This article describes one of 12 areas listed in Overview of Music Statistics: Other Sources, outlining the potential and actual contribution of sources other than the Australian Bureau of Statistics to knowledge of the music sector. Additionally, it discusses the historical development of genres to provide context for the research into possible statistics.

What is a Musical Genre?

“A music genre is a conventional category that identifies pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is to be distinguished from musical form [referring to the overall structure or plan of a piece of music] and musical style, although in practice these terms are sometimes used interchangeably.” (Wikipedia) 1

In a rapidly expanding musical world, the number of “genres” or “styles” can look overwhelming. Wikipedia notes in an all-embracing List of Music Styles: “Music can be divided into many genres in different ways. These classifications are often arbitrary and closely related styles often overlap. It may be argued that generic classification of musical styles is not possible in any logically consistent way, and that classification sets limitations and boundaries that hinder the development of music. Labelling music with genres often does not reflect a specific culture, race, or time period. Larger genres comprise more specific sub-genres.”

A Triangle of Principal Genres

In today’s perspective, it is important to identify how the main musical genres came about, in particular popular music with its continuing proliferation of new styles and sub-genres.

Philip Tagg is a retired musicology professor who most recently worked until 2009 at the University of Montréal, Canada. He is especially interested in the development of popular music, and has identified an “axiomatic triangle” of basic genres which each comprises numerous styles and sub-genres, showing how this development occurred through history.2 Chart 1 is adapted from the second edition of his Ph.D. thesis, showing how the music of “primitive” societies with no division between musical forms split into two streams, “art” and “folk” music, associated with the first of two major historical catalysts — the development of slave-based and feudal societies in ancient and medieval times.

Through history, the major art and folk music streams as well as following their own development paths influenced each other as suggested by the crossing arrows on Chart 1 — but in the process associated with the development of modern monetary economies and industrialised societies over the past 200+ years (the second catalyst) they also together spawned a third stream consisting of what is known today as popular music. Hence, the triangle may be described as follows:

  • Classical and art music traditions, developed from European classical music into particular forms such as orchestral or symphonic music, opera, chamber, choral, religious, and new music
  • Popular music, including blues, country, electronic, hip hop, jazz, reggae, and rock3
  • Traditional music, including what is now known as folk and world music (the folk music stream on Chart 1 becomes traditional with the passage of time).

In his chapter on “Popular Music and Affect”, Philip Tagg summarised the properties of popular music as follows (pp 19-20), in accordance with the development shown graphically in Chart 1:

  1. “Popular music is a phenomenon found in industrial society and can neither exist in pre-industrial society nor without an industrial proletariat.
  2. Popular music is created and performed by professionals or semi-professionals who do not necessarily have any traditional form of musical education.
  3. The composers and authors of popular music may be unknown to their public but they are not anonymous in the same way as folk music.
  4. Popular music as a term should not be confused with musique populaire or música populár, both of which correspond more closely with the English term “folk music”. .. Popular music should not be confused with the term “pop music”, which is taken to mean a whole complex of musical styles, mostly contained within the framework of popular music from the 1960s.
  5. Popular music has no pronounced or clear theoretical, philosophical of aesthetic superstructure. However, writing and performing practices are well established.
  6. Popular music cannot be defined as a term by means of intra-musical analysis, and may use the same compositional techniques as the art and folk music to be found in the same fundamental common culture.
  7. Popular music is sold in capitalist countries according to the laws of “free enterprise”. In socialist countries its distribution is subject to different considerations.
  8. Popular music is not to be confused with “easy listening”, “light music”, Trivialmusik, Unterhaltungsmusik, etc. Although entertainment and easy listening may be very common features of popular music, they are not the only ones.
  9. Popular music depends for its existence on means of mass production and distribution.
  10. Popular music is, in short, all music which is neither art music nor folk music.” {Italics added)

Elements of a Plan for Statistical Genre Research

A simplified classification is justified by the existence of particular institutions (some with more available statistics than others) as well as how practical it is likely to be to collect the data. The second step is to devise surveys to explore the types of styles and genres played by musicians in Australia.

At least until recently, there would be more statistical information on particular types of art music (especially orchestral music and opera which are performed by large companies and institutions) than on popular music genres, smaller art music genres such as choral music, and traditional music genres including folk and world music. With limited availability of official statistics on participation and attendance, a formal detailed research plan would include the following elements (the order of the items does not indicate priorities; some steps would be taken simultaneously as part of building the research plan):

  • Identify the relevant genre associations such as jazz, country music, folk music, choral music and others
  • Explore connections with the more general research into Australian music organisations
  • Consult central institutions such as APRA|AMCOS for possible sources of information and approaches
  • Extract and assess data from the main sources of the casual music workforce identified in Casual Music Workforce
  • Explore other possible data sources including the five Throsby surveys for the Australia Council and research undertaken by arts authorities and other government bodies generally
  • Pay special attention to the relationships between particular genres and Australian Indigenous music
  • Involve MCA councillors in the effort of identifying possible data sources and methodologies
  • Explore internal MCA information sources
  • Build a preliminary statistical database and identify gaps
  • Devise surveys to expand the database (include space for comments to allow respondents to expand on the genres they play).

The ultimate aim needs to be defined, but should ideally identify, in terms of main genres, full-time-equivalent employment patterns (based on full-time, part-time and casual employment), income and expenditure patterns, and other indicators of the economic and social contribution of musicians adding to the total value of the music sector. It is recommended in Overview of Music Statistics: Conclusions that this research should start in 2012 if at all possible.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Entered on knowledge base 3 May 2012 as part of a general overview of statistical sources other than the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Updated note 2 referring to Philip Tagg’s new book, 17 September 2013.


  1. Accessed 1 May 2012.↩︎
  2. Tagg’s current work, cited as the source of Chart 1, was derived from his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Göteborg, Sweden, in 1979. See Chapter 2, “Popular Music and Affect”, of Kojak: 50 Seconds of Television Music. Towards the Analysis of Affect in Popular Music, New York: Mass Media Music Scholars’ Press (1998 edition). He has since (2013) published Music’s Meanings: a modern musicology for non-musos.↩︎
  3. Searching Wikipedia for the origin of each of these genres shows blues originating in the late 19th century in the southern United States; electronic music as expanding forever from the late 19th century following Edison’s patenting of the phonograph in 1878; jazz emerging in the early 20th century in the southern US; country music following in the 1920s, again in the southern US; rock from the 1960s, mainly in the US and UK; reggae late 1960s, Jamaica; and hip hop, 1970s, African-American and Hispanic-American communities, New York City. The United States (originally the south) appears as a particularly fertile breeding ground for new popular music genres since the late 19th century. Wikipedia notes that new genres emerge from existing genres and how multiple genres contribute to/combine into new genres. Most of the genres mentioned here have sub-genres which may in time develop into major new ones. It is unlikely that this process will come to a halt in the foreseeable future.↩︎

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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