Increasing your income, part 2: Ticket sales and events income

This resource is part of our ‘Increasing your income’ guidance, which looks at ways to find and grow sustainable and diverse income for your group. It will focus on how to make the most of your event and ticket sales income to help put your group on a secure, long term financial footing.

This resource is broken down into two main sections:

  1. Adjusting ticket prices and structure
  2. More fundamental changes to your events; increasing audiences and income

First of all though, a word on approaching event finance: it often pays to view event income as a whole for the year rather than as discreet events. As long as your overall event budget is in a healthy state across the year it doesn’t necessarily matter if one event makes a loss and is subsided by a more successful event.

This approach allows a bit more freedom in how you operate. For example members might want to do an unusual and challenging piece that won’t necessarily pull in the audience and would make a loss. But if this can be subsidised by a concert of more well established and popular repertoire then it can work. It means the members remain challenged and stimulated, the masses get what they want and you balance the books.

Adjusting ticket prices and structure

Lower prices: a lower price or discount options might mean more tickets sold and more money earned. Lower prices might also bring new people through the door who are then more likely to come back.

There are lots of different things you can try and you can be quite creative. But before you start lowering prices and offering lots of discounts it is worth thinking about the potential impact. If all you do is make tickets cheaper for your core audience you will end up with less money. Any changes should be designed to encourage new people to come to concerts and to encourage your members and core audience to bring new people with them. Think about who these potential new audience members are and what type of discount would suit them.

Some examples of things groups have tried:

  • Group booking discounts: this could be as general as 20% off when you book five tickets or based around specific groups e.g. families, household, work place.
  • Sell ticket bundles to organisations:  you could offer employers or other community groups (e.g. sports teams) discounted tickets (e.g. 10 for the price of five) to offer to their staff or members as benefits/prizes.
  • Team up with a local community event: you could give away free tickets as a prize at a local fete – or perform and give some away. 
  • Students and young people: a student concession rate is common but what happens when people stop being a student? They may not have much income but the discount has gone. Could you extend a student discount to under 25s? 
  • Season tickets: similar to group discounts but allows someone to book tickets across your whole season at reduced rates – which means you have tickets sold in advance too. This could be something you link to a Friends scheme.
  • Discounts for previous attendees: if you have contact details for audience members (and permission to use them) why not contact them with a special offer discount? See our guidance on email marketing for some top tips. 
  • Early bird discounts: a special price for a limited time helps create demand and encourages people to act quickly and book. This could be linked to previous attendees (above) and a Friends scheme.
  • Bring a friend: if you have regular audience members can you offer them a half price discount if they bring a new person?
  • Don’t charge at all: you could make it free to attend and ask for a donation on entry or ask people to pay what they think it was worth on the way out. Our experience suggests that most people are generous. It also has the benefit of being able to claim Gift Aid on the donation (as long as it is a genuine donation i.e. they could enter for free). An additional benefit is that if more people attend for free (or donation) then you can potentially make money once they are inside – such as refreshments or raffles.
  • Different prices for different tickets: sell tickets with additional add-ons for an extra fee (another thing that could be linked to a Friends scheme). There are common approaches and scope for more creative and ambitious ones:
    • Premium seats
    • Reserved parking
    • A drink during the interval reception (be aware if the drink is alcoholic it constitutes selling alcohol and so has licensing issues. See our event planning guidance for more information).
    • Attend the pre-show rehearsal
    • A chance to meet the players at a reception
    • A pre show meal at a local restaurant
    • A room at a local hotel or guesthouse
  • Use your members: members selling tickets to friends and family can often form a large chunk of your ticket sales so finding ways to incentivise this is worth thinking about:
    • Members get money off their next year’s subscription if they sell 10 tickets
    • Members have to buy 10 tickets/year with their membership subscription – to be used when they want.
  • Ticket Ambassador:  this could be a member or someone else connected to the group who is given the task of selling tickets – if they sell 10 they get one for free.

More fundamental changes: increase your audiences and income

For many music groups there can be a natural rhythm to the year; Easter, summer and Christmas concert, maybe one or two more performances slotted in. Having that structure can be really useful when running a group. But there is sometimes a danger that the events can become too predictable; the audience size might be steady but hasn’t grown for some time.

It is often worth reviewing the types of concerts you put on and the how they are run to see if you can do something different or freshen them up a bit. A new type of event might give members a bit more incentive to promote it or encourage regular audience members to bring some new people along.

We have some suggestions below of things to consider. It’s not exhaustive and, as ever, they won’t all work for every group – but hopefully there is something in there to help get you thinking.

Do you have to perform? Performing is often a key reason people join groups – but do you have to do four formal concerts a year (for example)? Could you do three formal concerts and an open rehearsal? The members would still have the same rehearsal time and chance to learn and play music – and an element of performance at the final rehearsal. But there would be a lower cost than putting on a formal concert and it would give people who do come along a different experience. There are other things you can try too - read about some of the things our members have tried.

A different focus: introducing a different element to your concerts so the focus is not just on the music can really help make your concert stand out and encourage new people to come along. It should complement rather than overshadow the music. Done well it can create a special feel to your concert and give the audience an experience they will want to repeat.

A popular way of doing this is food. It could be a concert with High Tea, or dinner served before, after or even during the concert. This sort of thing can put up costs – but if more people come and it helps raise your profile it can be an investment well worth making. You can think about teaming up with local hospitality businesses to cut costs too.

Could you help demystify the music you perform? Some people may be put off going to a concert because of the type of music performed. They may be interested but feel they don’t understand it or that it isn’t for them. They may think they don’t like it without ever having given it a go. It’s fair to say these types of attitudes are most commonly found in relation to classical music, but by no means exclusively.

You could try a concert where the focus is on learning and new experiences. The music will still appeal to your core audience but you can target a different audience who are new to the music and want to learn about it. Make it clear that they are not only welcome but specifically catered for:

  • Having well written programme notes and information about the music – think about an audience member who has little or no prior knowledge - how can you make the information relevant and interesting for them? 
  • Someone from the group introducing the music; history, meaning, what they like about it and why the group likes performing it. This doesn’t have to be the MD - anyone in your group can do it. Think about who will communicate well the audience and be comfortable speaking in public.
  • A welcoming and relaxed atmosphere: having some well-chosen members of your group or volunteers to act as informal hosts can help create a welcoming atmosphere and put people at ease. Just being around to say hello, answer questions and explain how the concert will work can make a big difference. Things like having some sofa seating can also create a relaxed atmosphere.
  • A more direct approach to learning: in the pre-concert reception you could put on some short presentations. They don’t have to be about the music being performed but could just give some history and context about the composers/song writers. They don’t have to be formal presentations either, where everyone has to stop and listen. You could have two short ones going on at the same time for people to join if they want.
  • Buddying system: we know of some groups who pair up someone who is new to the music with someone more experienced to explain, and help them enjoy, the music.
  • Etiquette: be clear about concert etiquette – or forget about it completely. Ok, so obviously no mobile phones – but removing some of the formal barriers, or at least being clear about etiquette so people don’t feel embarrassed, can really help:
    • Be clear about your dress code - and keep it informal for audience and performers. An informally dressed orchestra can really change the feel of the concert.
    • Have a crib sheet in the programme – explain about clapping between movements

Added value for you and the audience: most groups probably do something to make some extra money during the concert, selling refreshments and raffles are perhaps the most common. If you don’t already sell refreshments or have a raffle they can make a decent contribution to income. It’s worth thinking about how to maximise these.

For example, some groups ask for a donation for refreshments instead of a fixed price – people will often give the going rate but the donation might be eligible for Gift Aid.  There are licensing issues to be aware of for selling alcohol and running a raffle find out more in our event planning guidance.

Further Reading

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.