How to throw your own basement show
Some tips for people looking to book bands in their living room
What’s more fun than opening up your home to complete strangers with minimal regard for private property and deafeningly loud hardcore bands bent on making the neighbors scream for your hide? Well, a lot of things, but basement shows still endure as local music staples nationwide. Every music town needs a network of basement “venues” to breed new bands and give underagers a place to see live music before they graduate to clubs. Still, it’s important to remember that your house is your house, and while some house shows are reasonably well behaved—like the David Bazan tour that stopped in Milwaukee this spring—many devolve into teetering near-trainwrecks. (That’s what makes them exciting!) So how can you make your at-home gig go as smoothly as can reasonably be expected? The A.V. Club answers some important introductory questions.
How much should I charge?
Technically, since your house is a private residence and not a commercially zoned venue, you can’t charge anything. However, there’s nothing illegal about soliciting donations, as long as those who refuse to pay are merely shunned by their peers rather than denied entry outright. Most house-show attendees know the drill—gas is expensive, touring bands are poor, so throw in a buck, you cheap bastard!—so while the odds are good that you’ll encounter a cheapskate who claims to be broke after draining a 12-pack in your driveway, the number of jerks should be relatively low.
Do I need a P.A.?
If you want the show to sound good, yes. (Though good sound is not necessarily a requirement for a basement show.) Most bands are used to clubs with their own in-house P.A. systems, and likely won’t be interested in hauling their crappy practice P.A. on the road with them just so they can set it up in your basement. Two or three microphones with stands should be a good, workable set up.
Should I advertise the show?
Obviously yes, since you want people to see the bands, but you have to be smart about it. Basement shows have a somewhat deserved reputation as a magnet for the police, so unless the bands are manned by members of the Milwaukee Police Department on their nights off, do not put the address on any flyers. Since most show promotion is done online these days, it’s a good idea to have people contact you privately if they need the address, and only respond to e-mail addresses you recognize. Sure, this leads to some pretty insular audiences, but we’re talking about a basement show here—it’s not like you want to cram 100 people in there and give the fire marshal a real reason to stick his head in the door.
Also, giving your house a silly punk-rock name—like past Milwaukee basement venues like Punk Mahal or Endless Nameless—is a great way to build up knowledge of the house among interested parties. Eventually, music fans will know where your house is, and if they’re smart they’ll keep it secret.
How do I keep my neighbors from hating me?
It’s all about location: While any smart basement show operator will soundproof the hell out of the room—insulation in the windows and around the ductwork is key—the noise and flow of people are going to be a potential headache for neighbors, who have a tendency to call the authorities when they get aggravated. If you’re really serious about this basement show thing, it may be advisable to move to a new house and scout out your neighborhood first. Barring that, make sure that people aren’t constantly moving in and out of your building, especially when the bands are playing. (In fact, keeping everyone inside—or at least in the backyard if they have to smoke—during the duration of the show is the best way to not draw attention to what you’re doing.)
Another smart suggestion comes from Brian (who asked that we not use his last name), a basement show vet who recently relocated to Milwaukee. “Enforce a no-alcohol policy,” he says, which will prevent costly citations, discourage an unwanted “drunken idiot” element—at least to a degree—and help keep your house in reasonably good shape. “Sure, enforcing no-alcohol policies might make you a square," Brian says. "But if you have something cool going on people will still show up, and ultimately respect you for it." This might be Brewtown, but we all have to make sacrifices for rock ‘n’ roll.