Quality of Music Statistics

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This is a dated overview of statistical quality (2008), intended as a guide to the statistical development of the Australian music sector. The topic is of central concern for anyone wanting to increase their knowledge of the size of the music sector. It contains some relevant statistical history over the past 20 years, but its main intention was to demonstrate what was (and to a large extent still is) needed to fill the considerable knowledge gap that exists. The entire issue of music sector statistics is of renewed interest for the Music Trust, given our current major project to (a) provide a better statistical base for the sector and (b) construct scenarios for the coming 10 and 20 years to obtain a realistic assessment of where the sector is heading. HHG, Editor, 25 September 2014.

Reports for the Cultural Ministers’ Council

The Cultural Ministers’ Council (CMC) provides a forum for cooperation and coordination between the Australian, State and Territory governments on matters relating to the development of the arts and culture in Australia. New Zealand also participates, and Papua New Guinea has observer status.

Following its own formation in 1984, the Cultural Ministers’ Council established a statistical advisory body in November 1985, now known as the Statistics Working Group (SWG). According to the SWG website, ‘the group liaises with the Australian Bureau of Statistics on cultural statistics, monitors the need for the development, collection and dissemination of culture and leisure statistics, commissions studies, and provides advice to the Cultural Ministers Council on statistical matters.’ Its secretariat is located in the Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA).

During more than two decades, SWG has generated a range of statistical publications. Its website shows those currently accessible online under the general headings of:

  • Culture pamphlets, ranging from Indigenous involvement in arts and culture, work in culture and leisure activities, attendance statistics and children’s participation in cultural pursuits, to economic statistics of selected cultural industries.
  • Annual statistics of cultural funding.
  • Participation in culture.
  • Cultural tourism.
  • Other statistics ranging from corporate sponsorships and multipliers for culture-related industries to Australia’s trade in culture such as cultural promotion, cultural exchange and exports of cultural goods and services.

From our point of view, the two central publications in the ‘other’ category are the Hoegh-Guldberg and Letts report on a recommended statistical framework for the music sector (released in April 2005), and the compendium on music sector statistics compiled by the ABS and published in February 2007. We will also refer to a third report on a broader culture and leisure statistical framework, written in 1990 by Peter Brokensha in cooperation with SWG’s predecessor group. It is out of print and appears to be available only through libraries.

The Statistical Framework Report

This report on music statistics, commissioned by SWG in 2004, provides the structure for the MCA knowledge base, as described in the welcome page and the article on the music sector under ‘context’. The project was prompted by contemporary music associations seeking support for the growing export and employment potential of popular music. This was an important step because popular music has received little public funding, in contrast to less ‘commercial’ music genres.

The SWG brief called for a comprehensive survey of all ‘contemporary’ music, including ‘contemporary classical’ but not ‘classical heritage’. Priority was to be given to music that was ‘broadly understood as being popular’. While this reflected SWG’s intention to put renewed emphasis on ‘commercial’ music, the two consultants quickly convinced the project steering committee that it would be difficult and indeed illogical to separate out the relatively small part of the music sector made up of ‘classical heritage’. For example, many concerts with a ‘classical’ content include both ‘contemporary’ and ‘heritage’ pieces; symphony and chamber orchestras, opera companies, choir and festival directors select their repertoire across the board.

Furthermore, the phrase ‘broadly understood as being popular’ is difficult to interpret in practice - and the SWG brief itself went on to ask the consultants to explore music genres such as ‘contemporary classical, rock, pop, country, jazz, blues, world, folk, R&B, electronica, DJs and dance music (eg hip hop, rap and techno)’. It also asked the consultants to explore ‘themes’ such as women’s and Indigenous participation, ethnic and niche markets.

The clear logic therefore was to conduct a comprehensive review and analysis of the entire music sector. The outcome was to include all music from popular to serious - an extension with which the authors of the report are delighted to be associated. MCA’s own perspective has been steadily expanded to include all music genres, with an increased emphasis on contemporary popular music. (The logic of this is further supported by the current tendency for music genres to combine and fuse, making it difficult to identify particular genres over a period of time.)

The statistical framework report took another essential step. In addition to live and recorded musical performance which forms one main ’stream’ towards charting the economic, social and cultural importance of music in Australia, it recognised and advocated that there is a broad range of support activities which would not exist in the absence of musical performance. The pivotal support activity is music education and training, without which music in Australia would be very much poorer. But there are many other activities that help build a strong music sector, from State, industry and genre-based organisations through copyright-collecting societies to international trade in musical products, to mention but a few. Refer the basic graph shown here.


The framework report, for the first time, outlines a clear context for establishing the economic importance of the music sector (as distinct from the conventional concept of a music industry). It sets a five-year goal for comprehensive statistical collection and analysis to yield an ultimate ‘music GDP’ (through a ‘music GVA’ - gross value added).

The main argument for this is that music is a major creative activity with a recognised potential for supporting current economic growth - in addition to its potential for creating further social and cultural capital to support Australia’s long-term development capability. As the framework report discusses in detail, creativity is a recognised generator of future economic growth in a world where Australian manufacturing and many other industries are running into constraints due to international competition, environmental factors, and flagging demand growth. (See forthcoming article on ‘cultural and other economic capital’ - in preparation.)

The Compendium of Music Statistics

Two years have now passed since SWG published the music framework report. SWG responded by recommending that the ABS National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics prepare a statistical overview of music statistics in Australia ‘as one step in the plan to improve the quality and availability of statistics about music in Australia’. The compendium, Music in Australia: A Statistical Overview, was released in February 2007.[1]

The contents of the compendium are conveniently summarised in its preface: “The chapters in the report reflect the stages in the production cycle of music. Chapter 1 covers the creation of music, and looks at the number of people involved in composing and performing music. Chapters 2 and 3 provide information on organisations involved in live or recorded music. Chapter 4 presents economic information about expenditure on music, while Chapter 5 provides a variety of information about the extent of Australians’ interest in music. The report also contains references to relevant non-ABS websites to provide a more complete picture of the music industry.”

The statistics in the compendium are from a range of ABS sources. The authors themselves acknowledge that it excludes radio and television. In fact, it excludes many other parts of the music sector including most of the support stream. With a few exceptions it shows only Australia-wide data, and only the most recent survey, census and annual data. Some topics are treated very lightly but can be covered from other sources (for government funding the data are readily available through the SWG website).

The list of tables and charts in the compendium shows sources and content, summarised as follows:

Music Composition and Performances

Characteristics of people employed in music occupations according to the 2001 Census, which covers only those whose main occupation was music.

People involved in music in 2004 (classified by sex, age, type of involvement, duration, and whether paid; music performers by type of music played, whether paid and role performed; persons involved in operas and musicals). These statistics are the latest in a series of collections which show that involvement in music extends far beyond the census data.

Related data, mentioned but not included in the compendium, are from David Throsby’s periodic surveys of individual artists, of which the most recent is his and Virginia Hollister’s Don’t give up your day job (2003).[2]

Organisations Involved in Staging Live Performances

Economic data on music production organisations, by main music genre and including music festivals, from the survey of performing arts 2002-03. (The compendium notes that the next survey in this series will relate to 2006-07.)

Supplementary economic data on managed music entities (musical artists performing and/or recording as a single group - 248 counted), according to the ABS business of music survey 1995-96.

The end of this chapter refers to Live Performance Australia’s 2005 ticket attendance and revenue survey of the live entertainment industry. This was the second annual survey conducted through LPA.

Organisations Involved in Recorded Music

Counts of businesses and experimental statistics of incomes and expenses, 2003-04.

Economic data for music businesses (record companies and distributors, music publishers, and sound recording studios), from the business of music survey 1995-96.

Retail sales of selected commodities, from the retail survey of commodities sold in 1998-99.

Expenditure on Music

Household expenditure on music, 2003-04 (from the periodic household expenditure survey).

Purchase of goods and services via the Internet, by age groups, 2004-05, from a special survey of household use of technology.

Sources of government cultural funding, 2004-05 (graphs only).

International trade in music royalties 1995-96 to 2004-05, from annual statistics on international trade in services. The compendium adds that more data are available from the annual reports of the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA).

Expenditure on music imports and exports, 2005-06, from annual international trade statistics.

Consumption of Music

Persons attending cultural events, from a 2002 survey of attendance at events, by age, sex, labour force status and education; also frequency of attendance.

Children’s involvement in singing or playing musical instruments, from a special 2003 survey.

Recreation and leisure activities by sex, region, life stage and duration; listening to radio, CDs, records and tapes; from a 1997 survey of how Australians use their time.

People’s views on what activities are included in the arts, from another 1997 survey on public attitudes to the arts.

At the end of Chapter 5, the main source of sales of recordings and music videos is given as the Australian Recording Industry Association, ARIA.

The 1990 Report

In cooperation with the original statistical advisory group of the Cultural Ministers’ Council, Peter Brokensha did some fundamental research between 1987 and 1990 (The National Culture-Leisure Industry Statistical Framework, Second Edition, 1990). Apart from a detailed identification of available data versus statistical needs as they appeared at the time, and a statistical plan, his main contribution was to classify the statistical requirements into four functional elements. All are relevant for the building up of the total value of the music sector, though not necessarily derived from one source of statistics:

  1. Participants/creators classified by number, sex, age, frequency and duration, type of participation, income and other relevant criteria. The Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) became the standard source in No-vember 2006, replacing the previous ASCO.[3]
  2. Services and products produced. The main measure is value of production. When services or products are provided free of charge, expenditure is used as a proxy for value.
  3. Establishments (number producing services and products; employment; annual income by source such as government subsidies, royalties and other earned income; value added). An establishment can be anything from an individual to a company and government agency. The key item is value added, defined as income less expenditure on goods and services obtained from outside the particular activity or industry.
  4. Consumers (such as visitors, purchasers of goods and services, and audiences) defined as end-users of goods and services produced by a particular part of the music sector.

The Statistical Data Gap

The project led by Peter Brokensha helped obtain agreement to establish the ABS culture and leisure statistical centre. If his project’s recommendations had then been more promptly implemented to meet the need for ‘reliable, well-organised and accessible statistics for the cultural industry’ (which were lacking according to page 1 of the report), we would today have been much closer to a consistent statistical picture for each of the 17 industry groups and 52 subgroups in the proposed culture-leisure framework (excluding the industry groups of sport and national environment).

Regrettably, the recommendations have not been converted into as much action as might have been hoped, despite the existence of the ABS National Centre for Culture and Leisure Statistics, SWG and the Cultural Ministers’ Council. This does not reflect on the competence of the people involved who have been labouring under severe budget constraints. However, what was seen as a desirable and urgent goal in the late 1980s is even more desirable and urgent today, with the cultural sector and creativity generally emerging as key economic drivers. So the matter should be given a higher priority rating, now.

Social and cultural (as distinct from ’economic’) factors add to the urgency of proper statistical planning, both in their own right and because they contribute to the total pool of physical, natural, human and cultural capital which contributes to future economic growth (as will be described in a forthcoming article on cultural and other economic capital). In the music sector, for example, unpaid participation in performances and other involvement have social and cultural value which adds to medium- and long-term economic growth.

Different aspects are relevant in the various parts of the music sector, so subsets of statistical data will differ in design. The music sector is too diverse in its impact on Australia’s economic and cultural life to be treated in a uniform and inflexible manner. This has implications not only for the statistical design required to describe the sector but also for the verbal descriptions of its individual sections. The concept of the MCA knowledge base calls for descriptive as well as statistical evidence. All the information should be orientated towards the need to describe the economic, social and cultural impact of each component.

The Brokensha report proposed a rigorous and purely statistical cultural industry framework, but it did note that ‘the long-term … Statistical Plan is to seek special ABS surveys until ABS data collection/processing/methodologies/procedures can be appropriately revised’ (p 5). After almost two decades since his report, it is not surprising that events have moved on, and data requirements are changing quite rapidly, not least because music has become increasingly associated with digital and other new technology. One may add that the vast increase in digital technology should make it easier to enhance the flexibility of a statistical framework.

Anyhow, Peter Brokensha’s statistical definition of participants, products, establishments, and consumers provides a useful supplementary checklist to help ensure that each part of the music sector is adequately covered within the overall context of mapping the contribution of the sector to the Australian economy and society. Clearly, the current statistical coverage of the music sector falls way short of what is required for adequate knowledge.

Hoegh-Guldberg and Letts, authors of the statistical framework report released in 2005, identified a large gap between available music statistics and the requirements to provide a comprehensive statistical picture of the music sector to ascertain its economic, cultural and social significance. Based on the February 2007 compendium we can now take this further and map out a plan for mobilising the resources needed to fill the gap. This involves a three-step process:

  1. Defining the gap left by the compendium if that were the only collective source.
  2. Identifying other possible data from public authority and private sector sources.
  3. Ascertaining remaining gaps.

It is also essential to provide geographical detail at least at State and Territory level, and in some cases (such as Indigenous music) in further regional detail to identify metropolitan, regional and remote locations within each State and Territory.

The critical question is: What are we trying to measure, and why? Basically, the ‘Music GDP’[4] framework calls for a range of statistics including employment, participation, organisational structure, income and expenditure, and value added. If it is agreed that identifying the gross value of the music sector is the ultimate economic aim, then the gap analysis advocated here is highly relevant, and its realisation becomes a matter of urgency. Since SWG did accept the recommendations of the statistical framework report, this agreement appears to have been reached.

Table A[5] summarises the coverage of the compendium. Table B[6] lists the sources used in the compendium.

The Future

If we are to achieve a comprehensive economic picture of the contribution of the music sector within a limited number of years, the main work is clearly ahead. This applies to the compilation of new official statistics; what can be derived from official music organisations; and what can be done by private-sector organisations within the music sector. One of the most important undertakings of the MCA is to encourage this development across the spectrum of the music sector, and it has formulated a program to expedite this. We emphasise again that the concept of the knowledge base is to provide information in verbal as well as numerical form. The following necessarily sketchy summary of how to fill the gap gives some impression of what is required.

Performers and Creators

The compendium of music statistics shows data from the 2001 Census and from the latest periodic survey of involvement in the arts as performers and non-performers, and whether paid or unpaid. The latest survey by David Throsby and his collaborators contains an estimate of the total number of professional musicians, including those that did not consider this their main job - it adds some 50% to the core census count.

Meanwhile, this knowledge base already contains an analysis of the census count, based on a range of analytic efforts providing estimates going back as far as 1961.

There is a primary need to reconcile this statistical information for the knowledge base, covering the range of demographic and economic variables and using not just the latest sources but also previous surveys of involvement in the arts, and the three previous Throsby surveys conducted for the Australia Council (going back to 1983).

This effort will still leave us short on statistical information relating to specific musical genres, though some estimates should be possible from the sources mentioned above, and the databases of some of the State music associations may prove useful too. However, many other contributions will be required, both in text and tables, to take the estimation process further into the understanding of individual genres, and special categories such as Indigenous participation.

Live Performances

Apart from what can be derived from the analysis of creators and performers, and from existing statistics on performances covered in the compendium, the major new source is Live Performance Australia’s ticket attendance surveys for 2004 and 2005. It provides useful aggregate indicators as well as some detail on classical music categories, festivals and other categories. The total figure for non-classical (contemporary) music performances is also very useful but will need to be supplemented with estimates for individual genres.

At this stage there is little concrete statistical information on non-classical genres such as jazz, folk, country, and world music. It is important to remedy this gap in the interest of preserving and promoting musical diversity, which ‘is potentially a source of musical innovation and is economically and culturally significant. It is a source of cultural resilience because it offers more options when change and adaptation are needed. It offers additional opportunities for musical enthusiasm and passion, the basic fuel of the music sector’ (as expressed by Dick Letts in a recent note).

Diversity of genres causes a diversity of venues because different genres tend to use different types of venues. Diversity of genres also boosts the number of festivals which add to the economic success and cultural ambience of communities such as Tamworth, Wangaratta, Gympie and Port Pirie, to mention just a few of a large number all over Australia. Focusing on venues is another necessary aspect of the statistics, and of the verbal descriptions required for the knowledge base to support and promote the statistical data development.

Recording and Associated Industries

The ABS survey on the business of music in 1995-96 provided some of the most useful insights into the economic circumstances of particular industries. However, the information is badly outdated, especially because of the digital developments that have taken place during the subsequent years. These industry surveys should be conducted on a regular basis, no more than three years apart.

Meanwhile, it will be necessary to seek statistical information from other sources, including what is available from record company associations such as ARIA, and to canvass verbal descriptions of the state of these industries.

Other Industries Using Mediated Performance

One of the key industries is broadcasting. The challenge is to get to the music content of the various branches of radio and television transmission (commercial, public, community), and to cover the developing online services. The first task is to collect available statistics from the ABS and the industry’s own organisations, and then to develop methodologies for estimating music content.

Similar considerations apply to the film, DVD and video, and advertising industries. There will be some data, but considerable gaps are likely to remain, in particularly in relation to the music content of these industries.

Recently emerged uses of music (such as telephone ring tones and the use of music in computer games) may not have much statistical basis but should at least be covered verbally in the knowledge base in the initial attempt to assess the importance of these new applications.

Digital Technology

This topic constitutes the greatest data gap, and one which it is urgent to fill if we are to understand where the music sector is heading. Digital technology has spread through the entire music sector in one form or another. The statistical compendium contains one table relating to this technology, showing purchases of selected goods by various age groups through the Internet (CDs, music, DVDs, videos, books and magazines). Apart from demonstrating that younger age groups are more digitally clued up than older people, this is fairly useless and not even specific to music.

Dick Letts has commented as follows in another context on the lack of coverage of digital technology in the compendium:

So the gap is wide open. With what information should we seek to fill it?

I would say information about activities that involve music production, music delivery, music marketing - information parallel to that collected for the pre-Internet period, plus information to fill the many identified gaps as indicated below.

The Australasian Music Industry Directory (AMID) includes these specific digital/Internet chapters:

  • Internet - music sites and online services.
  • Internet - digital downloads.
  • Online music magazines.
  • Mobile phone technology.
  • Music video producers and directors.
  • Online retailers.

This task needs some intensive discussion since we can decide on information categories but still have to figure out how and where to get the data.

Why Do we Need this Information?

  1. Much of the music sector (education, creation, production, delivery) is moving to the digital realm. If there is justification for the collection of various categories of data in the ‘old’ world, the same justification applies to the collection of counterpart data in the digital realm.
  2. In the old world, mediated music was largely bought and sold as content embodied in physical objects. Even for instance broadcast music required the physical object. Royalty payments, which are in a sense disembodied, usually resulted from sale or use of physically embodied music. The digital realm is more elusive to track and the tracking is more problematic for industry players because we cannot follow the movement of physical objects and because there is no central control of the Internet. Government may be better placed to intervene to secure data than are players from parts of the industry.
  3. It has been observed that whereas in the old world, most sales were from the catalogue of current high-selling tracks, in the new world there is an equal sale from the ‘tail’ of low-selling tracks. This tail is not found only in the back catalogues of the record companies, but in the plethora of self-produced and self-released tracks by individuals. This could be a very important force culturally and economically, and we should collect data about it if possible.
  4. Digital commerce in music will be a substantial contributor to Australian music exports. We place priority on exporting. We need to know our success. We need in particular to know the success of any strategies adopted to boost digital music exports (once we invent them, as we should! Is there any concerted government or industry action or is almost everything left to fate and the individual player?).
  5. Digital delivery allows the development of global markets for niche genres. They may therefore become more economically important than heretofore. Also, they are culturally important because they are manifestations of cultural diversity and therefore resilience. Again, we benefit by tracking activity in niche genres.
  6. Consideration needs to be given to what data to collect in the light of analysis of the musical activity in the digital realm and also the practicability (as it develops and changes) of collecting various types of data.” (End of RL quote)

Music Education

The statistical compendium covers only private music teachers, most of whom are self-employed studio teachers. There is no coverage of primary, secondary and tertiary music education. In view of the massive importance of education for the future of the music sector in Australia, there is an urgent need for statistical research into music education. This will relate to official statistics from the ABS, the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST), State and Territory education departments and non-government school associations; commissioned reports on music education; and other sources to be identified and explored. There is a parallel need for verbal description of the status of music education in the various parts of the education sector.

Music Marketing and Trade

The compendium lists a number of sources of statistics of retail trade, household expenditure, imports and exports of musical goods. An early task for the knowledge base is to build up the statistics as part of the process of assessing their sufficiency. The Australian Music Association (AMA) also has a good supply of statistical data, available to members on its website.

Government Funding

This topic was treated at an highly overall level in the compendium, but there is in fact a great amount of data available each year for the Commonwealth, State and Territories, going back to the early 1990s when this writer compiled the first annual statistics for the Australia Council. The main source is the annual Three Tiers of Government,[7] but the Australia Council and State and Territory arts authorities also publish statistical data on their websites.

Other Parts of the Music Sector

Some topics, including copyright collection societies, music and copyright, and music therapy, are already described in the knowledge base, and more are in the pipeline. It is desirable in all these cases to provide statistical information as well, which is unlikely to come from the ABS in the immediate future. The most likely general source of data is the relevant organisations and associations.


Apart from continued liaison with the ABS, DCITA, SWG, the Australia Council and other authorities, as well as its constituent members, MCA’s current plan to increase the statistical and verbal content of the knowledge base is as follows:

  1. Identify all gaps relative to the goal of building a dependable measure of the total gross value of the Australian music sector, and each of its components.
  2. Analyse all readily available data for the statistics section of the MCA knowledge base to refine the assessment of what is lacking to reach this goal.
  3. Construct a list of topics to be covered verbally, but with as many statistics as possible.
  4. Continue to invite contributions from members and others.

We stress the need for urgent action on all four points in the above plan.


  1. http://www.culturaldata.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/58544/Music_in_Australia_A_Statistical_Overview.pdf
  2. http://www.ozco.gov.au/arts_resources/publications/dont_give_up_your_day_job_report/
  3. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/1220.02006?OpenDocument
  4. [needs up to date reference]
  5. [needs up to date reference]
  6. [needs up to date reference]
  7. http://www.culturaldata.gov.au/publications/statistics_working_group


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg Original article written in 2008.

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