Everything You Need to Know to Host a House Gig
Tips from House Concert’s founder Manu Mathew and alt-punk band BLEK’s frontman Rishi Bradoo on how anyone can bring indie to your home
This past February, I made the–now landmark–decision not to celebrate my birthday in the mundane, conventional way. A usual birthday plan would be having friends over to my house, plenty of food and drinks and mainstream music in the background.
Instead, I plotted a house gig. The idea took root when my blues/rock band The Tripp was part of the lineup for Mumbai singer-songwriter Ramya Pothuri’s Living Room Tour in September 2016 to support her debut EP We Never Left. Of course we played a stripped down set, but the vibe and ambience at the gig was truly magical, intimate and at times inspirational, with the audience attentive throughout each artists’ performance; No chatter or pulling out their smartphones to Snapchat or Instagram every second.
Pothuri went about the route of organizing house gigs instead of having a club launch gig for her EP, because she knew the music she makes is “so intimate,” as she said in an earlier interview with Rolling Stone India, “I thought it would be really cool if I could actually get people, who can lend their houses.” At her Living Room Tour shows, equipment was minimal and you didn’t really need a big budget to pull off one of these house gigs successfully.
The trend of living room gigs has been doing the rounds for several years now with the likes of global gig series Sofar organizing shows across India as well as House Concerts. The latter started three years ago and curated their first show at a friend’s basement in New Delhi. Founder of House Concerts, Manu Mathew says, “We’ve finally got a space where the artist is the center of the evening and the artist is actually requested to perform his own music instead of playing cover songs.” Apart from New Delhi, House Concerts now operates in Bengaluru and Mumbai too.
For House Concerts, the lineup is put together first, and then the location. “Initially we reached out to a couple of friends to host the event, but now people are volunteering their spaces.” He adds, “In terms of location, even the number of people that can take part depends on the space capacity. We keep things in mind in terms of parking and accessibility so it is convenient for people to come in. When people R.S.V.P., they get to know the address closer to the event.”
Unlike before (and we’re talking Gatsby-era and after), house parties and gigs aren’t entirely funded by a generious host. Mathew explains that his series generally takes in donations at the gate which vary between ₹300 to ₹500, a majority of which goes to the artist and setting up sound. “All the people in the team come purely on voluntary basis and because they like the idea and want to help the community grow,” says Mathew.
Since most of the gigs are held in residential areas, I asked Mathew if there are any permissions that they may have to go about. Turns out they don’t get “any loud bands” to respect their neighbors. “It is very acoustic or minimal electronic. The concerts get over by 10 o’clock.”
Even if you do feel like you aren’t stepping on any toes, are permissions just good conduct? Frontman from Mumbai punk rockers BLEK Rishi Bradoo states that there is no need for legal permissions as he sees house gigs as just a bunch of friends jamming. Bradoo has hosted two of Pothuri’s house gigs and saw quite an increase in the turnout the second time this past July around at his headquarters Theatre 74. The musician/producer also plans on hosting more house gigs. He follows a similar pattern of picking a lineup, acquiring all the necessary gear and then, promotion. “You need to start promoting the gig at least three to four weeks in advance and get the word out so that people know it is happening. If it is an invite-only gig, send personal messages to the people you want to call or if it is open for everyone you can post it across social media. Contact people if it’s happening and keep posting information and keep an open communication with people. It’s a great way to meet people too,” he says.
The musician also states that you don’t need to scale up and have a sound console but just a few amps and mics to host a living room gig. “We hosted [experimental pop band] Lawntuba and all I did was adjust the knobs on their amps to balance the sound.” He adds, “The setup would be the same if you had a band rehearsing at home.”
As much as he’s all for house gigs, Bradoo hopes that the shows never get “watered down” and endlessly replicated. “One problem we see consistently in the industry is that whenever one good idea comes up everybody tries to imitate and some don’t do it well and eventually for the regular person it becomes boring over a large period of time.”
I went about almost exactly what Bradoo mentioned about in hosting a house gig. I was lucky to work with jovial artists and saw a turnout that exceeded my expectation. I called friends to help set up amps, seating arrangements (everyone sat on the ground) and each artist was prompt for soundcheck and the show ran smoothly without any hiccups. I was a gleaming host and couldn’t have wished for a better way to turn 22, surrounded by family, friends and great musicians.
House gigs are definitely one of the most enjoyable ways of experiencing live music, mainly because of its intimacy and that the audience is one-on-one with the artists without any outside noise or filters. That level of communication has been a very rare sight at any club venue I’ve visited. So if you are looking at hosting a house gig all you need are the bare minimums and you should be good to go. I might also mull over hosting my second house gig before the end of this year too.