This paper covers membership organisations and organisations whose role is the representation of and/or service to specific musical interests. It does not cover organisations, commercial or non-profit, that exist to present performances, make recordings or other such music activities but are not essentially membership organisations. It excludes performing organisations that have ‘members’ only in the sense that they are financial supporters but do not have a vote in the conduct of the affairs of the organisation.

What Use are the Organisations to You?

In many instances, they are THE sources of detailed information about their respective fields of activity.

Geographical Coverage

Associations of the type covered in this section may be organised on a national, state, regional or local basis.

There is some difficulty in maintaining national associations in Australia due to the small population relative to geographical size, and consequently the distances between population centres. The largest city, Sydney (4 million plus) is a thousand kilometres from its nearest large neighbour to the south (Melbourne, 4 million minus) and to the north (Brisbane, 1 million plus). Perth’s nearest and only substantial neighbour on the continent is Adelaide, 2,000 kilometres to the east.

As a consequence of these physical distances, daily evidence of community of interest is not necessarily very obvious and the need for action at the national level may be apparent only sporadically or to those who make it their business to keep an eye on the big picture. There is some history of national organisations falling apart. They tend to be more stable when they have a paid secretariat, but funds to enable such a luxury are generally available only to large organisations with unusual skills in fund-raising or a commercially affluent membership.

More common are state-based associations. The community of interest is more clear. The associations of studio music teachers, for instance, work at state level, and an attempt to form a national federation was short-lived.

Some state-based associations have formed national federations: one thinks of the Australian National Choral Association or the Australian Society for Music Education. It is not uncommon that there are periodic ructions in such organisations, as state associations question the benefit of the national linkages, or there are power plays back and forth. The community of interest can be tested even within large states such as Queensland where, in a sort of replication of the situation of some national vs state associations, regional organisations appear and displace or compete with the state organisation.

There are hundreds or thousands of local organisations. It is beyond the means of this Knowledge Base to attempt to cover them.

As a general rule, to the extent that the associations take on an advocacy role to governments, national associations deal at the national level, state associations at the state level and local associations at local government level. To undertake advocacy to more than one level of government is onerous for any but a very well-heeled association, remembering that Australia has eight state governments and hundreds of local governments.

These organisations are not-for-profit (non-profit), which is not to say that they do not make a profit from their activities, but that they do not distribute it to members or shareholders but apply it to further provision of services.

There is some consensus that not-for-profit organisations exist to deliver a service and that the available funds should be used for that purpose, rather than accumulated and held by the organisations. Usually, accumulated reserves would amount to say, less than 20% of annual income. The Australia Council has a requirement of its larger grantees that they build and maintain a reserve of 20% of expenditures.

These organisations can form and operate without legal incorporation. There are advantages to formal incorporation. Various forms of incorporation are available, with increasingly rigorous requirements depending upon the extent to which they trade and so create financial risk. There are three options: an incorporated association, a co-operative society or a company limited by guarantee.1

Tax Status

Non-profit music organisations can seek listing on the Register of Cultural Organisations. Donations to registered organisations are tax-deductible.2 They will also find benefit in registering as income tax exempt charities.


In addition to the listings below, on the Music Australia website, the reader will find connections to national and other music organisations in Australia. There is no longer an international section.

Some Comments on Coverage

For reasons explained above, some areas of music activity are not organised nationally, or if they are, they have not created a national service or advocacy organisation. The absence of such activity from a list of national organisations therefore should not be taken as an implication that the activity itself does not exist. (Until 2006, there had been no national theatre association in Australia for almost 20 years, although theatre itself was alive and well.)

Activities in which there are National Organisations


Community-based activity tends, not surprisingly, not to organise itself nationally or even by state. But there are some exceptions.

Organisations include but are not limited to:

Music education

At school level, tertiary level, through specialist associations for instruments such as strings, trombone, flute, through specialist teaching methods such as Dalcroze, Kodaly, Orff, Suzuki. Music examinations organisations. Youth orchestras.

These include but are not limited to:


Screen composers are organised but there is no general national association of composers or songwriters excepting perhaps the royalty collecting societies. The computer music association is mostly for music creators of the ‘avant-garde’, if that is still a current term.

Professional Performers

Two unions with minor coverage except for orchestral musicians. Since orchestral awards are negotiated by their union, professional orchestra players mostly belong.

Music Industry

Record industry associations, venues, employers/entrepreneurs, publishers, retailers, wholesalers.


Yes, for commercial and community radio but not specifically for music.



Richard Letts. Original version 6 April 2007. Last updated 2 October 2012.


  1. Shane Simpson: Music Business. A Musician’s Guide to the Australian Music Industry, is an excellent guide to these and many similar matters. Fourth edition 2012 published by Omnibus Press, London, New York, Sydney. The book can be ordered from the Arts Law Centre.↩︎
  3. Music Teachers Association of New South Wales, Victorian Music Teachers Association Inc., Music Teachers Association of Queensland Inc., The Music Teachers Association of South Australia Inc., West Australia Music Teachers Association (Inc.), Tasmanian Music Teachers Association Inc..↩︎

Dr Richard Letts AM is the founder and Director of The Music Trust, founder and former Executive Director of the Music Council of Australia (now Music Australia) and Past President of the International Music Council. He has held senior positions in music and culture in Australia and the United States, advocated for music and music education, conducted research, written policy documents, edited four periodicals, published four books and hundreds of articles.

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