Alternatives to putting on a formal concert

'Formal' concerts are often the central driver of groups' seasons and activities, but in some cases they can be a financial burden as well. In this guidance we explore some alternatives that might allow you to retain the benefits while reducing the financial risks and pressure. 

The chance to perform in a formal concert is a key motivator for many people in music groups: concerts provide a focus for your music making and can be rewarding experiences for everyone involved, from performers through to organisers and volunteers. However, putting on concerts is expensive, and if you don’t get the audience you were hoping for it’s not uncommon for them to lose money. We encourage our groups to think about performance costs across the year as a whole rather than focusing on one at a time, and many groups put on a cash-generating concert that subsidises others throughout the year, or find ways to reduce overall concert costs and boost audiences.

But do you have to put on a formal concert? There are lots of other things you can do as an alternative, and some of these can be cheaper than a traditional performance and offer benefits beyond the bottom line too:

  • Challenge and stimulate your membership: a rehearsal period working towards something other than a traditional concert can provide a new (but equally rewarding) challenge, open your group up to new members and give your group a new dynamic.
  • Celebrate what you do and raise your profile: moving outside of your usual venues will expose your group and your music to new people – which could bring in new members and new audiences for your usual performances.

Below are seven examples of alternatives to formal concerts that different groups have tried. You may already be using some of these and others may not be suitable in your group's case – you'll have to weigh the potential benefits against the risks of each event, and consider the wishes of your current members – but we've aimed to provide enough to give a starting point for any group thinking about possible alternative performance options.

  1. Put on a low key performance 

Instead of a concert, you could make your last rehearsal of the season an informal performance. 

Invite friends and family in to listen to the culmination of the term’s work and then have a party afterwards. It will be a different experience for the audience, with a more relaxed atmosphere. You don’t have to don ‘concert dress’ and you can have more of a laugh with your audience: your conductor might feel able to communicate more with the audience who will in turn feel closer to the action. They could even watch the warm up exercises first to really feel part it. 

It’s a cheap option as well - you’ve already paid for the rehearsal venue, you can take donations from audience members, and if group members bring contributions to party food and drink then you don’t need to worry about buying in refreshments.

2. Change the nature of your event and take the emphasis away from the performance 

A social occasion, particularly one that involves food, may be a bigger attraction. Why not host an afternoon tea, community barbeque or pot-luck supper, where your group provides the musical entertainment?

You could provide the catering from within your group members, or work with local catering companies and businesses to provide an event that involves others within the community. Think about other local events you have experienced that have brought everyone from your community out to enjoy the fun and see if you can create something similar, with your music as the backdrop that completes the event. 

And don’t forget to charge an entrance fee that reflects the quality of the entertainment and refreshment on offer (as well as hopefully covering your costs!).

3. Join forces with an existing event

Why not team up with an existing community event happening in the local area: a festival, market or charity shop launch event for example. 

Someone else will take care of some or all of the organisation and promotional activity. You might not make money but as your expenditure will be reduced, it could still prove to be more cost-effective. You may even be able to negotiate an appearance fee or keep a portion of the box office takings. Equally importantly though, you’ll reach people who might not otherwise know who you are or what you do.

4. Go to a venue with a ready-made audience

Instead of creating a performance in a local venue, why not work towards a performance specifically for the residents of a care home, hospital or prison?

Your venue and audience are ready-made, and you could negotiate a donation from the organisation as a thank you for your performance in lieu of ticket sales. You may need to think carefully about your repertoire, but it could be an opportunity for your group to try some new music, a new genre or a new way of performing.

Take a look at our tips for performing in prisons and toolkits provided by A Choir In Every Care Home.

The suggestions above rely on your audience being available at the date and time you select to perform, as does a traditional concert. It is worth taking a moment to think about the fact that musical groups, whether professional or amateur, generally only put on one performance for each block of repertoire they work on. If your potential audience member is not available at precisely the date and time you’ve scheduled for your performance, then they’ll miss it.

Drama and theatrical groups, on the other hand, often schedule multiple performances and art exhibitions can be open for days or weeks at a time, allowing people to visit at a time that suits them.

Musical performances are a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ commodity – making them much less cost-effective.

So can your music group learn from other art forms and find an alternative to the ‘one concert’ approach, allowing people to access your group’s performance at a time that suits them, and enabling you to make your performance available to more people over a longer period of time?

5. Make a recording 

Your rehearsals could culminate with a recording session rather than a concert, and then you can sell CDs or digital downloads to your audience. The great thing about recordings is they can be available for a long time, and can be purchased later on by people who are inspired by your live performances – which brings in more money.

You could go even further and make a video recording, or how about a live stream of your group rehearsing and/or performing?

6. Find a different way to perform (e.g. a flashmob)

You don’t need to worry about an audience, as they will already (unknowingly) be there, and it’s a chance for members to push themselves too with a different way of rehearsing and performing (which can be a great adrenalin rush).

Flashmobs are cheap publicity too – they don’t cost you anything to put on except a bit of hard work and effort, and will almost certainly mean new people will see your group perform. If you can repeat it several times, or create several flashmobs using different pieces of music on the same day, or over a longer period of time, you could reach even more people.

7. Create an ‘exhibition’

Why not speak to your local gallery or museum and see if you can join forces to make your music available over an extended period of time?

It may be difficult to get the whole of your group to commit to multiple performances, so you’ll need to think of a creative solution to that too. Maybe you could make a recording to be played as part of the exhibition, or perhaps your group could form smaller groups, who can each go and perform at a time that suits them, providing a regular flow of different music over a longer period of time.

You could also take this approach with a local library, community or arts centre, café or other community gathering point. Spending some rehearsal time working in smaller groups instead of working as one large group could also be an interesting and beneficial diversion from your regular music making.

With all of these suggestions, don't forget to make the most of opportunities 

Many of these options offer chances to promote your group and reach new audiences, so make sure you take advantage of this. Have someone handing out flyers to passers-by at a flashmob or display leaflets in the museum foyer to tell your new fans about how they can join your group or attend future events.

You could combine these with special offers such as a discount for your next concert or a month’s free trial as a member when they present the flyer. However do be aware that you will need to pay VAT on any leaflets that promote special offers (see our VAT guidance for more information). 

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.