It has been about a year since we started the Carolina Audio Society (CAS). Our idea was to have an overall society encompassing both Carolinas yet have local chapters. In this way, it would not be especially necessary for members to drive long distances for listening sessions or society sponsored events.
We are continuing to grow. We now have five chapters scattered about the Carolinas, three of which are the main local chapters. We have had multiple events, so far at other member's homes, and are planning to have manufacturer's sponsored events in commercial spaces sometime later this year. Of course, this takes capital, continued growth and a commitment from the membership to participate. We have, in all these metrics, a lot of room for improvement.
Anyone who lives in one of the more major metropolitan areas will likely have access to an audio society. California has several with the Los Angeles & Orange County Audio Society being one of the more prominent. There are also societies in NY State, Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, Boston, Minnesota, and well, you get the idea. As I see it, the overwhelming benefit of an audio society is associating with other likeminded members who also enjoy the hobby. This is fine if you live in a large city. What happens if you do not?
Audiophiles come in all walks of life, income levels, and live in all parts of the country. Are there higher concentrations of audiophiles in larger cities than rural areas? Probably, but it doesn't mean they don't exist outside large cities.
How, then, would someone interested in meeting other hobbyists form an audio society where one does not exist?
To start, talk to one or more dealers if there are any relatively close by. Yes, I know dealers are not that widespread and someone living miles and miles out in the country may not have a dealer close by. Use the phone, call the closest dealer and ask if they think an audio society makes sense. Maybe they would be willing to send an email to some of their better customers to gauge interest.
Secondly, plan on a web site. Myself and the two other CAS founding members had numerous discussions on what we wanted in a web site. One thing on which we agreed was no personal information. Members names and addresses will never be made public. This is, after all, the Internet. Another agreement was no commerce. We do not have a "used gear" page or will allow members to advertise 1970's receivers for $50.00. We do not want the Society in the middle of two members arguing (or even fighting) about the condition of something bought used from a CAS web page. So, no for sale items. Others, perhaps, may feel differently about that.
In any event, a web site will be an absolute must. We engaged a web site designer to create ours and she was very reasonable in terms of development cost. Our web site is pretty simple and does not have multitudes of complex pages so the startup cost was very reasonable. But the three of us did pay for that up front, as well as all of the "getting started" charges. Furthermore, we contributed those costs so once we were operational, we were in the black, not in the red.
Utilize resources found on the Internet, some of which are free. We use PayPal to collect membership fees and Mail Chimp for emails to members announcing an event or other society related notifications. While there is a charge for emails eventually, Mail Chimp allows 1200 per month for free. Thus far, we have not even remotely approached that number.
One hurdle is how to manage funds from membership dues. Since under the mattress is not especially a viable option, another method will be required. It is possible to use Pay Pal but there are fees associated with just about everything they do. A checking account is an option, but most banks see an audio society as a commercial enterprise. Opening a commercial checking account may mean filing tax returns and that is certainly not desirable. A savings account with a debit card is also an option. No reporting, and the card may be used for Society expenses.
How much membership fees should cost is also a decision. We chose to make ours affordable and start things out at $20.00 per year. If that does not sound like very much of a fee, I would agree. However, we even had a couple potential members complain about that. I offered to pay for one such protester myself but in the end, he neglected to join. My take is anyone who can afford an audiophile system should be able to swing $20.00 bucks for a year's membership. I pay more than that for lunch most of the time. How much might be charged is an individual decision and the higher the membership fee, the more available cash will potentially be generated. Of course, the higher the cost to join, the fewer members may actually do so.
It is also probably wise to plan for one person to manage the web site and membership notifications. We have three members with web site access but typically, only one person actually makes any changes. This helps assure consistency and accuracy. Of course, that one person must be timely with updates. Lastly, there is the continuing effort in getting the word out that the Society exists. That one, I must admit, takes creativity.
An audio society can be a huge amount of fun. I have had a great time meeting other audiophile members and have even established some newfound friendships as a result. Audio societies also help promote the hobby. It is a lot of work, especially getting the word out that one exists. We are still working on that. In the end, when a group of audiophiles are gathered together talking equipment, listening to music and having a great time immersed in the hobby we all love, all the work and start up costs will be well worth the effort.