Some Like it Loud: A Guide to Running House Shows
House shows have been active in Denton since forever and there’s no sign of them stopping. It seems like new homes open their doors to house show loving music heads at the same rate, if not more than, old ones are closing or moving. That’s the beauty of house venues - they come and go but they’re always there, and while you might have to dig a little for info, not being able to spend every weekend at one would be nearly impossible. Currently, there are more than a dozen active venues with even more people waiting in the wings thinking about adding their own venue to the scene.
As someone who has done this, I know there are a lot of concerns about how to do so - is it legal? What if the cops show up? Will people destroy the house? This guide is here to address some of those concerns - and hopefully help you better prepare for running a successful house venue.
First, let’s talk the legal side. We’re mostly looking at what the city code says regarding things like noise levels, time, parking, capacity, etc.
Section 17-20 of the City Code covers Noise Ordinances. I encourage you to read the code, but to summarize: You can be found in violation of the noise ordinance if through the use of amps, PA’s, musical instruments, etc., the volume can be clearly audible to a person in a residence other than your own. Talking specifics, if 50 feet from the source of the noise the volume level is greater than 65 dba - you’re in violation.
While the city code does specifically mention acceptable noise levels during daytime AND nighttime - those levels are the same (65+ dba is when you’re in violation). I’ll talk more about show times in the best practices section below.
Parking is pretty simple: Don’t block mailboxes, fire hydrants, or driveways. Don’t park where there are ‘no parking’ signs. Don’t park within 30 ft of a stop sign or within 20 ft of a cross walk. Neighbors can complain if someone is parked in front of their house, but there are no laws against doing so. Only park on streets, in driveways or in parking lots (pay attention for tow signs).
City code only applies to the number of people living in a house.
That covers the legal basics so let’s get into some best practice advice - all from people, myself included, who have ran or are currently running successful house venues, in some cases for years.
Keep people inside - especially don’t let them congregate out front in the yard, on the porch, in the street, etc. If they’re going to be outside (for smoking and what not), they should do so in the backyard.
During sets, keep the doors shut. Doors will muffle the sound pretty well, except when they’re open. Even a few seconds of noise flooding out can piss off the neighbors, especially if it keeps happening. Take a walk around the house occasionally to monitor the sound. Download a sound measurement app if you’re concerned - they aren’t perfect, but they are free and better than nothing.
Show times: soft cutoff of 12:30am, hard cut at 1am. Don’t have back-to-back shows. Check the street and neighbors yards for trash after a show. - Michael Briggs, Mac Island
Stick to set times: communicate with the bands ahead of time, have a good place for load-in and out that won’t be blocked by the crowd, help bands load in and out (with permission) - all of this helps to stay on schedule. - Hagen Hauschild, Jagoe House
Don’t charge a cover. You can accept donations, sure, and some people will happily give between $1 and $5 - but don’t require it. Reasons: A) Some people will just leave if you try to make them pay and B) Actually requiring a cover gets you into a whole slew of things you probably don’t want to deal with (i.e. sales tax).
If there’s alcohol, even if BYOB, check everyone’s ID’s. You can be held liable for underage drinking - even if you didn’t provide the alcohol. There should probably be at least one host staying sober to maintain control and awareness.
Have the proper equipment. Running a mic through a guitar amp just doesn’t sound good, so get a PA. If you don’t have one, borrow one, rent one, or see if a band can bring one.
Know what you want out of running a house venue - do you want to make money? Support local bands? Throw an epic party as many times as you can before you get shut down? If you take donations, are they going to the bands or is the house going to take a cut? Figure out your goal(s) in advance.
Build relationships with the people who run other house venues: If you need to move a show or need help booking, if you need advice, or if you want to run an idea by someone - they’re a great resource and are generally willing to help however they can.
What if, despite following all of the above, the cops get called? Unless you live in an area with a heavy police presence, chances are they’ll only show up if a neighbor complains. The most likely reasons that your neighbors will call the cops are either because of the noise or because they don’t like all the extra cars on the street. I’m one of those people who like to know what I’m getting myself into it before I do something, so before I started hosting, I had a lot of conversations with Denton PD. These are the key takeaways from those.
If the cops are responding to a complaint about cars, they will first do a drive down the street. If all cars are parked legally, they’ll be on their way and won’t even come to the door. If they aren’t - the illegally parked car is getting a ticket.
If the cops are responding to a noise complaint - they’re going to measure the sound based off the ordinance mentioned above. If you’re too loud, they’re going to give you a warning, usually verbal. If they’re called back again, you’re going to get shut down and/or get a noise violation citation. This will vary by cop and by situation.
If the cops do show up, be respectful. Listen to what they say. Don’t be a jerk with an attitude. Whether you think they are wrong or right, they’re the ones with the authority.
There’s a lot more to house shows than people realize. I hope this guide is useful but if I missed anything or if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to answer. If you only take one thing away from this, let it be this: running a successful house venue requires respect, both from the person(s) running the show and the people attending. Respect the cops if they do show up. Respect the neighborhood and the people who live in it. Respect the bands playing. Do all of that and you’ll probably be okay.
Disclaimer: Tiffany Youngblood runs Dane Manor and is the Co-Founder/Director of Band Together Denton. While this is written from her perspective, other venue owners and our local police were consulted to bring you the facts.
Header image design by Brittany Keeton