This article, from 2008, provides some background for MCA’s continued quest to improve the statistical knowledge of the music sector — a quest leading to the major review undertaken in 2011 and 2012 to identify the existing state of the statistics in detail (individual articles covering particular segments of the sector can be reached through links in Overview of Music Statistics: ABS and Overview of Music Statistics: Other Sources). The quest has gone on for a long time: there are links below to the “Stevens report” (2003) which chronicled the sorry state of numerical knowledge of school music education, and to the 2005 statistical framework report by Hoegh-Guldberg and Letts for the Cultural Ministers’ Council. HHG, 20.4.2012.

Perceptions of the Role of Music and Other Cultural-Sector Statistics

The statistical section of this knowledge base aims at providing meaningful analysis rather than just presenting the data. Official music and other cultural statistics are – or have been to date – the domain of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the main problem has not been quality but the fact that there are considerable gaps in what is collected. So one role of the knowledge base is to bring together statistics from a variety of sources that shed meaningful light on the state and prospects of the Australian music sector.

The organisation of the statistics was originally developed from A Statistical Framework for the Music Sector (2005), by Hans Hoegh-Guldberg and Richard Letts.1 This is further explained in The music sector defined in the context section. Commissioned by the Cultural Ministers’ Council’s Statistics Working Group (SWG), the central message of the report was that there were powerful economic, social and cultural reasons for developing a comprehensive set of music sector statistics, culminating in what we called a ‘music GDP’. The message was underpinned by the growing emphasis on music and other arts as creative industries, a concept first developed in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s and adopted by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments and most recently in New South Wales with publications such as NSW Creative Industry – Economic fundamentals (2009).2

SWG’s initial response to the 2005 report was to ask the ABS to compile a statistical compendium. Subsequently, Music in Australia: A statistical overview was published in February 2007.3 The article named Quality of music statistics in the context section discusses the merits of SWG’s initiative and the ABS response and explores the gaps that remain before a comprehensive statistical picture of the Australian music sector can emerge. We consider the article important and urge you to read it.

In March 2008, ABS published an information development plan for the arts and heritage.4 The upshot is that ABS sees itself, according to the preface, as having ‘an important but limited role as a provider of data and that many other researchers and agencies have a significant role to play in undertaking research and meeting data needs.’ It defined 21 policy and research questions in the areas of economic, cultural, social, and quality-of-life outcomes which it then responded to in terms of data gaps, data development and research directions, and other criteria. The basic message throughout was that ABS can only contribute in a limited way to developing arts and other cultural statistics.

The approach taken in the information development plan differs quite radically from the 2005 report’s recommended path towards identifying the statistics to define the economic, social and cultural role of music as a highly significant creative sector. Basically, the ABS document treated each of the 21 policy and research questions in isolation, and no vision emerged of how to measure a fully fledged creative music sector.

Coupled with ABS’s own statement that it can play only a limited role in developing heritage and cultural statistics, this must lead to a rethink for peak music and other arts-related associations. Apart from advocating making the arts and heritage a higher ABS priority, other paths including the involvement of universities and other instititions must be trodden.

Filling the Gaps

Using the framework of the 2005 report it became clear that the gaps in the statistical base were so large that many or most music sector segments ended up as ’empty boxes’. The statistics have therefore been reorganised into a simplified structure that still provides a rough match with the music sector structure used in the narrative parts of the knowledge base under the headings of ‘context’, ‘creation’, and ‘support’.

The current structure is shown by the other headings under the statistics banner of the knowledge base: ‘music sector – context’, ‘participation, involvement and attendance’, ‘education and training’, and ‘other infrastructure support’. The categorisation can be readily updated or reclassified. Another category, ‘production and overseas trade’, is currently being planned.

The ABS provides an overview of official cultural statistics in the second edition (2008) of its Arts and Culture in Australia: A statistical overview5 The main categories are: ‘participation and attendance’, ‘tourism’ (statistics by the Bureau of Tourism Research), ‘household expenditure’, ‘funding’, ’employment and voluntary work’, ‘output of cultural industries’ (including ‘performing arts’ and ‘music composition, distribution and publishing’), and ‘cultural trade’. Several of these are already in the knowledge base but we need to update some with recently published statistics.

A partly untapped source which will shed further light on the music sector is survey data. One example is the 2003 Stevens Report6 into school music education commissioned by the MCA, the Australian Society for Music Education (ASME), and the Australian Music Association (AMA). While it primarily shows data gaps and incompatibilities between different school systems and states, it needs comprehensive statistical analysis. Another important source is the four economic surveys of individual artists conducted for the Australia Council between 1983 and 2003 by David Throsby and successive associates.

Industry associations and infrastructure providers represent one final potentially significant class of source material which is treated as high priority; much of this type of information is not publicly available or at least not easily accessible.

We appeal to readers to come forward with further suggestions.

Presentation of Statistics

Each article in the statistical section contains a descriptive section and an attached file showing statistical tables and graphs.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, 2008. Introductory note added 20 April 2012.


  4. Cat 4915.0.055.002↩︎
  5. ABS Catalogue No. 4172.0↩︎

Hans founded his own consulting firm, Economic Strategies Pty Ltd, in 1984, following 25 years with larger organisations. He specialised from the outset in applied cultural economics — one of his first major projects was The Australian Music Industry for the Music Board of the Australia Council (published in 1987), which also marks his first connection with Richard Letts who was the Director of the Music Board in the mid-1980s. Hans first assisted the Music Council of Australia in 2000 and between 2006 and 2008 proposed and developed the Knowledge Base, returning in an active capacity as its editor in 2011. In November 2013 the Knowledge Base was transferred to The Music Trust, with MCA's full cooperation.

Between 2000 and 2010 Hans also authored or co-authored several major domestic and international climate change projects, using scenario planning techniques to develop alternative long-term futures. He has for several years been exploring the similarities between the economics of cultural and ecological change, and their continued lack of political clout which is to a large extent due to conventional GDP data being unable to measure the true value of our cultural and environmental capital. This was announced as a major scenario-planning project for The Music Trust in March 2014 (articles of particular relevance to the project are marked *, below).

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