Towards an Ideal Database

This is the first of four related articles (each marked by the statistics logo to the right) reviewing the availability of numerical data on the music sector, the need for more comprehensive data, and possible ways of obtaining such data. Refer Overview of Music Statistics : ABS for statistics from the official provider, the Australian Bureau of Statistics,  Overview of Music Statistics: Other Sources for other actual and potential statistical information, and Overview of Music Statistics : Conclusions for an analysis of availability and inadequacies, and a research plan.
Chart 2 of The Music Sector outlines an ideal situation where a statistical framework is built up to give a comprehensive picture of the contribution that music-related activities make to the total economy, and to the social and cultural well-being of its citizens for which statistics are generally non-existent. No country has succeeded in reaching such an outcome, though some progress appears to be made. In Australia it is only in recent years that the leap was made from trying to describe the music industry (centred around recording) to capturing the whole music sector (centred around creation and including essential infrastructure support as outlined in The Music Sector).
Despite the sector concept being implied in an Australia Council report as early as 1987 (see Estimating the Value of the Music Sector), and a report to the Statistics Working Group of the Cultural Ministers’ Council in 2005 analysed the need for a statistical framework for the entire music sector, the use of the music sector term only gained wider currency when the Music Board of the Australia Council first published its Music Sector Plan in 2010.

Statistical Sources

The statistical sources in Australia can be divided into three main groups:

  1. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provides the most comprehensive data, but the organisation has major budgetary constraints and competing commitments. The ABS has nevertheless made significant progress in the cultural area in its general coverage and methodology. It has always been highly quality-conscious, which inspires confidence in its data whether based on comprehensive collection, ABS surveys, or data supplied by others such as Tourism Research Australia and the Australian Recording Industry Association Ltd (ARIA). The main remaining key issue for the music sector is lack of coverage causing a gap between what is available, and what would be ideal information on the music sector and its participants. See Overview of Music Statistics : ABS.
  2. There is an increasing quantity of other statistics from other organisations, as described in Overview of Music Statistics : Other Sources. These range from attendance at major performing arts events and similar indicators to special-purpose surveys. The latter include five artist surveys for the Australia Council conducted over more than 25 years by Professor David Throsby. There is also, potentially, a large amount of data available from music associations, community music organisations, local music festivals and venues which it may be possible to tap through surveys and other individual approaches. And there is a whole new research field on what has been called the casual music workforce — musicians playing in pubs and clubs and similar informal venues. How these statistics may be collected is discussed in Overview of Music Statistics : Conclusions.
  3. Finally, databases are becoming more comprehensive (also described in Overview of Music Statistics : Other Sources). The main recent development is the :// Trove facility developed by the National Library of Australia (NLA), and the associated “Pandora’s box” – appropriately called Pandora – of millions of websites archived since 1996. Trove was the subject of a :// special presentation by the NLA’s Curator of Music, Deputy MCA Chair Robyn Holmes at the 2011 MCA Assembly in Canberra. There are other databases and exploiting these will be part of the data mining required to build up a complete music sector database. It is anticipated that Trove in particular will provide valuable material to put a particular topic into a deeper perspective, but this needs to be further reviewed.

Overall estimates of music sector values will obviously improve with better data for individual components of the sector. It is somewhat disconcerting that the almost quarter-century old estimates of the economic value of the total music sector from 1987 are still basic to the current understanding. The Value of the Music Sector suggests on that basis that the total gross value-added in 2005-06 was about $6.8 billion at the then prevailing values, assuming no significant structural change took place within the sector. It would be higher in 2010-11 values on these assumptions (($8.3 billion), but we have no built-in measures of what impact the Global Financial Crisis may have had, not to mention the the structural changes caused by the ongoing technological advances. These original estimates, in other words, need to be reviewed, and the basic model needs to be re-assessed.

Feedback Invited

The intention is to check the adequacy of Australian music sector statistics on criteria such as (contributions invited, please!):

  • These are the issues. Do the statistics cover them?
  • How important are good quality statistics?
  • What do YOU want to see in your own interest area?
  • What can other (non-ABS) stats contribute?
  • What initiatives can various parts of the music sector take to improve the statistics?
  • Self-help in providing available data
  • Strategic planning of statistical support – where are we, where do we want to be in five years?
  • International perspectives.

The overview articles contain a number of invitations to contribute to the knowledge base on particular topics. The general invitation, of course, covers any relevant subject where readers think they can contribute. See Guidelines for Contributors which also shows the email address of the knowledge base editor.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Article first entered on knowledge base 27 October 2011 (latest revisions 28 June 2012). Logo design: HHG (treble clef image courtesy of

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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