Starting a new group, Part 3: Finding members and creating a culture

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 third of four sections and focusses on finding members and fostering a group culture.

Content:

The atmosphere, expectations, traditions and values of your group will impact hugely on its success and direction. We’ll look into what you can do to steer the culture of your group later in this section but first (and on an ongoing basis) you’ll need to find new members.

Finding potential members

For every new (and not so new) group, finding members will be somewhere near the top of the to do list. Getting people to join a group that is just starting can be exciting but it can also be a challenge. A new group is unknown and therefore a bit more of a risk than joining a group that is recommended by friends, or well-known, and established.

By asking people to join your group you are competing for their time with (potentially) other music groups and other activities. Think carefully about what you have to offer, and what makes you unique - how will you find people and how will you persuade them to join and make them feel part of the venture?

  • Start with who you know - ask people you already know if they would like to join and get them to spread the word as widely as they can.
  • Don’t assume people won’t be interested - ask everyone – not matter how unlikely – they might just surprise you.
  • Place adverts or flyers in local shops, community centres, libraries and newsletters
  • Does your local community have online forums and noticeboards?
  • Find other local groups and talk to them - work out how you can fill the gaps and work together rather than becoming competition
  • Work out where those likely to be interested spend their time and  take information about your group to them
  • Think about where there are large groups of people – such as a workplace or community sports team – people are more likely to try something new with people they already know
  • Use your venue! If it’s a school, can you send flyers out to teachers and parents (with a discount code)? If it’s a church, can they put something in their parish newsletter? If it’s in a pub, and the pub also runs a pub quiz, can they mention it at their next quiz?

Once you’ve got people interested have a plan for how you’ll keep them interested and get them to commit on a more regular or long term. For the first members you find it’s especially important to consider how you can make the fact the group is new into a good thing rather than a risky thing.

In the further reading section you’ll find a more detailed resource specifically on recruiting younger members that explores many of these issues in detail – and much of it can be applied to all members, not only the young.

Managing your members

Before we get into the detail of group culture, on a logistical level it’s important to decide on how you’ll manage the members of the group.

How you will communicate with members?

Find a method that works for your members: not everyone is happy with Facebook and some people like to be told everything in person at a rehearsal. The tone of your messages might seem fine to you but be abrupt to others. The point here is to keep track of what works and adapt as your group grows and changes.

Will you (and how will you) set and assess entry levels for the group?

Some groups choose to audition and others are proudly open to all; what is right for your group depends on your aim. How will you make your expectations and hopes for who is eligible to be a member of your group known? And how can you make sure that what you say about your group’s requirements matches what is carried out in practice?

How will you keep up-to-date records of membership?

Keeping up-to-date records of your membership is really important and should be something you get right from the beginning. It could be useful in many ways in the future; should you ever wish to monitor attendance, prove your worth to funders, or check everyone is there in an emergency, a good register of members will be vital. But it is important to make sure your methods for doing this are vital and that the principles of data protection are understood by the person in charge of the record keeping and the members know what is happening to their data.

What impacts your group’s culture and how can you steer it?

The group culture is vital to what makes being part of the group an enjoyable and worthwhile experience, so it is worth thinking about.  To some extent group culture needs to form and will change naturally over time depending on who is in the group but, there are things you can do to steer it along the lines set out in the group’s objectives as discussed in Part 1: Outlining your vision.

Your Musical Director: one person who will have a very high impact on the culture of the group is the musical director. With the group’s vision in mind think carefully about what you want from a leader, and if you are the leader how your skills can be put to best use.

How important is: conducting experience, repertoire knowledge and musicality, the ability to communicate, get along with people and create a supportive environment? How an MD chooses to balance these aspects of their role has a huge impact not just on the music but also on the general atmosphere of rehearsals and performances – using that responsibility wisely is part of the job of a group leader.

The complete experience: directing your group’s culture is about a lot more than just leaving it all up to a good leader. You should be thinking about every stage of the experience:

  • How, where and when will potential members will about you?
  • What happens when someone says they’d like to join?
  • How will you welcome them to their first rehearsal?
  • How can you help new members start to feel part of the group?
  • Can members easily feed ideas into the group and its development?
  • What can you do to make the experience of performers and audience alike as good as it can be at any performances you do?

There are a lot of ways in which you could tackle these challenges and we can’t give you a checklist of all the things you should do as every group is different. Whatever you do, watch for what works and adapt as your group develops and changes.

Getting to know each other

In the first few sessions (and maybe even longer) everyone will need some time to settle, get to know each other and share ideas about what direction they’d like the group to go in.

Through music: Getting on with the music itself is often a great way to get the group working together – it is proven that singing especially helps groups to form bonds even when there isn’t time for individuals to get to know each other on a one to one basis. To read more about the bonding effects of music see this article from the Independent in 2015 and the science behind it from Oxford University here.

With this in mind, make the most of being a music group and let the music itself do some of the introductory work for you.  Consider if you can make time for some musical games, improvising, and challenges before you get stuck into learning pieces.

As people: music is a great ice breaker but all groups need some time outside of their usual activities to let of steam:

  • You could have time in each rehearsal for tea and biscuits
  • Encourage social activities outside of sessions
  • Hold competitions amongst your members

Social activities outside of your usual rehearsals can also easily double up as publicity or fundraising events – can you make taking flyers round town a sociable activity? Or could you hold a garden party which doubles as a fundraising event?

Think about how to ensure all your members, new and old, benefit from this kind of activity as you move forwards. It could be a great idea to allocate time for socialising in the first rehearsal ever but could you make it the first rehearsal of each term?

Making both music and membership accessible

Membership of your group may depend on musical ability or it may be open to anyone. Depending on the vision for your group you might be hoping to work with people from across the community or aiming to focus your activities towards one specific purpose, for example working with people living with dementia.

Whatever your aim is – make sure everything you do is accessible to your membership. Think about how people will find you, how they will get home, how they will learn the music and if any of the expectations of how your group will run could become barriers to potential members. The biggest barriers we’ve seen tend to be to do with cost, time commitment, and musical pace. We are not saying you should try to please everyone, but you should try to remove or reduce barriers where possible.

Engaged members

You may have a plan for exactly who is going to be involved in running your group or you might be hoping to find people as you go along. There is no set formula but it is worth remembering that initially a smaller group can make decisions more efficiently than having group discussions over every detail. But getting your members involved, even in small ways, can be really helpful.

Not only will it help lighten the load for those taking on the bigger leadership roles it will also help people feel engaged and part of the group – which will make them more likely to come back, be proud of the achievements of the group, and to spread the word. For more on ways to retain members see the further reading section. Getting more people involved in the running of the group, even in little ways, should:

  • Allow a range of opinions and ideas to be heard in the process of making decisions about future projects and plans
  • Make being involved in the running of the group feel like something anyone can help with, rather than something held onto by a select few
  • Provide a pathway into the bigger management roles helping to ensure that when you need to recruit new people into key committee roles, there are members of the group there ready with the knowledge and skills ready to hit the ground running.

Of course getting people involved has to be balanced against the fact that they may well just like to turn up and sing/play and go home. One way round this could be to work out if there are any individual tasks that members could volunteer to do as and when they have time to do them. Things you could consider getting your members to help with include:

  • Refreshments – organising them at rehearsals and concerts
  • Organising social events – this could just be as simple as having a few members whose job it is to encourage everyone to go to the pub after rehearsals, or a more formal role i.e. organising a Christmas party
  • Selling programmes
  • Flyering at other local concerts or events
  • Social media - this doesn’t have to mean directly with your group’s page, it could simply mean liking and sharing what your page is doing to widen your reach
  • Writing bowing or rehearsal markings into parts – rehearsals go a lot more smoothly if this is organised early on in all the parts and getting a small group of people to sit down and do all the legwork one evening might well be the most efficient way of getting it done

Further reading

Now you're ready to get your group going, move on to Part 4 - on ensuring that your group is sustainable and ready for the long-term.

READ PART 4


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.