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Home Routes – Bringing Music to the People

Sometimes it seems that the world is becoming a smaller place. That’s not meant to be a bad thing. Through the Internet, it’s become possible to share your music with much of the world.

But what about performing? It’s one thing to record and post sound files or videos of songs but most performing musicians also have a need to connect and communicate with people in a live situation.

For some musicians, house concerts are ideal situations – you get to tour and to have a series of venues (often including a meal and a place to stay!) all set out for you. The audiences may be small, but they are usually quite attentive and enthusiastic. So the question for some becomes “how do I hook up with a home concert promoter?” And for others, those who love live music in intimate settings, the question may be the exact same one.

Jim, a Guitar Noise community member, has been hosting concerts at his home in British Columbia, Canada, for three years now. I know this because whenever I try to mention his doing so in our “Events Horizon” posts (first in the newsletter and now on the Guitar Noise Blog), they are always standing room only so there’s little point in listing them. He is part of Canada’s “Home Routes” concert program (www.HomeRoutes.ca), which was created by Mitch Podolak, founder of the Edmonton and Winnipeg AND Vancouver Folk Festivals. House concerts have a long history in Canada (you can read a bit about it here: http://www.homeroutes.ca/aboutus/footprint/) and Home Routes has been putting artists and home owners together for more than five years now. Their first year, 2007/08, they had four routes: one each in Alberta and Saskatchewan and two in Manitoba. This current season, they’ve got thirteen routes running throughout Canada from coast to coast and into Yukon.

Jim kindly put me in touch with the folks at Home Routes and they have graciously given us permission to post a bit of a Q & A covering a lot of the most frequently asked questions that they get:

Q. What is Home Routes all about?

Home Routes: Home Routes is a unique undertaking which started February 2007 with the intention of creating a linked group of community based house concerts all across North America. Methodologically we recruit and organize brand new volunteer hosts from every nook and cranny and then place them geographically into “circuits” of twelve houses in twelve communities. Artists are then engaged to perform a complete circuit only. The circuits are timed in such a way that musicians can perform on sequential days thereby making the economics of touring work. Home Routes is about animating into existence new community based volunteer presenters for whom the joy of bringing live music into their home community is the ultimate prize. Home Routes is about meeting mutual needs for the artists and the communities. Home Routes is about developing a vibrant infrastructure for folk music.

Q. How does Home Routes pay for its ongoing operations?

Home Routes:. Home Routes is a non-profit organization, funded by a combination of government funding, individual donations, artist fees and corporate sponsorships.

Q. Why is it necessary for the artist booking to be centralized?

Home Routes: There are two reasons why we have decided to organize Home Routes as a centralized house concert booking service:

  1. It’s the only way that we can ensure sequential performances for artists. When artists go out on tour and they work for a day or two and then they have three days off before they work again, they spend the money they have earned surviving on the road instead of going home with money in their pockets. Restaurants and hotels cost a lot of money as compared to paying rent and buying groceries. We ask everybody who joins Home Routes to agree to do shows on different nights of the week so that over the year, every house concert operator will get a Tuesday show, a Wednesday show, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We offer one day off a week for the artist, generally on a Monday. This enables us to send performers out six nights a week doing back-to-back shows.
  2. By booking centrally we have some insight, based upon experience, about the artists we are sending out on the road. Mostly we know what they are like as people, what they are like as musicians and we have a reasonable understanding about how they will do at your house. It’s our imperfect human way of making sure that you and them both have a great experience.

Q. Is Home Routes only about Folk-Roots Music?

Home Routes: Duke Ellington once said “What is music to you? What would you be without music? Music is everything. Nature is music (cicadas in the tropical night). The sea is music, the wind is music. The rain drumming on the roof and the storm raging in the sky are music. Music is the oldest entity. The scope of music is immense and infinite. It is the language of the world.” and we at Home Routes take that quote to heart. Clearly our expertise is with folk-roots music but we are aware that this concept works well with most music. Our plans are to start with and develop what we know and then we’ll expand into separate circuits around different kinds of music. Stay tuned.

Q. What does Home Routes mean when we talk about Folk-Roots music?

Home Routes: Within the framework of folk-roots we are talking about contemporary singer-songwriters, blues artists, bluegrass players, old time players, world music artists, folk-revivalists, country-blues, Celtic and British musicians, Cajun and French Canadian musicians, etc., a complete spectrum of world class traditional and contemporary acoustic music, a bit of everything.

Q. When does Home Routes operate?

Home Routes: Home Routes operates between late September and early December and again between early February and the end of April. It’s a fall and winter season and we pay attention to Easter, Xmas, Passover and we keep one focused eye on farm schedules. We want to be done before planting and we don’t want to start until harvest is finished. Home Routes is primarily, but not exclusively, a rural based organization.

Q. If I want to be considered for the Home Routes program as an artist, how do I apply?

Home Routes: If you’re an artist that nobody in the office is familiar with, mail us a package including a recording that demonstrates accurately what you sound like as a solo or duo performer. Highly produced albums just add confusion to the decision making process. We need to hear you just how it would sound in a living room. If we’ve never seen your act before, we need a clear indication of your performance skills beyond musical chops. On stage skills, personality and professionalism all play a large role in influencing our team. A short bio, picture, contact information all helps us figure it out. References from artists that we know are pretty useful.

Q. How does Home Routes choose the artists?

Home Routes: Within the framework of presenting a balanced musical program for every circuit, the Artistic Director hires who he pleases, that is his responsibility. We hold juries every few months. There are no deadlines because submissions keep coming in. Every single submission that crosses our threshold is listened to and discussed by the jury. The jury can say no but the jury cannot say yes. That task is for the artistic director alone. The jury only passes forward to the Artistic Director what inspires them as fans or as musicians. The volume of submissions has increased exponentially since we began four years ago; this often leaves the jury and the Artistic Director with the difficult task of choosing between excellence and excellence.

Q. How does the artist make money?

Home Routes: These are professional artists doing professional concerts and admission is charged at the door. The artist keeps the admission of the shows as well as money from their record sales. All revenue from ticket and product sales from every concert goes directly to the performers. Also songwriters are eligible to receive performance royalties from their professional rights organization.

Q. If I was interested in hosting a Home Routes concert, what expenses are involved?

Home Routes: The time it takes you to invite your friends, neighbours and family to a concert, an extra plate of food at dinner and a comfy bed for the artists at night.

Q: How many people are expected to attend?

Home Routes: Generally, we like to average about thirty once you’re established; it’s not where we expect anybody to start.

Q. How much money will I make doing this?

Home Routes: Nothing, not a red cent, zip, double zip, nada, guernischt, bupkas, rien or zilch.

Q. If I’m not making money doing this, why should I do it?

Home Routes: For love of music and for community service to strengthen the kinship among your family, friends, neighbours, and their friends; to bring live music to your community; to support the artists; to have an astonishing amount of fun.

Q. Well that sounds high minded and all, but what’s in it for me?

Home Routes: Over time you will be exposed at close range to some of the finest professional folk-roots musicians from North America and around the world. If you love music, this is the perfect way to hear it. You will make lifetime friendships and the experience will be life altering and fun.

Q. All things being perfect, what is Home Routes’ expectation about the number of shows per household?

Home Routes: All things being perfect, each home on a circuit is provided with six shows, three in the fall and three in the late winter.

Q. Do I have to present all six?

Home Routes: We’ve seen that our format works very well when a host does all six shows. However it works equally as well when two families in the same community share the six shows. There are many duel host combination that share the six concerts between them and also share their audience. That way not only is the work load divided in half but each home creates it own unique experience within the community and that relationship really helps to build the overall community audience.

Q. What is the best way to get an audience to show up?

Home Routes: House concerts are promoted by word of mouth, email and the good ‘ol telephone. Start by inviting your friends, family and neighbours. Once you’ve got a core audience word of mouth will help it grow. There are some basic rules and techniques that are happy to pass on to new house concert presenters in the form of a comprehensive booklet and by utilizing our team, by phone or email, at your convenience. We are here to help you succeed. Before you know it you will be a grassroots living room impresario of no small skill!

Q. Will Home Routes accept everybody that applies to be a house concert presenter?

Home Routes: No. The home has to work as a space and we have to be confident that Home Routes can work for your particular circumstances. Artists, even the toughest of them, are artists. They are brilliant and sensitive which is why they can perform and we will want to know that you understand the human part of caring for an artist and staging a show.

Q. Do I get to pick the artists?

Home Routes: Home Routes Artistic Directors plan an entertaining and diverse concert series for hundreds of concert presenters across the country. Audiences have come to trust our artistic approach. Decisions are made with the help of regularly convened juries and we also value your suggestions.

Q. Is my house suitable?

Home Routes: Organizing your home as a performance space is easier than most people imagine. Presenters have come up with ingenious solutions over the years utilizing everything from barns to basements. We’re quite experienced at doing this now that we’re into our 5th season and we will work with you to determine whether your home is appropriate and which configuration works best. Here are some basic considerations:

  • House concerts are almost always a solo performer or a duo. Occasionally you will see a trio but that is the very rare exception rather than the rule.
  • The performers will need a performance area of some kind – maybe just a throw rug, maybe something more elaborate. A space of approximately 4′ by 6′ should do. When they’re performing they’ll need to be seen and heard by the audience. Some performers like to stand and some like to sit and the space needs to be able to accommodate both of those things.
  • You’ll need adequate space and chairs for the audience. They need some access to be able to get to and from those seats, not just at the beginning and end but sometimes, given the nature of nature, during the show.
  • Round up all of your chairs: kitchen, dining room and office chairs are fine. If you don’t have enough chairs at home, you may find that your neighbours won’t mind bringing a few, or that the local hall or church has some folding chairs they could lend out. This will give you a good idea of the number of people you can fit. It makes perfect sense to do a dry run just to see how it fits and also to measure your capacity.
  • Make sure people can reach your room and move around in it. You might be able to cram 40 chairs into your den, but without space for the performers to get to and from the stage, and for listeners to get to and from their seats, it could be unworkable. Ideally, you would like the audience to enter towards the back of the room (away from where you put the performance area) so guests won’t cross in front of the performance once it’s underway.
  • Parking: If parking areas are not obvious, ensure directions to your home include the location(s) people could/should park their vehicles.

Q. How do I sign up?

Home Routes: Right on! Call us at our toll free number (204) 866-925-6889 and we’ll be happy to hear from you and we’ll do our best to answer all your questions and get you signed up. If we’re not in when you call, leave a message and we’ll call you back. You can also click on this link.

Q. Is Home Routes in my community? How do I attend?

Home Routes: You can check our schedule and if there is somebody you want to see coming to your community, email us or give us a call at our toll free number (866) 925-6889 and we’ll call the presenter in your community and give them your contact information. If they have room, they’ll call you. We do not give out the names or contact info of our presenters.

We hope that this begins to answer your questions. You can always call the toll free number and ask for information or you can write us at [email protected]


Jim was also kind enough to answer my questions about his own experience as a Home Routes host:

Q. How, when and why did you get involved in the Home Routes concerts?

Jim: In true Home Routes fashion, we heard about it from friends. They had hosted the first year in Alberta and told us it was so much fun we had to look into it. In August 2008 we contacted Tim Osmond in Winnipeg hoping to get on the 08/09 program but getting a full route together in northern British Columbia took a little longer than we had hoped. But we were on for the next season.

We had been going to various Folk Festivals around Alberta and BC for a number of years so when we heard of this, it just seemed like a great way to get a little closer to the music and the people who make it.

Q. On the average, how much work have you done in promoting show? What’s the average attendance for a show?

Jim: We were lucky to have a large number of contacts at work as well as our network of friends. Our first couple shows were a little rough – we thought if we invited, they would come. It didn’t quite work that way and our first show saw an expected throng of twenty-five turn into a clutch of just over a dozen. Those that came, though, were instant enthusiasts and word of mouth kicked in.

Now we send a series of two or three emails – the first introducing the group, the others gentle reminders or outright panic if we are light on takers. We make sure to touch base with our regulars directly so nobody is inadvertently left out. That along with everybody talking about it to friends seems to keep us at a solid thirty people, which pretty much fills the place.

Q. Have you enjoyed the performers? What typically happens on a “concert day?”

Jim: Enjoyed them? Wow… totally! Every one of them has been incredibly gracious and appreciative and just great fun to spend a couple hours hanging out with before and after the concerts.

And the concerts – Home Routes sends us an amazing variety and whether it’s “your kind of music” or not, the stories and tunes, in such an intimate setting, just draw you in and before you know it you are along for the ride. We’ve had blues, bluegrass, east coast fiddle, Winnipeg folk, and Virginia southern charm, to name a few and we’ve loved them all.

Concert day can be a little hectic but after three years we have figured a couple things out. I generally take a couple hours off work so I can get the house rearranged and be home when the “road warriors” arrive. They get settled as I get started on the meal and by the time Lucy gets home to get the real cooking done, we’re ready to hear about their adventures and share some food. Once we’ve cleared away dinner and put a couple snacks together for nibbles and something at the break, our friends start rolling in. It’s all pretty casual, we have a drink and visit until…

Show time!

Most of the artists play about a forty-five minute set and we break for a beverage and some treats and then we reconvene for the second set. Sometimes a jam breaks out after the encore but always the artists remain to visit as long as our guests care to stay.

The door closes for the last time and a satisfied quiet seeps back into our home. We get them to ourselves again but eventually we crash, mindful of tomorrow.

Q. What would you say to someone who is considering becoming a Home Routes concert host?

Jim: I’d say, “Go for it!”

Check out the new website for news and contact the Winnipeg office, they are great to work with.

If you like music, you’ll love getting to know musician from across the country and beyond.

If you like to get together with friends and make new friends, this is an amazing opportunity to share real music in your own home and each event is a one of a kind.

An extensive list of close friends, family, and associates would be good, but if you are like us, you are going to need a plan “B” and a little persistence but it is so worth it.

Signals Music Studio