What I Learned on My 4-Month House-Concert Tour

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My whole life changed when I traveled across the United States on a four-month house concert tour with my bus named “Pearl the Camper.”

I can’t tell you how much love I’ve felt on this tour — words just wouldn’t do it justice. The number of incredible people who reached out, hosted or attended shows, and just helped me in some little way along the road is astounding. I have so much faith restored in humanity right now.

That being said, touring that long was also hard. Like, really hard. I toured completely alone about half the time, and the other half, I was lucky enough to have friends and family visiting in one-week increments to help lighten my load. When I was by myself, though, it meant booking, driving, schmoozing, setting up equipment, performing, manning the merch table, and tearing down all on my own. Everything fell on my shoulders to run on time, and smoothly, and there were times when it was exhausting and a really heavy load to bear.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat… but I would definitely change a few things. So, here are the things I wish I could have told myself before planning my first ever national house-concert tour .

You still have to plan on the road.

After spending 10 months planning this thing, you might think you’re all organized and ready to go, but the reality is that you still have to plan on the road. Cancellations happen. New shows happen. Emails out the wazoo happen.

In order to prepare for this, make sure you get a SIM card in the country you’re touring through (if you don’t already know, I’m Canadian) and with enough GB of data so you can still keep in touch with your fans, upload pictures and videos, and plan more shows that creep up while you’re actually on the road during downtime (which I’ll get to below).

Document!… and then document some more.

Documenting has always been a must for me — and I documented the crap out of this tour! Photos, videos, live streams… you name it! But the one thing that I forgot almost every time was to take a selfie with my hosts. I was pretty good at getting audience pictures, and photos with fans, but since the concerts would keep both me and the hosts busy mingling and schmoozing, and tired at the end of a long day, I would almost always forget to take one with my hosts.

This is the biggest thing I regret on my tour, and I wish I could go back to each and every one of my home venues and take a selfie with them, even if only just for my personal time capsule.

I’d like to note that if you’re looking into booking a house concert tour, these people do not have to accommodate you. They are hosting a show for you out of the goodness of their own hearts and often spending a lot of time and money to plan and cater for their guests.

Try to give something special to each host after you leave — whether that’s a signed album with a personal note or a card with a Polaroid pic of the two of you together. Something, anything, to make your hosts feel appreciated and remembered after going through all that trouble to put on an incredible show.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “The Definitive Guide to Throwing a DIY House Show”

Get signed contracts and deposits.

Everyone will run their tour differently. I get that. For this tour, I tried to run my whole four-month itinerary based on donations only, and I learned that life just isn’t as easy as that. I had 30 shows booked, but during my tour, 10 backed out. Yep. An entire third of my shows were canceled!

Some had legitimate reasons; some really did not. I think that some hosts backed out because, when they originally signed on, it was risk-free. They had absolutely nothing to lose if they agreed. I can’t tell you how frustrated this made me, especially when I would find out about a cancellation via email during a drive halfway across Timbuktu trying to get to my next gig. Not fun at all, and this does cause a significant amount of stress.

The good news, however, is that I also picked up nearly 10 shows during the tour itself, which more than made up for all the people who backed out.

To try and lessen the number of cancellations on the next tour, I will have every house concert host sign a contract, and on that contract, I will have a non-refundable deposit to make sure that the person hosting is actually 100% serious about hosting. And if they do back out, at least I’ll cover myself with the deposit to make sure I don’t have to spend money out of pocket to sleep somewhere on a night I thought I’d be making money.

I don’t know what that amount would be, but I bet having this new clause would really help the tour planning and help settle my nerves. That, in turn, would make my own travels that much more pleasant — rather than feeling hurt or frustrated or anxious about the canceled shows.

Know your limits.

This was my very first house concert tour ever, and I may have overestimated how much time I’d be willing to spend on the road.

I originally wanted to plan to be on the road for a year. Then I talked myself down to six months, and eventually, the tour finished with only a four-month turnaround. Welp, I’ve decided that four months is way too long to be on the road alone, for me at least. I could have handled three months comfortably, but as soon as I hit the three-month mark, I was already ready to go home and take a nice, hot bath and sleep in my own bed, rather than in empty-sometimes-eerie campsites with no running hot water.

Schedule downtime.

I was actually pretty good at this. In fact, I had scheduled probably too much downtime on the road this time around. The reason being that most people do not want to host a house concert on a Tuesday evening. I get that… but then I’d be left with shows Thursday to Sunday, so between Monday to Thursday, I’d have some free time to myself.

Having so much downtime really gave me some good opportunities to reflect, get out in nature, and do touristy things. It allowed me to feel human (touring can be pretty mechanical) and to explore and meet new people, which is imperative on any long stretch! So if there’s one thing I would recommend to anyone planning a tour, please schedule enough time for you to recharge your batteries between weekend gigs and do your own thing. Sometimes, you’ll have to play handfuls of dates in a row, and that’s okay! But don’t let yourself get burnt out in the middle of a tour!

Ta-da! Those are my reflections on the last four months, and, in a way, my advice for you if you’re considering planning a house concert tour in the future. Performing shows in strangers’ homes is a very fulfilling experience. Every time I would get brought into a new house, I’d truly feel like a part of the family for a moment in time, and not only that, sometimes I’d feel like a famous VIP! I was treated with so much respect and courtesy by the hosts and their incredible guests, it amazed me every. Single. Time. I’ve seen hospitality that I will never be able to repay.

I sincerely hope that every musician gets the chance to perform a house concert at some point in their careers. If a show or house concert tour is on the horizon, my final advice would be to remember your roots. You are a musician and were given a beautiful talent to spread love and healing, which in turn will bring you kindness from so many strangers along your journey. Always stay humble, and enjoy each and every moment on your path as a creative soul.

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