The idea for house concerts is neither a new fad nor the latest. Most of us are familiar with the concept of patrons of the arts opening their homes to artists of the classical music persuasion.
These patrons host a private event where friends are entertained, and have the opportunity to mingle with the artist(s). The chance to get intimate with the artist(s) while they spin an exotic yarn or two is often the real reason these musical soirées have ample attendance, and why a reply to Répondez s’il vous plaît is never tardy.
In America, the trend for house concerts by mainstream pop artists has become a “household” name, to a point where societies in support of this activity have sprung up to provide helpful hints for hosts and artists alike.
Though many have claimed to be the first to host such an idea, one could probably blame a Pat DiNizio and his “Living Room Tour” for being the first artist to initiate the modern version of the musical soirée. It seems Pat’s 5-month long house concert itinerary in the year 2000 saw him perform for over 70 Smithereens fans across the US, delivering solo acoustic shows at the home of some of them for a nominal fee.
Most established artists still prefer to be remunerated according to their fan pull and reputation, with many fans eager to cough up a sizable tip for a front row seat in a setting where they literally rub shoulders with the artist, well aware that a hundred dollars could only buy them the back row at a typical gig, or an obstructed view of the stage thanks to rowdy fans.
Many artists have begun to incorporate the house concert idea into their tour itineraries, much to their fans’ delight, accepting this as a means of promoting upcoming gigs, rather than playing against promoters and venues who have, in the past, discouraged performances within a certain radius from the venue and/or timeframe of a major gig.
Many hosts have also turned regular. There is not only a fine line between hosting a house concert and presenting a show, but, the modern soirée has the host gather donations from guests for the artist instead of engaging the artist for a private event. It is important to note local ordinances governing live performance events, so before you go out and publicise your intent, check with your local officials.
For the artist, the benefit is in creating an immediate connection with fans. The guests can cozy up in a non-threatening way. It’s a win-win situation and both parties feel a real sense of investment.
There is much about house concerts online so I shall not duplicate the information.
[“What is a House Concert” goes into specifics where my article hasn’t. A must read for the host-to-be and the artist.]
Instead I’d like to share, in the form of short and simple documentation, how I prepared for my first solo-gig by reducing my show rig to something I could fit in my carry-on bag along with my clothes, and working with a living room instead of a concert stage.
I had the benefit of delivering my first house concert in California, thanks to old friend Mike Brunt. A long time fan of my musical work, Mike agreed to host my solo show-and-tell in his beautiful living room draped in his paintings.
For the artist, the trick to planning a house concert is in my humble opinion all about versatility. Just a few days ago, I propped up my Etherwave on a pile of novels on the dining room table at the San Jose home of another friend Bill Stewart.
A major consideration is whether to go acoustic or amplified. I went with the latter due to the electronic nature of my musical arrangements. As friends of my music know, I perform with the theremin, tin-whistle and synthesizer, and I sing on many of my/Xenovibes pieces. Mike had a home entertainment system (HES) and, a light weight PA system that came with a 4-channel amp/mixer. A simple FX send/return was provided on the amp/mixer where the user dialed up the timing (rate) and feedback amount of the delay by ‘feel’ since there were no numerical markings.
I had initially thought of using the width of the living room with the PA and its speakers positioned on either side of the main window, but the room which reflected Mike’s personality was so beautifully put together, I decided to do the Ninja thing and go with the flow. Learning how to think outside the box can be empowering. Improvisation is not for the beginner nor faint-hearted, so arm yourself with the necessary psycho-acoustical and technical understanding such as that of your equipment before heading out the door!
The setup I had brought with me before I changed tactics, involved running a selection of backing tracks featuring songs from the 3 Xenovibes CDs, through Logic Pro (I have version 8.) Depending on what I had configured for each song in LogicPro, I would activate (put into record) softsynth tracks to be played on Mike’s Axiom midi controller, and/or one of two mono audio tracks for the theremin and the tin-whistle/voice configured with various plug-ins.
In terms of hardware connections, I was to run the theremin into the Line-In of the ONE by Apogee electronics and play the tin-whistle/sing through its built-in condenser MIC. I was to toggle between the two input devices during the concert, via my Macbook Pro’s System Preferences under “hardware/sound” by selecting either ONE:Inst or ONE:Ext Mic. The ONE handles one input signal at a time, hence the name. The ONE and the Axiom were both connected and powered via USB.
When I opted out of using the PA and into the HES, the positive outcome was no heavy furniture needed to be moved or removed, and the personality of the room remained intact. I began by initiating a sound test of the HES. I wanted to be sure it had a pleasing enough tone to embrace the music I was to put through it. I moved the staging to the front of the TV and where the HES was already hooked up, and appropriated a channel from the amp/mixer for the microphone I was to use for the tin-whistle/voice instead of the ONE. Less fiddling with system preferences (I left “hardware/sound” input at ONE:Inst) and more quality time for my audience.
The room was “live” to some extent with its wooden floors and glass windows, so I allowed the tin-whistle’s brazenness to sing out sans amplification much of the time. I was heavy handed with the amount of delay on the mic, making the wet to dry ratio about 100% to 30% so that whatever the mic picked up embellished the live (un-miked) signal. There was not much I could do to isolate the mic from the surrounding reflections, so keeping the signal low and EQing the channel helped with feedback and other such inconveniences.
To finish off the setup, I returned to “hardware/sound” under System Preferences and selected as the output “ONE:Stereo”. My backing tracks and the theremin from LogicPro were routed via the ONE’s headphone out into the AUX IN of the amp/mixer with a stereo mini phono to RCA cable. The REC OUT mix from the amp/mixer which now included the effected microphone signal was routed into the AUX IN of the HES using a stereo RCA to RCA cable.
I turn up the volume. To tune the room, I call up the mix output of LogicPro, select channel EQ to cut frequencies below 57Hz and slightly boost the 3.5Khz range.
Voila! I was ready to rock n roll.
Video Clip #1 of 3 : Shueh-li talks about how she put the theremin in the mix in an unconventional way and tuned the room where she performed her solo house concert.
Video Clip #2 of 3 : Shueh-li walks through her software and hardware routing in her solo house concert.
Video Clip #3 of 3 : Shueh-li briefly explains how she set up her theremin with plug-ins in Logic Pro for her solo house concert.
Photos & videos (c) 2010 Shueh-li Ong (unless specified, all articles written by Shueh-li Ong bear the photography, videography and digital work of its author.)