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Bums on seats
Understanding the new entertainment normality

When brass bands return to live performance how do they prise the bums of an audience from the sofas in front of smart television screens to hear them play — or can they also offer another button to press...


Smart televisions now offer even more reasons for people to stay at home to be entertained...

What will be the biggest challenge facing bands as they contemplate the long awaited return to the concert and contest stage over the next few months?

For the individual it is arguably the question of personal motivation – reigniting the desire for a hobby that over the past year or so has diminished from an essential weekly activity to an occasional rejigging of the memory banks.

Old normalities

And despite the initial declarations of enthusiasm, there is little doubt that many will find it difficult to recommit time and purpose to rehearsals and practice regimes, as well as dig deep into their pockets for the financial investment needed if all the movement itself has to offer is a return to a pre-Covid-19 age of old ‘normalities’.

The suggestion that the last 15 months has been nothing more than a temporary hiatus in the evolutionary timeline of banding development borders on the delusional.  The 21st June (at the earliest in England according to the Government) will herald not the end of hibernation, but the awakening to a new, starker reality.  

The suggestion that the last 15 months has been nothing more than a temporary hiatus in the evolutionary timeline of banding development borders on the delusional.

Everything will have changed around us – and no amount of enthusiastic jingoism will camouflage the very real challenges posed by the new performance landscape.

It is one that will surely see bands forced to confront increasingly difficult non-competitive choices if they are to survive let alone prosper in the decade to come.  


There must be more to offer even for the diehards...

Contesting may well have been missed by those who love participating in it the most, but for many it has already been replaced by something else. 

The promise of a weekend in Cheltenham or London, or long days at local association events may appeal to diehards, but do they really retain a lasting attraction to those who have become accustomed to spending their leisure time exploring different activities over the last year or so?

Work harder

What is certain is that organisations will now have to work harder than ever to both attract and retain membership – from the youngest learners to the oldest supporter, and even harder still to pay their way.  And if they haven’t already got a plan in place of just how they are going to do that in the coming months, then heaven help them. 

What is certain is that organisations will now have to work harder than ever to both attract and retain membership – from the youngest learners to the oldest supporter, and even harder still to pay their way. 

Easier part

In its way that is the easier part of the post-Covid equation to find an answer to.

We only have ourselves to think about, especially as any sense of an ‘all for one, one for all’ collective brotherhood of endeavour is fanciful – as has been seen by the lack of joined-up action planning by any pairing of organisational significance over the last year. 

One band’s (or contest’s) demise has always been another’s opportunity to prosper. A form of Darwinian survival may about to be played out before our eyes in 2022 and beyond. 

A form of Darwinian survival may about to be played out before our eyes in 2022 and beyond. 


More people are enjoying a cheap night in on a comfy sofa with added extras...

Bums on seats

All that may seem hard enough, but a more significant challenge will surely come in persuading audiences - both old and especially new - to replace the comfort of their own new domestic ‘normality’ to return to listen to us perform. 

Yep. It all about bums on seats: The bums of people who have become increasingly accustomed to snugly squeezing into a comfy DFS sofa each night selecting from an exponential choice of entertainment menus that fill the screens of their brand new 65” 4G televisions.

Yep. It all about bums on seats: The bums of people who have become increasingly accustomed to snugly squeezing into a comfy DFS sofa each night selecting from an exponential choice of entertainment menus that fill the screens of their brand new 65” 4G televisions.

So how do we persuade people on a weekend evening to leave the warm confines of their front room and the certainty of being able to pick something they want to enjoy on Netflix, for the alternative of a brass band concert in seats that don’t give a premium view or listening experience and a programme of content they have little idea of in advance?

And just how do we entice them to commit three hours or more of their time to enjoy haphazard concert programmes rather than ‘box sets’, or pay to listen to 18 bands playing a test-piece rather than make a one-off ‘pay per view’ purchase for an overhyped boxing bout?

Marked for extinction

Any long-term survival strategy that doesn’t understand what the advent of the ‘smart’ television as a means of entertainment has now confronted us with, is one that is marked for extinction.   

This is perhaps the greatest challenge of all as we contemplate a return to the concert and contest stage.  We cannot afford to think we can survive by playing to ourselves. 

According to the latest media statistics, over 42% of households in the UK now own a smart television (over three times the number since 2014) and 53% of all households are subscribed to at least 1 video-on-demand service. Over 6.7 million homes have 2 or more services. 

Sober facts

It also a challenge backed by some sober facts.

According to the latest media statistics, over 42% of households in the UK now own a smart television (over three times the number since 2014) and 53% of all households are subscribed to at least 1 video-on-demand service. Over 6.7 million homes have 2 or more services. 

And television is the most popular device for streaming, followed by the PC computer – not portable smart phones or tablets.  That means people consume at home – and not on the go. Their choice of entertainment venue has fast become the front room. 

13.1 million people subscribe to Netflix alone in the UK.  Amazon Prime also has 7.9 million subscribers and Disney +, 4.6 million.  


More and more people are choosing the Netflix button for home entertainment

It’s a sector that is growing by over 12% a year and the choice is getting greater and more competitive. Sky Go, Sky Store, Apple, Now TV, You Tube – let alone BT, BBC IPlayer and ITV Player amongst others battling to secure their niche in the marketplace. 

Paying for choice

Costs vary, but as the statistics show, people are increasingly prepared to pay for choice – especially when it means they don’t have to figure in the unknown additional expenditure that a concert night out entails (home delivery pizzas instead of hourly car park fees).

You can get Netflix for as little as £6.00 per month. A ticket for one of the first post Covid contests is rumoured to be around £33 for an adult. 

According to Statistica, the average adult now spends almost 4 hours a day watching television, with (not surprisingly) the figure increasing as the age profile gets older. That’s 10 years of their life. 

According to Statistica, the average adult now spends almost 4 hours a day watching television, with (not surprisingly) the figure increasing as the age profile gets older. That’s 10 years of their life. 

And guess what our audience age demographic has been moving to over the last decade or more? 

All this will have made an irreversible impact on listening preferences when the time comes for our potential brass band audience to consider on returning to live performances.

Off their backsides?

So with all this to contend with, will they, or can they be persuaded to lift their backsides off the sofas? 

Not according to the latest research which has found that although the major high profile venues and organisers remain upbeat, smaller and older concert venues do not. And where do most brass band concerts take place?

However, not all is doom and gloom.


Some orchestras have already tried different concert venues with success...

Proactive approach

Those venues with a proactive approach to audience interaction and collaboration have already been thinking of new ideas – as have ensembles with the same outlook. 

Early evening concerts, shorter programmes, themed events, education and school link ups linked to exciting new venues such as car parks and retail spaces with smaller ensembles, mixed genres and artists had already started to find a niche before Covid-19 struck. 

Now, instead of being occasional forays and experiments, they may now form a core part of a long-term artistic strategy – one that brass bands should also consider embracing. 

 Now, instead of being occasional forays and experiments, they may now form a core part of a long-term artistic strategy – one that brass bands should also consider embracing.  

Dichotomy possibility

Strangely, the dichotomy presented by the audience listening experience of the future also offers an exciting possibility of encouraging people to actually remain in their comfy front room seats on occasions.


A number of bands have already shown that they can present themselves with inventiveness

Hold the interest

All the more so if bands can make the type of substantial investment in technology and expertise, as well as inventive artistic thinking to provide an attractive, or different performance environment that can hold the interest of an audience that at a press on a button can flick from concert hall to football ground or ‘Game of Thrones’ to ‘The Queen’s Gambit’  if it becomes bored.

The imposing challenge will be one of quality as well as price, but as a number of professional orchestras and arts organisations such as the Old Vic and Rambert Ballet have shown, home audiences will pay for high quality production values and performances. 

Do it on the cheap though and you may as well stream live coverage of two kittens playing with a ball of wool:  It will have just as much artistic value and financial appeal.

The future will certainly present many varied difficulties for bands in reconnecting with an audience that has almost forgotten what the experience of listening to a brass band live is like.

However the first step is surely to understand why more bums are on seats  at home in the first place.

Iwan Fox

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