with Allen Stone..
If you ask your kids what house music is, they’ll be happy to tell you all about the music at the club last night. The loud, repetitive, beat driven electronic dance music (that originated in Chicago, my home town) and was popularized in the ’80s at discotheques and dance clubs. Distinguished by 4/4 beats and rhythms centered around drum machines, off beat hi-hat cymbals and synthesized basslines, and kick drum on every beat, house music is more electronic and minimalistic than disco, less structured around the song rather than the repetitive rhythm. (wiki) Remember the scene in The Social Network where Sean Parker (Timberlake) is talking to Zuckerberg in the loud dance club? The sound he was competing with :: that’s house music.
But to me, house music means something completely different.
It means music in the house.
Some great perks come with my job, and this is one of them. I host house concerts in my living room. It’s the purest form of Valslist – bringing artist and fan together. It’s a special kind of show, intimate and comfortable. Okay, it’s a flipping blast.
It started by accident. Which is ironic because I found this artist by accident too. I went to a show a few years back and Andrew Belle was the opener. I came in late, looking for a seat, but was immediately knocked off my feet by this amazing voice. I looked up at the stage and he was a lone artist on a stool with a guitar. I looked at the manager and he just nodded – the “yeah, my opener is better than my headliner…” nod. I met Andrew after the show, introduced myself and told him what I do. I was new in the business. Then I had an idea. Maybe he’d come to my house? So I asked, fully expecting him to roll his eyes and say, “I’m sorry, who are you again?” But instead he said yes. Right away. It was the start of something good.
I think we had 30 people at that first house concert with Andrew Belle. My audience went nuts for his music, not to mention he’s the nicest guy ever. They filled the tip jar and bought tons of merch. But the true magic happens when the audience goes home. They talk. Tell their friends. Share the CD. Tell the inside stories… They discovered this great artist and they want to spread the word. Seth Godin (marketing guru) says those are your “sneezers”. Instead of trying to promote yourself to everyone, do a good job for a few, and they’ll go out and shout (or sneeze) about you. It worked. Andrew Belle plays to sold out shows, and his music is on TV, film, etc. Not because of me. Because of the others.
House concerts are sort of in their own category. Not a cocktail party. Not a traditional concert. They’re a hybrid – entertainment where you actually learn something new. We always do Saturdays at 4pm. People can come then, even if they have evening plans. Word has spread. It’s not unusual to have 75 guests or more now. We keep it to an hour and a half. Arrive at 3:45, grab a glass of wine, come sit down. Show starts at 4, set runs an hour, interview the artist, meet/greet after. We do it this way for the people who have evening plans. But of course most hang around and chat with the band…
We’re bridging the gap by mixing it up. All types are in my audience, teens, boomers, college kids, aspiring musicians, even grandparents.We’ve hosted many emerging artists whom I believe are good enough to make it in this business. To name a few, Jann Klose, Micaela Kingslight’s band Flypaper, Pat McKillen and Colin Gilmore (daddy is Jimmie Dale Gilmore of Flatlanders). We’ve hosted some artists who are taking off fast such as Zach Heckendorf, Allen Stone, Andrew Belle, and Communist Daughter. We’ve even had Idol’s Crystal Bowersox in the house, and John Oates is on the bill for June (that one’s a fundraiser.)
I’m a stickler for one thing, and my audience knows… Quiet. I ask that you not talk when the music is playing. At my house, the music and artist come first. And when you hear what quiet sounds like you’ll never want it any other way.
I also ask the artist to tell stories… That’s half the fun. Crystal said she’s more nervous to sing to a small audience than on TV. ComDot frontman Johnny Solomon talked about his days at rehab. Andrew Belle reveals that he’s a very serious chef. Colin Gilmore spoke about growing up in Lubbock TX, Buddy Holly’s home town. Jann Klose told us about growing up in S. Africa and Germany, Micaela Kingslight’s dad made her guitar, Pat McKillen is a Notre Dame grad who (I think) should be on the radio by now, Seattle kid Allen Stone sang a duet with Andrew Belle and I knew he’d be famous soon, and Denver prodigy Zach Heckendorf tells about what it feels like to be 18, opening for John Butler Trio, One eskimO, and now this summer for The Fray and Michael Franti..
Because my house concerts are free, people dig deep in their pockets to fill the tip jar for the artist. In this intimate setting you get to know the artist really well. He’s like your kid. Adults are used to buying their music. So everyone buys CDs and gets them signed, with photos after the show. It’s a win win for artist and fan.
So why do artists say yes to house concerts? One universal reason, whether they’re new or long time in the business: People Listen. Every artist who’s played in my living room says the same thing to the audience: ”I’ve never played to such a quiet room. Thank you.” Artists are so used to playing noisy rooms. They appreciative it when we listen. But the norm is noise. People aren’t trying to be rude, they’re just having fun. But a live concert (except for arenas) isn’t supposed to mean “I’ll play background music while you party.” There’s always tension in the audience between those who want quiet and those who want to have fun. The rules are a bit different in this house, there’s no tension.
An artist manager once told me, “we’d rather perform to 20 quiet listeners vs. 200 talking ones.” My sentiments exactly. Perhaps you’ll help spread the word.
A few pics of my house concerts below. Val