House concerts - new research by Andrew Howie, Calamateur

During the final year of a music degree course, I was asked to write an independent research paper on a topic of my choice. Rather than write an essay purely for the sake of a good mark, on a topic that had already been written about many times before, I was keen to explore a contemporary issue directly relevant to independent musicians, one which genuinely interested me - house concerts.

Graeme Ogston

I had been curious about the idea of house concerts for quite a while, and several musician friends of mine had played them, so I decided to write about the UK house-concert movement. Steve Lawson, Iain Morrison, Iain Archer and Yvonne Lyon are among the friends who have played house concerts. Rounding out the picture, I had also hosted a couple of house concerts myself. My first one was a Susan Enan gig in my living room. She is a British-born singer-songwriter, based in America. She had recently completed a house-concert world tour, travelling 84,000 miles across Europe, Australasia, Canada and North America. I ended up dedicating an entire chapter of my report to a case study on Susan’s extraordinary adventures.

One of the most fascinating parts of writing the report was delving into the history of house concerts and finding out they were not a new idea at all, but rather the resurgence of a very old one, having its roots in the classical music world of the 1600’s, the pioneering communities of North America and the ceilidh village houses of the Scottish Highlands.

Mark Rushton

The main body of the report comprised my research into the growth of the UK house concert movement. It investigates why musicians, and their audiences, are choosing this particular route. Using survey results and various interviews I conducted with house-concert-playing musicians, I tried to identify the benefits and drawbacks of playing house concerts — with specific regard to the actual house-concert performance experience, the financial implications for ticket, CD and merchandise sales, as well as the touring costs involved, and what potential there exists for building a long-term fan-base.

Most musicians found that their experience of playing house concerts were good – they enjoyed the intimate, unplugged nature of the event, made a healthy profit and forged long-lasting, genuine connections with their audience. This quote from David Lyon sums up one of the main reasons so many musicians love playing house concerts:

“There is the potential for a more real, genuine community rather than just a fan-base… I love the intimacy of the gigs, the banter, the conversations and relationships born and developed, connections made and other doors that open from them.”

While writing the report, I’m pleased to say that I played my first house concert and have since played four of them. My own experience of playing and hosting these concerts is very positive, and resonates strongly with the results of my report.

The entire report can be found here:

  • Calamateur is the moniker under which Scottish singer-songwriter and producer Andrew Howie performs and records. He has been writing, recording and releasing his own music since 2000, when John Peel played his debut single. Andrew has released fifteen diverse collections of songs, spanning genres from lo-fi acoustic pop to ambient electronica and glitchcore. Howie’s releases include the critically acclaimed Son of Everyone EP and his 2009 part-covers album Jesus is for Losers. His latest album, The Quiet in the Land is an unsettling, visceral and largely electronic exploration of doubt, anger and confusion. The opening song of his acoustic 2010 album Each Dirty Letter was recently used in the BBC3 drama Lip Service.