How to engage under-35s: Recruitment

This is the first set of recommendations drawn up following our research into young people’s attitudes towards making music, and is written primarily for performing groups. There is a second set of recommendations as part of this series entitled How to engage under-35s: Retention. 


  1. Make it flexible
  2. Keep it affordable
  3. Go where they are
  4. Promote performance opportunities
  5. Think about triggers
  6. Use social media
  7. Make sure they are represented

Before getting stuck in, it’s important to flag up some points:

  • There is a huge diversity across the ‘young people’ in the age group we are looking at.

Some of these are fresh out of sixth form and highly ambitious amateur musicians, living flexible student lifestyles and wanting a musical challenge. Some are single parents, juggling childcare and work commitments. Some are in demanding jobs, living in a new city and wanting an opportunity to socialise in a relaxed environment.  Some are confident in their musical ability, while some are coming to music for the first time or returning after a long break, and would be strongly put off by the prospect of an audition.

  • Do you specifically want to recruit more under 35 year olds, or just more members in general?

Not all groups need under 35s. Why do you specifically want to recruit people in this age group? Would a regular intake of new people who are in the 50+ age group necessarily be a problem? However, some of the recommendations in this resource may still be useful to consider even if you are not specifically targeting younger members.

  • Some of the suggestions in this resource involve a change in the culture of a group.

We appreciate that group culture might be a difficult thing to change, and there may be resistance to doing this from within the group. We’re not saying that in your specific case you must change your group culture in order to attract younger members. But on the other hand this difficult change is sometimes necessary – and can be effective.

  • This resource contains a pick and mix set of recommendations.

No set of recommendations is going to be appropriate to the needs of every single person in the 15-35 year old age bracket.  Similarly, not all of the recommendations here will work for every single music group.

  • There is no ‘magic solution’.

Recruiting younger members is something that requires effort, energy and capacity over a prolonged period of time. Trying one of these suggestions for a couple of weeks and then losing momentum and giving up will not work.  Some of these suggestions may not yield results for a few months. Keep trying, and remember, we’re always at the end of the phone if you want advice.

1. Make it flexible

The prospect of having to make a regular weekly commitment was seen as the biggest barrier to engagement. Some may be junior doctors on irregular shift patterns, some may be juggling child care, some may be travelling overseas or around the country with work, and simply not able to commit every week.

“Don't be too strict about attendance - people work very hard these days” – Choral Society, Midlands

  • If you don’t require members to have to commit to meeting every week, make this clear in your promotional materials.
  • How can you enable people to learn/catch up in their own time if they are not able to make all the rehearsals?  Apps like Chorus Class can be used to record parts so that members can access them and practice in their own time. Audacity (free) and Garageband (free on a mac) can be used to record parts, which can then be shared on Dropbox (also free). If any important points are made by the conductor during a rehearsal, these could be noted down on a document saved in Dropbox or in Google docs, to save the same point having to be made in repeated rehearsals.
  • If you do require members to commit to being there every week, think about more flexible ways to include people with busy lifestyles that are unable to make a regular weekly commitment. Some groups, for example, run a couple of half day workshops on the run up to a concert, where they teach one or two of the pieces on the concert set list. Workshop participants can then come and join the concert and just perform the pieces they learnt at the workshop.  If you normally meet on week nights, could these workshops be at weekends perhaps, to open participation to people who find week nights more difficult, or vice versa?

2. Keep it affordable

While concession rates and bursaries didn’t appear to make much of a difference in the feedback from groups, young people still told us that financial barriers are a big hurdle. Worth bearing in mind is the following:

  • It's great to have a student concession rate, but what happens when you’re no longer a student but working as an unpaid intern, having to pay rent, and propping yourself up on a zero-hours contract, part-time job? Consider extending your concession rate criteria not just to students, but to anyone who has graduated in the past 3 years/under 30 year olds.
  • Think about what your actual concession rate is. If your standard rate is £70 per term, and your concession rate £50, that will probably still be out of range for people on a low income. £20 per term might be more realistic if someone is really on a low income. Think about a introducing a 3-tier payment structure so you don’t lose your current concession for those that are able to afford it, but you are simply introducing a lower tier option.
  • Although you might normally take termly payments, finding an up-front sum of money will be more difficult for some people, and this could prevent people from joining your group.
    • Could you have the option of breaking up a termly or annual fee into monthly instalments?
    • Some groups have a low level yearly fee (e.g. £30) and then ask members to pay per session. So someone who can’t attend on a regular basis isn’t financially disadvantaged, but the group still brings in a standard baseline income.
  • How will you decide who pays which rate? Will people self-select what feels right to them? How can you not ‘stigmatise’ the people paying the lowest rate? There’s no point having a low rate and then people being too embarrassed to publicly want to associate themselves with this rate!
  • How might your group culture have an impact on affordability? 'Get rid of stuffy conventions like having to wear DJs for the men - young people can't afford to buy these.' – Orchestra, East of England. What are the other costs attached to being a member of your group that might be financially prohibitive to members on a lower income?

3. Find a pool of young people to target initially and go to where they already are

Think about where the young people are that you are trying to attract, and go to where they already are. Don’t expect them to go out of their way to find you if they haven’t necessarily realised you exist yet! We know that it can be difficult to initiate a partnership with a local school, but what about some of these other potential partners:

  • Get in contact with your local Music Education Hub. They will be able to signpost you to local youth music groups (up to age 18). When young people turn 18 and can no longer be a part of their local youth music group, they may be interested in progression opportunities. Think about collaborating with a local youth music group to put on a joint performance/joint workshop so that members of the youth group know who you are. Making Music can support you to find and make contact with your local Music Education Hub.
  • Is there a university near you?  Could you make contact with music groups at the university and put on a collaborative event? Students and universities are often keen to interact with communities outside the ‘university bubble’. There may be students who graduate and stay on in the same town, but have to leave the university music group and are looking for a new one to join, so if they know about your group, they are more likely to join you after graduating. Also, there isn’t necessarily an ensemble or space in one for every student wanting to sing or play at university – but do they know what exists outside, in the city?
  • What about local businesses/offices? Some of your members will work in local businesses and offices, so you already have a potential connection. There may be a whole group of young people working for a company in your local area who haven’t thought about joining a music group. Could you liaise with them and put on a 2 hour participatory workshop as part of a company team building day? Do you send them leaflets and flyers – do they know about your group? What about free tickets to your concerts or approaching a local business and talking about sponsorship in return for reduced membership rates for employees? Depending on the size of the business, the best contact may not be the CEO but the Human Resources Department.
  • Signing up as an Arts Award Supporter could bring you into contact with young people up to the age of 25 in your local area who are already engaged in music. They might start off coming along to one of your concerts to write a review as part of their Arts Award, and end up joining a taster session and becoming a regular member. Making Music has developed a partnership with Arts Award and can support you with this.

With all of the above partnership ideas, remember that persistence, and who you contact, matters. Don’t be put off if you don’t get a reply to your initial email. Keep emailing and calling, and if you’re not getting through, try and find a different contact at that organisation.

4. Promote performance opportunities

Performance opportunities held high appeal for a lot of respondents.

  • If your group performs, be clear about this.
  • Have you got any performances at exciting or unusual or prestigious venues on the horizon? Are you going on tour? Are you playing or singing at a festival? Is there a flash mob in the pipeline?  Put it on your website and talk about it on social media – make sure prospective members know!
  • Think about using a specific performance to recruit new younger members as a ‘one off’ project. Once they’ve joined you for a few sessions and performed with you, there is a chance they may stay on as regular members. What about: a flash mob, a performance at a local community festival, a Christmas sing-along…

5. Think about triggers and how you can generate them

A lot of young people have fallen out of music almost accidentally as their lives have changed and they’ve become busy. Our research found that certain activities can ‘trigger’ their re-engagement in music and make them remember/re-remember how important music is to them, which a lot of young people told us made them find time in their lives to fit music back in. Some triggers young people told us had worked for them were:

  • Taking part in music workshops at workplace staff ‘away days’;
  • Attending one-off workshops as part of festivals – ranging from Glastonbury to small, local festivals, to day festivals put on by the Southbank Centre;
  • Reminiscing with old friends;
  • Even receiving an email from Making Music inviting them to participate in our research.

Some of these triggers are easier than others to instigate: some just happen by chance.

  • Think about opportunities to create your own triggers – can your musical director offer a free workshop at a local workplace or festival and bring people in that way?
  • Do you perform in public places where people might come across you unexpectedly, or are your performances all in private, ticketed only spaces? Could you perform at a local community event or flash mob your local shopping centre or train station?
  • If you are planning a trigger event, make sure people know who you are. Have flyers to hand out, or a banner, or have a ‘flash mob, flash sale’ special offer with discounted tickets to your next concert or your first term’s membership.
  • Make sure your online presence is strong and up to date, so that when people go home and look you up, they can find you. Check out our resources on Top Tips for Designing Your Website, and see the following section on social media.

6. Effectively use social media and other online platforms

The research strongly suggests that using social media such as Facebook and Twitter effectively can make a difference. Other sites such as YouTube, Sound Cloud, Instagram and Meet Up could all be used.

  • Liking the style of the music is important. Think about using Sound Cloud or You Tube to show potential members the kind of music you play.
  • Liking the group leader is seen as important. Could you film a short interview with the leader and post it on social media? Could the group leader film a ‘hello and welcome’ film and post it on You Tube or your group’s Facebook page? Think about creative ways to get across the charisma of your group leader as well as their musical credentials.
  • Remember to use the group profile tool on the Making Music website so that potential members can find you through our ‘find a group’ search.
  • Check out our resources on how to set up a social media account if you don’t already have one, and our top tips on marketing your events. Also keep an eye out for our upcoming free Information and Advice events on using social media.

7. Make sure a youth voice is heard on your committee and there is capacity to implement recommendations

Who is representing a youth perspective when you hold your committee meetings? Some groups told us they had a specific ‘youth representative’ committee member. This person could look after any child safeguarding matters for under 18s, act as the main point of contact for outreach and promotion to younger members, ensure activities are accessible to young people and take forward specific recommendations for increasing engagement with younger members etc.

Could this role be taken up by a young person/group of young people?

“Include them in decision making.” – Steel Band, NW England

“It needs initiative from the top.” – Choral Society, SW England

View our second resource in this series: on how to retain young members.

View resource

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.