Opinion: Are formal concerts more trouble than they're worth?

Member Engagement Manager Sharon Moloney on why it's sometimes worth looking at alternatives to 'proper' concerts

The majority of our members work towards and put on formal performances or concerts on a regular basis. This is a positive thing: it gives your members something to aim for, and allows people in your community (i.e. your audience!) to be exposed to music they might not otherwise get to hear in a local venue, creating a sense of occasion and connection for everyone involved. But putting on a concert can be expensive, and if audiences don’t come and you make a loss on the event it can be tempting to wonder why you put the performance on in the first place!

I often speak to members who tell me that formal concerts are where they lose most of their money, and they worry about breaking even for each and every performance. I always encourage them to think about the cost of all their performances added together and to focus on breaking even over the space of a year, rather than judging each concert individually. But sometimes that doesn’t make a difference, if every performance has made a loss.

There are many things you can do to cut costs and boost ticket sales to try and minimise the loss you make. And there is of course an argument that if your publicity was better, and if your members engaged more in the process of persuading their families and friends to come along to your performance, then you would have a bigger audience and that would solve the problem straight away.

But maybe you could try a different solution, and instead of running the risk of making a loss on a performance, consider a different way of showcasing your hard work.

The thrill of the final performance is a big motivator for people being in a group and removing it might seem counter-intuitive, but you don’t have to do it for every performance. I have tried several different things with my flute choir, all of which have provided an interesting, rewarding and well-received alternative to a formal concert. You can read more about some of these and other options in our guidance: alternatives to putting on a formal concert.

As an added bonus, trying something different can provide new challenges and experiences for your members, make your group more accessible and attractive, and help reach new audiences and find new members.

An alternative approach to formal concerts may not work for every group and you should weigh up the costs and benefits of different options, whilst taking into account the desire of your members to perform, before you make a decision. But if you’re concerned about falling audience numbers and breaking even on a performance, exploring some of these options could be one solution. You don’t have to change everything all at once – why not experiment once a year to start with, and see how it goes?


Bowes Park Community Choir has standing room only on all three concerts a year. Why? Would like to think it was entirely our singing but may be its become a social event where local people meet up. Bar open before and after. Concert is short with no interval so if people want to do something else afterwards or go to the pub together they have time. We try and include one different item as well. Could be drumming, piano duet. We all bring food (mince pies in the winter and strawberries and cream in the summer) and organise wine. All clear up afterwards. We have managed to cover our costs and make large donations to local charities every time!

I totally agree that breaking even when hosting a physical concert is a multi-faceted effort, one that won’t pay off unless you know the intricacies and the works of the concert space. My friend Able runs a band of his own and started off with gigs at music festivals held outside the city of London. He realized that his band’s talent and compositions were much appreciated which is why he chose to sign up for LIVE concerts at bars and stadiums. He tells me he fought valiantly in the beginning, as although they’d have a full audience, overheads would eat up on the profits they band would make on tickets. It was then that Able decided to offer more than just music- where he’d get his sister to whip up some finger-licking snacks to sell, his father would sell autographed posters of his musicians and his mum would ensure that each person attending was told about the bands microsite and their future gigs too. According to him, he didn’t only rely on digital distribution of his musical works because his fans very much enjoyed the zeal and exhilaration of a physical (LIVE) concert.