Live Music Exchange Blog

Findings and observations from the Melbourne Live Music Census – Dobe Newton


Today’s post is by Dobe Newton, OAM. Dobe has been an active music professional for over 40 years, as singer and percussionist with The Bushwackers, co-author of the renowned anthem ‘I Am Australian’ and in many advisory and business positions. He has served on the Melbourne Music Strategy Advisory Group, Australian Music Vault Advisory Panel, WA Music Industry Association, the Victorian Rock Foundation and The Melbourne Music Festival. In 2012 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for “services to the performing arts as performer and advocate”.

He led the team that produced the 2012 Victorian Live Music Census, an inspiration for our own work on the Edinburgh Live Music Census 2015 and the UK Live Music Census

Here, Dobe reflects on his more recent census work, with the Melbourne Live Music Census of 2017, and presents key findings and some observations about the census process.

Melbourne Live Music Census 2017

In October 2012, a group of 100+ tertiary students enrolled across various music industry courses, conducted an, at that time, unique music research project. A ‘census’ of popular music activity in the city’s hundreds of hotels, bars and clubs.

It was, I believe, the first attempt to quantify the performances, attendances and venue operation in a major city at this vital grass roots level.

The observational information they collected was combined with existing festival/theatre/concert data (from major ticket agencies) to produce a ‘Big Picture’ estimate of annual operations.

Below, is a discussion of the next iteration of this project – the 2017 Melbourne Live Music Census.

The 2017 Census produced the following key findings –

  • 73,000+ annual gigs (19% increase on 2012)
  • 553 Greater Melbourne live music venues (same as 2012)
  • 5 million annual patron visits (12% increase on 2012)
  • $1.42 Billion spent in small venues and at concerts and festivals (increase of 16% on 2012)
  • Melbourne has more live venues per capita than any other global city
  • 55% of venues reported an increase in 2017 audiences – only 16% reported a decrease.

Background to the 2017 Census

In essence, the idea for a census was generated by perceived shortcomings in recent reporting.

Melbourne is fortunate to have an annual revenue and ticket report from an organization (Live Performance Australia), which provides a comprehensive picture of the activities – audiences and ticket revenue, of performing arts presenters and promoters.

In the case of popular music, their findings cover major concerts and festivals and a small number of larger venues that utilize the major ticketing agencies.

What was lacking in 2012 (and still is) was any comprehensive method to measure activity in the hundreds of small venues – pubs, clubs etc. – that are the backbone of our live performance sector.

This motivated us to develop a ‘census’ process to provide a real-time snapshot of venue operation at the ‘grass roots’.

The data collected and findings from that initial study were used to great effect by a number of industry lobbyists during the last Victorian state election in late 2014. The then Labor Party opposition was persuaded to commit a 4-year, $22 million package to support the popular music sector. By far the largest promise ever made to our industry.

Among other things, the support package allocated matching government funding for venues to undertake sound attenuation treatment – an ongoing world-wide challenge for venues in gentrifying inner-urban environments.

The findings were also used to great effect to help persuade the state government to include the Agent of Change principle in government planning regulations.

The fact that we face another election in Victoria this year provided the motivation to repeat the Census exercise, to hopefully persuade both major parties to commit to/continue music industry support.

Melbourne’s hosting of the Music Cities Convention in April 2018, created the perfect opportunity to create a timely update.

As desk research reveals, and nearly all speakers at the Music Cities Convention were later to attest, the five years since our original census have seen the ongoing and inexorable march of inner-city/urban development create increasing issues and pressures for venue operators, and thus the audiences and workers their activities support.

The regulatory and planning issues associated with a world-wide emphasis on creating ‘24/7’ cities, added to steadily increasing business costs, were in danger of creating the ‘doughnut’ effect that many observers had noted – the hollowing out of the creative urban centre as rising cost of living pressures force practitioners to the outer fringes.

Those of us in Melbourne, needed to look no further than Sydney to our north for a graphic example.

A recent New South Wales parliamentary inquiry in that city recently heard that since wide-ranging lockout laws (alcohol/entry restrictions) were applied to small venues in 2014, figures from Liquor & Gaming NSW prove that 418 licensed premises had closed in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross and John Graham, a Labor member of the parliamentary inquiry, said there had been a net loss of 176 venues since the introduction of lockout laws.

So, there was a demonstrated need for, and widespread support to conduct, a 2017 census update.

The 2017 Melbourne Live Music Census

The problem as always was money!

Because the project was auspiced by our peak industry body, Music Victoria – rather than through an academic institution, the available funding was extremely limited.

Fortunately the City of Melbourne and two local councils – the cities of Port Phillip (inner south) and Yarra (inner north), which host significant live music clusters/hubs, came to the party. Each allocated $5,000 for a total budget of $15,000.

Fortunately, the census – relying as it does on volunteer collectors, is a relatively cheap exercise in terms of the on-ground resources required.

It basically means that just about anybody can do it. Provided that the project leaders are prepared to devote the time and energy required to assess and analyse the collected data and assemble the report.

The conduct of the 2017 project benefited substantially from three major factors.

Firstly, it was a repeat of the 2012 exercise. This meant that many more in our industry understood what we were trying to achieve and, more importantly, had seen the important part that initial census had played in achieving meaningful support for business operators and workers in the live music sector. This significantly boosted cooperation.

Secondly, we had the advantage of building on the work of others who had undertaken similar work since our initial efforts.

After 2012, we were excited to be contacted by the Live Music Exchange team who were planning a pilot study in Edinburgh along similar lines.

We were happy to share our experiences and learnings with them and, when that project developed into a larger project involving a number of cities across the UK, they generously shared their methodologies and survey instruments with us.

The academic rigor they brought to the exercise and the refinements the UK Live Music Census made to the census data gathering, operation and reporting were invaluable in our project.

Thirdly and, perhaps most importantly, we managed to enlist the involvement of a significant and pro-active education partner.

In 2012, we had identified the importance of having the census project as an assessable curriculum task in motivating and guaranteeing the participation of our student volunteers.

That did not eventuate then but, when Collarts (Australian College of the Arts) agreed to become our lead education partner for this update, they designated it as a curriculum project for their music industry students. This gave us a core of team leaders around which to build our volunteer team.

Logistics & Methodology

We built our 70+ volunteer collectors around the Collarts student leader core. The latter were also involved in developing the observational collection sheets for Census Night and the follow-up (online) surveys for audience, musicians and DJs and venue operators which are vital in helping to construct the annual ‘Big Picture’.

The census project essentially involved three steps –

  1. Teams of volunteers visited as many as possible of Melbourne’s 400+ ‘regular’ (minimum of two gigs per week, every week) small live music venues to observe and record who’s playing, who’s watching and who’s working in the venue.
  2. Audience members, Musicians/DJs and venue operators were encouraged – on the night and by email follow-up and social media promotion, to complete more detailed online surveys to collect additional information on income generation, work conditions and social/cultural behaviors and attitudes associated with live music consumption.
  3. This information was collated and, when combined with data from the major live music presenters reported to Live Performance Australia, used to produce the annual ‘Big Picture’.

Selected Data from the 2017 ‘Big Picture’:


In 2017, live music events in the Melbourne CBD (Central Business District) and inner suburban music precincts attracted an audience of 11,486,200 compared to the 10,085,200 recorded in 2012 – an increase of 14%.

CBD venues recorded 5,204,350 attendances – an increase of 651,000 (14.2%) on the 4,553,850 for 2012.

Music precinct venues recorded 6,281,850 attendances – an increase of 750,000 (13.5%) on the 5,531,850 for 2012.

Adding concert/festival attendance and 70% of the audience for music theatre performances produced a TOTAL LIVE MUSIC AUDIENCE in 2017 of 17,507,556 – an increase of 1,900,552 (12%) on 2012.


In 2017, the total door entry/ticket revenue generated by live music gigs in Melbourne was $389.2 million – an increase of 12.5% on 2012.

The total ancillary spending (food/drink, transport, merchandise) by patrons attending live music venues and events in 2017 was $1.034 billion. An increase of 14% on 2012.


Across small and large venues, live music performances generated 18.33 million employment hours for musicians/DJs, venue staff, production and security personnel in 2017.

Using the Australian Bureau of Statistics standard of 1,000 hours, this translated into 18,333 full time equivalent jobs.

Comparative Data:

With attendance of 17.5 million, popular music was more than twice as popular as all major sports in Melbourne in 2017 – AFL (Aussie Rules Football) 4.6million; Spring Racing Carnival 0.7million; Soccer (Football) 0.3 million; Rugby (league & Union) 0.3million; Cricket 0.6 million; Grand Prix 0.3 million; Basketball & Netball 0.2 million – 6.87miullion in total.

Based on our calculations, Melbourne has the greatest number of live music venues and more per head of population (1 per 9,503 residents) than any other city – London, New York, LA, Paris, Berlin, Austin, Sydney, Amsterdam, Rio De Janeiro, Tokyo etc, measured in the 2016 ‘World Cities Culture Report’.

Survey Data:

Based on our extensive surveys –


  • 47% reported an increase in the number of live performances hosted compared to 12 months ago (41% the same – 12% decrease)
  • 55% reported increased attendance compared to 12 months ago (29% the same – 16% decrease).
  • 74% reported increased food and beverage sales associated with live performance – 44% ‘significant’.
  • 50% host live music performances 4 nights of the week.
  • 45% of those reporting noise-related issues (67%) development/planning issues (47%) characterised the impact on operations as ‘strong’ or ‘extreme’.


  • Attend an average of 30+ gigs per year, mostly within 10kms of their residence.
  • Most likely to attend gigs that are indie (63%), rock (71%) or singer/songwriter (52%) in small venues (less than 300 capacity).
  • Discover new music through streaming services (76%), but still buy CDs (54%) and vinyl (47%).
  • Travel to gigs by public transport (76%).
  • Think that Melbourne venues provide a safe and inclusive environment (80%) and have rarely (48%) felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
  • Would attend more gigs if entry/tickets were cheaper (65%) and public transport ran later (53%).


  • A male (60%) or female (40%) in their mid-30s who has been in the industry for 12-15 years.
  • Is self-managed and identifies predominantly as a full-time or part-time worker, spending 50% of their week on musical activities.
  • Lives in the inner suburbs (60%) but with the outer northern suburbs fast becoming a preferred residential area.
  • Is a local (60%) but a substantial proportion have relocated from regional Victoria (35%) or interstate (50%) to take advantage of increased industry opportunities in Melbourne.
  • Earns 35% of their income from music, and 70% of that from an average 4-5 live performances per month.
  • The majority (70%) supplement their income with work outside the industry as gig payments remain at 1990s levels!
  • Performs many genres of music, and most likely to be in a band performing rock (53%), indie (30%) with a 40% original repertoire.
  • Has experienced physical and/or mental health issues (40%) associated with their music practice, but usually self-manages the issue/s.

Learnings From 2017 Melbourne Live Music Census

Conduct of the Census:

Given that the project relies so heavily on volunteer collectors, the major lesson is that you can never have too many enrolled!

Even though many who sign up are studying in relevant music industry courses and thus could be expected to have an enhanced level of interest, there was in this project (as was the case in 2012) a significant (30%) drop-off. Sickness, competing commitments, memory loss etc all contributed.

Over-enrolment is absolutely recommended.

If the usual two-person teams visiting venues become three, that’s preferable to not having sufficient personnel.

The other major lesson is that small venues often take a looong time to respond to requests to complete questionnaires. From our experience, it was necessary to follow up emails a number of times and often phone to ensure our communications hadn’t disappeared into the ether. Even then, we only achieved a 50% response rate.

Fortunately, much of the key information we sought re venue operation was gathered by our census takers on the night.


Even though our census was a relatively ‘primitive’ study, lacking the sophistication of some other economic modelling-based industry analyses, this has again proven to be a strength in terms of its value as an advocacy tool.

The fact that this, and the previous census, were free of obscure (for the uninitiated) input/output formulae and jargon, meant that they produced a number of easily digested headlines on ticket/entry revenue, attendance numbers and spending, practitioner involvement and performance-based employment.

This provided the ‘announceables’ that politicians and media were seeking and looks set to emulate its predecessor as a potent assist to industry in lobbying decision makers at all levels.

What it lacked in academic rigour, it more than made up for by providing a powerful and impressive quantitative narrative.


This update set out to confirm the results reported in the 2012 Melbourne Live Music Census. Our findings confirm that Melbourne remains Australia’s centre of popular music live performance and continues as a beacon on the world stage.

The Executive Summary and Full Report are available in Music Victoria’s Reports section-

Dobe Newton






Please note that this is a forum for discussion, dialogue, and debate, and posts and comments on this blog represent only the author, not Live Music Exchange as a whole, or any other hosting or associated institutions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *