It’s for Everyone! Tips and Tricks for Attracting New Members to your Community Band

By – Megan Stapleton

It’s for Everyone! Tips and Tricks for Attracting New Members to your Community Band

By – Megan Stapleton

Community music ensembles are wonderful places – full of people from diverse backgrounds and of different ages, with their own motivations for being involved. If you’re thinking about starting a community ensemble or are looking for ways to expand the membership of your current group, here are some tips!

Why did I join a community music group?

When trying to attract new members, think back to why you joined a community music ensemble. Everyone has their own story. My parents aren’t musical at all but my Dad saw an ad for the local brass band in the paper and dropped me off at the door the next Monday night. I honestly thought I’d been dropped on another planet. They put me on 2nd trombone and I was too shy to tell them I couldn’t read treble clef, so I mimed for the first few weeks until I got up the courage to tell the person next to me.

You’d probably hear that story and think, well why did she stay?

Well I’m stubborn is the first thing, and I never like to give up! But I also wasn’t getting much of a challenge at school and was looking for more chances to play. What really sealed the deal for me though was the band conductor recommending I join the State Youth Brass Band. There I made friends with kids my own age and we pushed each other to be better, and also had a lot of laughs along the way!

I wanted to create a similar culture in my own band and whilst we’ve made a lot of progress, there is always more to do.

How do we attract new members?

When I joined my local band, it had around 15-20 members and the average age was in the late 60s. Now, we have two ensembles with over 60 members between them and the average age is in the mid-30s. It took around 5 years of continuous effort to really see a change.

I can’t stress enough the importance of strong band administration. You can have a great conductor, plenty of music and the best equipment, but you need good administration to bring in new members and to keep them.

These are the main avenues of approach that have worked for us:

  • Constantly reach out – never assume that everyone in the community is aware of your band. It might be the centre of your life, but there will be plenty of people who aren’t aware community music groups exist. Every year more kids pick up an instrument for the first time – don’t be a stranger! A good website and a social media presence are really helpful here. We’ve particularly seen a growth in contact through our social media page over the last 3 – 4 years.
  • Clear communication – with younger members you’re really trying to convince the parent more than the kid (though obviously you want them to enjoy it!). We’ve put in place a welcome pack that we can hand to parents as they walk through the door. It has a welcome flyer with some information about the band, a membership form, an instrument hire form and FAQ sheet. I’m always the contact person to ensure consistent communication. Creating a welcoming environment from the very start goes a long way. We want to make it as easy as possible for parents. We also send emails with all the information about upcoming gigs, rehearsals, etc. – don’t rely on the kids to pass on the message! We also send an instrument home from night one to keep the excitement going. In my more than 20 years in community music, we’ve only had one instrument permanently vanish.
  • Build a relationship with local schools – this is tricky. Some schools are reluctant to work with community groups for fear they’ll lose their students from the school band. I strongly believe this fear is misguided. If you have a student keen enough to give up a week night and some weekends for rehearsals and concerts, they’re unlikely to suddenly quit the school group. So many young people play throughout their school years and then put the instrument into a cupboard at the end of year 12 and never play again. It doesn’t have to be that way! Community music ensembles are all about creating a lifelong association with music.
  • We play at local primary school fetes around our council area free of charge. This helps us get our name out to local families and also is of benefit to the school. I’m also a sucker for a school fete cake stand! Building relationships with local schools is something my band is working on and we’ve had more success with primary schools than secondary schools so far. We usually gain 1 or 2 new members from local schools each year.
  • Be realistic – not everyone who comes and tries a rehearsal is going to love it and stay. And that’s ok. No point in making someone feel guilty for not liking it! Same goes for those that want to step away to focus on year 12 or other life events. We had a tuba player ask to step away for their year 12 and then she returned during 1st year university. Having that relationship with us before she went to university really helped.

There is no one perfect way to reach out but there are some common themes:

  • The longer they are with your organisation before the year 12/university transition, the more likely they are to stay as they move into tertiary education.
  • Getting the whole family involved is a great way to keep kids attending – and also bags you some extra members! We had a couple bring along their two kids to try our training band and ended up joining as well! We also had a grandad bring his grandson along, the grandson didn’t take to it but the grandad stayed! Never assume that someone isn’t interested in learning. We have lots of family units within our band membership.
  • Keep trying – I was the only person who joined from the ad my band put out all those years ago, but it’s certainly paid off for them!

Megan Stapleton is President of the Victorian Bands' League and has been involved in community music for over 20 years. Megan has been a conductor, player and administrator across various community music groups and is currently CEO of Moonee Valley Brass and conductor of the Moonee Valley Community Choir.