Involvement in Music

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Statistical Surveys

Since 1993, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has conducted four surveys to determine the involvement of the population in selected cultural and leisure activities. The most recent survey was conducted over two weeks in April 2004 and aimed at estimating how many people participated (were ‘involved’) in 35 activities over the preceding twelve months. Some of these activities were individual visual arts and crafts, and a distinction was made for music and performing arts between performers and persons who were involved without being performers themselves. The surveys covered all persons aged 15 and over, with one randomly selected person being interviewed in each randomly selected household.

The 1993, 1997, and 2001 surveys of work in selected culture and leisure activities are not directly referred to in this page of the knowledge base. The published trends are shown in one of the tables in the 2004 survey publication,[1] and reproduced in part here as Table

The ABS subsequently responded to the request of the Cultural Ministers’ Council’s Statistics Working Group by compiling a compendium named Music in Australia: A statistical overview (February 2007).[2] It contains additional data from the 2004 survey published for the first time.

The statistics have been compiled into a PDF file.[3] Those wishing to have ready access to the charts only can find them in this PDF file.[4]

Music Versus Other Artistic, Culture and Leisure Activities

The 2004 survey found that 230,800 persons were involved as live performers of music defined as work. According to the glossary of the survey publication this means “any participation, paid or unpaid, in any of the selected culture and leisure activities included in the survey, excluding involvement only as a hobby”. Involvement is defined as having “any participation, paid or unpaid, in any one of the activities in the survey and some, or all, of that participation was not for the person’s own use of for the benefit of their family (i.e. was not a hobby activity).” Hobby activities, accordingly, “are those where all participation in art or craft, writing or music was either for the person’s own use or for the benefit of their family.”

The implication, then, is that the involved persons’ work in the sense used here covers all activities not solely for personal or family consumption, so it can be unpaid as well as paid.

In the overall perspective, 2,887,500 persons were involved in one or more of the selected culture and leisure activities. This compares with a total population of 15,671,100 (15+), giving an overall participation rate of 18.4%.

Table compares the involvement of people engaged in different types of artistic activities, as defined in the 2001 Census and its predecessors. Chart ranks these according to numbers of persons involved. It is worthwhile to provide extra perspective on the number of music performers through further detail on individual art forms.

The survey reveals that almost 790,000 persons were involved in the visual arts, which implies a participation rate of 5.0% or one in twenty persons aged 15+. Further detail shows the key work activities to be commercial, industrial, advertising, fashion, portrait and wedding photography (300,100 persons), drawing, excluding technical and architectural (288,700), computer art (286,300), and painting (262,400). Note that many were involved in more than one visual arts activity: these four activities alone add to over 1.1 million. There were also 68,400 persons involved in print-making, 61,500 in sculpture, and 47,800 in other visual art activities such as performance art, leather art, photocopy art, and paper art.

Looking at individual visual art activities, more people were involved in each of the main four than in musical performance. The same cannot be said for the third-largest group in Table and Chart, craft activities, partly because there are relatively fewer people involved in multiple craft activities (542,700 persons involved, 619,000 observations of individual activities). The largest craft category was furniture making and wood crafts (204,500) followed by textiles (144,300), jewellery (63,500), pottery and ceramics (57,600), and glass crafts (27,000). Other craft activities (122,100 persons) included metal craft and decoupage (described by the Decoupage Guild Australia Inc. as “an 18th century art form of decorating objects with painted background, cutout paper images forming a design under varnish creating the effect of inlay artworks.”).

These statistics may give the impression that visual arts and crafts provide a much richer, or more varied, canvas for artistic development than music can provide. This is plainly erroneous, but the fact remains that there were almost three-and-a-half times as many persons involved in one or more visual art activities than in musical performance, and 2.4 times as many in one or more craft activities. The participation rate in musical performance was less than 1.5% compared with the 5% for the visual arts calculated above.

The second-largest category of people involved in artistic activities as work (556,500 persons) was writing, including both authors and journalists who occupy different statistical classifications in the census. A subsequent table in the survey publication shows newsletter writers to be the largest group (226,300) followed by newspaper and magazine writers (199,800), writers of journals (121,600), educational books (97,400), other books (72,200), and film, television or plays (38,100).

The fourth-largest group was design (370,200 persons) including graphic (142,600), advertising (128,800), architecture (61,900) and fashion (27,900), as well as other design categories totalling 100,100 persons. Part of the latter category would be interior design. Industry design and drafting were excluded from the survey.

According to the main survey publication, there were slightly more people involved as performers in theatre, dance, opera, music theatre and other performing arts, than as live performers of music. The total number of performers was 272,700 in the performing arts as defined here, against 230,800 as live performers of music. However, the 2007 publication, Music in Australia: A statistical overview, has a special table showing that 66,000 persons were involved as performers of opera or music theatre (see our Table Given that some of these people were also involved in other musical activities, it would be double counting to add them all to the musical performer category, but a significant number would constitute net gains to the music category. It is impossible to judge whether this transfer, if the details were fully known, would put the number of live musical performers ahead of performers of theatre, dance and other performing arts.

Chart finally shows smaller numbers of people involved in radio (93,000), television (76,200), and film production (74,900).

Involvement in music other than as live performers contributed 69,100 to the music category. Activities include music arranging, composing, songwriting, sound engineering, recording or publishing music, and support roles for musicians, bands or ensembles (if people doing such jobs were also live performers they were put in that category). There were also a small number of people for whom no detail was obtained (about 5,300), so the total number of people involved as either performers or other music roles in the year to April 2004 was 305,200 (excluding persons involved in opera or music theatre but not in other musical activities).

There were more people, both absolutely and relatively, in the other performing arts that performed non-performing roles only (151,200). Though 48,000 people were involved in opera or music theatre in such roles who rightly belong in the music sector (Table, the number of people involved would still be higher in the non-music performing arts than in music.

There were many other involvements under the classifications of the survey; these are shown in the lower sections of Table The largest groups were fete organising (336,500 persons), festival organising (252,200, which would include music festivals), interactive content creation defined as designing websites and creating programs containing film, sound and animated components for computers, electronic games and touch screens (214,700), teaching (183,200, of whom 73,400 taught music or performing arts), publishing (162,200), and arts and crafts show organising (153,200).

Table contains similar detail on the distribution of involvements between males and females, and the proportion of persons receiving some payment for their work. Chart ranks the art forms according to the proportion of males among those involved. The male ratio for musical performers (58.5%) was not far behind the top male ratios: radio and television, both almost 62%. Two other activities with more than 50% males were design (57.5%) and film production (55.5%). The art forms with the lowest male ratios were performing arts (32.9%) and craft activities (38.4%).

Among the persons involved in music but not as performers, 44.1% were male, while the equivalent ratio for the other performing arts was a much lower 30.5%. Other activities outside those labelled artistic in the 2001 Census which showed relatively low male ratios were public art galleries (30.6%), libraries and archives (24.4%), cinema and video distribution (32.0%), fête organising (27.5%), art and craft show organising (25.6%), and government arts organisations and agencies (31.4%).

See the next heading for comments on the right-hand column of Table, dealing with payment status.

Table shows various classifications of total involvement in culture and leisure activities. In summary:

  • The total participation rate in all paid and unpaid activities, whether artistic or other culture and leisure activities, was 18.4% for Australia. As already noted, it was below 1.5% for music performers excluding opera and music theatre (actually 1.47%).
  • Given the statistical uncertainties of a sampling approach, the total participation rate varied modestly among all but one of the States and Territories: between 17.6% in Queensland and Western Australia, and 19.6% in Tasmania. The significant exception was the Australian Capital Territory, with a participation rate of 29.4%.
  • The overall female participation rate in the activities covered by the survey was 20.4% compared with 16.4% for males.
  • The participation rate remained fairly constant at 19-21% from ages 15 to 54, and then declined to 16.5% for the 55-64 age group and 11.9% for people 65 years and over.
  • Of those involved in the culture and leisure activities surveyed, 2.2 million were born in Australia, indicating a participation rate of 19.7%. Another 346,200 were born in other main English-speaking countries. They had the highest participation rate (21.2%). The remainder, 323,300 born in non-English-speaking countries, had the lowest participation rate (11.7%).
  • There was probably no statistically significant difference between participation rates in capital cities (18.3%) and other urban, rural and remote parts of Australia (18.6%), though it is suspected this conceals more than it reveals in view of the complex cultural and social structure of the nation.
  • Employed persons had the highest participation rate (21.5%), followed by unemployed persons (20%) and with people not in the workforce trailing at 13%.

Payment Status

The third chart ( derived from Table (right-hand column) identifies the proportion of involved persons who received some payment. This criterion places persons involved in live music performance sixth in the group of nine categories. Design and television easily scooped the pool with 65.4% and 63.8%, respectively, receiving some payment. Film production, at 44.3%, was third way down the line, followed by writing at 35.5% (obviously a lot of newsletter writers and others don’t receive any payment), and radio, in marked contrast to television reflecting their different industry structure and large number of community stations, at 30.3%.

All the above showed a higher ratio of paid to total involved workers than the musical performers’ 28.9%. The three groups with even lower ratios were visual art activities (23.5%), craft activities (22.0%), and at a very low level, performing arts including opera and music theatre (15.0%).

Similarly low ratios (not included in Table applied to drawing (16.1%), painting (15.0%), sculpture (14.4%), and among the craft activities to textiles (14.9%) and other, unspecified crafts (15.3%). Organisers of arts-related events were also unlikely to receive any payment: festivals 16.7% of those involved, art and craft shows 14.5%, and fêtes a mere 4.1%.

Of all persons involved in the activities included in the survey, 33.2% received some payment, 957,500 persons compared with 1,929,900 who didn’t.

Tables and are twins, the first showing number of persons and the second percentage distributions. We retain the comparison between musical and other culture/leisure involvement but switch the perspective to whether people are paid for the work they do in the community (as distinct from carrying out these activities as a hobby for themselves and their families).

These tables are based on known observations of whether persons did or did not receive any payment. The relatively few cases where these details were unknown are not shown because we are interested in the percentage distribution of known cases (see totals including observations lacking the information on payment status in Table

While 64,300 music performers received some payment in the year ended April 2004, only 11,500 (estimated on a statistically thin basis) received $5,000 or more (Table The percentage distributions in Table provides more perspectives. We have already noted the proportion of each activity group receiving any payment, but now have the further knowledge that most of these payments were below $5,000. So we can draw a graph (Chart showing the proportion of involved persons receiving $5,000 or more in the twelve months surveyed.

There is a great deal of variation between the artistic groups represented in Chart When interpreting it, remember that all involvements are included, whether on a full-time or very part-time basis, whether paid in money or in kind, or whether totally unpaid on a volunteer working basis. Full-time workers are paid a lot more than $5,000 (some indication can be gleaned from the statistical appendix to the story of musicians in the census).[5] The present paper deals with the vastly larger number of people who have some sort of involvement in these activities.

As far as payment is concerned, the leaders among those involved in artistic activities are clearly those involved with television, 40% of whom received payments of $5,000 or more, and designers, 32% of whom were in that position. An intermediate group is made up by those involved with film (17%), radio (13%), and writing (11.5%). The bottom group consists of musical performers (5% receiving $5,000+), visual arts (5%), crafts (4.4%), and at the bottom of the pile, performing arts as defined in the survey (2%).

Visual arts and crafts were represented by unweighted average observations based on individual activities in the above comparison. This provides only an indication and is presented with a caveat, especially since the proportion of $5,000+ varied between the individual visual art and craft activities with several observations having large relative standard errors, the measure of statistical significance used by the ABS.

The proportion earning $5,000 or more of people involved in performing arts and music other than being performers themselves exceeded the proportions for the performers: 11% if involved with music and 10% if involved with performing arts as defined (Table

Table, from the 2007 statistical compendium, contrasts the genders involved in musical activities. Among those involved in music as live performers, 38.7% of males but only 15.3% of females received some payment (average for both genders 28.9% as already established in Table 1.4.4). However, among those involved with music but not as performers, 32.7% of females but only 23.5% of males received some payment. Males and females apparently have different types and combinations of support roles in this area.

Expressed as numbers of persons, 50,100 male performers but only 14,200 females received some payment, while the number involved without payment was almost identical: 79,400 males and 78,600 females. Of those involved in music without being performers, an estimated 7,200 males and 12,300 females received some payment (a ‘wobbly’ statistic with the relative standard error in the 25-50% range), while the numbers not doing so were again reasonably similar: 23,400 males and 25,300 females.

Weeks and Hours Worked During Year

The 2004 survey, as presented in the main statistical publication, featured the following somewhat complex classification relating to the twelve months ended April 2004 (see Table

  1. Working 1-13 weeks for less than 10 hours per week (”35 hours”)
  2. Working 1-13 weeks for 10 hours or more per week (”175 hours”)
  3. Working more than 13 weeks for less than 10 hours per week (”165 hours”)
  4. Working more than 13 weeks for 10 hours or more per week (”825 hours”)

Interpreting these measures is a little difficult. If we take the median of 1-13 weeks (7) and 14-52 weeks (33), and the median of 1-9 hours (5) and 10-40 hours (25), we obtain the average number of hours bracketed in inverted commas behind each class.

These estimates are clearly not very robust but do give some indication of average hours worked. On the assumptions listed above, we find the following average hours worked last year (whether or not for payment):

  • Musicians: 224
  • Performing arts performers: 161
  • Writers: 190
  • Photographers: 135
  • Other visual artists: varying between 157 (painters) and 206 (sculptors)
  • Craft activities: varying between 95 (glass) and 238 (textiles)
  • Designers: 344
  • Radio: 204
  • Television: 326
  • Film production: 187
  • Music workers other than live performers: 207
  • Performing arts workers other than performers: 170.

On these rough indications, music performers work relatively long hours, averaging 224. Apart from textile workers (238), only designers (an estimated 344 hours) and television workers (326 hours) appear to work longer average hours.

This, however, conceals much of the information contained in the distributions in Table, which vary considerably among the activities. For instance, the proportion of music performers working less than 10 hours per week was 84.8%, not much less than the corresponding proportion of other performing arts performers (86.3%). But a much greater proportion of these musicians worked 10 hours or less per week for more than 13 weeks during the year (60.7%), compared with other performing artists (45.2%).

In the top group, however, design and television clearly stood out with about one-third of persons involved working over 10 hours per week for more than 13 weeks of the year. This compared with 13-15% or less for almost all other groups including live music performers. See Table for detail.

The 2007 music compendium showed a special compilation of the distribution of the number of weeks worked during the year by the two groups involved in music (Table The most striking finding is that 51% of all music performers worked for 40 or more weeks of the year. The weighted average for the 74.3% of music performers who worked more than 13 weeks was 38.3 weeks (based on an average of 20 weeks for the 14-26 week class, 33 for the 27-39 class, and 45 for the 40+ class).

This compares with the assumption made in the text above that the median number of weeks for persons working 13 weeks and over was 33 weeks. On that score, the average number of hours worked per person involved in music performance should be about 15% higher than 224, assuming the number of hours per week was a correct estimate.

The second factor estimated from the 2004 survey publication, hours of involvement per week, seems to be fairly accurate according to the second special table compiled for the 2007 compendium (Table Fully 37.4% of music performers worked less than three hours per week, 47.4% worked three to less than ten hours, and only 15.2% worked ten hours or more per week (as already known from Table

Assigning the median to each of the two lower groups (1.5 to the less than three hours class and 6.5 to the 3-10 hours class) yields a weighted average of 4.85 hours per week for the under 10 hours class, just 3% below the assumed five hours.

The supplementary evidence therefore suggests that people involved in music performance work for a 15% longer period of the year than assumed, whereas the number of hours worked per week seems to have been perhaps 3% lower. The implication is that the hours worked by those working more than 13 weeks during the year should be increased by about 6%, to 238 hours. The added estimate would be almost entirely associated with those working 10 hours or more for 13 weeks or more during the year.

What we do not know is whether people involved in performing music are unique in having a high proportion working for 40 weeks or more. If so, music performers increase their lead compared with other people involved in artistic pursuits. If not, all estimates should be increased. In any case, the adjustments are not large enough to cripple our assumptions.

Specific Musical Activities

The survey of selected culture and leisure activities in 2004 distinguished between five groups of music genres: rock or pop, jazz, folk or country, classical, and other music (Table As a proportion of total persons involved in music performance, rock/pop accounted for 35%, jazz for 16%, folk/country for 14%, classical for 29%, and other music for 47%. These percentages add to more than 100 because some people play more than one type of music.

Note again that opera (actually opera and musicals or music theatre) was classified with performing arts. Sixty-six thousand persons were involved in 2004. As previously discussed, these would not all be added to the total persons involved in music performance because some would already be counted in that class.

Chart shows the number of males and females involved in performing each group of music genres, including opera and musicals. The number of each gender involved is indicated. Forty-one percent of those involved (excluding opera and musical) were females, but the female ratio varied widely from 30% in jazz and 32% in rock and pop, to 47% for folk/country and other music, culminating with 56% for classical music. The ratio was 51% for opera and music theatre, which would bring the total female ratio up a few percentage points if these genres were added to music performance.

The survey also distinguished between persons who were singers only (37.1%) of those involved in music performance excluding opera and musicals, instrumentalists only (42.3%), and both singers and instrumentalists (20.6%). Two-thirds of singers were female, compared with 24% of instrumentalists and 32% of those who were both. There is no published count of conductors, despite the fact that “music as a live performer includes playing musical instruments, conducting or singing in front of an audience.” (2004 survey publication, p 35.)

The most prevalent type of venue was unlicensed premises (61.6% of all persons involved in music performance). Only 10.5% played in licensed premises only, while 27.9% played in both licensed and unlicensed premises. These figures exclude opera and music theatre. Almost half (49%) playing in unlicensed premises only were female, compared with 19% playing in licensed premises only, and 32% playing in either.

Table also shows comparable data for theatre, dance and other performing arts, and for teaching of various artistic activities including ‘music or performing arts’. This group involved 73,400 persons (61% female). It was the biggest group of arts-related teachers, ahead of teachers of fine art and craft (64,400), writing or publishing (33,200), radio, television, film or video (29,200), and design (17,400 persons).

The 2007 compendium supplements the information on music by showing whether musicians of the different genres were paid anything or nothing (Table While 27.9% of those involved received some payment, only 22.6% of classical players did so, and 20.2% playing ‘other music’. For other genres, the proportion paid something was around 40% (rock or pop 40.6%, folk or country a statistically doubtful 40.1%, and jazz 38.4%).

Table is based on information in the 2007 compendium, presented as a graph from which the data were read and checked against the known totals. It shows whether the persons involved in particular genres were singers, instrumentalists or both. The proportion of instrumentalists only varied from jazz (62%) and classical (58%) through other music (39%) and rock and pop (35%), to folk and country (19%). Singers only, on the other hand, were most prevalent in other music (45%) and folk and country (41%). They made up 30% of persons involved in rock/pop and 26% of those involved in classical music, and only 11% in jazz. Persons being both singers and instrumentalists were most frequent in folk and country music (41%), followed by rock or pop (35%), jazz (27%), classical (17%), and other music (16%).

Finally, Table deals with opera and music theatre, again based on the 2007 compendium. It has already been mentioned. Sixty-six thousand persons were involved in performance: 32,200 males and 33,800 females. They were supported in various ways by 48,000 persons who weren’t involved in performance: 18,900 males and 29,000 females. The largest group of performers was in the 15-24-year age group (48%), while the largest group of supporters was aged 25-44 (56%).

Work Involvement Versus Hobby

Respondents were asked during the 2004 survey whether they were involved in some specific activities (art and craft, writing, and music) just as a hobby, as distinct from work-related reasons. The question didn’t distinguish between performing and other music activities.

In summary, art and craft activities attracted twice as many hobbyists than writing and music did (Table Of the total group of work- and hobby-related art and craft activities, roughly one-third was work and two-thirds hobby. The distributions were roughly the opposite for writing and music-related activities, for which the work component comprised about two-thirds.


As the Australian Bureau of Statistics explains in its notes to the 2004 survey publication, there have been changes in coverage and methodology across the period from 1993, when the first survey of work in selected culture and leisure activities was conducted. This explains a number of the ‘not ascertained’ entries in Table By implication, the entries left in the table are sufficiently compatible, though they remain subject to statistical error.

Live performance of music and performing arts, and writing, appear to have been among the slower movers, as distinct from visual arts and craft activities, film, cinema and video. But despite ABS’s statement (p 27) that “data content for 2004 was essentially the same as in 2001?, some of the activities appear less than credible, like near doublings in some visual arts activities including drawing, painting and photography, the largest visual arts groups.

Comparison with 2001 Census

The number of people who were involved in 2004 in music performance as ‘work’ as the Australian Bureau of Statistics defines it, exceeded the number of professional musicians counted in the 2001 Census by a factor of 25 (230,800 as against 9,000 persons).

Chart compares the numbers involved in music performance according to the 2004 survey of selected culture and leisure activities (above red line in chart) with the number of professional musicians and composers in 2001 (below the red line). Both concepts are obviously important, though the perspective differs. That so many people are involved in musical performance, with or without being paid for the efforts and in most cases being paid very little anyway, is of prime social and cultural significance. Together with all the other artistic and cultural pursuits covered by the survey, it is an essential part of the fabric of our society, with widespread impacts including national economic growth.

It is equally important, again from an economic as well as cultural viewpoint, to know as much as possible about Australia's core professional musicians. These numbered 9,000 according to the 2001 Census and some 14,000 according to David Throsby and Virginia Hollister’s report for the Australia council, Don’t give up your day job (p 16).[6] This is the latest in the series of economic studies of professional artists in Australia headed by Professor Throsby, going back to 1983.

Chart provides a dramatic perspective on, first, how few of those involved in performing music derive significant income from their involvement. Of the 230,800 people concerned, only 27.4% derived any income from it, and only 5% made $5,000 or more in the year to April 2004.

The number of persons who made this amount of money (11,500) is of roughly similar magnitude to those counted in the 2001 Census (9,000), especially if we augment this number through Throsby and Hollister’s estimated number of professional musicians and composers in 2001 (14,000 with a range of uncertainty between 13,000 and 15,000). The Throsby/Hollister estimate attempts to compensate for the fact that the census only counts main occupations as practised in the week before the census. Many professionals combine performing with teaching or other jobs, and may therefore not be counted as professional musicians. This observation is frequently made, and is documented by Dawn Bennett in the previous entry, 1.3, of this statistical section.




Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Last updated 6 October 2010

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