- Message the folks who have bought tickets with the exact time the doors will open and the exact time the show will start. Ask them not to come early.
- So, you come to the day of the show. Arrive minimum 2 hours in advance. My opener Sunday had another gig before hand, and we were only able to arrive 25 minutes early. Plus, even though we messaged folks with what time the doors opened, they came half an hour early. Even when it’s a house concert, it’s a terrible feeling when they see you, out of makeup, doing a mic check, and setting chairs up. Get there early.
- Here’s what you want in a room: there should be a wall behind you. And not a wall full of crap people will stare at instead of you. If you can’t have a wall, see if you can hang a backdrop. The energy needs to be “contained” by something. I had 12 feet of empty space behind me at this show, and it was as if all the laughter and energy floated back behind me and echoed into the hallway toward the door. It was all I could do to hold the space with my boringness. It’s hard to explain, but you can feel it in your body when there are energy leaks.
- Because their furniture was immovable and they didn’t even want to try to move it, the shape of where people could sit was very strange. Folks were one one side of a table, and then on the other side. It was almost as if each section of the audience was a different faction. You want an audience to feel united, so when they laugh (or react at all), they’re together. The energy needs to flow, reverberate, amplify, and then bounce back off the wall behind you. And the ceiling. And the wall behind them. Unless you’re at a campfire and the purpose is to be in nature (a beautiful container for a show), you want containment.
- Sound. I have a Shure wireless mic with a wireless receiver. It plugs in to the amp with an XLR cable, and into the wall with wall power. I’m thinking about getting the Fishman Loudbox 60 watt, because there may be a time when I want to use it for a guitar to sing with. You never know. It has Bluetooth. There’s one with a battery you can take anywhere, but I still have to plug in my wireless mic receiver, so the battery powered amplifier doesn’t really help. I’m considering getting a PA instead. My boyfriend carted his 50 lb amp to the show once, and I’m so grateful to him for that, but I don’t want to ask him to break his back for that, and I want to be self-sufficient. A 60-watt amp seems loud enough for the small homes I’ll be playing.
- Of course, I intend to play large theaters and clubs as well, but there is a very special magic playing in a home has that is like no theater around. Folks know each other. They feel a kind of comfort and intimacy together and with you, and there is a kind of melding that happens that is entirely different than what you will find “in public”. I feel no shame in playing a house concert. I feel pride. And if you feel shame, all you have to do is charge $95 a ticket, and you will suddenly feel that pride as well.
- Make sure chairs and couches are set up properly. Cushions for sitting on the floor down front. Next come the small folding chairs. Then come the bigger non folding chairs. Then the couches in the back. No large chair should obstruct a smaller chair. When you have different “classes” of furniture, people will feel as if they are whatever class they sit in. Try to seat them by seniority so they don’t feel separated by who is more deserving of what kind of chair. but mainly, don’t put a big fat couch in the front row, or you will block the flow of energy, and everyone behind the couch will feel dis-included. I like to have chairs close together and I like to arrange them in a slight semi-circle, rather than straight rows. I like everyone pointing toward me on stage, and the curved lines feel more feminine.
- Make them play musical chairs. Put out fewer chairs than you expect you’ll need. Not everyone who bought a ticket will come. Not everyone who comes will have bought a ticket. In Malibu last Sunday, they kept thinking we didn’t have enough chairs at this show. So they kept putting out more and more chairs. I don’t know why. I assumed they had a count and had their reasons. At a certain point, you as the performer need to leave the room and go to your “green room”. But so I came out and found all the end chairs were unoccupied as well as three seats right up front. I took the most valuable moments of stage time – the first 2 minutes – trying only partially successfully to convince folks to move up closer. It was terrible for the momentum of the show, but there were like 8 extra chairs, and it’s bad psychology for the space. Unconsciously, you wonder why those chairs are empty, you feel disconnected from your fellow audience members, and you wonder why the producers/hosts didn’t properly calculate how many people would show up, and you distrust their mastery of the event. Every little element counts and can make or break your show. You always have the power to make it the best it can be, but why take all that energy to recover a show when you can set it up the best it can be?
Stay tuned for Part 4!