Sax Bandits - Case study using XenForo to create a private membership only community


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Who are Sax Bandits?

Sax Bandits are an all-saxophone band for all ages and abilities – even beginners. We meet once a month, playing arrangements of your favourite rock and pop songs; from Madness to Ariana Grande to Earth Wind & Fire.

The difficulty of the music differs between parts to cater for both rookies and the more advanced wizards. Many of our members had never played music with other people before joining the band, so don’t be shy! Learn to play songs together in a relaxed and supportive environment. You can expect to see an assorted collection of saxophones, people, cakes and wrong notes!

So if you know how to play the saxophone, don’t exile yourself to your bedroom. Jump on the band wagon, make some noise alongside your fellow saxophonists, and become a more confident player!

I recently worked with Rob from Sax Bandits to create a private subscription based membership community to compliment the offline side of the business, where members of Sax Bandits meet once or more times a month to jam with other sax players.

The front end of his website and blog is wordpress, we built out the community and back end using XenForo and use XenForo to manage all permission based access to content and membership subscription payments through Stripe.

Members pay for 6 or 12 months of access, and this gives members access to an online community, learning materials, sheet music, tutorial videos and the ability to attend one jam session per month in their local area (or as many per month as you like in all areas on the top membership tier).

We needed a system that could manage subscription payments online instead of the old school method of manual bank transfers and cheques, accompanied by having to follow up with members to pay their dues every 6 months.

We needed an online community where members could post topics, share content and discuss all things Sax, and in order to be able to communicate with members regarding the offline events.

There needed to be a dashboard where users could log in and see when the next even in their area is, along with the latest news in the form of the latest YouTube new video from the official Sax Bandits channel, latest MailChimp newsletters, latest WordPress blog posts and latest community content.

There needed to be a Learn section where all learning material can be accessed based on the appropriate permissions for the members band part.

It needed a calendar which displays the appropriate events for the user.

We choose XenForo for the community aspect, the built in user upgrade systems and Stripe integration, powerful permissions system and pages system.



As it's completely private, you can only see the login page as a guest user. This was reshuffled, optimised and redesigned:


Once a member logs in, they get presented with the dashboard which pulls in content from various services including Wordpress, YouTube, MailChimp, Google Calendar and the XF community.

This is built using the XF pages system.


Learn Section
This is where all learning resources including sheet music and videos can be accessed. All these pages were also built using the XenForo pages system and made significant use of permissions to control access to all the different types of content available to members based on their band part.


Calendar Section
This was again structured primarily using the XenForo pages and permissions system, however for the calendars themselves we utilised the FullCalendar library.
Initially we were just going to embed the Google Calendars, but once we spent so much time designing the rest of the site, it just felt too out of place with a basic iframe embed. With full calendar we were able to pull in all the Google Calendar events data and style every pixel to display it in a beautiful native looking format.

A version of this is available in the resource manager here.



Hovering over the events pulls the description from Google Calendar, which frequently include links to the relevant XF Community so members can discuss.


Forum Index
For the forum index we wanted a card based approach to the nodes. A full version of this image can be found here.
This is the reason we initially chose the Oreo theme from @DohTheme. However had I realised at the beginning that we'd end up customising nearly every single aspect of the theme, I'd probably have just made one from scratch, as the node structure is pretty much the only thing that is left of it! We really like how DohTheme implemented it.


Thread View:

thread view.png

The built in XF reaction system is great, and we had a lot of fun picking some relevant music and whimsical reactions for members to choose from.


Member Profiles
We put a lot of thought and customisation into the member profiles, especially as most members will be meeting each other IRL for jam sessions.
Here the XF custom user fields were put to great use to encourage members to share musical info about themselves and be able to express themselves using their avatar and cover photo.

We weren't keen on the stock XF cover photo layout and the inability to see the full version of photos uploaded there, so an add on was created utilising the new version of the lightbox to expand both the avatar and cover photo to show them off in their full glory. It can be downloaded for free here.

View attachment profile-photos.mp4



FireShot Capture 030 - Alex The Admin - Sax Bandits HQ -

Managing Memberships and Account Upgrades
Some customisation was required to lock down the site appropriately and ensure useful and informative error messages or splash screens were displayed to users during both registration and when their membership subscriptions lapse. This was manageable though with the permissions system, some template modifications and the notice system.


The membership page is the account upgrades page with some minor template edits. The images and purchase buttons for each tier was done using CSS on the stock code to reduce the chance of issues with anything payment related with future XF upgrades.


This was important as many members are not necessarily that tech savvy. So a live filter help system was implemented by customising the built in XF Spoiler BB code and integrating that into the XF FAQ help page system.

View attachment help-page.mp4

Due to the IRL aspect of Sax Bandits, and the fact that there are different locations, band parts etc. to the community. We wanted to have a way for members to find other people in their area and those in specific band parts. Or to just be able to search by name for someone and easily find their profile. We were able to utilise the very powerful XenForo member statistics system for this. This was incredibly useful for organising and categorising different user groups, the only thing that let it down though is that there's no decent member search functionality built into XF. This makes it difficult to search by partial username or custom user field values.

Luckily there is an excellent add on by @AndyB that fills that gap.

(Usernames and avatars all blocked out in the screenshot below for privacy)

We just went live this month migrating the subscriptions to being managed by XenForo user upgrades and Stripe. And so far so good.

There are a few features lacking here, such as control over emails/alerts/notifications/conversation with users regarding their purchases or lapse subscriptions, which are kind of essential and needed to minimise the amount of time a user subscription is inactive when they expire. Luckily @Xon has a great add on that fills that gap.

Also, there isn't currently any easy way to switch subscriptions, or any way at all as far as I can tell for a user to update their card details. I'm hoping the XF user upgrade system gets further integration with Stripe as the Stripe API and features progress to allow this somehow, perhaps through their customer portal system.


And the users seem to like it:

All in all Rob and I are both pleased with how we were able to utilise XenForo to create a private membership site like this. A fair bit of customisation was required to get it exactly how we needed it, but XenForo is a very powerful and flexible platform to work with.

I'd love to hear any feedback or input below :)

Join Sax Bandits
We're starting to open up again here in the UK and live Sax Bandits sessions have now resumed! So if you're based in the London/Midlands/Oxford area, be sure to check and see if there are any locations near you. If there is, message Rob to arrange a free session. And if there isn't, message him anyway and tell him where your based for when they expand! :-D

Rob is also experimenting with the idea of virtual memberships, which give you access to the online learning materials, video and community, so if you're interested in that, send him a message to register your interest.


Lockdown Videos
They also do projects with sax players and musicians from around the globe for their lockdown videos. So if you're interested in being in the next one be sure to follow their YouTube and other socials. Here are the 3 previous lockdown videos. They're a lot of fun and really creative, so worth checking out!

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Interview with Rob about Sax Bandits on BBC Radio Oxford
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Update Feb 2022: SaxHQ Got some new node icons designed and rolled out recently 🎷

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Thanks @Digital Doctor :)

Yep, pretty much the entire site is locked off and private to non registered members, hence I included as many screenshots and vids as possible in the OP where appropriate.

One page I didn't mention, which also had a lot of thought go into it, was the register page, which has significant use of the custom user fields feature of XF to capture user info at registration.

It's unlisted as potential new members need to touch base with Rob through the contact form when they hear about Sax Bandits. That way they can have a chat and figure out which location would be most suitable as their primary location. Once they do this, Rob links them to the register page so they can register.

We're still working out the exact user flow here. But at the moment every new user needs manual approval, then I think he's currently manually upgrading new users for a month or so, once they confirm which location they want to attend, to give them time to check out the community and attend their in person local jam sesh. After that, the user upgrade will expire and they'll be prompted to purchase a subscription.

As it's a very small operation and what with the IRL aspect, Rob talks to everyone individually, so there's probably some follow up chat too at that point.

Yep, the main front end website at and /blog are all Wordpress. This currently isn't linked in any way to the XF install, apart from pulling the latest blog posts into the user dashboard in XF.
does the Xenforo section break the Wordpress footer / header ?

Wordpress is installed on the root of the website. XF is installed in a subdirectory at /hq

The header and footer for the WP end and XF end are completely independent.

Are both themes custom and visually integrated ?
It appears so,

Does this integration work like the Themehouse Wordpress / XF integration ?

The wordpress theme and XF theme are completely independent form each other. There is no synchronisation or integration between wordpress or XF in that sense.
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Great looking "Dashboard" page. 👍

Misread the site title.

Disappoints 😞
Suspicious Monkey GIF by MOODMAN
Another thing we did, which I forgot to put in the OP, is we created a dedicated page in the user account settings for editing all fields with content that appear on the users profile, and added an edit button to peoples profiles to make it easier for members to be able to figure out how to change the content of their profile when looking at it.

All private account user info was kept in the existing account-details page, then any public facing info was shifted out to this new edit-profile page.

As the site is completely private and won't be accessible by search engines, it means people can use their real names and share a bit more info than they may have otherwise. Privacy was focussed on quite heavily and even the birthday checkboxes were edited to remove the ability to show age, and the explainer text for birthdays amended to make it as easy to understand as possible for members of all ages.

We have implemented a real name policy for usernames in the First Name Last Name format, which does make it really nice to follow who is who properly when reading threads, and to tag or search and find people that you know the real name of. I do foresee a potential issue with this down the road if we somehow end up with two John Smiths or similar. At which point we'll have to figure out a way of differentiating those people, or assigning unique usernames, but only displaying their first and last name. Tagging may then be an issue, but if the site becomes big enough that this is a problem, it will be a good problem to have.

Profile with additional edit button:


Edit Profile Page:

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Very impressive. I love what you've done here. That's some premium looking forum/service that I would spend money to join. How's it going in terms of memberships? Have you had a lot yet and what have you done to increase the sales?
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