Tribe House Blog
Building a House Concert Network
Posted : January 23rd, 2012 by Norm Strauss
One of the things that I am happy to be involved with at TribeHouse is our efforts in developing house concert networks. Eventually we want to build something that we can use to help other singer/songwriters. Over the last 6 years or so, I have performed hundreds of house concerts. The simplicity of that kind of setting often helps me get back in touch with the reason I wanted to write songs in the first place and why I spent hours trying to learn how to play like James Taylor (never quite made it there).
Back then, in the early 80’s, all my friends wanted to be big hair rock stars and I just wanted to write a song like Paul Simon. It was because I wanted to be able to tell a story. I wanted to connect. I wanted to see where that would take me when I did.
Then came all that other stuff; trying to get record deals, publishing, the exhausting and constant self promotion not to mention the absurd measuring stick of how big a room I can fill.
A house concert feels like none of that. It’s way natural, way simple. I like it when it’s simpler, when the costs are less, when the rooms are smaller, when the communication is clear and the joy is obvious.
I love what Corin Raymond, Toronto singer/songwriter says in his liner notes of his second album, ‘There Will Always Be a Small Time’:
“The walls of the music industry as we’ve known it are coming down, the old fortresses are crumbling, and as they do, the Small Time, like a garden growing wild and green, is taking over. Songs are finding their own way to travel, to find their listeners.They do it online. They move by campfire, by kitchen, by guitar pull. They travel from artist to artist and from audience to audience. They take to the air like dandelion seeds. Nowadays some of the best songs being written, anywhere, by anyone, are being sold out of the trunks of cars. ….”
– Corin Raymond | www.corinraymond.com
Here is an article a local paper did on me and my adventures recently…
Every Home is a Castle
Some people might like to relax with some soothing music on the CD player at home after a busy day, but Kelowna musician Norm Strauss can do one better – he’ll come and play live at your house.
While he has played all sorts of shows, including the more traditional ones in clubs and cafes, the enterprising roots singer/songwriter is helping pioneer something else entirely, the house concert.
“They’re far more intimate,” said Strauss. “And they’re a far more gratifying experience as singer/songwriter, than playing for example in a coffee shop, where you end up being background music. That would be OK if I was doing cover tunes all the time, but I perform my own music.”
What is a house concert, anyway? Well, think of it as an excuse to invite 30 or 40 of your best friends over to your place to hear an original musician like Strauss sing and play largely-original material in the comfort and intimacy of your own home. While house concerts aren’t exactly new – the idea has been around for several years now – they’re steadily gaining in popularity as an intimatealternative to more traditional venues. But it also takes a certain kind of artist to be able to play a house concert.
“The skill set you need has to be quite holistic,” said Strauss. “You can’t just be a good singer or even just a good songwriter. You have to be a good storyteller; you have to be very personable; you have to love being with people; you have to be engaging on a much more intimate level. When you go into their house, you’ve never met the people and you’re a stranger to them . . . so now you’re not just a singer or performer, you’re a public relations man. But it’s a small enough audience where you can actually start a very nice conversation,” he said. “You start the night off as complete strangers and you become friends.”
Born in Prince Rupert, Strauss started out playing music as drummer in several rock bands through high school. But it wasn’t until, at the relatively late age of 20, while a lumberjack in Vanderhoof in north central B.C., that he took up the guitar. It was mostly to pass the time at night in the remote logging camps he worked in.
Strauss has performed many times here in the Valley, most recently as a member of Christmas Presence, a seasonal presentation ofsong. He just finished several house concerts in Calgary, but he’s also been busy with shows elsewhere. In fact, for the last several years, he’s been traveling to Europe regularly, where he said he usually plays 15-20 house concerts on a month-long solo tour. But it didn’t happen just by accident. In fact, Strauss’ connection to Europe goes back to the period from 1998 to 2000, when he lived in Dresden, Germany, with his family of four kids, and pioneered a school for church-based musicians.
“During that time, I did a lot of not just teaching, but touring as well,” he explained. “I had a band and I just developed a lot of relationships. Because of that, I’ve been back to Germany at least once or twice a year. I usually start my tours in Dresden because I’m connected with a group of artists that live in a castle. I usually land there and get over the jet lag for a few days. In German, they call it ‘Kunstler-community’ which means German artists. There’s also a very unique recording studio there, with vintage analog gear, which is a rarity. I can’t remember the date of construction (of the castle), but I think it was in the 1500s.”
But hey, when you’re a musician and you can base your tours out of a medieval stone castle, rather than some generic motel on the road somewhere, it’s not hard to see the attraction.
“I was there for a month this past September and October,” he said. “And I’m gearing up for a tour in March that will take me from Germany into Italy, to Milan, and then back north into Germany and straight north through Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Cologne, Hamburg and then all the way up to Denmark.”
Strauss released his 14th album, called 12 Track Mind, last month. And though he played a couple of local shows to celebrate, he plans enjoying playing the house concerts for the foreseeable future. And compared to a show with a full band, that proves be that much simpler, allowing him to be a self-contained unit, complete with his own portable sound system and everything else he needs to set up a house concert. With no stage, or trappings of show business to shield him from his audience, who are usually literally feet away, you’d think he might get nervous at the intimacy. But he said he finds the opposite to be the case, and told a story to illustrate his point.
“I recently did a house concert in Calgary and I asked a local artist to open for me,” he said. “She had never done a house concert before and she walked into the living room and saw the seating arrangement. I think there were roughly 45 seats and she immediately turned to me and said, ‘This is very intimidating,’ and I had, to be honest, never thought of it that way before. I said, ‘You have to be joking. To me, this is as natural as breathing.’ For me as singer/songwriter, that connection is what I live off of . . . that’s what makes it so exciting and gratifying.”
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