because the host wants to make money. The human ceremony of The Concert is moving from a highly commercial space to an intimate and personal space. This is to the benefit of the artist; they are more likely to form a close connection with their audience in a space removed from the bright lights of the high stage and the jangle of liquor-sale commerce. And because there isn’t a booker, a bouncer or a promoter to take a cut of the door, the artist is more likely to make the kind of money they need to support themselves and develop new projects. The Ideal House Show promotes a sense of community and it promotes the artist in ways that few traditional venues can, anymore.

I’m not sure whether the House Show Model is here to stay, or if it’s even sustainable in the long run. There isn’t much data on the subject. I’d like to believe, though, that it’s made a mark already. People are questioning how an arts career can start and how it can grow. The old ways are no longer working, and we’re only just starting to realize how completely everything has changed in the past 20 years, for all of us. Our modern music landscape is not the same as it was even five years ago. The landmarks are popping in and out of existence faster than we can map them. The path others have taken before us is long gone. So it’s time for us to make our own way.

Okay, I think you’re ready now.

Would you like to do a house show?

Thank you for reading my House Show Manifesto. I would like to thank the following people for their contributions and input that made this series possible: the Portland bedroom artist Chan Benicki, lifestyle blog queen Kelsi Eldredge, the witchy folk balladeer Anna Gordon, the rambling sailor/fairytale princess Karen Kunkel, folk-punk outlaw Josh Lippmann, gothic fairytale princess Eliza Rickman, and New Zealand’s indie rocker/historian/blogger for Pyragraph Anthonie Tonnon. Each of these people are humans whom I hold in high regard, and I am grateful for their time and interest in this work.

Feel free to ask me any questions you like in the comments!

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

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