Everyday Icon: The House Concert Musician

Musician Shannon Curtis sits down with Clementine Daily to talk about her music, her unique tours, and building a community, not a fanbase.

Image Credit: Steve Babuljak

Music has a special place in our hearts here at Clementine Daily and we also have an incredible amount of respect for those who make it their profession. So when we see a musician taking a slightly different path than everyone else, we tend to get curious. Enter Shannon Curtis. Her music can best be described as the dreamiest dream pop ever to enter your ears, but what has fascinated us about her career is her unique touring philosophy. Recently, we had the chance to catch up with Shannon and she let us in on the driving force behind her uncommon approach.

So we’ve heard that you’re not interested in gaining any new fans this year—which might seem strange coming from a musician. Will you share a bit more about that shift in focus?

Ha! Yes, it does sound strange, doesn’t it? It’s really just a perception thing. In the last few years, I’ve come to a new understanding of the relationship I have with the people who support my music. It started with the notion that I’ve never been quite comfortable with the word “fan.” It’s always seemed to me to represent a distant, disconnected, “I’m up here on this stage, and you are down there” relationship. But that’s not the experience I have with the people who support my music, nor is it the experience I want to have with other humans.

The relationship I have with them is much more personal, especially since I’ve given up traditional touring for house concerts—concerts that they host in their homes, for their friends, neighbors, and families.

And so I’ve come to the understanding that instead of fans, what I have is an ever-growing community of people around me. I love this distinction. To me, in a community, everyone brings something of value to the table. We all need each other to make the ecosystem work, and that’s genuinely what I have with the people in my community.

A perfect example of the community at work is at one of my house concerts. I bring the unique opportunity for people to connect to music in a really intimate way, the host brings the space to gather and the friends to join us, and the guests at the concert provide not only their reciprocal energy of reflection and sharing, but also their collective financial contribution in support of the experience.

Talk to us a bit more about house concert tours. What is your favorite part about playing in someone’s home?

Oh man, there are so many things I love about it. As a performer, there is nothing better than to feel like I’m making a genuine connection with an audience through my music. It’s hard to accomplish that at a lot of traditional venues, where there is often a sense of separation between the crowd and performer—an elevated stage, bright lights, big sound system—and there are also often a lot of distractions—people chatting, bartenders making noise, coffee grinders going off.

All of those factors are out of the equation at a house concert, where everything is set up so that the audience is able to make deep connections with what’s being communicated in the music. That’s why I fell in love with making music to begin with—I want to be able to move people, to help people feel something or think about something in a different way. I want an experience with my music to be a transformative one for my audience in some way. Performing in the intimate confines of someone’s home is the ripest condition for making that happen.

Another really wonderful thing about performing in people’s homes is that I’ve had the opportunity to develop some treasured friendships with people who support my music. This is the kind of connection that sustains me as a human being, and to find that through music has been the most wonderful surprise of my career.

You released a book about the house concert tour concept last year. Have you received feedback from fellow musicians? Have you forged relationships with other artists because of the book?

Oh, yes. I get emails from artists all over the world every single week, telling me how inspired they are to think about developing their own careers in a new, self-empowered, community-based way. Since the book has been out for almost a year now, I’ve also heard from a number of artists who have had the chance to actually put my model into practice for themselves and have found tremendous success. I just heard last week from one singer-songwriter in Seattle that because of the tools he learned directly from the house concert book, he’s been able to transition into being a full-time musician. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is for me to hear things like that. He is someone whose artistic voice deserves and needs to be heard in this world, and to have helped him make that happen in a more effective way is its own reward.

As for relationships with other artists, yes, this has absolutely become a big part of my life. In fact, we’ve been having so many great interactions with artists around this topic that we recently started an online message forum for artists who are doing or learning how to do house concerts in our model. It’s becoming a really wonderful community of people sharing ideas, questions, and inspiration.

With a home base in Southern California and a pretty full touring schedule, how do you keep yourself grounded?

That’s a great question. Being grounded, for me, has required me to learn how to be “at home” in places far-flung from my own home. I’m fortunate that when I travel, my husband, Jamie Hill, always comes with me. He’s a freelance music producer/engineer, and so he’s able to create his work schedule in such a way that we become a touring team during the summer house concert tour. His constant presence helps tremendously with feeling grounded on the road. But it’s also helpful that everywhere we go on the house concert tour, someone is there welcoming us into their home, into their community. So, allowing ourselves to become a part of their home for a day helps us feel like we’re home-away-from-home, too.

If you had one wish for anyone interested in adding a little more live music into their lives what would that wish be?

Host a house concert! I know that seems like the obvious answer coming from the world’s biggest house concert evangelist, but we’ve found throughout our experience that there are a lot of people who are big music lovers, but not big lovers of going out to traditional music venues. I totally get it: I’ve spent enough hours in crowded, loud, sticky-floor music venues to last a lifetime.

Most of the people we encounter on tour have never experienced a house concert before, or even known that it’s something that exists. But I think the growing awareness of community-based house concerts is going to bring to a lot more people an intimate connection with live music that doesn’t exist in the top-down mainstream music culture. My one wish would be that everyone gets an opportunity to experience music in this intimate way.

Here at Clementine Daily, our goal is to live a simplified, intentional and authentic lifestyle while celebrating the simpler pleasures of our days. How do you celebrate the simple things in life?

You know, in order to remain in a headspace where I can be creative, I have to keep it pretty simple. When my life gets too complicated, or I have too many plates to spin, or I have too many worries, I don’t have the space in my heart and mind to do the kind of reflection that’s required for me to write and make music. So, I don’t overbook myself with too many projects or meetings. When we’re not on tour, I take great pleasure in being home and I savor things like making dinner in my own kitchen and sleeping in my own bed. I actually express my appreciation of these things out loud on a daily basis. When I feel like I’m starting to get overwhelmed, or worry starts to creep in about something, a practice of gratitude can bring me right back on track.

Tell us: what are a few things you wouldn’t want to live without?

I feel like I should maybe be answering this question with things like love, my husband, my family, art, or music, but my first instinct was to answer with coffee, ice cream, and really good bread. Ha! I suppose there are a few layers to unwrap there.

p.s. If you’d like to hear more about Shannon’s journey, you can catch her on season one of the Creating Your Own Path podcast here!