Music making and experiencing music as an audience member are rich social experiences that connect participants. To build a group or audience that is more diverse and inclusive, thinking about how you invite, recruit and welcome people is crucial.
When people choose activities to take part in for leisure and pleasure, they will avoid places and groups where they think they won’t be welcome or feel included. People who have felt excluded in other situations – because they are disabled, from an ethnic minority, or because of their social background or gender identity for example – are even less likely to take this risk. If we want our groups, events and activities to be truly welcoming, inclusive and diverse, we need to take action to convince newcomers of this.
This resource suggests some things you can do to make more people feel welcome and included from the first point of contact. It also suggests some bigger projects for groups who want to be more active in reaching out to a wider diversity of people.
1. Invitations and recruitment
Inviting people to join your group or audience
Think about the many ways that you invite or recruit people to be a part of your group.
- 'Join our group' adverts – on your website, in your programmes, on social media or paid for in local magazines etc.
- Performance advertising – inviting people to be your audience
- 'Come and Sing', workshops etc. – one-off opportunities that lead to longer involvement
- Auditions and open calls – inviting people to take part in a selection process
- Volunteer callouts – for people to be on the committee or help your group
- Recruiting composers, soloists, conductors and other paid professionals
Consider every one of these messages as the first time a potential new member or attendee will have heard of your group. This is a crucial moment to let people know that you are a welcoming and inclusive group by using implicit and explicit messages.
Implicit messages - People will make assumptions about your group from the design as well as the content of your adverts and invitations. Our resource on inclusive communications explains how to make sure as many people as possible can access the information they need. It also guides on how to make language and imagery inclusive. Taking care here will prove that everyone is equally welcome to apply or participate.
Explicit messages – Consider writing and publishing an inclusion statement. It could be short like this:
'We aim to be a diverse, inclusive and welcoming organisation in which people from all backgrounds are actively enabled to participate.' - Crouch End Festival Chorus
Or longer like this:
'We are a warm and welcoming organisation and we want to be equally welcoming for everyone, regardless of background, characteristics or idiosyncrasies. We want everyone involved in the Choir with No Name to feel they belong in our community.' - The Choir With No Name
You can add an inclusion statement anywhere that would be the first point of contact with a new group member – your website, performance programmes, recruitment flyers. See our resource on creating an accessible and inclusive group for more on developing an inclusion statement.
Be clear about your expectations – It is tempting to say 'everyone welcome' or that you are open to 'complete beginners' to encourage people to feel invited. But being clear at the first point of contact about what will be expected of people at an activity or event can avoid misunderstandings and upset later. For example, if they will be expected to read sheet music at a 'Come and Sing' event, then state that in your invitation. It helps to explain even what you might think are obvious expectations, if that is important to the success of the event (e.g. you should be able to clap in time and sing along to a tune). In the case of performances, if it’s ok for people to move around or make noise during the performance, then let them know. If your performance depends on a very quiet audience, say that instead – and maybe programme another time when a noisier audience would be welcome.
Call to action – Make sure you include a variety of ways that people can contact you to follow up on your invitation. If there is only one way to access an opportunity e.g. a ticketing website, a web form or phone number, then people who cannot easily use this method are excluded. Always offer an alternative – email AND phone number, web form AND a posted paper version, online AND on the door tickets.
It is likely that the way your group operates, the activities you deliver or the events you plan do not suit everyone, and that there are barriers to participating that you could address. Have a look at our resource on removing barriers for more on how to make reasonable adjustments that will include more people.
At the point of inviting new people, if you make a clear statement about reasonable adjustments, then you can begin a dialogue with potential new attendees about what they need. You can do this by making a general offer in application forms, on ticketing websites or in sign-up information. Here's an example:
We want to make sure there is no barrier to taking part in our choir. If we can make any adjustments to the way we operate to give you access and include you fully, please tell us here / contact EDI@groupname.com
Or you can be more specific with your offer; if you can see that there is a common barrier to taking part, offer an adjustment you know you can make. You could ask this in a short questionnaire, but make sure you can provide the things you offer. Here’s an example:
Do you need any of the following adjustments?
☐ Large print lyric sheets
☐ Access to rehearsal recordings
☐ Captions turned on for online meetings
Follow up on all requests, including those you cannot accommodate, to try and find an alternative solution.
Being selective: Auditions, interviews and other selection processes
In some situations, you won’t be able to include everyone who wants an opportunity, and you will have to select or make a decision about who you are going to bring into your group. You may choose to hold auditions or you might have to interview candidates for a role. During this process, be aware that your group has a responsibility to provide a service or select someone for a role without discrimination, as laid out in the Equalities Act 2010. The Act protects people from discrimination on the basis of these protected characteristics: disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation.
It is not considered discrimination to select one person over another because of their skills or ability to carry out a role. But you should not discriminate for other reasons e.g. because of disability or ethnicity. Discrimination can be direct - treating someone with a protected characteristic less favourably than others. Or indirect - putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage.
Here are some suggestions of processes that can reduce the possibility of discrimination.
Offer and make adjustments to the selection process – Make an open offer to change anything that might be stopping people from applying or being involved e.g. 'Please let us know if we can make any adjustment to the audition process so you can take part equally'. You can also make suggestions of changes to the standard process that you’d be happy to accept, for example:
- if you would like to speak to us rather than fill out the form, please call…
- we are happy to accept recorded audition pieces.
Select according to skill – Focus more on a person’s ability rather than how they have gained this ability. Maybe someone can play to Grade 8 standard but has never sat an exam? Or is an excellent bookkeeper but isn’t an accountant? Asking them to show evidence or demonstrate their skills will give you more information than asking about their previous experience. You could set them a task so they can show you their skillset e.g. join in with a workshop or (for a prospective accompanist) spend an evening with the choir. Trial periods give you a chance to assess someone’s skills before you make a final decision (if it's a professional they should be paid for time they spend working with your group, even as part of a trial or selection process).
Have a look at our resource on alternatives to auditions.
Reduce unconscious bias – We all make assumptions about people that we are not aware of, and some of these can lead to discrimination. This is called unconscious bias. To reduce this in a process you could:
- Use application forms rather than ask for CVs: on an application form, ask only for information relevant to a role. Do you need to know their age or what school they went to?
- Anonymise applications: create a system where the person’s name and other identifying information is removed from an application form (or video etc.) before it is seen by those making a selection.
- 'Blind' auditions: can you screen the person auditioning so they can’t be seen by the selection panel? Or if people are asked to submit a recording, could this be just audio, and shared without their names attached?
Give lots of time to apply – Short deadlines can exclude people who take longer to complete tasks. If you need to set a tight deadline, can you offer an extension for people who might genuinely need it?
Anonymise your EDI monitoring – You might need to ask people about their protected characteristics for the purpose of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion monitoring, as this is required by some funders. Make sure that you collect this data separately from the other information you are holding on an applicant, and that the form is anonymised. If you don’t need to collect this information or won’t use it for any meaningful purpose then don’t ask, to avoid the information being used or held incorrectly.
Restricting membership of a group to people with protected characteristics
The Equalities Act 2010 allows groups to restrict membership to people who share protected characteristics as long as they don’t discriminate because of other protected characteristics. Here’s an example from the Government Equalities Office of what this means in practice:
'Ahmed is a Muslim gay man and would like to join a city choir specifically for gay men. The choir can restrict its membership based on the protected characteristics of sex and sexual orientation, but cannot discriminate against Ahmed because of his religion. Therefore the choir cannot refuse membership to Ahmed, or treat him less favourably, because he is a Muslim.'
Read more here - Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know?
2. Welcoming people for the first time
The first time someone meets with your group is crucial. If they don’t have a positive experience, this may be the last time you see them. If you have taken action to ensure your activities are always accessible and inclusive, then this is less likely to happen. See our resource on planning and running accessible and inclusive activities. But there is more you can do on this very first visit that will ensure you give that all important welcoming first impression.
For groups where people attend regularly e.g. with weekly rehearsals, prepare a welcome pack that you can send people in advance of their first visit. This could be a digital document, a page on your website or just a long email message. You could include information on:
- Communication – emergency / on the day phone numbers, how to join WhatsApp / Facebook / other internet groups
- How to get to the venue – maps, a postcode for Sat Vav / GPS mapping, public transport information
- How to access the venue – general and disabled parking, accessible entrances, how to get through any secured doors, lifts and stairs, what signage will guide them
- Venue facilities – toilet and accessible toilet information, on-site cafes, changing rooms
- Times and schedule – be specific and detailed, say if timings are strict or relaxed, if they can or should arrive before start time to prepare
- Breaks and refreshments – times and timings of breaks, refreshments arrangements, where to get water
- People – the names of key people (conductor, chair, section leader etc.), name of greeter / buddy if there is one, who to ask for help; photos and/or physical descriptions are helpful
- What should I bring – required equipment not provided (e.g. music stand), suggested clothing (to be comfortable/warm), water bottle, any cash for refreshments
- Socialising – after rehearsal drinks, regular or annual socials, social secretary details
A welcome pack should also include some information about the group, or a link to where someone could find this. You could include:
- a short history
- annual programme and events
- how the group is run and how to get involved with that
- partners and affiliates (e.g. group you perform with, charity you fundraise for, venue you perform in)
If you use the same venue regularly for rehearsals or performances, you could provide a more detailed access guide. This could sit permanently on your website, or be available to email on request. It could be a written document, or a video or audio recording, or both. It may be that the venue already has one that you could link to.
An access guide provides detailed information for people with more access requirements. It could cover:
- provision for people with wheelchairs / mobility aids
- provision for Deaf people / people with hearing impairments (loop systems, BSL interpretation)
- provision for people with visual impairments (audio interpretation, large print/braille documents)
- accessible toilets
- facilities for people with assistance dogs
- free tickets for carers/personal assistants
- quiet spaces and re-entry policy (if it’s ok for an audience member to leave and come back in during the performance)
Some access guides provide a tour of the venue, so people can prepare for a visit. This could be a video tour, or a written document with photographs. Include information on:
- best entry points and routes for easy access
- the surfaces of the grounds and floors
- access ramps and steps
- lifts and escalators
- lighting (low lighting, changes in lighting)
- all the key areas they are likely to enter, including bars and dressing rooms
You can also provide 'how-to' guidance, such as how to buy a ticket at the box office, order a drink for the interval or use an access lift.
Most large venues have good access guides to give you an example. A detailed access guide like these is time consuming to create, but even a brief one you can create yourself is helpful. Here’s an example from Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre.
You have hopefully asked about adjustments people will need during your invitation and recruitment processes (see above). In the run-up to their first visit and when they arrive, let them know what you have done and check this will work for them. If they need to enter the building through a particular door, or ask for a gluten-free option at break time, tell them! They will feel less anxious in advance and get the benefit of the adjustment you’ve worked to provide.
If you haven’t been able to make an adjustment, also let them know in advance so they can prepare an alternative solution e.g. bring their own food if it won’t be available. Be open and honest about what has stopped you from making the adjustment and discuss how you could address this in future.
Welcome in person
Giving people written information in advance is great, but nothing replaces a friendly and welcoming person to greet a new arrival. It’s common to have this at performances, but what about rehearsals, workshops, large meetings or social events?
Who: This is a really important role, so establish a team of volunteers who see the value of welcoming newcomers and are happy to share the responsibility. They could be called ushers, welcomers, buddies or anything else they choose. If you have a larger team, then they can rotate and stand in for each other. Choose an identifier that they are all happy with - a group t-shirt, name badge or lanyard.
Where: Place a volunteer at the front door to help open doors, welcome and direct people. If you have a box office or registration set up, these people will likely be behind a desk, so also have someone standing at the door.
What they can do:
- approach new faces, don’t wait for them to speak up
- hold information of anyone new who is expected and any specific adjustments that have been made for them
- give simple information on the facilities and set up of the event
- give out hard copies of a welcome pack, or be able to point to information online
- give out programmes, schedules, agendas, lyric sheets or any other papers needed for the event
- point out and introduce to other key people – leader, section leader, membership secretary
Buddies - You may choose to have a buddy for newcomers who will carry out this role for a new person for a few weeks and keep checking in on them. They can check back in with new people throughout the event, particularly when something new happens – at break times, when the group splits into sections, at the end. If they are happy to share some contact information, they could be a point of contact for a new person between rehearsals too.
From first time to every time
The journey from being the 'new person' to being part of a group can be a really difficult one. It’s common for people to give up on a new activity particularly if the rest of the group knows each other well. Here’s some suggestions of things a group can do to fast-track a new person to this sense of belonging.
- When groups are not too big, ask everyone to introduce themselves every time. It helps if people say something about themselves to attach their name to – their role or something personal, like if they have a pet.
- At warm-up time, use exercises where people have to say – or sing – their own name.
- Mix up the seating - think of artificial ways to stop people always taking the same seat if they don’t have to. Perhaps at 'tea time', arrange seats into small groups and ask people to sit with people who are wearing the same colour as them, or whose name begins with same letter. Or run a warm-up game where people have to swap seats, like the chair game.
- Give them a job – if there is anything small a new person can do to contribute, ask them to help from week one. Can they stack chairs, pour tea, or hand out music? Don’t leave a new person out of a rota - it's an opportunity to include them as an equal group member.
- Build a 'Happy Birthday' slot into weekly rehearsals. Ask people if they want to be included (some might not), keep a careful note of dates and don’t miss anyone out! Or you could find another way to celebrate each individual member through the year – 'star of the week'?
If you want a new audience member to return, what incentives will welcome them back? Sign them up to a mailing list as they book, or offer a discount on their next ticket. Make sure they know about your social media pages so they can follow you and post their comments about the performance.
3. Taking more action
Your group may decide that inclusion is a top priority and you are ready to take more action. This work could become a new project or additional activity for your group, it could be a one-off, or a permanent shift. Just make sure you understand how much resource you’ll need to make it work – the people, the time and perhaps the funds. If you’re ready for change, then here’s some suggestions.
Performances in the community – Don't expect new audiences to come to you when you can go to them. Think about community spaces that are used by people who don’t usually come to your events and performances - your local library, care home, cultural centre or food bank might welcome a performance. To make this more manageable, take a smaller group of performers or perform for a short amount of time. Remember to let your audience know if you are welcoming new members – you never know who is listening or who they might know. For more ideas see our resource on alternatives to formal concerts.
Collaborations – Look to other groups of music makers and creatives in your community and begin to build relationships. You could begin by inviting them to take part at one of your performances, or perform at one of theirs. Combining your audiences will connect you and your communities together. As your relationship develops, talk about ways you could musically collaborate. You could also collaborate with other types of creative group; a dance group who could perform with you, or a visual art group that could create work based on the theme of your next performance. For more ideas see our resource on collaborating with other music groups. To see how it might look in practice, check out Making Music award winners Bradford Friendship Choir and Bradford Festival Choral Society performing their collaboration Jikelele on YouTube.
Repertoire – Does the music you sing or play represent the people singing, playing and listening to it? Consider programming music written by people other than the 'usual suspects' e.g. from other cultures or by women. Also consider the words of songs or themes of pieces of music – are there any words or ideas that would be challenging or excluding? Are the experiences described universal or do they exclude some people e.g. are the love songs you sing all from the perspective of men in love with women? For more ideas see our webinar recording on programming women composers.
Social prescribing - Social prescribing is a way for GPs, nurses and local agencies to refer people to local services to support their health and wellbeing. People are referred to a link worker who can connect them to activities they will enjoy and benefit from, which could include your singing or music making group if you want to offer this. As well as increasing your group’s membership, this could help your group learn more about inclusion and how to remove barriers for newcomers and your existing members. For more ideas check out these resources produced with the Singing for Health Network.
'All about me' surveys - If you are inviting people with more complex access needs to your activities, you will find it helpful to have more information about them so you can better support them. This could help if your group is, for example, a dementia inclusive choir, a group to support wellbeing or if you’re working with people new to music-making. An 'All about me' survey gives people the opportunity to tell you more about their needs in your environment and helps you get to know them. For an idea at how this might work, check out this leaflet by the Alzheimer's Society.
Taking positive action in recruitment – When you are recruiting new people to take part in or be employed under contract by your group, you are permitted by law to take positive action. That means, where two people are of equal merit, you are allowed to select a person from an under-represented group to help them overcome disadvantages in competing with other applicants. When you are advertising opportunities, you can make clear that you will take this action. This could encourage people from under-represented groups to apply. For more information on how to do this, see this quick start guide.
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.