This article is part of a major research project extending from September through October 2011, identifying statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The project is explained in Overview of Music Statistics: Introduction. An overview referring to other (non-ABS) sources was initiated in November 2011, and the initial version concluded in May 2012 Overview of Music Statistics: Other Sources. Overview of Music Statistics: Conclusions outlines a preliminary research program.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is the national official data provider. See linked references below to nine subject areas where the ABS provides a range music sector data.

Role of the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Part of Australian Statistician (ABS head) Brian Pink’s introduction to Discover the ABS, 2010 (ABS Cat 1303.0) 1 reads as follows: “Being Australia’s official statistical organisation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is committed to a better informed Australia.   …   I encourage Australians to reflect on the vitally important role that official statistics play in our society. While government use of statistics is of vital importance, it is also true that access to official statistics provides businesses and citizens with a window on the work and performance of government itself. Official statistics show the nature and extent of government activity in every area of public policy, allowing the impact of public policies and actions to be assessed.  …   They also provide a strategic resource for businesses and the wider community in more general planning and research activities. One of my ongoing goals at the ABS is to continue to increase the level of understanding and use of official statistics within the private sector and more generally in Australian society.” (Italics added)

Discover the ABS, 2010 adds: “The ABS has a key central role in expanding and improving the range of statistics available on the performance of our economy, the well-being of our population, the condition of our environment and the challenges faced by regional and rural communities. This not only involves the ABS in collecting, compiling, analysing and disseminating a wide range of statistics itself, but also working with other federal, state and local government agencies to help them do likewise with the vast array of data they collect during the course of administrative processes.” It is acknowledged that some statistics treated as “non-ABS” in our review of sources may contain important ABS input in addition to the quality endorsement that comes with the ABS adopting them as official statistics. One example is the cultural tourism statistics compiled by Tourism Research Australia — presumably one of the easier decisions the ABS have had to make since the domestic and international tourism statistics have always been held in high regard.

The Australian Treasury (the ABS is one of 11 agencies in the Treasury portfolio) deserves full marks for the December 2005 reversal of a clearly counter-productive policy of charging for statistical data. Australian Statistician Brian Pink’s introduction again: “We are deeply committed to encouraging access to our statistics. Our website presents ABS data free-of-charge and is one of the most popular government sites in Australia.”

This is the second of four related articles investigating the availability of numerical data on the music sector (all four marked by the logo in the top right-hand corner of the article), and the need for more comprehensive data. Please refer to the first article, Overview of Music Statistics: Introduction for background. In summary, the role of the ABS is to be the main source of Australian statistics, by providing basic data on demographics, employment and unemployment, and the national accounts, and by providing a workable statistical framework for individual sectors including those associated with culture and the arts.

The concluding section of the current article reviews how far the ABS has been able to develop this role as far as the music sector is concerned. Its role does need to be reinforced in this area, as we contend in Overview of Music Statistics: Other Sources and the final article, Overview of Music Statistics: Conclusions.

The current central ABS publication for our purposes is Arts and Culture in Australia: A Statistical Overview, 2011, published on 19 December 2011 (ABS Cat 4172.0). Like other ABS publication websites, it also shows downloads of statistical tables, explanatory notes, related information, and past and future releases, all highly relevant when exploring the background for a particular publication for research or other information purposes. There were previous publications in 1994, 1997, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 — it is greatly appreciated that the top ABS publication on arts and culture became an annual event in 2007. The 2011 version includes a list of subject headings which have been linked to this article to show the most relevant ABS-generated data in relation to the music sector. Please click any item in the following list for a discussion of its statistical relevance:

Each of these topics is or will be covered elsewhere in the knowledge base by individual ABS publications which go into further detail (including State and Territory detail), and many provide time series data through periodic reviews. The summary articles listed above contain a limited number of illustrative tables and graphs. They will be subject to further analysis and updating in other articles, based on data from other sources as well as the ABS.

ABS Coverage

The basic question is: To what extent do the official statistics provide a basis for analysis of the music sector? The best basis would come from time series which include the recent past. In some cases, however, data cover years in the recent past when surveys have been undertaken for a variety of reasons. The “recent” past may be as far back as 2005-06 or even earlier, but these statistics have to be explored for as full a picture as possible.

The Music Sector is widely defined in this knowledge base to include not just the creative activities at the core but also the wide range of infrastructure support of these activities, and the role of innovation and research which provides a third stream in the music sector model. None of this is well covered by the official statistics.

The ABS publications basically fall under six main headings:

  • Employment and general involvement in musical activities: The five-yearly Census provides basic data on employment if music provides the main job. Many more persons, however, are involved in musical activities, including a number of live performers more than three times the census total who say they consider music their main job and receive some payment. There is a continuum ranging from strictly full-time employment as defined in the Census, through those receiving some payment for what they call their main job, to those who may receive some payment without considering music as their main job, to the majority of musical performers and support persons who receive no payment for these activities. This is essential structural information which can be analysed in a time series framework.
  • Production and value-added: Surveys have provided a range of such data for particular years since the mid-first 2000s decade. Though incomplete, the work carried out for the input-output analysis (relating to 2005-06) provides the strongest basis for further analysis, but all relevant production and value-added data must be included for maximum mileage.
  • Household expenditure: The 2009-10 survey provides a welcome recent addition to our knowledge of consumer spending. The previous survey (2003-04) was becoming dated but the two surveys together allows a review of recent trends.
  • Cultural trade in goods and services: The only purely music-related category under the heading of cultural trade is musical instruments, where the value of exports are a only a small fraction of imports. Imports also vastly exceed exports of radios, television sets, sound recording apparatus, and audio and video media. Trade in services (music royalties) shows a large trade deficit as well. The cultural trade statistics demonstrate a weakness in Australia’s position which doesn’t appear to be getting any better.
  • Cultural funding: The annual statistics of government funding, going back to the 1990s, provide a good analytic foundation, at least for the two higher levels of government which provide most of the specific funding for musical activities. Private-sector funding is not covered by the ABS.
  • Participation and attendance: ABS surveys provide a basis for viewing trends in attendance, for different types of performance, by age, sex and other criteria. The Indigenous and children’s surveys are also important.

Feedback from Overview of Music Statistics: Other Sources (which is based on a different arrangement of topics) indicates a severe lack of current or recent ABS data on community music and festivals, advertising and other uses of music, private-sector funding, music education, and several other topics.

The fourth article in this group, Overview of Music Statistics: Conclusions points to ways forward towards better statistical coverage of the music sector.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. First version concluded 2 November 2011. This version was restructured on 10 February 2012 with links to the nine identified subject areas for ABS arts and culture data. (most recent amendment 28 April 2012). The statistics logo was designed on 27 November 2011 by HHG — treble clef image courtesy of


  1. Like all ABS publications, this one is identified by a four-digit catalogue number. In the interest of briefness and space, the catalogue numbers of ABS publications are prefixed by the abbreviation Cat in this knowledge base, for example Cat 1303.0.↩︎

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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