Live Music Exchange Blog

What’s it worth? Calculating the economic value of live music – Dave Laing


One of the pioneers in the field of popular music studies, Dr. Dave Laing (from the University of Liverpool) presents valuable work on assessing the  economic value of live music globally, collating data from international sources to present an overview and a sense of how the live sector compares with recording industry:

Out of the three primary sectors of the music industry, two offer more or less official statistics about their annual performance. For the record company sector, a series of national trade organisations publish unit and value sales data, while IFPI (the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) uses these to create global figures – which have been on the downward path for a decade. For the music publishing sector, national authors’ collection societies (sometimes known as copyright agencies) provide details of their revenues and costs. At the international level, these are aggregated by CISAC (international confederation of authors and composers societies).

When we come to the other sector, live music, there are no comparable comprehensive statistics, no comparable international trade associations and few comparable national ones.

Nevertheless, some data exists and this paper surveys some recent efforts to state the financial size and economic value of the live music industry in several countries and globally. It presents the most recent basic data from Australia, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and North America (i.e. Canada plus the United States), plus my own estimate of the turnover of the global industry. The first table shows the national data – the size of the live music market, the year surveyed, the percentage changes compared with the previous year, and the source of the research.


source year Value ( m.) Value ($ m) % change
Australia LPA/E&Y 2010 A$1,187 1,176.7 +20
France CNV 2011 € 671    886.6 +7
Germany GfK/BDV 2009 €2,270 2,999.4 -12
Italy IULM 2009 €781 1,031.9 +3
UK PRS 2010 £1,480 2,175.6 -7
US/Canada Pollstar 2011 $2,870 2,870 +4


The research has a wide range of sources. In Australia, the data was collected by an industry body – the Live Performance Association (LPA) and analysed by one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms, Ernst & Young. In France, the source was the Centre National de la Chanson, des Variétés et du Jazz (CNV), one of the numerous corporatist organisations there, which collects a 3.5% levy on concert ticket prices and distributes it as a subsidy for small venues and tours. Germany’s data is collected by market researchers GfK for the BDV, the trade organisation of promoters and agents. In Italy, the work was done by a Milan university on behalf of the authors’ collection society and other industry bodies. In Britain, the research department of authors’ society PRS produced the data. In North America, the trade magazine Pollstar collected the data.

The various figures included in the Table will be discussed in the next section of the paper, but before that it is worth noting that four of the six percentage changes over the previous year shown are positive, supporting the view that in contrast to the continuing decline in the turnover of the recorded music business, the live sector has been resilient in recent years.

Each of the national financial totals is qualified by the definition of ‘live music’ in use by each researcher and the extent to which they include income sources in addition to the primary or face value of ticket sales.

The French statistics are limited to the pop and jazz sectors since the ticket levy is also restricted to these genres, and the North America data published by Pollstar covers only the Top 200 tours (and excludes festivals and clubs), which is the largest part of the live music business in terms of revenues from sales of tickets. The French authors’ society SACEM produced a report last year that showed that the top 20 national tours in France generated 25% of SACEM’s royalties from the sector as a whole – and therefore a similar proportion of ticket sales revenue.

Other national research includes some or all of classical music concerts, opera, and stage musicals. The data for Australia and Italy provide further detail, in the form of comparative financial numbers for different genres. The Australian figures show that pop concert revenues are about 55% of the total, while in Italy pop events had 34%. In both Italy and Australia classical music accounts for about a quarter of ticket sales by value.

Table 2 shows which genres are included in the various national data sets.


Pop tours and concerts x x x x x x
Pop festivals x x x x x
Classical concerts x x x x
opera x x x
Stage musicals x x x x
Free events x x x


With the exception of Australia and the UK, the statistics already quoted cover only the retail value of primary ticket sales. This however, is only one segment, although the largest, of the revenues received by the live music industry. The next section discusses each of the five segments that go to make up the industry’s turnover.

Primary Ticket Sales
First, of course, is the face value of tickets sold for events. This is the only category common to all the national data. In the statistics, some researchers provide an average price per ticket sold, e.g. in North America, it fell by 2% in 2010 while in Australia it rose by 12% in 2008. Last year, the value of ticket sales of Live Nation Entertainment, one of only two global companies in the industry, fell by 7%, although the Pollstar data for North America, LNE’s largest market shows growth of 4%.

Ticketing fees
In recent years, ‘ticketing’ has become a specialist sector of the industry, as companies such as Ticketmaster (now part of Live Nation) are granted exclusive rights by promoters and add a service charge fee to the ticket price set by the promoter. An analysis of ticket pricing by Live Nation in 2010 showed that on average ticketing fees accounted for 26% of the retail price excluding tax. Put another way, the ticketing fee was on average one-third of the price of the ticket itself.

Secondary ticket sales
The next category denotes additional or ‘secondary’ spending by consumers when tickets are re-sold. Much has been written about the pros and cons of this activity, including the recent article by Martin Cloonan on this site. Here, it should be noted that this has become a thriving sub-industry through such online companies as StubHub and Viagogo. The estimate of the relative value of secondary sales in the UK is £192 million, equivalent to 23% of primary spending on tickets.

In addition to the direct consumer to business transactions of ticket purchase, there are several other sources of revenue. Corporate sponsorship and public subsidy form an important component of the live music economy. Commercial sponsors may provide funds to specific tours, or buy what are called ‘naming rights’ to venues. For the biggest tours and the biggest stadia, these may run into millions of dollars. One published figure is the £4.5m a year paid by the O2 telecoms company for naming rights to the Academy chain of rock clubs in the UK. The term ‘public subsidy’ denotes grants by the various levels of government from national ministries of culture (or in Europe, certain departments of the European Commission), through regional to local councils or legislatures. In recent years, such subsidy has spread outwards in Europe from classical music to various types of festival, though more usually jazz or world music rather than rock and pop.

Detailed figures for sponsorship are extremely difficult to find, but as some kind of guide, the US-based company IEG reckoned that commercial sponsorship of music in the US in 2008 amounted to just over $1 billion. For 2010, the UK figure was £33 million.

Media licensing
This category refers to the fees paid by broadcasters and webcasters for the right to simulcast a concert or festival, or to record it for later broadcast. In Britain, it has become a regular feature of the budget of major festivals to sell broadcast rights to either the BBC or Channel 4 television. The BBC, for example, provides blanket coverage (typically 70 hours) of the Glastonbury festival.

Ancillary spending at venues
This category includes such items as the sales of merchandise such as programmes, t-shirts and CDs as well as food and drink bought by audience members. There are also parking fees at stadia with car parks.

The merchandise sector of the music industry is relatively important, as is shown by the fact that several major record companies and concert promoters have their own merchandise divisions, to which artists may licence the right to create ‘official’ products. Occasionally figures of average audience spending on shirts, programmes etc. are made public: on a major tour by a so-called heritage act, these may be as high as a figure equal to 20% of ticket sales. In Germany, each attendee spent on average €4.30 on merchandise in addition to the average ticket price of €34. In their report on the Australian industry in 2008, Ernst & Young aggregated merchandise with sponsorship and catering as ‘other’ funding. For large pop performances, this category was worth an average of $A 501,000 compared with box office income of $A 746,000. Overall, E&Y found that these other sources added almost 80% to the ticket sales that were the sole source of revenues included in LPA’s own survey. A recent report by E&Y on 30,000 small venues in Australia with live music (bars, restaurants, etc.) found that only 16% of consumer spend was on tickets to hear music.

The ancillary items mentioned here may seem to take us away from the music industry as strictly defined, but it is worth noting that not only do many large venues and festivals appoint official suppliers (in the drinks business, cola and beer companies compete to buy exclusive ‘pourage’ rights) but income from parking charges is a vital part of the revenues of a company such as Live Nation, which both manages venues and promotes concert tours.

A recent innovation is the sale to concert-goers of a recording of the event itself. In some cases, this recording is made available as a physical CD minutes after the end of the event. Alternatively, concert-goers can pay to have a download version a day or two after the performance.

Using these categories of industry revenue segments, Table 3 is a rough estimate of the live industry’s global income from popular music performances in 2010, in US dollars.



% of total % change
Ticket sales 10.0 40 -8
Ticketing fees 4.1 16 -5
Venue ancillary 4.1 16 -8
Sponsorship 3.3 13 -3
Re-sold tickets 1.4   7 +20
Media licensing 2.1   8 -5
TOTAL 25.0 100 -6


One frequently raised question in recent years is that of the relative size of the live music and recorded music businesses. Which has the highest turnover?

Both the Italian and British research can be used to make a direct comparison. In Italy, live music was reported to be worth €781 million and recorded music, €419 million. The UK research states that ‘business to consumer’ totals were £1.24 billion (recorded music) and £1.48 billion (live music). In its own comparative study, published in 2010, IFPI, perhaps predictably, found that global ‘recorded music retail sales’ at $25.8 billion, remained greater than the value of the live sector, which it estimated to be $21.6 billion. And even with my higher estimate of $25 million for live music, spending on recorded music remained slightly higher in 2010. The first indications of the market last year (such as Pollstar’s 4% increase in North American ticket sales) suggest that the live business worldwide may have returned to growth and may have definitively overtaken the record industry in revenue terms.

Dave Laing (University of Liverpool)

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.


10 thoughts on “What’s it worth? Calculating the economic value of live music – Dave Laing

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  3. Hi Dave,

    very interesting work, in a field where figures are rather fuzzy..

    As you reported “by E&Y on 30,000 small venues in Australia with live music (bars, restaurants, etc.) found that only 16% of consumer spend was on tickets to hear music.” In my opinion this is because many small venues don’t apply ticket prices (or do apply very low ticket prices) when they hire newcomer or local bands to play live. Don’t you think that especially concerning smaller live events, we should value the industry turnover using one additional component, i.e.: the average cost of the event for the promoter (e.g.: the venue), which includes the price of the artist, the rent of sound equipments (if), promotion expanses, etc.?
    In such instances there are multiple value streams involved and the venue might cover costs via a mix of things sponsorships, ticket price, higher prices on food&drinks,…

    best regards

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  5. Without reliable, consistent data concerning its worth, is it any wonder that the live music “industry” has lacked any lobbying power?

    I can hear plenty of musicians asking, “So what? — What difference does knowing this stuff mean for me?” I mean, of the $2.2 billion turnover in the UK (Table 1), how much of that is retained and invested in improving live music … and how much actually goes to paying the musicians?

    Most musicians I know would argue, “Not much, and the amount I get from gigging has fallen like a stone since 2008…”

    That is why a 20% increase globally in revenue of resold tickets in 2010 – compared to a drop in revenue across all other activities – is so alarming, because none of that increase benefits musicians or the live music industry.

    It would also be interesting to know how that $2.2 billion amount is “spread”. In other words, how much of that amount expressed as a proportion is consequent upon small and medium sized venues and festivals compared to “blockbuster” events staged in large stadiums and arenas? 20:80? 10:90?

    Having recently tried to book tickets for my niece to Beyoncé’s March 2014 concerts at the O2, I was staggered by the individual ticket prices, which ranged from £130 minimum, standing, to over £250 for seats, plus a £35 booking fee! In my experience, small and medium sized venues in London charge perhaps between £5 and £25 for entry to a concert, with £10 being a median.

    Intuition tells me that there is a chasm – a gulf – in the economies between live music operating at the roots level, where most musicians reside, compared to blockbuster events — a world inhabited by relatively few musicians. Entry prices alone indicate the proportion is less than 5:95, i.e. more than 95% of the $2.2 billion estimated revenue in UK live music is generated by blockbuster events.

    With those sorts of proportions one can see that, for the ordinary majority joe musician, knowing the UK turned-over $2.2 billion through live music is meaningless — billions-schmillions…

  6. Thanks for the comments, David.

    Your ‘intuition’ appears to be correct: work by Mark Schultz (albeit in reference to the US) found that the top twenty-five grossing tours, which represent only 0.76% of all reported tours, took home 53.25% of all reported earnings ($1,384,411,310) and that the top twenty-five acts accounted for about 36% of all 51,000,000 tickets sold in 2007 (Live Performance, Copyright, and the Future of the Music Business, University of Richmond Law Review, 2009, p. 734).

    Schultz (ibid., p. 735) also cites work by Connolly and Krueger, which reported a similarly skewed distribution when analysing 2003 Pollstar data(again in the US). In 2003, the top 1% of artists took in 56% of concert revenue. The top 5% took in 84%. As Schultz points out, in other words, the remaining 95% of artists in Connolly and Krueger’s sample shared the remaining 16% of revenue.

  7. Late last year, an excerpt from Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse’s book “Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking, And The Big Business Of Entertainment” was being quoted in a number of commentaries on the current trends in the entertainment industry, including recorded music.

    The statistics you quote are perhaps even more shocking. Why?

    Well, there was a perception that even if most professional musicians can no longer make any living at all from selling recordings of their music, at least live music offers an alternative income stream. This notion is, according to the statistics, totally illusory.

    As Elberse puts it, the so-called “long tail” of revenue generation in professional music making has become so long that the statistics really begin to disappear into the axes. So much for Pareto’s Principle applying! The huge revenue disparity between the tiny minority of “haves” performing in arenas and stadia and the large majority of “have-nots” performing in clubs and fringe events has become so marked, so discontinuous, that they have, in reality, become two discrete domains with no middle ground. One is an industry for an elite few, the other is quite literally a majority free-for-all.

    This then begs the question, “To which live music domain is the Live Music Exchange addressing itself?”

    For instance, when discussing secondary ticketing (touting) one is clearly addressing solely the domain of the elite “haves” — the musical majority can ‘tune out’. Likewise, the elite have almost no interest in the implications of the Live Music Act 2012 or local authority regulation of street busking.

    If I were the Dean of a music conservatory or academy I would be really worried, with those stats, as to how I can continue attracting sufficient numbers of talented people to train for a profession in music performance, and sustain my institution, when it is clear that only a fraction will ever earn successfully making live music.

  8. I was perhaps being a little disingenuous, perhaps, by posting such figures as it should be pointed out that a) the statistics quoted were from the US, and, while they share similarities, there are historical differences between the US and the UK which may mean that the stats perhaps do not reflect the situation in the UK; b) the music industries are constantly changing – data from 2003 will probably not reflect what is happening in 2013; c) Billboard and Pollstar both tend to cover ‘popular music’, and so the stats may not apply to the ‘classical’ music world populated by conservatoires and the Academy; d) Billboard and Pollstar generally will not include stats for club and fringe events and so the data does not give a complete picture of the market; e) secondary ticketing is now providing income within the live music industry, in a way that probably would not have been taken into account in 2003 or 2007.

    As Dave Laing points out in his original post, for the live music industry, ‘there are no … comprehensive statistics’ and until these exist, it makes it tricky to say anything with any certainty. Except perhaps that it does indeed appear to be very difficult to make a living as a musician. Tour support, as used to be provided via the ‘traditional’ recording industry, has dwindled, making it difficult for grassroots artists to move up the ladder. To this end, the state has now stepped in, as illustrated by the launch last year of Arts Council England and PRS for Music Foundation’s Momentum Music Fund, which now supports ‘the development of talented musicians and bands’. See Whether £500,000 is enough to fill the gap still remains to be seen, however.

    In terms of which live music domain Live Music Exchange is addressing, the answer is: as much of it as possible! Without wanting to speak too much on behalf of my colleagues, we take an ecological approach to live music, which is to say that we try to examine the live music sector as a whole and recognise that each section operates within a wider ecology (both in terms of genre – popular, art, folk, and within the music industries as a whole, including recording and publishing). This means recognising that the smaller venues serve as sites for developing acts promoted by smaller-scale promoters, which move up the chain to become headliners at larger scale events, promoted by larger-scale promoters, therefore everything is interlinked and that one cannot ignore either the ‘haves’ or the ‘have nots’.

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