Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Finding an audience 3: letting people know

You’ve identified what your choir does, found a way of describing it accurately, so now it’s time to let people know about it.

Banksy mural

Banksy rat mural in Soho, New York by caruba

I’ve considered this subject before in Getting the word out which forms part 5 of How to start your own community choir. But in this post, I’m going to look more specifically at the forms that publicity might take and what outlets there are to promote your choir.

different forms of publicity

There are many forms you can use to spread the description of what your choir has to offer. Here are some of them. It’s not an exhaustive list!

written word

This includes press releases, posters, fliers, brochures, beer mats, business cards, advertisements and so on. You will probably already have a written description of what your choir has to offer, so can easily adapt it for each of these different forms. You can also use audience testimonials from people who have seen your concerts before, or – even better – a review by a recognised music critic.


For posters, brochures, etc. there also needs to be a design element and suitable choice of images. You can get something off the shelf or see if anyone in the choir has design skills. Sometimes a photo of the choir is useful (especially in the local press), but is not necessarily always the best image for a poster. For my views on photographing choirs see Picture this.

sound recording

Your latest CD, a recording of your last concert, even a rough recording of last night’s rehearsal can all easily convey exactly what your choir sounds like and what kind of repertoire it sings.

video recording

In these days of cheap digital camcorders and YouTube, having a recording of one of your performances or rehearsals is probably the easiest way of summing up what it is that you do.

spoken word

Word of mouth is by far the best way of promoting your choir, but there are also interviews (with your musical director and/ or individual choir members or audience members) which can be used in a number of different ways.

live performance

Maybe obvious, but a live performance is the very best example of a live performance! People can see exactly what it is that they will experience in a full concert.

This can also be extended to live demonstrations (a taster workshop, a free trial for potential choir members, teaching a song to the audience).

different outlets for your publicity

In these days of mobile phones and the internet, there is an increasing number of different outlets for publicity, but don’t overlook the more traditional outlets such as newspapers and magazines. Here are some of the more common outlets. Again, by no means exhaustive.

broadcast media (TV and radio)

There are local BBC radio stations all over the country and they are desperate to have free content to fill the airwaves. They will often give you a phone interview and/ or play a track from your CD or even interview you in the studio. One of my choirs did a live performance in the studio one Christmas!

Local commercial stations tend towards the more populist end of the spectrum, so whether you approach them or not depends on what your repertoire is and what kind of choir you are.

Regional TV is harder to get onto, but you can always try the ‘human interest’ approach. Maybe you’re donating your concert proceeds to a local charity, or one of your choir members has a story to tell.

The BBC website has separate pages for each local station. Most of them have some sort of events section and some of them will also broadcast a what’s on slot. Worth sending them your press release.

brochures (festivals or arts centres)

If you happen to be performing at a festival or arts centre which produces its own brochure (and posters), then you will get excellent coverage for free. Make sure you get the information (and images) to them in plenty of time in the format they need and with the correct word count.

Even if you’re not actually performing at your local arts centre or festival, they often offer a service whereby you can piggy-back their brochure distribution by putting a single item in the envelope with the brochure when they do a mailshot. It’s cheaper than posting them yourself and it will also get to more people than your own mailing list.


Local newspapers will almost always list your concert in their what’s on or community section, but that might just be a couple of lines amongst many other events on the same day. Much better to try to get some editorial space.

Again, like other local media, you’ll need an angle (not just another concert!), preferably one with human interest. Local papers usually like to send their own photographers so you won’t get a chance to use that carefully chosen choir photo that you spent so much time on. Their photographers only work office hours and weekdays so won’t come to one of your evening rehearsals.

All local papers will have a website. You can get listed in their what’s on section, but more importantly that’s where you can find full contact details and names of reporters. Try to develop a personal relationship with one of them. Phone calls are better than email for doing this. Find out who on the staff might like the kind of music you do.

It’s very, very unlikely that you will get national press coverage, but if you think you have an unusual and interesting enough angle, then give it a go. Again, make sure your contact is targeted, don’t just send it to the general news desk.

Make sure you get your information in to the paper in plenty of time. If it’s a weekly local paper, then make sure you know which day it comes out. Send your stuff in with at least a week for them to publish. There’s a fine balance between getting the word out too early (so people forget) and leaving it too late (when they’ve booked up to do something else).

Keep a file of all press contacts, names, addresses (real and email), website address, publication dates, etc. etc. Keep it up to date as personnel change frequently.


Magazines are like newspapers only they have a much, much longer lead-in period. Find out when they come out and when they go to press. You’ll need to keep a forward planning diary to make sure you hit their deadlines (which are often published in the magazine the month before). It’s easy to forget that the information about your Christmas concert needs to be submitted in August for those quarterly magazines that come out in October.

It’s very,very hard to get a review of a concert which has only one performance. Newspapers and magazines will only tend to review something that will still be on after the review is published. But still worth a try.


So far I’ve only considered outlets which are free. The one big advantage is that they don’t cost money, but the big downside is that there is no guarantee that you will get in, or if you do, they might mangle your press release and miss out vital information.

One way to guarantee inclusion in newspapers and magazines is to pay for an advert. This can range from a small black and white ad in the classifieds, to a full-colour, full-page ad in the magazine section.

The big plus is that you will definitely get published – at a price. Make very, very sure that you’ve checked everything for typos and accuracy before submitting, make sure you agree a price beforehand and check what format they need the final copy in.

websites and blogs

Obviously you’ll put your concert information on your own website (you do have one, don’t you??!!), and make sure it’s kept up to date, but there are also hundreds of listings and what’s on sites on the internet. Some are nationwide, and some are local. They all have different requirements so you’ll need to adapt your basic publicity information to fit a whole range of word counts. Don’t forget time, date and how people can get tickets.

Many newspapers allow online submission for events via their website. There is usually a form to fill in. Make time to investigate all relevant websites and bookmark them so you can update them all in one sitting.

Put it on your choir’s blog if you have one, or find out if any choir members have a blog.

online social media

This is the age of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and so on. If you have the time (and know-how), set up a Facebook page for your choir, a YouTube channel (for all your videos) and a Twitter account, and any other social media you can think of. Regularly update your followers and fans. Keep them in the loop and offer them special previews or deals. Make them feel special!

Make sure that it’s easy and obvious via your website how to connect with you on these other sites. Put it in your choir email signature, on your choir business card (you do have one, don’t you?), and any other place you can think of.

public spaces

The place for fliers and posters. Before you print hundreds of A5 fliers, make sure you know where they’re going to go, if it’s allowed (always ask permission in bars, cafes, etc.), and whether it’s worthwhile (you don’t want to come back after the concert and find that there are still piles of flier sitting there!).

Before you print loads of posters, figure out exactly where they’re going to go. It’s no good getting 500 printed if you only have 20 outlets. Don’t get A2 posters printed if you only have small notice boards available that will only take A4 posters.

Can you pay to have the local leaflet people display your fliers or put them through people’s letter boxes? Is it cost-effective?

As long as your local council or shopping centre doesn’t object (ask them first) you can do impromptu performances in public spaces. Make sure someone is there who is not singing who can hand out leaflets and field enquiries. Maybe get a big self-standing board made so you can advertise clearly the name of your choir and concert details. Maybe have some CDs to sell!

other people’s concerts

Offer to be a support at someone else’s concert – for free. Go to the top. Ask the big guns. You’d be surprised how many big names will go for it if they’re doing a local concert near you. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Make the offer clear: “we’ll do two songs, it will take six minutes and we think it will complement what you plan to do in the second half.”

Offer your services to the local cinema. There was a French film a while back called “The Chorus”. Offer to do a few live songs before the film starts. Choose an appropriate film!

Contact the local schools and offer to do a joint concert. Or other local choirs.

mailing lists

You should always be developing your mailing list. Collect names and email addresses (cheaper than snail mail postage) at concerts, workshops, outdoor performances, on your website, etc. Do a mailshot in plenty of time before your concert. Don’t use exactly the same wording as on your website (or Facebook page or Tweets). People get bored very easily and fed up if they keep hearing the same refrain. Vary it and keep it spiced up.

If you only have snail mail addresses, think about posting fliers. Or if you can’t afford it, rope the choir in to hand deliver stuff. Always put a note in for people to let you know if they have an email address, it’s cheaper.

the telephone

Finally, a bit old-fashioned, but there’s nothing like the personal touch. If you have phone numbers on your mailing list, then why not recruit some choir members and choose a random group of people to phone and plug your concert to. Hopefully it will have a ripple effect. Make people think they are special by making it personal. And if they can’t/ won’t come, then it’s a perfect opportunity to get some feedback.

And since we live in the modern world: don’t forget texting.

it’s all too much!

There’s a lot here I know. And I’m sure I’ve left some things out!

I’m not suggesting you do all of these things, but I hope I’ve given you a glimpse into the many forms and outlets that your publicity can use. There are plenty of resources out there to help you write the perfect press release, maximise your social media presence, design the ideal poster, hunt down your local newspapers.

A lot of it is trial and error. For instance, I found at that for some reason more people came to our concerts who saw it in the local free paper rather than the paid-for evening news. Also, there aren’t that many suitable places to put fliers out locally, so printing hundreds is a waste of money.

Change your strategy and learn as you go along. If you decide to pay form something (a designer, and advert, a flier distributor), then make sure it’s cost-effective. If it’s not, stop it.

So why not get started ... now!

And you have to keep it up. It’s no good putting a huge effort into your next concert, then letting up. You have to develop, extend and push.

other methods

Next week I’ll be looking at alternative strategies for getting a bigger and better audience for your concert: 20 ways to increase your concert audience.

But in the meantime, do drop by, leave a comment, and give us the benefit of your own ideas and wisdom. Is there anything I’ve left out? What works (or doesn’t work) well for you?


Chris Rowbury's website:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Songs and copyright 3: different kinds of rights

Last week I wrote about the basic principles underlying the concept of copyright.

different mediums

This week I’ll look in more detail at the kinds of things we might want to copyright and what kinds of rights we can give people over these things.

what exactly is it that we can have rights to?

In the beginning a song exists just inside somebody’s head. It may or may not have words or harmonies. It might just be a simple tune or it may be a lush arrangement with many verses and lyrics. At this point the song writer has complete control over their creation.

At some point though, in order to communicate the song, it has to be sung to somebody or written down in a form that other people can understand. This is where it can get messy. People can then take your song and copy, steal, adapt, mis-represent, sell, or perform it whenever they like without your permission. This is where copyright comes in.

There are two basic elements to any song: the music and the lyrics. These are separate entities and each is subject to its own copyright:

  • the music as a musical work, and
  • the lyrics as a literary work.

This makes sense as it’s possible to put different words to a musical work, or to set a literary work to a different tune. Also, it’s often the case that the person who writes the music is not the same as the person who writes the lyrics. They each have independent rights over their work.

But there can be other elements to a song that also need protection depending on what people want to do with it.

what people might want to do with a song

  • record it
  • perform it live
  • record a performance
  • broadcast a recording
  • play a recording in a public place
  • make their own arrangement
  • change the lyrics
  • use the lyrics with a different tune
  • use the song in a live show
  • write it down in musical notation
  • publish it as sheet music
  • publish the lyrics
  • use the tune and add different lyrics

As a writer of a song, you will want to decide who can do each of these activities and under what arrangement (financial or otherwise).

As a user of a song, you will need to know what permissions you have and who you have to ask.

who has rights?

As you can see from the list above, there can be a lot of people involved in using a song and they all have rights that can be protected. Here is a list of some of the people who need some kind of control over their work.

The person who

  • wrote the music
  • wrote the lyrics
  • performed the song
  • recorded the song
  • wrote the song down
  • published the sheet music
  • arranged the song
  • used the song in their movie

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

it’s getting complicated!

We’ve seen that there can be many forms of a song or elements to it that might need protecting (music, lyrics, recording, sheet music, etc.) and many individuals who are connected with these (song writer, lyricist, arranger, publisher, record company, etc.).

Because of the complex world we live in, it is not necessarily the case that the person who wrote the music owns the rights to that music, nor is it necessarily the case that the person who originally recorded the song owns the rights to the use of that recording.

Because of this, any law that attempts to protect all parties involved is going to be necessarily complex and may not get everything right. To make things more difficult, we live in a global society so not only do we have the laws of our own country to consider, but also international copyright law.

Next week I’ll dip a tentative toe into the legal side of copyright. I’ll consider what you can and can’t do with a song, how long copyright lasts and how the law is enforced. I’ll be focusing on British law (since that’s where I’m based), but many of the principles are similar in other countries.


Do drop by and leave a comment if you have any copyright questions that you’d like me to answer, or if you have any comments on this series so far.

This is the third in a series of seven posts about songs and copyright:

  1. Even if it’s a folk song, somebody wrote it
  2. Basic principles of copyright
  3. Different kinds of rights
  4. How the law works
  5. Who owns the song?
  6. How to get permission to use a song
  7. Alternatives


Chris Rowbury's website:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Finding an audience 2: describing what we do

This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as It does exactly what it says in the blurb – or not! in August 2007

Last week I pointed out that the first step in finding an audience for your concerts is to identify what it is that your choir actually does.

Describing words

Describing words by Kathy Cassidy

The next step is then to describe that in a way that people can relate to. That is the tricky part!


A few years ago I ran a workshop called Beatles acappella. The publicity said something like: “A fabulous singing workshop for Beatles lovers. Learn fun harmony arrangements of well-loved songs by the Fab Four.”

I was very pleased that a few younger women had decided to attend. But half way through the morning, after learning a couple of songs, they left. When I asked why they were leaving they said “It wasn’t what we expected.”

What had they expected I wonder? I thought I had explained very clearly what was going to happen, but obviously not clearly enough!

On another occasion I ran a workshop called The Paul Simon Songbook. Again, explaining that I would be teaching well-known Paul Simon songs in three and four part harmony. During the warm-up I made a joke that Paul Simon was stuck on the M6 and had phoned me to ask me to carry on with the workshop until he arrived. Everyone laughed. Except – I later realised – for two women who thought I was serious and complained to the box office when Mr. Simon hadn’t arrived by lunchtime!

Had they really expected Paul Simon to fly over to run a workshop that cost just £15 for the day?

It reminds me of a Monty Python sketch. A customer goes into a dry cleaners and complains when his clothes aren’t ready the next day. “But your shop is called 24-hour dry-cleaners!” “That’s just its name” the man replies.

getting your description right

We had a concert recently which I called Around the world in 30 songs. I thought that captured the essence of what we had to offer, but we only got a tiny audience. Maybe I got it wrong and it sounded too much like musical theatre or a play. Getting the description right is vital, but can never be 100% perfect.

This is what I’ve learnt over the years about trying to describe what you have to offer:

  • imagine you’re talking to a stranger in the street – don’t assume that the people reading your description know anything about what you do. It’s all too easy to forget this and to imagine you’re talking to your choir or other singing colleagues.
  • keep it short and simple – don’t use complicated words and don’t write too much. Think of a snappy, descriptive title and possibly a strapline (short sentence to go underneath).
  • be aware of different meanings – I bandy words like ‘harmony’ about knowing that I’m referring to singing, but ‘world harmony’ means something very different.
  • avoid jargon – just because you use it everyday, don’t assume your audience know what you mean. Things like acappella, polyphony, Western canon, etc. can alienate or confuse people.
  • find common reference points – mention something that people can relate to: “It’s like Pink Floyd meets West Side Story”. People need something familiar to hang onto if you’re trying to introduce something new or different.
  • you can never get it right – it doesn’t matter how well you describe what you have to offer, you will definitely be misinterpreted or misunderstood!

oh, that’s what you do!

We can try very hard to describe what to expect, but we’ll never get it exactly right. Whatever we write is open to misinterpretation. Often people hear what they want to hear. So you can expect some disappointment from a few audience members.

On the other hand, if you can just get people through the door they are usually pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t expect anything like that. It was wonderful!” What’s a little depressing though is that you thought your description was spot on, and yet obviously your message didn’t get through to that person!

Why not use this fact? Have a chat with those audience members and find out what they had expected and why there was a mismatch. You can ask them to describe the concert in their own words.

You can extend this further and get more formal feedback from your audience by handing out questionnaires. I always have a comments book at concerts, but often people just write “Great concert!” which is not that helpful. Try more focused questions and use them to adapt your description for your next concert.

are you getting your message across?

What’s your experience? Do you find it hard to describe what you do accurately? Are there audience members who say it’s not what they expected? Do you keep the same descriptions or do you constantly update them for each concert?

Next week I’ll be looking at how you get this description out there in order to promote your choir and your concerts.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Songs and copyright 2: basic principles of copyright

Last week I introduced the idea of songs and copyright: Even if it’s a folk song, somebody wrote it. Every song was written by somebody and you should at the very least acknowledge that fact.

guitar player

I'm singing this song for you by enggul

This week I want to look in more detail at the basic principles behind the idea of copyright and what it is trying to achieve (even though it might not succeed). In later posts I will be covering the specifics of what the law currently says and the different kinds of rights that exist.

helping and supporting song writers

Copyright is an attempt to help those who create songs to control who makes use of their work and the circumstances in which it is used.

The law of copyright attempts to provide a balance between the interests of those who invest skills, effort, time and money in the creation of works on the one hand, and those who want to use and enjoy those works on the other.

Any song writer wants their music to be heard and enjoyed by as many people as possible, but they also want to have some control over how their songs are used and disseminated.

what kind of control do song writers want?

I can think of three main rights that a song writer would like:

  1. acknowledge me – I wrote this song
  2. ask my permission – to grant the right for others to take my song and sing it, teach it, write it down, arrange it, record it, broadcast it, etc.
  3. protect my song – I don’t want anyone to steal my song and pass it off as their own

Notice that none of these necessarily involve money, although it is often the case these days that song writers are trying to make a living from their work. These three rights seem to me to be about common decency and respect.

copyright and the law

In most countries laws have been created to give basic rights such as those above to song writers.

Unfortunately, over the years, some of these laws have become draconian and are more likely to involve large multi-national corporations than individual song writers.

There is much debate on copyright laws and how they might be changed ranging from those who want to extend the laws, to those who want to relax them or dispense with them entirely.

Despite the sometimes heavy-handedness of the law, the basic principle of giving rights to song writers is still important.

There are alternatives to the main copyright laws which I will discuss in a later post (e.g. copyleft, Creative Commons). Basically they involve granting a license under intellectual property laws to authorise the use of a work in specified ways.

singers and musicians

The users of songs don’t really have the same kinds of rights to protect, but they do have their own needs: to sing songs, to arrange songs, to record songs, to play songs that they didn’t write themselves. And of course the song writers themselves welcome and encourage this. So there is a need to find a way that both parties can be satisfied. A difficult juggling act!

next week

Next week I’ll be looking at the different kinds of rights that someone might want over a particular song. For example they may want to record it, write it down, perform it, broadcast it, arrange it, etc. Also, what exactly is it that is being copyrighted? Is it a piece of sheet music or the notes themselves or a particular version on a CD?

This is the second in a series of seven posts about songs and copyright:

  1. Even if it’s a folk song, somebody wrote it
  2. Basic principles of copyright
  3. Different kinds of rights
  4. How the law works
  5. Who owns the song?
  6. How to get permission to use a song
  7. Alternatives


Chris Rowbury's website:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Finding an audience 1: identifying what your choir does

This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as What is it that you do exactly? in June 2007

Last week I was bemoaning the fact that we only get small, mainly elderly audiences at our choral concerts. I’m sure there is an audience out there for what we have to offer, we just need to get them into the venue.

Magnifying glass

Over the next four weeks I want to look at how we might attract bigger and better audiences to our concerts:

  1. identifying what your choir does
  2. describing what we do
  3. letting people know
  4. 20 ways to increase your concert audience

This week I’ll consider the need to identify what it is that your choir has to offer. In following posts I’ll look at how you can go about describing what it is that you do, and then how you can get that information out there.

As an example, I’ll start by considering what the choirs that I lead have to offer. What is it that my choirs do exactly? Sometimes it’s easier to say what we don’t do!

this is what we DON'T do ...

  • we don’t sing classical music (well, actually, we do sing the occasional ‘classical’ song – like Plaisir d’amour – but the bulk of our repertoire is not the typical Western classical canon).
  • we don’t sing pop songs (well, actually, I recently taught Elbow’s One day like this, and I have tried versions of U2 and the Beatles, but it doesn’t make up the bulk of our repertoire).
  • we don’t sing folk songs (well, actually, we do sing some English folk songs, although not many – and usually the arrangements are a little unusual (check out our version of Searching for lambs) – and most of our foreign songs could be said to be “folk” or traditional).
  • we are not a gospel choir (well, actually, we do sing quite a few gospel and spiritual numbers although we are not a church choir).
  • we don’t sing close harmony or barbershop (I’m not even sure what “close harmony” means! But as soon as you use words like acappella – which simply means singing without instrumental accompaniment – people immediately assume we sing barbershop).
  • we are not a religious choir (well, actually, we do sing many religious songs – who said the devil has all the best tunes! – but we are definitely a secular choir).
  • we are not like the local choral society or parish singers (now that is true, especially in the sense that we don’t stand in neat rows identically dressed with books in our hands).
  • we don’t do songs from the shows or easy listening music (that’s true too – mainly because I don’t like musicals!).

Basically, we don’t fit neatly into any boxes.

... and this is what we DO do

So what is it that we do do, and why is it important?

We sing unaccompanied songs in harmony. That is, we don’t involve musical instruments, and most of the time we’re not all singing the tune in unison.

We sing songs from all around the world (in the original foreign language), usually from cultures and traditions where there is a strong harmony tradition like Eastern Europe, New Zealand, USA, South Africa. That is why we hardly ever do songs from Asia or South America: they simply don’t have a harmony singing tradition (see Why don’t you sing songs from India?).

That’s also why we don’t often do British or Irish folk songs. Although there is a harmony singing tradition in this country, songs are often delicate and story-driven so don’t really work (in my opinion) with a large choir. Same with pop songs (see Why choirs shouldn’t sing pop songs).

no common points of reference

Now we know what we do, the trouble is it’s hard to explain it to potential audiences for our concerts.

I’ve tried many different ways over the years, but we still get audience members saying things like: “Oh, that’s what you do ! I really enjoyed it”. How come they were surprised? Hadn't we explained what we do before they came? We know by now that if we just get people along to our workshops or concerts that (usually) they really enjoy themselves. The hard bit is just getting them through the door.

Most people just don’t have the reference points for phrases like world music or acappella or unaccompanied harmony singing.

There was a time when we could refer to adverts on television. At one point Ladysmith Black Mambazo (male South African singers, sang with Paul Simon) were used to advertise Heinz baked beans, and the Bulgarian state women’s choir (made a famous CD called Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) were used on a car advert. But it’s not happened recently.

So for concerts we rely a lot on word of mouth and friends bringing people along. For workshops, I went through a period of designing several more populist, accessible workshops just to get people singing in harmony (e.g. ABBA, Beatles, gospel, Paul Simon). Having got people along and introduced them to the joys of harmony singing, I can then slip in the odd Balkan song without them noticing!

What would be the equivalent for concerts? Should we pander to our audience, or just do what we do and hope that attracts them?

what does your choir have to offer?

I’ve written about what my choir does and how it’s difficult to find reference points for describing it to the general public. But what does your choir do?

Before you can promote your choir and try to increase your audience, you will need to identify a clear type of thing that your choir offers. It’s what modern jargon calls a ‘unique selling point’. Identifying what it is that your choir has to offer an audience is the first step to selling it to them.

Next week I’ll look at how you can begin to describe what your choir does in a way that a potential audience can identify with.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Songs and copyright 1: even if it’s a folk song, somebody wrote it

Somebody created that song you’re singing. They may never have written it down, and you may not know their name, but somebody, somewhere, somewhen, made the effort to compose a beautiful piece of music.

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, 1955 by Fred Palumbo

By singing it, you are benefitting from that person’s creativity. Shouldn’t they get some acknowledgement? That’s where copyright comes in.

Jut because a song might be ‘traditional’ or hundreds of years old, it still means that somebody wrote it. Even if it says ‘Anon’ on your copy. That person might not have been a professional musician, but surely they should get some credit or acknowledgement?

What if you had spent weeks finely crafting a beautiful song, then somebody heard it and began to pass it off as their own? Wouldn’t you – at the very least – be a bit miffed?

And what if they wrote down your song (from hearing you singing it), published it in a songbook which sold in its thousands and made a handsome profit?

Of perhaps somebody took your song and changed some of the words and moved some of the notes around in order to make it ‘better’.

What if you planned to sell your new song, but then found that somebody had photocopied the score you had written and passed it around for free among their mates?

Maybe somebody came across an old songbook with your song in it, recorded it for their new CD (without asking you) and made millions. Or perhaps they then used it as part of a film score which went on to make the director a fortune.

It might be that none of these things bother you. But surely it would have been nice if somebody had bothered to ASK YOU if it was OK?

This what copyright is for. Copyright was invented in order to protect the creators of original work, to help stop their work being ‘stolen’ or copied (without their permission) and to enable them to get paid for their creations (if they choose to).

Essentially it enables creators of original work to control how that work is used and to ensure that its integrity is protected.

Many times I go to singing workshops and am taught songs by ear with no reference to who might have written or arranged them. Do those teaching the songs realise that they should have permission to pass the songs on (especially if they’re making money from running the workshop)?

Then there are participants who record the workshop or who come up afterwards to ask for copies of the songs they’ve learnt. Do they not realise that they ought to go out and buy the songbook or CD? Just because a song is passed on orally doesn’t affect copyright or ownership.

What about people who learn a song at a workshop, go home and record the parts which they then distribute to their choir? Just because the song hasn’t been written down doesn’t mean that they can avoid copyright issues.

Just the other day somebody wrote to me and said there was “some confusion” about passing round copies of sheet music in their choir. Well, I’m here to tell you that there is NO confusion. If the songs are copyrighted, then you (usually) DON’T have permission to copy them at will and hand them around – whether you give them out for free or otherwise.

In this series of posts I’m going to try to demystify the issue of copyright, although it is a bit of a minefield!

Do let me know if you have any specific questions in this area and I’ll try to answer them.

Next week I’ll begin to look at copyright in more detail as it relates to songs (music, lyrics, arrangements, recordings, performances, sheet music, etc.). First off I’ll consider what the basic principles behind the concept of copyright are.

This is the first in a series of seven posts about songs and copyright:


UPDATE (14 July 2015)

Since I wrote this post I’ve written two others that might be of interest:

Choirs and copyright: a beginner’s guide for the bewildered

Copying music: how to stay on the right side of the law



Chris Rowbury's website:

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Audiences at choral concerts: who are they?

This is a revised version of a post that first appeared as Who is our audience? in July 2007.

I had my final concert with Woven Chords last Saturday. I’ve been leading the choir for the last ten years so it was a rather bittersweet occasion.

Of course, as always, we had hoped for a full house packed with an enthusiastic audience. But we ended up with around 60 keen punters trying very hard to fill the 350-seat auditorium!

old ladies

Little old ladies by Arty Smokes

As I walked through the audience before the concert started, I was very aware of the sea of grey perms that filled the seats. Our audience was full of “women of a certain age” – again!

The vast majority of our audience at any concert seems to be well over 60 and mostly female. This is also reflected in the choir itself and in the workshops that I run.

Sometimes the choir manage to persuade their children to come along, and almost without exception, they thoroughly enjoy themselves. So why can’t we attract a younger audience?

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with having an older audience, but it would be nice to have a wide spread of ages, genders and nationalities. (This also applies to the choir and workshops: we sing songs from many different countries and cultures, and yet we attract mainly white, middle-class women singers).

Is it perhaps the words “choir” or “concert” which put younger people off? (see Avoiding the ‘C’ word: choir) Do they simply have something better to do on a Saturday night? Is the make-up of our audience simply a reflection of the make-up of the choir? (see Is your audience just friends and family?) In which case, why can’t the choir attract younger people and people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds? (see Singing across the age divide)

There is a wider question here. It’s not just about trying to get a younger audience, it’s trying to get an audience at all! The fact is that audience numbers are waning for choral concerts, and those who do come to ours tend to be already connected to the choir in some way.

How do we reach more people? When we do manage to persuade people to come, they end up having a great time. But the refrain is often “That’s not at all what I expected!”.

Next week I will be starting a series on Finding an Audience starting with identifying what it is your choir has to offer. Following on from that I’ll look at how we describe what it is we do and how to get that message out there.

What’s your experience? Do you manage to get a wide mix of audience members and healthy numbers?


Chris Rowbury's website:

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Now THAT’S what I call singing! Volume 2

Last week in Now THAT’S what I call singing! Volume 1 I shared some of my favourite songs from Europe: Corsica, Georgia, Russian orthodox, gypsy, the Balkans and Bulgaria.

Africa 2

This week it’s the turn of the rest of the world!


I was at a residential theatre workshop in Wales many, many years ago and there were three black guys (from London I think) who taught me a song on the beach one day. They hadn’t got it quite right as it turned out, but it blew me away nonetheless. It was called Shosholoza. One of my favourite versions is by the The Drakensberg Boys Choir. In this video you can even learn all the separate parts!

Since then I have learnt songs (and dances!) from all across Africa and have over 80 in my repertoire. In a recent African weekend workshop I taught songs from the North African Bedouins, Cameroon, Ghana, Congo, Nigeria, Guinea, Gabon, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Hard to choose a few, but here are some of my favourites: Koloi ya Elijah (South Africa):

Vamudara (Zimbabwe):

Noyana (South Africa):

Pacific islands

New Zealand Maori songs have always attracted me because of their harmonies that are rather jazz- or blues-like. One song that’s been in our repertoire for some time is Pokarekare ana. I originally arranged it for three equal voices (we didn’t have any blokes in the choir then!), but later added a bass part.

We also do songs from the Pacific islands including the Cook Islands (Te oonu) and Hawaii (Heke hau):

Gospel, spirituals and hymns

I don’t have a religious bone in my body, but there are gospel songs and spirituals out there which are just gorgeous. I love the energy, grace and beauty of a lot of these songs. One of the first such songs that I taught is called Bright morning star. It is reputed to be of Shaker origin, but there is no clear evidence for this. Many people think it is a Kentucky/ Ozark/ Appalachian hymn.

Hard to choose favourites, but here are some that I really like: My lord what a mourning

I’m gonna sing ‘til the spirit moves in my heart (great sentiment!):

 All my trials (from the Bahamas):

Sea shanties

I’m a sucker for the slow, gentle shanties that probably weren’t used on board ship to do heavy work. They are haunting and still send shivers up my spine no matter how many times I hear them.

Perhaps the most famous one in our repertoire is Shenandoah. It should maybe be titled ‘Rolling River’ or ‘Missouri’, since many versions don’t even mention Shenandoah! Our version speaks about the love of a geographical location (other versions talk about the love of a ‘redskin maiden’).

Lowlands away is one of the early songs I taught to my first choir WorldSong. For a change, I gave the melody to the men! Here is a version from The Corries:

I’m not averse to upbeat, loud shanties though! I taught Hanging Johnny to my Singing Safari for the Warwick Folk Festival a few years ago:

British Isles

And then there’s the home country. I’ve always been in love with what is called ‘world music’ and I’m definitely not a lyric person, so songs in English often leave me cold. The answer: sing in Welsh or Scottish Gaelic!

A haunting love song from Wales: Lisa lan:

and another from the Isle of Lewis: Fhir a bhata (it turns out that Gaelic is by far the hardest language we’ve ever had to learn!):

But all is not lost for you folkies out there. Personally I’m not drawn to English folk music, but I found a really interesting arrangement on a Northern Harmony CD and ‘borrowed’ it for Woven Chords: Searching for lambs. It makes it sound very eerie and almost Eastern European (hence my attraction!):

more songs

You can find more of my favourite songs in Volume 1 and Volume 3.

where can I hear more?

Both Woven Chords and WorldSong have now released two CDs with a total of 88 tracks between them. Many of the songs in these two posts feature on these CDs. You can find full track listings and information on how to buy them here:
You can also buy arrangements of some of the songs from my website (Lowlands away, Shenandoah, Lisa lan and more).

Chris Rowbury's website: