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!!