Participation and Attendance

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This article describes one of nine areas listed in Overview of Music Statistics: ABS, outlining the contribution of the Australian Bureau of Statistics to knowledge of the music sector.

The ABS publishes three types of participation and attendance statistics: relating to the general population aged 15 and over, to Indigenous people, and children. In addition, its industry statistics on clubs, pubs, taverns and bars distinguish between premises with and without gambling facilities. The latest of these surveys (2004-05) also shows the number of paid live performances.


Chart 1
Out of 12 selected cultural venues and events[1] three are musical: popular and classical music concerts, and musicals and operas (Chart 1).[2] The overall attendance rate (proportion of population aged 15+ going to at least one event over the past 12 months) at popular music concerts was over 30% in 2009-10, heavily slanted towards younger age groups peaking at almost 45% for the 18-24 age group. Significantly, the attendance rates were higher than in the previous survey in 2005-06 for every single age group, and the overall average attendance increased from 25% to 30%. This represents a significant reversal of the trend: the attendance rate declined from 28.6% in 1991 to 26.4% in 1995 to bottom at 24.7% in 1999. It returned to 26.4% in 2002. [3]

The rise in popular music concert attendance rates contrasted with classical music concerts, for which the attendance rate declined from 9.4% in 2005-06 to 8.9% in 2009-10 (following a generally increasing trend from about 8% in 1991 and 1995 and 9% in both 1999 and 2002). Furthermore, there was a shift with attendances declining for all age groups up to and including 45-54 years, but increasing in the three senior age brackets. There was a weaker tendency towards older audiences for musicals and operas — two genres that seem too dissimilar to treat as a group. The average attendance rate for musicals and operas remained steady at 16.3% between 2005-06 and 2009-10. In previous years, the rate declined from 20.1% in 1991 to 19.3% in 1995 and 16.3% in 1999. A higher finding for 2002 (18.7%) was not sustained: the results for the two subsequent surveys dropped back to the 1999 level.

The three types of music venue make up half of the performing arts categories in the statistics, the others being theatre (overall attendance rate in 2009-10 16.3%), dance (10.1%), and other performing arts (16.8%)). It is also noted that 52.3% attended at least one performing arts event.

The remaining six items in these statistics were cinemas (67% attending at least once during the last 12 months of 2009-10), zoos and aquariums (36.8%), botanical gardens (35.2%), libraries (33.5%), art galleries (25.9%), and museums (25.5%). The last two groups showed the strongest increases compared with 2005-06.

Chart 2
Median annual attendance is shown in Chart 2 for six types of performance. Overall, Australians attended a particular type of performance about once in 2009-10, as indicated by the bottom line in Chart 2. The median attendance was highest for popular music concerts followed by classical concerts and theatre performances. The median was below one for musicals and operas, dance, and other performances. Each median was largely unchanged from the previous survey in 2005-06. These annual median attendances per person (between 1.27 and 0.80) may be compared with cinema attendances (median for 2009-10 4.3 times for all persons 15 years and over).

The 2005-06 attendance survey also inquired into frequency of attendance (once only last year, twice, three times, four times, five times, and 6 times or more). Based on this, Table 9 in the 2009-10 survey (Cat 4114.0) shows 5,298,000 attendances at popular music concerts (up from 4.04 million in 2005-06), 1,554,000 at classical concerts (2005-06 1.50 million - the performance type showing the smallest relative increase from 2005-06), and 2,849,000 at musical theatre and opera performances (2.61 million) This compares with 2,847,000 attendances at theatre performances (up from 2.72 million), 1,768,000 at dance performances (up from 1.62 million), and 2,935,000 attending other performing arts (up from 2.65 million)[4] – all dwarfed by 11,713,000 cinema attendances (up from 10.4 million in 2009-10).

While classical concerts showed the smallest number of attendances in 2009-10 (1.55 million), the detailed table in the source document shows that 11.8% of people going to classical concerts did so six or more times during the year (slightly below 12.2% in 2005-06), a proportion only topped for popular music concert goers at 14.3% attending such concerts six or more times (up from 13.7%). The proportion was 8.9% for theatre goers (unchanged from 2005-06), 6.1% for dance (again unchanged), and 4.5% for other performances (down from 5.1%). Only 3.9% went six times or more to musicals or operas (3.8% in 2005-06).

Other important data include Indigenous participation in music, dance or theatre, in art or craft, and in writing and storytelling (Chart 3) and children's (5-14) involvement in organised cultural activities (playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, and drama), described with reference to Chart 4.


Chart 3
The data on Indigenous participation are based on the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Street Islanders Social Survey — NATSISS (ABS Cat 4714.0). This major survey provides data on whether Indigenous languages are spoken, whether people identify with a clan, tribal or language group, whether they live in traditional homelands, their degree of access to social networks and support, and whether they were ever removed from their natural family. It explores health and education levels, housing standards, and financial stress. Each State and Territory is examined separately. A previous NATSISS survey was carried out in 2002. To gain better understanding of current levels and trends in Indigenous participation in musical and other activities, it would be highly desirable to refer back to the details of the NATSISS surveys and how they relate to artistic activities. Contributions are most welcome.

Meanwhile, this overview shows the summary survey findings, specially compiled for the ABS arts review (Cat 4172.0). The findings relate to Indigenous people's participation in cultural activities which are important elements of traditions and community sustainability, as well as spiritual and social well being. Participation in music, dance or theatre by Indigenous people is shown in red; music in some form seems to accompany any traditional dance or theatrical form produced by Indigenous people. The top bar of each segment shows the percentage of the population 15 years or older who participated in writing or telling stories; the bottom bar shows the proportion doing arts or crafts.

About 11% of the adult Indigenous population participated in music, dance or theatre - the proportion was about the same for people 15-34 years old as for older persons. More males than females participated (12% against 9%), and the participation rates were much higher (about 16%) in remote and very remote regions than in non-remote locations (about 9%).

The participation rate for writing and telling stories increased rapidly with age, and was higher for women than for men, and much higher in remote/very remote regions than in non-remote regions. Relatively more older persons participated in arts and crafts than persons 15-34 years old (18% compared with 16%). The participation rate was significantly higher for women than for men, and in remote and very remote regions.

In every segment shown in Chart 3, the participation rate in musical, dance and theatrical activities lagged behind both arts or crafts, and writing or telling stories.

Chart 4
The NATSISS surveys are main sources relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Many other ABS publications are available, including the following recent examples:
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Well-being: A focus on children and youth, 2011 (Cat 4725.0)
  • Australian Social Trends, September 2011 (Cat 4102.0)
  • Framework for Measuring Well-being: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 2010 (Cat 4703.0)

The Census (2006, 2001 and previous) identifies persons who consider themselves Indigenous (including their occupations). It also provides the ultimate geographic detail of where they live. Basic community profiles are available at any detail needed, such as identification of remote and non-remote locations in each State and Territory.


An ABS survey in 2009 inquired into participation by children aged 5 to 14 in culture and leisure activities (following similar surveys in 2003 and 2006). The four cultural activities included in the survey were playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, and drama. Chart 4 shows the most popular activity being musical instrument playing, where boys showed a participation rate not far below that of girls (18.7% compared with 20.7%). In the three other cultural pursuits, girls far outnumbered boys: in singing with a participation rate three times higher (9.2% as against 3.1%), in dancing nine times higher (26.3% compared with 3%), and in drama 6.6% as against 2.8%. The survey also showed that total participation rates (in at least one of the four activities) were 23% for boys and 44.9% for girls (321,000 boys and 595,000 girls in absolute numbers).

The detailed tables published as part of the survey (ABS Cat 4901.0) include age group (5-8, 9-11, 12-14), country of birth, State/Territory, whether living in a capital city, country of birth of parents, family type and employment status of parents. They also enable comparison with participation rates in leisure activities, such as individual organised sports, watching TV, DVDs or videos, participating in art or craft activities, reading for pleasure, and homework - as well as accessing the Internet and owning a mobile phone.[5] Contributions to the knowledge base are invited using these and previous survey results.

Pubs, Clubs and other Popular Music Venues

Table 1
One of the most important recent additions to the statistical base of the music sector was generated by the recognition that popular music gigs are adding significantly to the incomes of venues playing these gigs, and that the activities of casual musicians performing these gigs are an important part of the music sector. This topic is pursued as part of the review of non-ABS statistics under the heading of Venues.

The ABS provides some important data, though the statistics currently only cover the period to 2004-05. Table 1 shows trends in the number of clubs and pubs and other venues offering opportunities for popular musicians to perform. Venues quotes evidence of potential conflict between the impact of the increase in the number of premises providing income opportunities through gambling and the opportunities for popular music. The 2004-05 statistics for the first time show the estimated number of music gigs in premises with and without gambling facilities, respectively. It stands to reason that the decline in the number of premises without gaming facilities would have a significant impact on musicians' opportunities to perform in public: the average number of gigs in these establishments was 88 compared with less than 41 in pubs, taverns and bars with these facilities.[6]

The number of poker machines increased dramatically in the 10 years to 2004-05: from 27,009 to 71,110 (+163%) in pubs, taverns and bars, and from 83,625 to 117,786 (+40%) in sporting and other hospitality clubs. [7]

The declining number of premises is not reflected in total income; on the contrary, the statistics (not shown in Table 1) indicate a steady increase over the ten years to 2004-05: converted to 2011 values[8], the total income of pubs, taverns and bars increased from $9.3 billion in 1994-95 to $13.3 billion in 2004-05 (+43%). In 2004-05, the overwhelming part of this income was earned in establishments with gaming facilities (86%). Gambling income accounted for 24.3% of the total income of all pubs, taverns and bars (about $3.2 billion). For clubs, the total income in 2004-05 was $8.8 billion at 2011 prices, an increase of 28% from $6.9 billion 10 years previously. In 2004-05, 96% of the total income was earned in clubs with gambling facilities. Gambling generated 58.4% of total club income, or about $5.1 billion. The estimated average income of clubs in 2004-05 was $4.15 million converted to 2011 values, compared with $3.85 million for pubs, taverns and bars.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Entered 8 October 2011 as part of general ABS overview. Made into independent article 10 February 2012. Most recently updated (added section on pubs and clubs) 1 April 2012.


  1. ABS Cat 4114.0, Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events, Australia, 2009-10.
  2. The material in this section also comes from the section on performing arts in the general ABS arts and cultural review (Cat 4172.0).
  3. These statistics were also collected for 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2002. The new data will be used to update the current article dated 2008, Attendance at Cultural Performances.
  4. The findings may be compared with Table 12.5 in the Performing Arts section of ABS Cat 4172.0, which shows paid attendances. This may explain some large differences, especially for popular music performances (paid attendances 1,815,000).
  5. Even the 2009 survey largely preceded the recent great upsurge in the social networks such as Facebook and Twitter (Facebook reached 150 million active users worldwide in January 2009 and in July 2011 had five times that number). Presumably future surveys will include these activities.
  6. Making what is possibly a heroic assumption that the number of gigs per establishment with and without gaming facilities remained unchanged over the 10-year period, the total number of gigs in pubs, taverns and bars with gaming facilities would have increased slightly from about 97,000 in 1994-95 to 98,400 in 2004-05, but the number would have declined from 176,000 to 96,400 for those without such facilities. The decline would have been much smaller in licensed clubs which was dominated by poker machines through the period, and which host the vast majority of club gigs.
  7. The source for 2004-05 is Gambling Services Australia 2004-05 (ABS Cat 8684.0)
  8. The conversion uses the implicit deflator for Gross Domestic Expenditure (ABS Cat 5206.005)
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