A how-to guide for being an event-managing master

Putting on concerts is the highlight of being in a leisure-time music group. It’s the culmination of all your hard work in rehearsals and a chance to show the world what you can do, not to mention a source of income. A well organised and professionally run event can help make the experience for the group and the audience memorable – and ensure they come back.

This guidance will look at the key things that go into planning a concert and the sorts of things you need to think about if you are in charge.  The focus is on a traditional concert format but if you are planning a different type of event (such as an open rehearsal) many of the same principles apply. We do also have a toolkit specifically for Come and sing/play days.

Planning

The key to a good event is all in the planning - the more you plan the better it will go on the day for you and the audience. Being clear about what sort of event you want is a good starting point; what do you want to get out of the event? What size and scale do you want? Will there be an interval? Will you provide/sell refreshments? 

  • Decide on a realistic budget – see budget section for more details.
  • One of the first planning decisions is when the event will take place. The date and time of your event can impact on the success. Are there any other events happening on the same day that might affect your event?
  • Other concerts taking place nearby is a big consideration; check our event listings and other local listings for potential clahes. If there is a clash it's not the end of the world. Depending on how far along the planning is you could speak to the group about collaboration or joint promotion.  
  • It’s not just musical activities to be aware of either; we have heard of football matches and demonstrations causing problems too. It is impossible to think of everything – but a little bit of online research can go a long way. In terms of timings think about public transport and how people can get home.
  • Plan and share out the work. A lot of groups have a concert manager and having one person in charge helps provide focus, but often the key to a successful event is delegation and an excellent team.
  • Some groups have a sub-committee for event planning – or perhaps volunteers from the membership. Whatever your approach you will need more than one person to get all the jobs done. Other roles could include; venue coordinator, ticket booking coordinator, marketing coordinator
  • Think about what needs to be done in the lead up to the event; risk assessment, obtaining licenses, equipment booking and a venue visit, for example. Will you need to access the venue before the day of the event?  Make sure you have enough time and people to get it all done.
  • Plan the day of the event in detail - having a realistic and well planned schedule is vital. Do you have deliveries? (staging, piano etc.) How much set-up time do you need, will there be a final rehearsal, what time do people need to be there? When do doors open?
  • There are lots of jobs to do on the day. Some of them quite small but added up they become a lot. A good team of helpers is invaluable; giving people specific tasks is a good way to make sure the little jobs get taken care of.

Budget

Deciding how much there is to spend on the event will help you plan. You should also be clear about whether you are looking to make a profit or break even – maybe you can afford to lose a little.

It is likely that event income and expenditure will be part of your overall group’s accounts. It can be useful to have a separate budget document for each event too. This will help keep track of spending and evaluate event profit and loss. The key to a good event budget is to be realistic about expected costs and to keep a close track of spending and make adjustments as necessary. Common event expenditure areas are:

  • Venue costs
  • Refreshment costs
  • Licences
  • Equipment hire (staging etc.)
  • Instrument hire
  • Music hire
  • Musician fees
  • Marketing costs 
  • Miscellaneous – it is always a good idea to have something extra in the budget for unexpected costs that may crop up.

The Venue

If you are using a new venue it is vital that you visit beforehand. You cannot properly plan and run an event without knowing the layout and look of the venue.
If you are using your regular venue then you may already know most the things you need to know. That said, a quick visit before the event to check for any major changes is still a good idea. Key things to consider when looking at venues are:

Layout, rooms and size; does the venue have all the things you will need:

  • Check the acoustics - particularly in venue that isn’t music specific. Don’t be afraid to go and sing in the empty room to check (remember to take someone with you so they can listen!). Acoustics can vary from different places in the room – so check as many as you can - it can help with your seating plan.
  • Reception/welcome area - is it welcoming and big enough – bottlenecks tend to build up in this area. Are there cloakroom facilities? Is there a box-office space?
  • Is there an area for audience members to congregate before the show and during the interval? Is it a nice space – the pleasantness (or otherwise) of these sorts of areas can affect the enjoyment of the event.
  • Is there an area to sell refreshments? Are there kitchen facilities – if so what is included and what will you need to bring (crockery etc.)?
  • Backstage/dressing room area – is this a nice area for members? Is there enough space and privacy. What is the access to stage like – will this affect your performance?
  • Temperature - check the heating controls, make sure they are good and you know how they work. Cold churches in winter and steaming hot halls in summer don't make for a pleasant experience. 
  • A secure room for storage - (instruments and member belongings etc.)
  • Bathrooms - are there enough? Are they convenient for members and audience?
  • The concert room – is it big enough – too big? Is there room for any equipment you need (staging, lighting, piano etc.)?  Are there enough power outlets – and in the right places? 

Location and access:

  • Is it easy and safe for members and audience to get to – are there good transport links? Is there street lighting nearby?
  • Is there disabled access? We encourage all of our members to create accessible events - you can find our more in the Voluntary Arts guidance and checklist.
  • What is the parking like? Space, cost, lighting.
  • Access for deliveries; can you park close enough for big deliveries. How many access points are there? – are the doors and corridors big enough?
  • Can you deliver some things early – the day before for example and store them overnight? This could help with planning on the day.
  • Think about pick-up. Will the venue be open the morning after?

Instruments at venues: 

If you are using an instrument that belongs to a venue (such as a piano or organ) it is a good idea to get clarification from the venue about your responsibilities and expectations – who can use it and move it for example and what insurance is in place/needed.

Contract: 

It is always a good idea to have a formal agreement with a venue detailing what is included, dates and times, expectations of both parties, prices and payment schedules.

Finally if you are or will be using a venue regularly, developing a good rapport with the venue staff is invaluable. A good relationship will help with future bookings and arrangements and any special requests you may have. A follow-up thank you email is always a good idea as well as an acknowledgment in the programme or during introductory/closing remarks.

Risk assessment

You should do a risk assessment for every performance you put on.  Risk assessments are not about removing risk completely – it is impossible to think of everything. But you do have a responsibility to the public and performers to make sure you have considered potential issues and done your best to identify and eliminate them.

You can read more about risk assessments in our separate risk assessment guidance, including a template risk assessment form, but briefly it is about identifying potential risks, assessing what the likelihood and severity of the risk is and taking sensible and reasonable steps to minimise the risk accordingly.

Some common types or risks are:

  • Electric cables – risk of tripping – ensure they are covered and clearly marked 
  • Risk of spills (refreshments etc.) – risk of tripping - know where the cleaning-up facilities are and have them to hand – is there a wet floor sign?
  • Hot lights – risk of burning – make sure audience can't access lights – have clear signs
  • Fire – know the exists and assembly points, keep them clear - make the audience aware
  • Staging not secured properly – risk of falling staging injury – use professionals to set-up staging where you can, if not make sure the team have good instructions – work in pairs and make sure someone else does a final check
  • Sound levels – risk of hearing damage – think about the position of your performers and audience to minimise risk. Read our hearing loss guidance for more info.

What about the venue’s risk assessment?

Many venues will do their own risk assessments – this is fine and it is a good thing to ask to see. However, you should still think about doing your own. You might be bringing in staging or lighting, making /selling refreshments – at the very least your members will be there taking part in your activities – so it is something you should think about.

You should do a new risk assessment for each event, even if it is a regular venue. You may be doing something different to normal that brings a new or different risk – or maybe something at the venue has changed.  If nothing is different/new then you can use the same details from previous risk assessments – but you should spend a little time thinking about each event rather just assume it will be the same.

First Aid provision

As the event organiser you should think about first aid provision. You only legally need to make first aid provisions for employees, but the charity commission and Health and Safety Executive say best practice is to view volunteers as employees.

A good first port of call is to ask if there are any trained first aiders in your membership - or if they have any friends or relatives that are trained and willing to help. If there aren’t any you could look at training up some members The Red Cross do courses. Using the services of trained volunteers such as the St. Johns Ambulance is another good option – there is normally a fee for this.

At the least you should ask the venue about First Aid kits and be aware of local numbers and the address for emergency services.  The venue may also have local volunteers who help them with First Aid.

Licences and insurance

Performing rights fees; if you are performing music in copyright then performing rights royalties will be due. As the event organiser/promoter it is your responsibility to make sure Performing rights fees are considered. You pay it through the venue if they have a licence with PRS for music, if not, you can pay through the Making Music PRS scheme. You can find out more about PRS fees and how to pay them in our PRS guidance.

Alcohol; a licence is needed if alcohol is being sold (including as part of the ticket price). If it is given away or donations are asked for then no licence is needed. If you are selling alcohol some form of licence will need to be in place. Often the venue will have one already. You should check with the venue well in advance. You will not need a licence if the venue has any of the following:

  • A Premises licence – and there is a named person who holds a personal licence
  • A club premises license which includes the sale of alcohol
  • A ‘Club Premises Certificate’ which includes the sale of alcohol

If none of the above apply you will need a Temporary Event Notice from the local council; these can take some time to be granted – you have to apply at least 10 working days before the event – we recommend 20. There is a small fee to pay - £21 at the moment. 

You will also need a Temporary Events notice if the audience will be over 500 and you will be amplifying music.

Raffles: You do not need a licence for, or have to register, an “incidental non-commercial lottery”. This covers several different types of competitions (e.g. sweepstakes, raffles, tombolas) . For our members we think the most likely is a raffle. You can find out more about is included and conditions on Gambling Commissions website. The key things to understand are:

  • Tickets must be sold, and winners announced, on the night/at the event
  • The raffle should also be subsidiary to the event.
  • Anyone at the event (including children) can take part in this sort of lottery.
  • The expenses that can be deducted from the proceeds must not be more than £100, and no more than £500 can spent on prizes (not including donated prizes).

If you are selling tickets before the event and the total proceeds do not exceed £20,000 you still don’t need a licence but you will need to register with your local authority as a small society lottery. You can find out more on the Gambling Commissions website.

Insurance

Public Liability: venues will normally ask for evidence of public liability insurance. All of Making Music's standard insurance policies (Bronze, Silver and Gold) have public liability cover up to £5m.

Event cancellation cover: Making Music’s Silver and Gold polices have event cancellation cover up to £2.5K and £10K respectively. This covers you for when you have to cancel and event on health and safety grounds – i.e. it would be dangerous to go ahead with the event – this can include extreme weather conditions such as flooding and heavy snow.

Temporary or custom event insurance: if you are putting on a larger event that has more complex insurance requirements or needs increased levels of public liability or cancellation cover Making Music Insurance Services can provide custom quotes – just call them on 01482 388611.

Musical property insurance: Making Music Silver and Gold policy has musical property cover (instrument, sheet music, risers etc.) of £20k and £50K respectively (both with a single item limit of £5k). This covers property owned, or temporarily hired or borrow, by the group. It will cover your property whilst in a performance venue – if it is there overnight it must be stored safely and securely.

If you are hiring in an instrument that is over the standard limits of Silver and Gold Making Music Insurance Services can provide temporary cover - just call them on 01482 388611.

Instruments owned by individual members of your group will not be covered as part of your policy at events. They should have their own cover in place – which they can do with the Making Music individual insurance scheme.

On the day of the event

If your planning has been thorough the day itself should run smoothly and be enjoyable for everyone. Of course it is not always that simple and good organisation and leadership on the day is really important. 

You cannot think of everything but the more prepared you are, the easier it will be and the better you will be able to deal with the unexpected things that always seem to crop up. Having some assistants to take on some of the responsibility and some helpers to lighten the load will be a big help, as will simple things like having a check list. Some common areas of delegation on the day are:

  • Equipment – staging lighting – set-up and checks
  • Musical considerations – check the sound and balance, make sure spare music is available and make sure any soloists  and guest musicians are looked after 
  • Refreshments
  • Photography and recording
  • Box-office

Someone from the venue being there on the day is always helpful too. Make sure you introduce yourself and that they understand your schedule and needs – and are clear about who is responsible for what. If someone won’t be there throughout the day make sure you know where everything is and have everything you need (keys, locking up procedure, first aid, cleaning etc.), and always get a contact number for emergencies.

Often different people will need to arrive at different times depending on their role. It’s worth thinking about this as having too many people milling around can be counterproductive. The most important thing is to make sure everyone knows where they need to be and when – and having a procedure to make sure they are (a check in desk, for example).

Think about giving people short and simple schedules for the day too (rehearsal time, doors open etc.). If it is a new venue a quick walk through can be beneficial. 

Refreshments

For the audience

Many groups serve refreshments and it can be a good way to supplement event income as well as add to the occasion of the event. We have been asked in the past about how much should be charged – especially in relation to alcohol. As a rough guide £2-£3 for a glass of wine seems to be a common figure. It will of course vary and depend on how much it costs you – the idea is to make a profit (or at least not a loss). There are some good sale and return options available that help keep costs down too.

Another thing to consider is not charging at all but asking for a donation instead. This can make licencing easier and you can potentially claim Gift Aid under the Small Donations Scheme, this is dependent on meeting certain conditions however so check first – find out more in our Gift Aid guidance. If you can claim you need to weigh up potential loss from no/low donations against potential Gift Aid earnings.

Finally think when to sell refreshments - during the interval is most common but they could be sold before too. This could add to the occasion and build atmosphere. A short reception after and chance to speak to the performers is another option. This might also help build a stronger relationship with your audience and encourage them to come back.

For the members and performers

If it is a full day leading up to the concert (with a final rehearsal for example) you might want to provide members and guest performers with refreshments. It could be as simple as providing hot and soft drinks throughout the day. Whatever you decide you should make clear what is and isn’t provided so people can plan accordingly. Think about drinks in the dressing room before the show and during the interval too. If people are eating during the day it is sometimes a good idea to have a designated area – food eaten in the concert hall could leave a smell for the audience.

Finally on refreshments; think about the venue - can drinks be taken into the concert room? What facilities do they have – can you use their crockery/glasses – do they have a dishwasher? Is it your responsibility to clear up afterwards?

A warm welcome

Making sure your audience enjoy the event is really what it is all about. The brilliant music will take care of a much of this – but there are others things you can do too.  Some volunteers to act as informal hosts can make a big difference. They don’t necessarily have to do much; greeting people with a smile can go a very long way. They can also explain where things are, answer questions and just generally make people feel welcome. 

Another aspect of a warm welcome is to talk about the music – programme notes are great but the MD, or someone else, saying a few words about the music can really add to the performance and help people engage - this could be about history of the music and composer to maybe about why you chose it and what it means to your group in particular.

Finally on a warm welcome; it is not just about the audience. If there is a final rehearsal before the concert it can be a long day for the group members – making sure everyone is happy and taken care of is important – especially with new members. Some long standing members acting as informal hosts can help here too.

After the event

Immediately after the event the most pressing thing is to tidy-up. It can be difficult to get volunteers; as with before the event delegation and giving people specific tasks is a good idea. Delegating these tasks before the concert so people know what they have to do and can get on with it straight away will help.  Delegating to a section can also be a good way of doing it - Wind section have to put chairs away, for example – how they do it is up to them but it might encourage more people to help.

Another common problem is that members may have guests waiting for them – it can be annoying for guests to have to hang around and annoying for you having guests hanging around! One approach we have heard of is; at the end of the concert the MD explains to the audience that the performers will have to stay a short while to help tidy up but that if there is a pub across the road and if you would like to wait in there they won’t be too long. At worst this will mean that no one is hanging around and at best the guests will volunteer to help.

Another aspect of the ‘After the event’ is building on success.

  • An email to the audience to thank them and promote you next event can often work (assuming you have permission to email them) – maybe you could offer an early bird booking discount.
  • You might have promoted the event on social media so why not follow up after the event – tweet about the success or post some pictures on Facebook for example.
  • If you promoted the event in local media why not ask about a follow-up story or review?
  • What about a repeat performance? Use the enthusiasm created by the event to start planning the next one – some initial discussions to keep the ball rolling might be all that is needed at this stage

A final point is audience feedback; there are a number of ways of doing this – and the key thing with any feedback is to be clear on what you want to get out of it. Do you want to know how people heard about the event or what they thought of the music? It can be tempting to ask everything – but often having less, more specific questions, can get better quality feedback.  Some ways of getting feedback are:

  • Ask – if you want to know how they heard about the event, asking them when they arrive is a good chance. Chatting during the interval and after can provide good informal feedback too.
  • Email – if you email them to say thank you, you could include a short online questionnaire – there are some good free online options available, Survey Monkey for example
  • Paper form – a short paper feedback form on each chair can help get immediate feedback
  • Voting bins – a bin for each piece you performed - ask people to put their rubbish (or something you provide) in the bin they liked best.