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Community-made content which you can improve Case study from our community

Sound investment: Encouraging community stakeholders

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Selling units in music projects helped a Birmingham group raise money to commission new pieces and improved its links to the community.


Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) performs new music and offers learning opportunities to inspire interest in classical music.

BCMG, a registered charity based in Birmingham, was formed in 1987 by players from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, the Group’s founding patron, along with Thomas Adès who has performed with BCMG at the Paris Présences Festival, London’s Barbican Centre, the Cologne Philharmonie, and in at Carnegie Hall, New York.

BCMG seeks new ways of engaging more people with exciting artists – be it through national, international or regional touring. It has a learning programme, and hosts family and schools concerts, free meet-the-composer events, and other events.

The issues we faced

The group has premiered over 140 original works. Most were commissioned with the help of a large number of individuals through BCMG’s groundbreaking Sound Investment scheme.

The scheme was launched in 1991 with two aims:

  1. to raise money for the commissioning of new music and to share the thrill of a new piece of music with as many people as possible
  2. to provide community opportunities to invest in new music. New pieces are commissioned by BCMG’s artistic director. The commission fee is divided into sound units of £150 each and individuals are invited to invest in the new pieces by buying one or more units.

The actions we took

Local investment

  • To date there have been 59 premieres of pieces commissioned through Sound Investment.
  • There have been a total of 300 Sound Investors.
  • Each commission attracts between 30 and 55 Sound Investors. 
  • Since its inception, the scheme has raised over £250,000 to fund the commissioning of music.
  • Overall, 40 per cent of all investors make one-off investments and 60 per cent are serial investors (through ongoing direct debit or bankers’ order arrangements).
  • We have had a reinvestment rate of over 85 per cent for each season. (Those who return to make another investment from season to season.)

Recent Sound Investment premieres include works by Howard Skempton, Tansy Davies, John Woolrich, Brett Dean, Dave Douglas, Judith Weir, Luke Bedford, Gerald Barry, Michael Wolters, David Sawer, Richard Causton, Simon Holt, Helen Grime and Kevin Volans.

The Sound Investor community

People find out about Sound Investment via word of mouth, publicity (reviews, newspaper features), BCMG concerts and our website. Sound units are popular gifts to celebrate birthdays, Christmas, weddings, birth and retirement.

Benefits for Sound Investors

  • An invitation to rehearsals and a special reception at the premiere.
  • The opportunity to meet the composer.
  • The chance to receive a score signed by the composer.
  • Progress updates on the development of the piece prior to the premiere.
  • Acknowledgment in the score, concert programme and on BCMG’s website.

Who invests?

Investors include teachers, a biochemist and a Shropshire smallholder. We had members of a local community group club together to buy a sound unit.

Half our Investors come from the West Midlands region, the rest from the remainder of the UK. (15 per cent from London, eight per cent from the south west, seven per cent from East Anglia, and six per cent from the south east.) We have Sound Investors living in Aberdeenshire, Fife, Northumberland, Yorkshire, Wales, Devon, Somerset and Essex. We also have investors from overseas, in Switzerland, France, Germany and the US.

Positive outcomes

Sound Investors become stakeholders in BCMG. There is a great depth of involvement of the individual supporters in the commission of new pieces. They take ownership of the pieces for the future. At rehearsals they meet and become friends with fellow Sound Investors allowing them to share their enthusiasm with like-minded people. They also meet and occasionally become friends with composers and with BCMG players and staff. Sound Investors become invaluable advocates for BCMG’s work and for the Sound Investment scheme.

Impact of Sound Investment on BCMG as an organisation

The Sound Investment scheme has brought many benefits including:

  • the confidence to commission further ahead
  • the enthusiasm of Sound Investors who support musicians and staff
  • a supportive environment for premieres
  • an opportunity for musicians who are commissioned to have a direct link with the audience. Composers respond well to this security and support
  • a relationship with a wider audience through our Sound Investors
  • increased audience numbers.

From a fundraising point of view, Sound Investment has led to:

  • donations for recordings
  • donations for concerts and education work
  • legacy provision in Investors’ wills
  • establishing the BCMG Foundation, a giving scheme allowing individuals to support the core of our work more generally which extends beyond supporting specific commissions.

Negative outcomes

The challenge was to grow the pool of Sound Investors without having the resources to advertise widely.

BCMG is a small organisation, without a big fundraising budget, and with only one fundraiser responsible for raising money from individuals, charitable trusts, foundations and statutory funds.

At the beginning of the scheme, it took a while for the snowball effect to happen.

We still don’t have the resources for a lot of advertising. Many individuals approach us through word of mouth recommendation and the scheme regularly gets mentioned in national newspapers. For example, with the launch of a new catalogue of commissions, we received more press coverage on the scheme (including an online feature on the Daily Telegraph Culture Minute and a two page feature in the Birmingham Post.

Lessons learnt

We learn every day how much our donors value the personal contact they gain with composers, musicians, and BCMG staff. And also, how much the scheme’s success depends on precisely this personal contact, which is, of course, time and admin intensive. Interestingly, some people hear of Sound Investment first and discover BCMG’s work through it – rather than the other way round.

The idea captures the imagination of people further afield, beyond BCMG’s audiences. The original scheme is an inspiration at home and abroad. Sound Investment has been emulated by other ensembles from as far afield as New Zealand, The Netherlands and the United States, as well as in the UK.

Check out, for example, the websites of Bang on a Can (a new music ensemble based in New York), London Sinfonietta or Britten Sinfonia.

The future

With a new agreement for media rights with BCMG musicians now in sight, we shall make the most of digital platforms to engage with Sound Investors. This will allow us to connect with investors who are unable to join us in person for rehearsals, or can't travel to Birmingham for the premiers of pieces they've supported.

We'll continue to foster the feeling of the 'family of Sound Investors'. Also, in the past, organisations and schools have bought sound units and at the moment a community arts group holds two sound units in the scheme. That's something we'd like to develop.


Page last edited Oct 05, 2015

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