Building and retaining audiences – the use of a questionnaire

All classical music promoters will be aware how difficult it is to  maintain and grow an audience.  One can never relax.  To quote from an earlier post, the problem is that of audience retention – persuading them to come again to another concert. In practice, this means that each concert has to be perceived as sufficiently enjoyable to encourage the potential audience member to come along, even if this means coping with heavy traffic on a cold, dark, wet night in the winter, rather than staying at home by the fire, watching the television. It is a tough challenge !

The most important factor will usually be the programme on offer, as discussed in my previous post.  But there are many others as well.   It is the total package – both musical and social – which will determine whether an audience member will return.   I am increasingly persuaded by the theory of ‘marginal gains’, derived from Sir Dave Brailsford and the British Cycling Team, whereby the accumulation of various small improvements makes a marked cumulative difference   .

One invaluable way of assessing the whole ‘concert experience’ is to administer a questionnaire focussing on each aspect of the evening in turn.  Here is a questionnaire which we have administered to our audience.  A summary of their responses can be seen here

St Mary’s Perivale Questionnaire Survey October 2015

  1. What do you like about our concerts
  1. What do you NOT like about our concerts ?
  1. How can we improve ?

Choice of musicians ….(more or less solo piano / piano trios / string quartets  / wind / vocal etc ??)

Choice of music ….(more or less modern / early music / any particular composers)

Practical organisation of concerts ….(Preference for Wednesday / Sat evenings / Sunday afternoons / frequency – what else?) (Seating ? / temperature ?)

Social aspects of concerts ….(Socializing at the end of concerts ? What else ?)

  1. WHAT ELSE influences your decision to attend a concert ?(Cold / wet weather ?    Football on the telly !?  Traffic ? Transport problems ? Need of a lift home ? What else ??)
  1. PUBLICITY : Any thoughts on how can we raise our profile ?(Weekly emails / leaflets / website / social media / other ?)
  1. If you could plan your perfect ‘dream concert’ at our venue, what would it comprise ?
  1. Any other comments or suggestions not covered by the above?

This questionnaire would be suitable for any concert organization – or any church or other voluntary organization as well – and is much better than the clumsy on-line questionnaires which ask ‘How do you rate our concerts ?’ etc.  Free text enables people to express themselves more accurately and fully, and works much better in practice.  The crucial  question is number 2. What do you NOT like about our concerts ?  This open question immediately draws attention to principle negative aspect, as perceived by an audience member, and focusses on what needs to be corrected.     I suspect that many organizations are rather afraid of this sort of honest feedback, since one is vulnerable to the occasional ‘brickbat.   However, I would strongly recommend it.  The answers are always unpredictable, surprising, and beneficial.

So reverting to the ‘Marginal Gains’ philosophy, our questionnaire has encouraged us to have more singers and wind instruments, to ask the musicians to talk more about their pieces, to relax our policy on admitting late-comers, to lower the audience lights during a concert, to create more room for socializing at the end of the concert, to buy better quality crisps and wine, and to embrace social media – hence this post !   These are all very marginal gains, but in summation they may make a difference.   Furthermore, the administration of a questionnaire has a direct effect on audience numbers, since the process of asking ‘What else influences your decision to attend a concert’ inevitably makes a person more likely to attend the next one !   Please feel free to use this outline questionnaire, suitably modified to meet your requirements in your own organization.   I would be happy to advise further if needed.


Organizer of classical concerts at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas Ealing. Pianist, organist and retired physician

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