New Musical Director

Finding a new Musical Director

Mark Kusionowicz Communications, Musical Director, Recruitment 2 Comments

I was contacted by a Male Voice Choir recently asking for advice about finding and recruiting a new Musical Director. Although this is not a normal request for the publicity officer in a choir, as I thought about it I realised that it was indeed a ‘marketing challenge’.

How do you publicise your opportunity to a target audience? How do you persuade the ideal person to join you? You need to approach the task as you would do any other campaign.

The new Musical Director campaign is a major brand activity

Recruiting a new Musical Director is an important project. You should take it very seriously – it can have profound effect on your choir’s ‘brand’. The new Musical Director will influence what you sing and how you sing it – so impacting your ability to attract audiences and new members alike. You need to get the right person for you!

As with any top-level campaign you should put a dedicated team onto the project. A sub-committee created just for the task takes responsibility for the complete new Musical Director recruitment process:

  • Creating the ‘job description’
  • Advertising the vacancy
  • The interview and selection process
  • Recommendation of selected candidate(s) to full choir committee

Describe your new Musical Director ‘buyer persona’

In “Understand your target audience” I recommended that you create buyer personas that describe the characteristics and behaviours of, for instance, your target audience or choristers. This enables you to create campaigns that will be more compelling and successful. The same applies when you are looking for a new Musical Director.

You need to decide, for example, are you looking for an enthusiastic amateur or a professionally trained conductor? Will you want them to come with experience of conducting choirs of the same type as yours – or are you looking for someone to bring in new ideas from a different discipline?

Describe the type of person you are looking for – not just their background but also their character.

Obviously, you do also need to focus on the skills you are looking for, such as:

  • Conducting technique
  • Ability to teach choristers
  • Repertoire selection approach
  • Communication style
  • People skills
  • Organisational skills

Your recruitment subcommittee can then use this persona to help create a job description, recruitment advertisement and selection interview questions.

What’s in it for them?

As well as being clear about the sort of person you are looking for, and what expectations you will have of your new Musical Director, you need to express what you have to offer them. It would be worth identifying your ‘value proposition’ (“Why should they come? Build your choir value proposition”).

Are you offering a role to run an established quality choir or is it a chance to build one? Is it a learning opportunity? Would your choir provide valuable publicity or exposure for the new Musical Director? Does your choir have an active social life? And then there is the sticky topic of money!

How much should it pay?

Some small amateur choirs may not offer financial payment to their Musical Directors (or accompanists). But if you are looking for someone with the expertise to raise the standard of your choir you will likely need to offer fees. The fee reflects the qualifications, experience and achievements of the conductor, along with expectations of their commitment to the choir.

Usually, there will be a fee for taking a rehearsal and also one for performances. Setting the actual value of the fee may feel a little like answering the question “how long is a piece of string?”.

It has to be affordable

Obviously, your choir needs to be able to afford the payment.

A good guideline operated by many choirs is to calculate the costs of just existing and rehearsing. That is, rehearsal room costs plus fees for Musical Director and Accompanist. These costs should be covered by chorister subscriptions plus any supporter or sponsor contributions. Concerts must then be self-financing through ticket sales.

Use these calculations to understand what you can afford to pay the new Musical Director. Even if, as some generous souls do, the Musical Director waives his or her fee you should still be able to budget for it. You never know what can happen!

It also needs to be reasonable

In terms of what fee levels may be expected I have found two good websites with some guidelines

  • In January 2016 Making Music surveyed their 414 members to find out what was being paid. The report can be read here.
  • The Association of Irish Choirs publishes suggested fee levels here

It appears that you should probably be prepared to pay around £80 per rehearsal for the average choir.

Where will you find the new Musical Director candidates?

In other words – how should you advertise the vacancy?

There is not, unfortunately, one convenient place that you can find suitable candidates for your new Musical Director vacancy. Just as with promoting concerts, you will need to use multiple channels for your campaign.

Online choral communities

There are a few websites that provide support for choirs, and on which you can place “new Musical Director wanted” advertisements. Examples are:

These sites are probably regularly accessed by suitable candidates so you would be advertising to a relevant audience.

Job boards

Some recruitment websites, such as indeed.co.uk, do have ads for choir Musical Directors. It might be worth using such sites especially if you are wanting to advertise in a wide area.

Social Media

Facebook and Twitter are great ways to get your message out to an interested audience. I would suggest using paid Facebook promotions to target people with the right interests.

Many people think that LinkedIn is just for business, but a quick search for “Musical Director” today resulted in 3,262 people identified in the UK with that title. Just as companies find and target individuals on LinkedIn for commercial roles you could very well find suitable candidates for your new Musical Director here as well.

Don’t forget your personal networks

In the business world, I have got most of my jobs and contracts through my own network of friends and acquaintances. Quite often it is not a friend who directly delivers, but a friend of a friend. Your choir members will all have personal networks, often with similar interests. Get everyone to reach out through their networks to find candidates.

Local press

I must admit that I am not a great fan of paid advertising in the local press these days. However, if you have a particularly strong local newspaper or magazine then you could consider it. A magazine or newsletter devoted to the local music scene would be good. If you are providing your local press with a press release about a recent concert or initiative then it would be well worth including the fact that you are on the lookout for a new Musical Director.

At your concerts

Just as your choir members have personal networks – so do your audiences! As lovers of choral music (that’s why they are there) they may well know suitable candidates.

In all your communications

If you send out a newsletter make sure you include the fact that you are looking. In your concert programmes, you could advertise. On posters and flyers for concerts you can even add a small comment. Make use of every communication mechanism that might get to possible new Musical Director candidates.

How to decide on the right person

I said earlier that selecting a new Musical Director is a major undertaking. You do need to ensure that the selection process you go through is thoroughly professional.

Have the recruitment sub-committee sift through the applications using some initial criteria, based on your ideal candidate persona to select a handful of candidates to interview. It is probably worth 2 or 3 of the members carrying out all these interviews to get a consistent view across the field. They should have a standard set of questions that are asked of each candidate.

I would recommend you have a ‘short list’ (3 maximum) of successful candidates each take at least one full choir rehearsal. This is an ideal way to find out if they actually do have the skills and approaches that they told you about in interview – especially with respect to the personal people skills side. One of the most important relationships to watch out for is how they get on with your accompanist!

Have a fall-back

You may like to consider having an agreed trial period where both the new Musical Director and the choir can discover if the relationship will actually work in practice. This means that you may also like to have a second choice in mind just in case.

If you can afford to have them you might decide to appoint a Deputy Musical Director to spread the load and also for ‘succession’ should you decide that your primary choice didn’t work out.

If you have read my post this far then you are probably recruiting a new Musical Director at the moment, or planning to. I’d be delighted to hear your views on my suggestions and also of your experiences.

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Comments 2

  1. Hi Mark
    Since contacting you and your initial advice we found we were very much on the same page when it came to it.
    The advice gave us became a check list and indeed we had covered just about everything, it is useful to have a focus in these situations and often some things maybe not obvious. Advertisements are quite expensive we used press releases and advertisements, luckily we are in final stages of final interview. It us surprising hard to attract applications however I suspect it depends on the geographical area.
    Keep up the good work with your articles. Many thanks.

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