Live Music Exchange Blog

Live Music Census in Victoria, Australia – Dobe Newton


This week’s guest blog post is by Dobe Newton, organiser of the live music census in the state of Victoria in Australia. In this post, he gives some background to the census, a discussion of the research process, an overview of the findings and also comparison with the wider entertainment industry. What is particularly exciting is that such a census could be readily applied in any city in any country.

In October 2012, a group of 100+ tertiary students enrolled across various Melbourne campuses in music business, performance and sound production courses, conducted a unique music research project.  A ‘census’ of popular music activity in the city’s hundreds of hotels, bars and clubs.

The on-ground information they collected was combined with existing festival/theatre/concert data to produce an estimate of annual operations.

Their findings and the existing data revealed the following key findings for Australia’s unquestioned live music capital –

•  62,000+ annual, individually advertised gigs  •

•  470 Greater Melbourne live music venues  •

•  14.4 million patron visits annually  •

•  $1.04 Billion spent in small venues, concerts and festivals  •

•  116,000 Annual Full Time Equivalent jobs  •

Click here to read the Executive Summary.

Click here to read the full report.

Background to the Census

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

After many years in the statistical ‘wilderness’, several recent reports focusing on popular music, confirmed the economic significance of the live music sector in Melbourne and – to a lesser extent, regional Victoria.

This attention was in no small part due a number of regulatory challenges to the viability of venues, and therefore to the enjoyment of fans and the livelihood of thousands of musicians and workers who create Melbourne’s vibrant live music scene.

Concerns were highlighted by the landmark SLAM (Save Live Australian Music) Rally in February 2010, when an estimated 20,000 Melburnians took to the streets to protest their concerns.  Notably the attempt to enshrine a link between alcohol-fueled violence and live music in venue regulation, and endangering the economic viability of many live performance venues.

While the various reported findings have greatly assisted industry advocacy efforts in policy negotiations with the City of Melbourne and the Victorian State Government, there were differences in methodology – and thus reported results, which produced a significant variation in findings.

With additional funding unlikely to be forthcoming to employ another commercial research consultancy, a cheaper alternative needed to be found.

Cost however, was not the only consideration.

With one exception, these previous reports relied on a limited number of interviews and small survey sample numbers to abstract data and reach their conclusions.

While the need to provide the credibility and imprimatur of established market research/analyst firms is understandable when local and state government agencies are dispensing public monies, the fact remains that these agencies usually lack the expertise/knowledge base to engage with the rather eccentric live music sector.  Nor can they rely on the existing ‘cultural industry’ data from our national aggregator – the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which traditionally fails to capture the live sector – especially in small venues, in any meaningful way.

This lack of industry engagement/knowledge resulted in a couple of significant assumptions by the consultants –

  • That all venues would be registered with the appropriate collection society (APRA) for the purposes of obtaining the appropriate license.
  • That definitive venue economic generation data could be accurately abstracted from a very small venue sample.
  • That despite the small-venue focus of the studies, there was no real attempt to include the concert/festival data from Live Performance Australia which is such so significant to the ‘big picture’.

Puzzlingly, in one instance, a decision was made to ascribe no economic value to live performance in 46% of venues studied because they were not ‘dependent’ on live music.  This despite the fact that most of them identified themselves as regularly (2 nights per week) presenting live performances.

So, despite the industry’s acknowledgement that these studies were important, there was widespread support for the suggestion that some methodology  anomalies needed to be addressed, and data reporting issues resolved.

Hence the idea of conducting a comprehensive ‘census’ emerged.

Using a large group of student volunteers would certainly be cost-effective.  More importantly, the numbers of collectors would allow visits to the smallest bars and the largest clubs and everything in between, rather than estimations based on limited samples.  Thus minimising sample irregularities.

Our peak industry body Music Victoria and the City of Melbourne agreed to fund the project.

Summary of Other Research –

‘Capital Report‘ (Dr Shane Homan (Monash Uni) & Dobe Newton (NMIT) for City of Melbourne, May, 2010)

The live music section drew extensively on 10 years of NMIT’s ‘State of Play – Live Music in Melbourne’ reports.

For 2009, it estimated 12.8 million patron visits across 500+ venues in Melbourne’s CBD and inner-suburban music precincts, generating some $1.2 billion in ticket/door revenue and patron ancillary spending (food/drink/transport/merchandise), associated with venue attendance.

In addition to the small venue data, the final figures included information from Live Performance Australia’s 2010 Ticket & Revenue Survey covering major concert and festival performances.

‘The Economic, Social and Cultural Contribution of Venue-Based Live Music in Victoria’ (DeLoitte Access Economics for Arts Victoria – June 2011)

The report focused on live music value in small venues, and found a total contribution to the Victorian state economy of $511 million in 2009/2010, with 5.4 million attendances and full-time equivalent employment for 17,200 persons.

‘Economic Contribution of Venue-Based Live Music Industry in Australia’

Ernst & Young for APRA (September, 2011)

Estimated that in 2010, 41.97 million patron visits were made to live music performances in 3,900 venues across Australia, generating $1.2 billion in venue income (17% ticket sales, 83% patron spending) and creating 14,900 full time equivalent jobs.

Although the report did not set out to provide state-by-state analysis, it did report that Victoria’s contribution was 22% of the national total (NSW 32%, Queensland 24%), thus –

In Victoria in 2010, 9.2 million attendances generated $267 million in turnover from 823 venues creating 3,264 full time equivalent jobs.

The Census Process

The plan was to put enough data collectors on the streets to visit as many live music venues as possible in Melbourne’s CBD and famous inner-suburban music ‘precincts’ – Abbotsford/Collingwood, Brunswick, Carlton/Fitzroy, Prahran/South Yarra, Richmond, St Kilda and South/Port Melbourne.

It was hoped that conducting such a labour-intensive exercise would –

•          Confirm the number of venues regularly supplying live music performance.

•          Record accurate patron attendance on a prime live music night (Saturday, 13th October).

•          Produce accurate information on venue operation and patron attendance on other nights of live music performance.

•          Produce data on the number of venue staff, musicians, DJs and production staff employed in delivering the performances.

In addition to their collection of venue information/data on the night of the Census, collectors distributed information to patrons and live performers in the venues visited encouraging them to complete online Consumer and Musician surveys to add vital data to that collected on the night of the Census.

This would enable comparison with similar survey data collected by student research over the last five years from thousands of live music patrons and hundreds of working musicians.

Before census night, the process was fine-tuned through discussions with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, APRA and Live Performance Australia.

Census Night

Not surprisingly, it rained!

Despite that, 17 teams of 6-7 students were provided with record sheets and survey promotion material, plus Census ID and an intro letter to venue staff.

Each team (operating in pairs for safety reasons) had 25-30 venues to cover.

Team leaders were responsible for collecting the record sheets at the end of the night, and ensuring all volunteers signed-off at the end of shift.

Although, we did not have the physical resources to attend the 140-odd venues that regularly operate in the outer suburbs, but they were contacted to confirm operations.

The volunteer collectors were able to visit over 90% of the venues on their lists.  Some were closed, some were hosting private events, a small number had ceased live music operations.

Census Findings: Executive Summary

Venues & Gigs

The Census confirmed that Greater Melbourne currently has a total of 465 small venues offering regular (minimum of 2 nights per week) live music performances.

The CBD has a total of 137 venues – 120 hotels/bars/clubs plus 17 larger theatre/concert venues (less ‘frequent’, but obviously significant).

There are 194 small venues in the inner suburban music ‘Precincts’ – Collingwood, Carlton, Brunswick, Fitzroy, Northote, Prahran/South Yarra, Richmond, St Kilda and South/Port Melbourne.

There are 139 small venues in the outer suburbs.

Bars and nightclubs predominate in the CBD, while hotels are a more significant live music presenter in the Precincts and outer suburbs.

In addition, 50-odd venues (function centres, RSLs, sporting clubs etc) offer live music on an occasional basis.

On a ‘typical’ Saturday night, 92% of small CBD venues (124) and 93% of small Precinct venues (180) presented a total of 311 live performance gigs involving musicians and/or DJs – often on multi-artist bills.  We estimate an additional 115 gigs in outer suburban venues.


Every Saturday night (and Friday night as well), 97,000+ people attend popular music live performances in Melbourne –

38,805 in CBD venues

38,585 in Precinct venues and

20,000 in outer suburban venues.

Note: Saturday 13th did not feature one of the major concerts/festival events which regularly feature on Melbourne’s live music calendar.

Entry – Patron Spending

On Saturday 13th October, live performances in Melbourne venues generated $5.4 Million in turnover – Door/Entry tickets plus ancillary patron spending (food/drink/merch etc).


34% of CBD venues (50) and 22% of Precinct venues (42) charged for entry to live performances.

Prices varied widely from $5 to $65, generating a total of $745,940 ($533,805 in the CBD and $212,135 in the Precincts).


The Census Consumer Survey showed that patrons attending live music performances spend an average $45 extra per visit to small venues, and $75 per visit to large/concert venues on transport, food, drink and merchandise.

On Census night, this additional spending generated an additional $3.7 Million in turnover –

CBD Venues – $1.97 Million

Precinct Venues – $1.74 Million.

(Based on post-Census research & analysis of advertised gigs/venue operation, we estimate an additional $900,000 in ancillary spending in outer suburban venues).

Venue Employment

Live performances in Melbourne’s CBD and Precinct venues on the night of the Census created employment for 901 musicians, 739 DJs, 237 production staff and 2,731 venue staff.

Using the formula applied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – 35 hours = Full Time Equivalent employment, and assuming (based on standard industry practice), that a gig equates to a minimum 4 hours for performers and 6 hours for production and venue staff, these figures equate to –

103 FTE jobs for musicians, 82 FTE jobs for DJs, 41 FTE jobs for production staff and 468 FTE jobs for venue staff.

Annual Live Performance – The Big Picture

Using the Live Music Census data and additional information from recent reports produces a comprehensive snapshot of annual live music operations in Greater Melbourne.

To allow for the fact that venues have the occasional ‘dark’ night, and that there is a seasonal variation in audience/gig numbers, we have calculated activity based on a 50-week ‘year’ to allow for that variation.

On an annual basis, 65% of CBD venues and 69% of Precinct venues regularly feature live music performances on 3-4 nights per week.

Greater Melbourne’s 465 small live music venues annually present 62,000 popular music performances –

19,100 in the CBD,

34,300 in the Precincts and a minimum of

9,000 in outer suburban venues.

Many of these gigs involve multi-artist bills.

Live Performance Australia’s ‘Ticket Attendance & Revenue Survey 2011’ has comprehensive ticket sales/revenue and attendance information for the significant number of popular music concerts and festivals at large venues.

These are almost entirely confined to the Greater Melbourne area. (see next page)

What’s Not Included –

There are a number of major events with significant popular music components which have NOT been included due to lack of quality data.  However, if we consider the ticket revenue, patron attendance and spending associated with live popular music performances at a number of mainly free, municipal events – St Kilda Festival, Brunswick Music Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Laneway Festival, Darebin Music Feast, Spanish Festival, Melbourne Fringe Festival, Moomba – to mention a few, the overall findings of the Census definitely err on the conservative side!

Venues – Annual Attendance

Melbourne’s live music fans attend an average of 4.5 live music performances per month and 1 concert/festival per month. (Source: Census Consumer Survey, & DeLoitte Access Economics report).

So, on an annual basis, there are14.4 million patron visits to popular music live performances in Greater Melbourne.

CBD small venues –                           4.55 million

CBD large venues –                           0.53 million

Precinct small venues –                     5.53 million

Outer suburban small venues –       1.93 million

Major venue concerts (LPA) –         1.64 million

Major music festivals (LPA) –           0.22 million

Note:  These attendance figures do not include the 368 regional venues registered by APRA – many of which operate on multiple nights.  A conservative estimate (one third of the total annual attendances at Precinct venues) would suggest a contribution of an additional 1.8 million patron visits.

Venues – Annual Income/Expenditure

It’s a billion dollar industry!

Live performances in Greater Melbourne venues generates $1.04 Billion annually in ticket sales/door entry and patron spending.

Door entry/ticket sales generated $292.7 Million and ancillary patron spending at live performances an additional $746.7 Million (transport/food/drink/merchandise).

Door/Ticket Revenue

CBD small venues –                           $57.36 million

CBD large venues –                           $18.16 million

Precinct small venues –                     $31.82 million

Outer suburban small venues –       $10.61 million

Major venue concerts (LPA) –         $129.65 million

Major music festivals (LPA) –           $45.12 million

Ancillary Patron Spending

CBD small venues –                           $204.9 million

CBD large venues –                           $39.9 million

Precinct small venues –                     $248.8 million

Outer suburban small venues –       $87.6 million

Major venue concerts (LPA) –         $121.5 million

Major music festivals (LPA) –           $44 million

Note:  Adding APRA’s regional small venues at one third Precinct activity would add an additional minimum $93 million.

Venues – Annual Employment

On an annual basis, live music performances in Greater Melbourne venues provide employment opportunities for 159,250 musicians, 123,800 DJs, 37,550 production staff and 451,450 venue staff.

(Note: These figures do not include employment created by major concerts and festivals, as the Live Performance Australia data does not include this information from their reporting sources).

Using the ABS formula (Full Time Equivalancy = 35 hours work per week),  and assuming industry practice (Muso/DJ gig = 4 hours, production/venue shift = 6 hours), this equates annually to –

4,149 FTE jobs for DJs

6,437 FTE jobs for production staff and

77,391 FTE jobs for venue staff.

The total of  116,000 FTE jobs annually, makes live performance a major employer in Greater Melbourne – ABS (2009) –  Retail 229,000, Education 177,000, Food & Accom 136,000)

Industry Comparisons/Information

Major Cultural Activity

In 2012, Arts Victoria reported that in 2009/2010 approximately 4 million Victorians visited cultural events and/or facilities – Cinema 69%, Libraries 33%, Popular Music Concerts 31%, Art Galleries 26%, Museums 26%, Musicals & Opera 21%, Theatre 17%, Classical Music 10% and Dance 9%.

With the exception of Cinema, popular music fans had by far the highest rate of multiple attendance, with 45% attending 2-4 times and 20% 5 times or more.

Adding the 14 million (minimum) visits annually to live performances in small venues, confirms the dominant cultural position of popular music performance.

Source: ‘Arts and Culture in Victoria 2012:A Statistical Overview’ (Arts Victoria, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics ‘Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events 2009-2010’)


Australians are often reported as ‘obsessed’ with sport, and Melbourne often referred to as the nation’s sporting ‘capital’.

However, the Live Music Census (and data from other reports) confirms that we are VERY passionate about our music.

In a year, fans make 14.4 visits to popular live music performances in Melbourne’s pubs, clubs, bars, concert halls, music theatre and festival venues.

This is more than double the total attendance (5.9 million patron visits) for all Melbourne AFL games (4.65 million), NRL (0.2 million), A-League (0.4 million) and Super Rugby (0.14 million) matches in Melbourne, plus the Spring Racing Carnival (690,000)!

In fact, it’s nearly 3 million more than the total AFL, NRL, A-League and Super Rugby patron attendances (11.8 million) for the whole country in 2011!

(Sources: AFL official website/Wikipedia)

Melbourne – A world music city

A comprehensive literature review/search, failed to unearth much in the way of city-specific live music research or data.  Thanks to academics from the UK, Canada & US who regularly contribute to the Live Music Exchange (, for their efforts to unearth and highlight relevant material.

The most ‘interesting’ was released at the 2012 London Olympics by Mayor Boris Johnson.

The ‘World Cities Culture Report’ – a comprehensive analysis of 12 of the world’s major cities (not including Melbourne) was compiled by BOP Consulting.

In that report comparative data on live music venues showed –

New York (8.2 million population) – 277 live music venues – 1 per 29,600 residents

Paris (11.7 miilion) – 423 venues – 1 per 27,660

London (7.8 million) – 349 venues – 1 per 22,350

Berlin (3.5 million) -250 venues – 1 per 14,000

Tokyo (13.1 million) – 385 venues – 1 per 34,000

Sydney (4.6 million) – 89 venues – 1 per 51,685


The figures should be viewed with obvious caution.  We know that APRA lists 215 active live music venues for Sydney (reports by DeLoitteAcess Economics & Ernst&Young) – considerably more than the 89 sourced from ‘Time Out’ magazine for the ‘World Cities’ report.  Using the APRA list would reduce Sydney’s figure to one venue per 21,000 residents.

That said, using APRA’s 370 venues (from the same reports) for Melbourne produces a figure of one venue per 11,900 residents.

Melbourne or Austin?

In 1991, the Austin City Council passed a resolution to brand their city the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ on the basis that it had more live venues per capita than any other US city.

Several year’s later (1994), ‘Billboard’ magazine published an in-depth profile on Melbourne comparing it favourably with Austin as one of the world’s great live music cities.

The Austin City Council and the Austin Visitor’s Bureau, have done a wonderful job of promoting their live music scene.  Much better, it must be said, than the City of Melbourne.

The official Austin website lists 200 occasional live music venues and 87 ‘core’ regular presenters.

With a population of 820,000, this confirms one ‘core’ live music venue per 9,425 Austin residents.

The Live Music Census data (465 ‘core’ venues) produces a result of one venue per 8,915 Melbourne residents.


The Live Music Census confirmed that 90+ venues offering regular live performances in Greater Melbourne were missing from the lists used in other reports.

It was therefore not surprising that the attendance, employment and economic generation totals are a considerable increase on those previously reported.

The figures are more impressive considering they do not include contributions from Victoria’s regional small venues.

And even more noteworthy when we consider the additional indirect spending – by patrons and venues, involved in the presentation of live music – e.g. sponsorship, advertising, venue purchases from suppliers, accommodation, restaurant dining, musical equipment purchase, production hire etc etc.


Although the scope of this study does not permit definitive value/totals to be ascribed to this indirect spending/income, several studies on cultural value conducted by the City of Austin in 2006 & 2009, estimated it at approximately 35% of the ‘direct spending’ total).  UK Music released commissioned a report in 2009 – ‘Contribution of Music Festivals and Major Concerts to Tourism in the UK’, which showed that 46% of the spending associated with major music events took place ‘off-site’.

The totals reported in this Live Music Census are robust, based as they are, on a large quantity of collected data rather than estimates from smaller samples.

Not only is popular live music a major contributor to the state’s Gross Domestic Product, the data shows that live music performance is one of the major employers in the CBD and Greater Melbourne.

The key findings not only confirm that Melbourne is Australia’s centre of popular music live performance, but that it can clearly take it’s place as on of the world’s great music cities.


Dobe Newton

Live Music Census Project Manager, Victorian Live Music Census

May, 2013



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