Case study: Building your audience

What can music groups do to widen grow their audiences? Peter Harrison tells us more about how he and Vivien Harrison, along with other people from the local community, have built Grayshott Concerts into a successful promoting group.

Background

In 2004 Peter and Vivien organised a fundraising concert for their local church. On the back of that event they launched Grayshott Concerts, an organisation that puts on approximately six events in their local church each year featuring high quality classical musical performances.

The society has grown to be ever more successful, and in the last ten years has increased its average audience by 25%, mailing list by seven fold, and more than doubled its turnover (a full breakdown of their growth is provided below). 

The challenge

Creating high-quality classical musical performances in the community and growing the audience.

What we do

Marketing and promotion

It is important to know your market. Knowing our village has a market for classical music is a big help. But knowing who we are trying to sell to means we can market our events efficiently and not spend time on avenues that will not work for us. For example, we used to put lots of posters up around the village, but we no longer need to do this now we are established. We have also tried Twitter but it is not the right market for our audience, so we have not kept up with that.

We found that maximising our use of local marketing avenues was useful. In particular, we:
•    advertise on the village website – a good local resource that gets 1000 hits a day
•    place an article in the parish magazine for each concert
•    use village notice boards
•    have our own A board (A1 size) which can be put outside a supportive local business.

For marketing outside the village we also place articles in other free local magazines outside the village. Articles are always more effective than advertisements and listings in magazines.

Also invaluable is keeping a database of who has bought tickets (and where). We operate a waiting list for tickets and add these people to the database too. For every concert we email the programme to everyone on the list, send a hard copy by post to those without email, and advertise our next season in the programme for the last concert of the year.

Finally, we try to make sure that we have a good story that must be told to the world. A story about an event will also be noticed more than an advert for an event. And we always bear in mind that there will ALWAYS be people who don’t know about us or what we do.

Focus on the community

Great customer relations is absolutely vital. Don’t upset your local community, they will talk!

We find that customers tend to prefer to get in touch by phone, but we are gradually weaning them off that and onto online communication by email, and online bookings and payments. We keep a database of our audience and get in touch with them regularly with details of the programme for forthcoming concerts.

We often involve members of the community in putting together concerts, we find that people are excited about working together and it helps us to ensure that the community is behind us. We usually put on 2 choral concerts a year and 2 orchestral plus a members’ evening and a young musicians’ event. We use a local Head of Music from a school to direct the choir and we allow non-musicians to choose the music!

The concert experience

We always try to put on music that people really want to listen to. The majority of the pieces are from the Classic FM top 300. It’s a bit corny but it sells! We aim to put on performances to the highest possible quality that our finances can support, getting well known artists such as Tasmin Little, Laura van der Heijden, Howard Shelley, Alison Balsom, Nicola Benedetti and The Sixteen. Sir Karl Jenkins is our patron. We use a pro orchestra such as the London Mozart Players when we put on concertos and symphonies.

We take bookings for the best seats, and we also have television screens/projectors/cameras to enable the performance to be visible to those with a restricted view (e.g. behind pillars). We also usually offer a meal before the main event - £25 for 3 courses.

We find that if we sell out and have to turn people away, demand rises – so we don’t mind that our venue is slightly too small!

We highly recommend doing something different – push the boundaries and don’t just do music! We have tried the following:
•    two open air operas
•    raise money for local causes e.g. the skate park
•    Charles Dickens puppet show with Strange Face Theatre Company
•    Shakespeare open air play
•    tattoo with the Royal Signals Motorcycle Display and Marching Band, with supper.
Our mantra is ‘we did it because we could!’. We also find that doing something unusual helps us to get publicity. The skate park cause was not an obvious fit, but it opened up new avenues.

Friends

We have 191 friends (members). We find that printing their names in the programme helps to drive more people into joining – making the most of the ‘he’s done it so I must’ mentality. 

Our Friends income helps bridge the gap between income and expenditure for the concerts. We used to have 3 levels of membership, now there are 5. The only perk offered to friends is priority for booking tickets, enabling them to get the best view (as some seats have a restricted view) and booking opens for each level of membership in turn, starting with the highest. Ticket prices are in two levels (centre and side seats), and priority booking ends two months before each concert. The highest level of Friends also get to reserve parking spaces at the venue.

Our Friends are also invited to a Friends only evening (to which they can bring guests). This is usually a rehearsal or concert evening which allows you an experience of getting up close to the performers, with a limited number of tickets available.

We involve the Friends as much as we can, and bend over backwards to make things easy for them.

Governance

Making our administrative processes efficient has been just as important and effective as focusing on our audience. Early on in our existence we needed support on how to run an organisation. East Hampshire District Council was key – the council leader (who is a music lover) helped us to get grants and introduced us to Community First East Hampshire where we could get training and advice about our constitution, committee and much more. Since 2011 we have been a registered charity.

Also helpful was joining Making Music – enabling us to get cheaper insurance, help with legal problems. The support we received was good and gave us confidence. Receiving the Lady Hilary Groves Prize in 2012 has helped to boost our confidence and our profile.

Getting the correct committee and management set up has been crucial. We have 5 trustees – chair, managing director, treasurer, secretary, events director. Underneath this we have a team of volunteers headed by the managing director doing key jobs, such as ticketing manager and Friends manager. This structure is in the early stages of development and more roles will be created as time goes on. Succession planning has enabled us to create 10 roles under this structure, and we are filling these one at a time. This is happening more slowly than we had thought but it is a logical process.

We have found it useful to contract some things out e.g. the bar for performances, bookkeeping, IT, and we are now experimenting with contracting out our marketing. Each contract is one less thing for us to worry about. 

We have also looked to be bold and invest in improving how we run and what we offer. For example we got development project funding for a new ticketing/concert management system stored in the cloud, and we have purchased staging which has improved our facilities.

We have never been worried because we try to run an efficient organisation, budget pessimistically and put in contingencies, and consider each concert as an individual cost centre of its own.

Diversifying funding

The cost of running each of our concerts is twice what it brings in in ticket money, so we try to have as many different sources of income as possible – this helps us to ensure a regular flow of income and also means that there are always contingency plans if any one of the streams of funding should disappear.

Our ticket sales are a major source of income and our ticket prices are £32 and £25. We are able to set them this high largely due to quality of the performers.

Our first ever concert was a fundraiser which we tied in with other events taking place in the same church – the Patronal Festival and dedication of a new window. We linked to our business community and asked them for support, collecting £25 from each business which created a groundswell in the local village. We aim to raise £1000 per concert through business sponsorship and many local businesses have continued to support us. We have 3 main sponsors who sponsor us for a whole season (a year); other major sponsors are per event. As part of the sponsorship package we always include ‘news from our sponsors’ in the programme.

We always aim to get funding to put on our bigger events. Our council has a specified department for the arts with a grants funding programme, and their support gave us confidence to do something that was risky. Becoming a charity and getting gift aid has also unlocked a few potential funding avenues.

Additionally, our Friends income helps to bridge the gap between income and expenditure for the concerts, and becoming VAT registered has enabled us to claim VAT back from concert expenses, as VAT on purchases exceeds VAT on ticket sales.

What we learnt

Here are our top tips:

  • Try to push the boundaries and challenge yourselves.
  • Be confident that you can make it work, but know your limitations. If you do see risk, then back off.
  • Remember things take time and don’t expect instant results – it took us 15 years to get to where we are today.

The results

Grayshott Concerts statistics:

 

2008

2018

Audience size

280

350 average

Number of events

5

6

Ticket prices

£10 and £12

£25 and £32

Number of friends

80

211

Average subscription

£66

£88

Gift aid claimed

0

£3,850

Local authority grants

£0

£6,000

Mailing list size

350

2530

Committee size

3

5

Regular helpers

5

45

Annual turnover

£45,304

£97,300

Income from friends

£5,300

£18,575

Number of sponsors

2

3

Radius of coverage

5 miles

50 miles

Structure

Constituted Community Group

Registered charity

VAT status

Unregistered

Registered

 


 

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