London

The best place to catch a concert in London might be a stranger's living room

House concerts are becoming a popular way to experience live music, according to host Tim Turner and singer-songwriter Marty Kolls.

'People are realizing the value of having music in their home,' says singer-songwriter Marty Kolls

Hey Rosetta! artist Tim Baker performs at a house concert. (Submitted by Tim Turner)

Eight or nine times a year, Londoner Tim Turner rolls up his rugs, hides his valuables and invites around 40 strangers into his living room for an intimate evening of music.

"They're so much fun, I hardly go out to concerts any more – they come to me," said Turner, 55, who says he has tinnitus from overdoing it at live shows in the past.

"It's just really really wonderful."

Turner is one of a growing number of Canadians attending or hosting "house concerts," held in people's living rooms rather than in music halls or bars. 

And although the concept of playing music in a small venue is nothing new, the popularity of house concerts has grown as audiences seek a more intimate listening experience, according to Laura Simpson.

Simpson is the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based co-founder of Side Door, an online matching service for house concert hosts and artists.

Laura Simpson, pictured here with Side Door co-founder and musician Dan Mangan, says their company had 104 house concert hosts sign up within a four-day period this winter. "We kinda knew, ‘Alright, we’re onto something,'" she said. (Submitted by Laura Simpson)

Simpson spoke to CBC News from the Austin-based music festival SXSW, which she used as a point of contrast.

"You're in a situation where the artist has no sound check, they're doing 20-minute sets, they're playing over people who are talking [and] who are coming in and out of the show," she said. 

"It's challenging in these environments to actually be with the artists and come with them along the journey that is presenting a show."

What makes house concerts different

Singer-songwriter Marty Kolls, who has both performed at and hosted a handful of house concerts herself, said playing a show in someone's living room can feel vulnerable for artists in a way that playing at a more traditional venue is not. 

That feeling of intimacy can make artists feel more willing to experiment with their music, and result in a more interesting concert, she said.

"I think the audience is keen to have those kinds of experiences, whether it's something new or a new version of a song that you've not done before," said Kolls. 

Beyond the artistic value of house concerts, Kolls said she feels strongly about the need for live performances and events in any shape or form.

London singer-songwriter Marty Kolls has hosted and performed at a handful of house concerts. She says house concerts are an opportunity for artists to try out new songs in a low-pressure environment. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

For her, live music is an "integral" part of a community. However, she worries in-person shows are becoming rarer as people become more accustomed to streaming entertainment online. 

"There's no need for them to go beyond and explore the live performance elsewhere, and that's the thing that's concerning me," said Kolls.

"If the house concert becomes an avenue for an artist to explore new music, new demographics, to explore that intimate and unique experience, then I think all the better for the artists and the audiences."

$$$

Playing a show in a house, rather than a more traditional venue, can also be a more expedient way for artists to make money, Simpson said.

Because artists are dealing with homeowners, not business owners, there's less overhead and fewer opportunities for ticket sales to be dipped into, she said.

Londoner Tim Turner hosts 'eight or nine' house concerts a year. He says the benefits of catching a concert from his living room outweigh the consequent scratches on his floor. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

"There's no shady, at the end of the night, 'we only were able to collect half of what we thought we were,'" she said. "You actually know in real time how much money is due to you."

Of course, this means some of the risks of hosting a live event are also shouldered by homeowners — something Simpson said she tries to make clear to Side Door hosts.

"Just like when you throw any party, you are responsible for the safety of those people," she said, adding that her company doesn't condone drinking without a license.

For Turner, hosting has meant some worrying moments as he watches strangers jump up and down on his living room floor.

Turner said he can see the evidence of past concerts in the scratches on his floor, but that they're a small price to pay.

"The benefits far outweigh any scrubbing you have to do," he said.

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