Monday, May 14, 2018

House concerts: how to ask your guests to bring money for the musicians

It took a musical saw trial to get a grin out of Steve!
Steve and I played a really fun house concert this weekend. I'm never quite sure how these events are going to go in America. They are more common in Europe (although for some reason Europeans seem to thing that House Concerts are more common in America; I assure you, they are not.), and most people here still find it a completely foreign concept. Saturday's concert was a new host and a great group of people, and I hope they continue to host other events for other artists -- it was a great time and we met great people. And we made enough dollars to continue to call ourselves professionals! Sometimes, however, things do not go so smoothly ...

I've learned through trial and error here that unless it is an established house concert series (and there are quite a few that have developed!), then playing a house concert can be hit or miss. The events are always fun no matter what, but making it worth the musicians' time to come out and play such an event comes down to the awkward issue of money. So...

How do you let your guests know they should bring money for the artists?

I've seen two extremes of this.

1) The invitation that says, "This party costs $20 to attend." The party then almost always gets canceled because no one wants to pay $20 just to go to a party at your house. They don't understand, and they think you, the host, are being greedy or cheap. Despite the best intentions, the concept is misunderstood.

2) The invitation that says, "Concert at my house!" and there is no mention of money in the invitation at all. In this situation, you get one of two things:

  • Lots of guests come, but no one brings cash (who carries cash these days?!). People (host included) are surprised when someone starts passing a hat or tip jar around. Musicians usually don't make enough money.
  • Lots of guests come, no one brings cash, and the musicians feel too awkward to ask for money, and the host feels too awkward to ask guests to donate. The musicians leave empty-handed.
  • Lots of guests come, no one brings cash, and the hosts feel guilty and gives the musicians a few hundred dollars to make up for it. The host then never wants to host a house concert again.
So in all my trial and error, here's what I've found to be the best solution:

Make the wording clear on your invitation! 
Money conversations are super-awkward, and sometimes it's best to just acknowledge that up front. 

Here's some wording from a great house concert series:

I like that it's up-front: Please bring some cash for the music. The amount is up to you, but we recommend $15-20 per person.

This wording gives a suggestion based on market price of concert tickets (and significantly less than the cost of a front-row seat to a concert venue!), but lets people know that it's a sliding scale.

Here are some other ways to word the money conversations, and feel free to copy and paste any one of these directly into your own events:
  • House concerts feature professional musicians, and they get paid through your donations -- 100% of the money goes to the artists. Please bring some cash for them.
  • We will pass around a tip jar for the musicians. Suggested donation is a sliding scale of _____ per person. The artists will also have CDs and other merchandise available for purchase.
  • When you arrive, please don't forget to put some cash in the tip jar for the artists. House concerts are an intimate gathering, but the artists get paid from the guests' donations.

    and here's the straight-up jumbled way that I usually say it when I host house concerts:
  • Money talk can be super-awkward! If you've not been to a house concert before, please understand that it's not just a party at my house with some background music. It's a concert, and the musicians get paid entirely from the tip jar. A suggested donation of $10-20/per person will be collected at the door when you arrive (or "will be collected when we pass the hat during the set break). Please bring some cash for the artists, so we don't have to have that awkward money conversation, and we can just enjoy ourselves and relax and know that the artists are taken care of.

Now: go forth and host your own house concert!!

Monday, May 7, 2018

DIY Piano Bar - Upcycle an old piano into a BAR!

Today I bring you a DIY project that began over 10 years ago. I used to have a problem taking in homeless pianos (I have since gotten over this mental health issue), and a student once talked me into accepting a beautiful baby grand from the 1920s. It had been her grandmother's piano, but it had not been tuned in far too long for it to be salvageable. Being the 20-something living with a house full of roommates, I decided to take it and and use it as a dining room table. I put barstools around it, used placemats so as not to hurt the gorgeous rosewood, and it sat in my dining room for at least five years. I played it sometimes, but it sounded terrible. My piano tuner said that re-furnishing the soundboard, etc, would cost thousands and it still wouldn't sound as good as my 1995 Yamaha studio piano (i LOVE this instrument).

Ignore large dogs and look at the piano that
functions as a dining room table. That's the
BEFORE photo that I can find right now.

I'd had the idea to turn it into a bar, but I lacked the tools and the time. Enter DAVID! He and Adam, our amazing piano tuner, used piano-tuner tools to de-tune and remove the hundreds of strings (you can't just cut them because you might accidentally decapitate yourself). David took the insanely heavy iron soundboard to a metal recycling place, cleaned out the inside, and we used it as a bar for the next several years -- lifting up the piano lid to reveal a hidden vault of single malts and glassware.

But then, we had babies. Keeping a baby grand full of liquor just took up too much space.

We then went full-on PROJECT, and David created the piano bar masterpiece that I'd always envisioned, taking apart the legs and going vertical:

We only kept two of the legs (it is anchored to the wall), but they weren't tall enough for a comfortable height. David took some wood, stained it to match the rosewood, and raised the height of the bar:

We added a shelf and some glass holders to provide more function: 

Another shelf will be coming, but we've been, er, busy and not paying much attention to the bar!

An old Kimball piano from the 1920s converted into a bar.
Piano bar! DIY upcycling project. Also, we have a mighty Scotch collection for a couple of Kentuckians.

As for the innards of the piano, well, they hang on our wall because we can't do *anything* with it. The keys are ebony and ivory, and with the weird rules around ivory, we can't really upcycle them. It's a fun interactive piece of art in the dining room though:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A little Derby video magic and some reflecting

It's Derby season in Louisville! Here's your expected-and-necessary version of "My Old Kentucky Home," this time performed on the musical saw and the banjo. I love that Steve Cooley, who is always up for recording my antics.

Today's blog is about self-employed ROUTINE. I'm finding this difficult. I'm settling in to having childcare and not having to panic-call any babysitters for a business meeting or rehearsal. Still, I can't seem to find a good routine of balancing admin work with creative work. Has anyone out there managed it? Would you share your tips? Or guest-blog for me?

I'm hoping to spend some of today developing a regular schedule. I'm also trying to remember all the self-employed tips I've published in the past -- and referring to my own blog posts for inspiration. It reminds me that once upon a time, I was very good at this balance!