Starting a new group, Part 2: The practicalities

This guidance explores how to go about starting a new group. It is a collection of ideas and tips structured in a way that we hope will help you to move forwards with your plan from the beginnings of an idea to your first rehearsal and beyond. This is the second of four sections and focusses on the practicalities of setting up a group.

Content:

  1. Location
  2. Finance
  3. Managing the workload
  4. Further reading

By now you have got a pretty good idea of what your group will look like, who it is for and what you are hoping it will achieve.  Next there is a long list of logistical questions that need answering – this task can seem daunting but hopefully the ideas below will help you through the process. It’s worth spending some time getting the logistical issues sorted before launching into fully blown group activities; having a well-planned foundation on which to build could serve you well for a long time to come.

Location

Key considerations when choosing your base

Finding a place to rehearse can often be the biggest barrier to getting started but with a bit of persistence and lateral thinking you’ll find somewhere. What’s important is that it suits your group and aims.

Making a decision on a venue will likely become a balancing act in an effort to keep your members happy whilst also finding somewhere that is affordable and suitable for your musical aims. Think carefully about how the decision is made and ideally find a venue with whom you can have a long and fruitful relationship – many venues actively want to bring in community and music groups. If in doubt start small with the view to moving if and when your group is more established.

Here are a few things to consider when choosing a rehearsal venue:

  • Will members of the group be able to get there easily? Will they be able to park, store bikes, walk safely from local transport links, and get in and out of the building when they need to?
  • Is it big enough for your group and for the sound you will make? It’s no good having a room that you just about fit in if it means the sound is so loud you have to play quietly all the time (although playing quietly sometimes is probably a good idea)
  • Heating and lighting: are they adjustable and will they be good enough at all times of the year?
  • Is there space to split up into smaller groups, for example voice parts or instrumental sections, for rehearsal?
  • Is there a kitchen or facilities to provide tea, coffee and biscuits?
  • Is there space for guests to attend rehearsals? For example local press, potential members and potential funders.
  • Is it sound proofed? And are the local residents used to it being used by groups of musicians? Are there noise regulations to be aware of?
  • Who will be in charge of locking up the venue safely? Is there a caretaker you need to be introduced to, or codes and keys you need to remember?

Planning on performing or holding a special event?

Performing might not be something you are considering just yet but if it is then remember the requirements of a performance
Some of the considerations will be the same as the rehearsal venue (location, access, heating etc.), but some more specific considerations for a performance of special event venue are:

What atmosphere does the venue create? This includes its external and internal appearance, and the surrounding area.

Who is in charge of the venue itself? In big venues there may be a team of people who are there to help you with things like lighting, stage set up and locking up but in smaller venues it might all be up to you and your group – it’s important to know where you stand and plan accordingly.

  • Is there space for the group to get ready and safely store their belongings?
  • Is there space for/ how will you manage queues of people buying tickets? Is there a cloak room?
  • Is there space for pre and post show drinks and refreshments? – a good space for mingling will help build a good relationship between you and your audience.
  • Does the venue suit the music acoustically and how will your group and the musical director deal with the acoustical challenges that are sure to arise?

Often the biggest struggle is finding venues that are affordable. Considering unusual venues can work wonders if you strike up an agreement with the owners giving them more customers at the same time as you getting a great place to rehearse.

To help you here’s a list of types of potential venues, some commonly used and others a little more unusual:

Churches often allow you to rehearse and perform there
Community hubs libraries, farms, and community halls are good examples
Pubs giving you a great social setting
Schools giving you a potential source of younger members or collaborators
Swimming pools or other leisure centres to take your music to a different audience
Car parks low cost but also low comfort
Museums and arts centres or other local spaces
John Lewis and Tescos often have space available for community groups to use for free
Holiday Inn have been known to strike up a deal with musicians
Bowling alleys because there’s nothing like a bit of post rehearsal competition

If you find a venue you think is really interesting, unusual or successful then please tell us about it and we’ll add it to this list of suggestions

Finance

One of the biggest worries for all new groups is how they are going to survive and become financially viable. Below we’ve outlined some key things that should help but remember that the journey is different for every group and it takes persistence, usually at least some investment from those involved, and careful money management. We have a complete series on improving income which is accessible to our members and can be found in the further reading section.

Getting started

For many groups financing the first few months is the biggest barrier to getting started and the truth is that there is no easy way around this. Somehow those first few months need to be managed in a way that allows the group to get off the ground enough that it can attract enough paying members and or audience to make itself sustainable. Creating a group with a financially stable future requires a lot of planning, budgeting and constant monitoring and this should be true right from the start. Work out exactly what the initial costs of setting up a group will be and how they can be made manageable. What will change as time goes on and what will remain a cost for the foreseeable future?

In our experience many groups are self-funded and often bankrolled by the committee at least for the first few months. This might seem a scary prospect but realistically groups need time to become established, popular and sustainable financially so it may need a bit of initial investment from those who want to make the idea a reality with the proviso that they will get their money back further down the line.

If self-funding isn’t an option, or you want to avoid going down that route, then be ready for a challenge. Remember that what you are doing by starting a new musical group is something that your whole community may well be interested in. More than that, they might be able to offer you some support – so tell them about it!

You could consider:

  • Holding a fundraising event
  • Doing a sponsored challenge
  • Approaching potential local donors
  • Approaching local businesses

Applying for external funding might seem like a great idea but often it can be difficult to persuade funders to consider something that has no track record. You may be able to attract funding for specific projects once your group has proven its viability and worth, but this is something we wouldn’t advise relying on for the existence of your group.

However you find your funding, at some point setting up an organisational bank account might be useful. Some elements you might want to look for when deciding who to go with are: the ability to have multiple signatories on the account, access to advice for your organisation, any charges or limitations on use of specific payment methods.

Membership fees

For many groups membership fees provide a reliable regular injection of income. Fees might seem to go against the grain of making your group open to all but you can design a fee structure that makes you financially sustainable and accessible at the same time. On top of that people are generally happy to pay to peruse their interests. As long as your price is fair and members get value from being in your group in return for what they pay then membership fees could make you sustainable, valued, and able to take on challenges you would otherwise not be able to.

Putting some thought into your pricing structure from the start is important. This is what will set precedents for the future, impact on who your

  • Will members pay to be a part of the group?
  • How often will you ask them to pay and can you make this flexible?
  • Is it the same price for everyone?

For lots of groups membership fees are their primary source of income. With the aims of your group in mind consider how you can design a pricing structure for your group that will allow you to achieve those aims whilst also being financially stable. It’s rarely true that one price fits all.

You should be asking all the same questions about ticket pricing and possibly looking into other ways of fundraising early on such as cake sales or donation buckets and flashmobs – it can be very financially difficult for groups at the beginning of their existence so the quicker you get yourself onto a stable footing the better.

Don’t under-sell your group!

It may be tempting to think that because you are a new group you need to set your prices low. But before you make that decision there are two key things to consider:

  • Who and what are you competing with for the attention of potential members and audience members?
  • The value of what you have to offer – what will members get from being a part of your group and what will the experience be like for audience members or supporters?

The price you put on anything is a way of communicating its value and a low price unavoidably suggests low value. So in the context of your competition and other organisations similar to you, take seriously the message that your price sends about your group. Does your price match your value and is the value you see in your group communicated well to potential members?

For more on pricing and income see the further reading section.

Managing the workload

Without a good system for managing the workload, even the greatest plan is difficult to make sustainable. Running a music group is no small task and the key is to be prepared for that.

It’s often a good idea to keep the number of people involved in managing the group small, at least to start with. In a small team:

  • Things often move more quickly than in larger teams
  • It’s easy to keep a track of what everyone’s doing and to be able to work together effectively
  • Managing a team of people is a challenge in itself so starting small will help you get to grips with it

Whether you have a ready-made team to work with or are going to build one from scratch, it’s a good idea to work out what skills will be needed to run the group successfully, which skills members of your team have and where there may be gaps in knowledge or experience that need filling.

Many of our member groups have management committees and whether or not you choose to go down this route, having clear written role descriptions that everyone can see is a good idea. We’ve developed some role descriptions and guidance on running committees for our members. The links to these are in the further reading section.

Briefly the key roles for any committee or management team to start with are:

  • Chair
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary

Depending on your group you might also need any number of other roles for example: a Publicity Officer, Social Secretary, Fundraising officer, Librarian or you could have roles that come in and out of existence depending on the needs of your group. You could also delegate individual contained tasks to members of the group – this could be done via sub-committee roles or more informally on a week by week basis. However you choose to share out individual tasks, keep a good record of who is doing what and make sure everyone sticks to it.

The key managerial team will also need to have clear and regular methods of communication. This could mean:

  • A regular meeting before or after rehearsal
  • A set number of meetings a year
  • Meeting all together only as and when you need to and conducting other communication as needed between meetings

However you choose to keep in touch and work as a team it’s important that everyone is comfortable with it and able to contribute fully. This also means you need to continually be open to changing how your team operates. Being open to change might even encourage those willing to help to take the plunge. It will also increase the chances that existing members of the team continue even if their circumstances change.

Further reading

Now you're ready to deal with the practicalities, move on to Part 3 - on finding members and building a group culture.

Read part 3


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.