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Making A Living With House Concerts – An Interview With Verve Pipe’s Brian Vander Ark.

by John Oszajca on February 25, 2011

Click the play button above to listen or right click and save to your computer.

A few posts back I talked about how hard it was to make a living on $10 CDs alone, and how important it is to create additional revenue streams as part of your music career. One of the suggestions I threw out there was the concept of offering exclusive (high ticket) house concerts to your fans. I received a number of emails from people who simple thought this was impossible and that no one would ever pay $450 (the example price I mentioned) for a private event.

Well… Brian Vander Ark would disagree. He’s been offering private house concerts to his subscriber list for over 5 years now and making six figures a year doing it. He only goes out for a few days a week, for a few months each year, and he is able to charge over $1000 a show.

Now I can hear all the moans… Brian is in the Verve Pipe and he has sold millions of albums, so it’s easy for him, but I could never do that…

As Brian will tell you in the interview above, he has helped a number of unknown artists do this very successfully. They may only make $400 a show instead of $1000, but this can definitely be a profitable strategy, especially when you build a list of subscribers like I talk about in Music Marketing Manifesto.

Brian has been a friend of mine since we played Zombies together in the film, Dead and Breakfast, back in 2004. In fact if you ever see the film, it’s my drumstick that gets jammed into his head :-)

But I digress…

Long story short, when I heard he was making six figures a year playing people’s living rooms, I knew I needed to share his story with you guys. I learned a ton from him and I’m sure you will too.

If you want to tour but also don’t want to go broke doing it, you NEED to listen to the interview above.

If you want to learn more about Brian Vander Ark you can do so here.

Have you ever done a house concert? I want to hear about it. Leave a comment below and share your story.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamila April 18, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Thanks for this post! How large should a mailing list be before an artist starts marketing themselves to their mailing list for house concerts?

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John Oszajca April 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm

There is no rule of thumb here. I would suggest just using what you have. If you have 30 people on your list. See what you can make happen. If you have 3000, all the better. The best way to grow that list and get more shows is to get out there and start doing it :-)

Best of luck. Keep us posted on how t goes.

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Ted Tosoff March 1, 2011 at 6:39 am

We do a lot of Pub/Club/Restaurants…and we’ve done a few House Concerts and i think that’s the way playing live is going for independent artists…Cheers

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Todd February 28, 2011 at 8:38 pm

just a comment for Will on Brian’s mailing list, as Brian didn’t start making solo acoustic records until a few years after the Verve Pipe hayday, he really built his mailing list on his own independent touring, opening for Butch Walker, The Samples, etc. helped, but he did a lot of playing the bars and other small venues around the midwest. As a TVP fan I never was on their mailing list and became an avid follower of BVA after Resurrection was released, I have had 5 LCLR shows with BVA to date and already have mine planned for this year as well. The neat thing that Brian maintains that it’s your event, make some requests and I can ask for donations from friends and family that attend (I even have an opening act), and after getting people to donate to attend, I end up paying a few hundred dollars of my own money to make it happen, considering what big acts charge at ridiculously large venues nowadays and travel/hotel accomodations, my booking Brian to play at my house is far more economical than going to a Springsteen show in Chicago and Brian will show me how to play a song on guitar and hang out to chat with our friends after the show. Such an incredible experience each and every time.

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John Oszajca February 28, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Thanks for the feedback Todd. Great to hear it first hand.

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Will Black February 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Rock on, John – great interview.

I’ve done a few of those “lawnchair to living room” solo acoustic performances myself and Brian’s story just adds more integrity to the experience on a professional musical basis. I would like to know how Brian went about growing his mailing list initially to the point where he was able to monetize it with these house performances.

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John Oszajca February 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Thanks Will. If I’m not mistaken Brian’s list was largely generated over the years as a result of his major label success. That’s where the rest of us need to drive the traffic to get to the same place. but it can be easily done.

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Linda McLean February 27, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I’m spending my Sunday afternoon listening to you and taking notes. Great interview. Thanks so much for this timely and generous info.

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John Oszajca February 27, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Thanks Linda, Glad you’re digging the interview. Let me know if you have any questions.

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Tonski February 26, 2011 at 2:08 am

Thanks John and Brian. Really appreciated the approach you described. In-home entertainment options have become yet another big competition factor in trying to get people OUT to see/hear live music in traditional venues. Taking a show experience to them on their home turf, with a nice mix of “their terms/your terms” is a win-win. Also liked that year one it was prefaced with a goal of raising money for new original music to be recorded and made available, but then after a successful run of concerts, it organically developed into a lot of repeat business and the development of annual traditions….and a great performance strategy! Nice work!

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John Oszajca February 27, 2011 at 12:52 am

Thanks Tonski. Brian has definitely got a good thing going with this.

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Daniel February 25, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Great interview and article!

Plus house parties/concerts can be so fun! Some of my favorite gigs have been house parties just because people are in a great mood and really ready to get into the music. Which can’t be said for a lot of the run of the mill bar gigs.

Thanks!

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John Oszajca February 27, 2011 at 12:53 am

Thanks Daniel, couldn’t agree more.

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Pete Berwick February 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm

OOPS..Big time mistake on my previous post..wrote $3,000-$500..meant $300-$500…damn, I wish!!!

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Pete Berwick February 25, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Definatley the way to go. I am sick of the low paying bars and the smoke filled lungs. House concerts can be many things besides the living room. A pool party, backyard barbeque etc..an easy $3000-$500 for a few hours of singing, eating, drinking, and a place to crash. I have done more than my share, but usually it’s a party someone throws and they want entertainnment. They don’t charge a fee for the attendees and I just set a price.
I would like to do more if I could get out of the bar commitments that I am stuck in. Unfortanatly, now that this best kept secret is out they have become very competitive. It was a good way to make a living for virtual unknowns like myself, but now that bigger name like Brian and many other former major label artists are doing them it has made it harder for underdogs like myself. It’s a fact. Many of these people hosting these know they can get the former label acts and it has become in my eyes more elitist.
I have found it easier booking the bars than these, but thanx for this inspiration and reminder here, that I need to make more effort taking another look at this avenue. The problem is that many people that host serious house concerts only go 6-8 a year and this makes it very very competitive. I am open for anyone to tell me I am being overly negative and just need to try more, because I could use some inspiration today.

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John Oszajca February 27, 2011 at 12:57 am

Hey Pete,

Thanks for the comment. I don’t doubt that the house concert networks have become competitive, but Brian doesn’t even use those. He uses his own list.

I think that is the key here. If you aggressively build a list of active followers you shouldn’t have a hard time getting a percentage of your customers to take you up on an offer to come perform at their home.

If you have a list of 10,000 fans, all it would take is a 1%
response rate (very poor rate by the way), and you’ve got yourself a very busy, and lucrative touring schedule for the season.

That’s just my two cents. Thanks for the comment.

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captain figgy February 25, 2011 at 3:20 pm

wow john,
this interview gave me the final confirmation i needed. it’s all about house concerts! the intimacy, the specialness, the casualness, the non-hassles. (i’m loving he’s not even using a pa half of the time!)
thanks for helping to solidify
the future greentrees vision.
and revealing such a tangible roadbmap.
all blessings.
captain figgy

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John Oszajca February 27, 2011 at 12:58 am

Thanks Captain Figgy, happy we could help.

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Andy (Viral Gigs) February 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm

John,

Thanks for a great interview, gotta love that skype auto-record thing you’ve got going there!

House concerts have been the bed rock of my trips for the past 2 years – they really are a blast to perform and, if you have a mailing list you could book gigs in the next 2 hours.

Andy

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John Oszajca February 27, 2011 at 12:59 am

Hey Andy,

A mailing list is a beautiful thing isn’t it :-)

Cheers.

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Andy (Viral Gigs) February 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Yep, It’s a thing of beauty indeed!

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Nate Davenport February 25, 2011 at 2:06 pm

i’m a huge fan of the house concert method. i have yet to be able to make it work on a touring scale, but it’s a great way to supplement a tour with some club dates. most of the ones i’ve been able to pull off have been in my hometown, but i’m interested to see if i can broaden that scale a bit

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Andy (Viral Gigs) February 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Nate,

With a bit of planning you can make it work. I’m from Ireland and I’ve booked US tours based on doing house gigs.

There’s a great resource by Fran Snyder at http://www.concertsinyourhome.com – in fact he just posted a copy of an email that booked 7 gigs in 4 hours for one artist & went on to generate thousands of dollars.

Hope that helps.

Andy

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Nate Davenport February 25, 2011 at 7:37 pm

thanks andy that looks pretty cool. pretty significant investment tho, do you use it yourself?

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John Oszajca February 27, 2011 at 1:04 am

Hey Nate,

My advice is to focus on actively building your mailing list every day. (warning – plug coming here) Like I talk about in http://www.musicmarketingmanifesto.com/manifesto-novid.html – If you drive traffic into an incentivized offer and build a relationship with your list you will be able to sell just about anything that is of real value, and a concert is of value to a fan.

Ultimately that’s all that Brian does. He sends an email out to his list. Sure, his main stream success is what got him that list, but there are many ways that the average musician can build a list as well. Hope that helps.

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Nate Davenport March 1, 2011 at 7:25 pm

thanks a bunch john, launching a new single today so i’m excited to see what i’ve learned from MMM 2.0 put into practice. everybody go download it free on natedavenport.com!

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Andy (Viral Gigs) February 28, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Nate,

I have a profile there (I get a discount because I’m outside the US) but as yet I haven’t used it for gigs.

My first port of call is my mailing list and so far that gets me what I need when I go touring.

But the site has some great resources specifically for doing the house concerts thing

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Nate Davenport March 1, 2011 at 7:23 pm

thanks andy! appreciate the reply

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April T. February 25, 2011 at 1:12 am

I’m a big fan of Verve Pipe so this was really cool to hear. The house concert thing really does start to make a lot of sense. God knows it’s a pain to play clubs day in day out.

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Dustin February 25, 2011 at 1:11 am

This is great stuff John. Seriously a cut above in terms of content. I’m gonna need to give the whole house concert thing a try now. Thanks!

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