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!