The Live Music Ecosystem
The investment of money, time and opportunity described above are realised in the activity of live music making. Drawing on the data collected for this research we are able to provide a more detailed account of this activity. This goes beyond previous economic characterisations, giving a more complete account of the complex ecosystem of financial and social transactions associated with live music.
Of the thirty-eight venues interviewed for this research, fourteen self-identified as primary use music venues; eighteen as pubs and clubs that hosted live music; one as a nightclub and five as ‘other’ spaces that typically ran as rooms for hire or multi-use spaces. Table 2 shows the median capacity, events per month and venue age by city and by type. These figures give some sense of typical venues interviewed for this research. Importantly, they also describe the size and the type of venue that most respondents to our consumer survey identified attending to experience live music (see Figure 8).
Most venues remunerated performers with some combination of door deals, guarantees and riders (typically food and beverages supplied to the performers). A very small number of these also offered some artists a share of the bar or other earned income. Six of the venues interviewed operated as a space for hire available to independent promoters who were responsible for paying performers. Half of the venues interviewed reported having workers in their venue that they didn’t pay for; including technicians, security, door staff, promoters, merchandise vendors and kitchen staff. These staff typically sub-contracted to performers and promoters, or ran as independent businesses within and by the permission / licence of the venues themselves.
Audience Patterns of Attendance
The consumers we surveyed attended music across a range of venues from house shows to stadium concerts and festivals. Figure 8 shows the percentage of respondents that reported attending live music in each type of venue by state and territory. Figures for the Northern Territory should be treated cautiously as only 0.7 per cent of respondents identified as living there.
The patterns of attendance are reasonably consistent across the data, with the bulk of consumers reporting they attended live music in small venues, pubs and clubs. A very small number (Gibson & Homan, 2004).
Although there is no robust national, state, or even city-based attendance data for this third tier of venues, our consumer-centric methodology implicitly accommodates expenditure on and the subsequent economic impacts of this category of venue; even if we do not have sufficient confidence in the representativeness of the data to draw categorical conclusions about tier-level attendances.
A related observation from the data is that people are willing to travel for their live music consumption. Approximately half of the survey respondents reported travelling inter- and intra-state to attend live music, with one in five travelling overseas. Figure 9 shows this travel as a percentage of the total volume of attendance reported by respondents. As can be seen, even though the bulk of live music consumption is local, our respondents were willing to undertake significant travel to attend live music events. This suggests that live music is a significant source of regional competitive advantage. On this basis alone the investment of public funds into live music making is generally justified.
Motivation and Benefits
To better understand the reasons people participate in live music, we asked producers and consumers why they hosted and attended live music, and what impact they believed live music attendance had on the wider community. Both groups attributed improvements to health, wellbeing and social capital, as well as commercial and cultural benefits, to their live music engagement. Unsurprisingly, most consumers also reported enjoyment as an important motivator for attending live performances.
Improved social capital was, by a large margin, the most commonly identified impact that live music had on the wider community. Consumers expressed feeling more personally connected, happy and engaged as a result of attending live music, and suggested that live music encouraged and enabled a sense of community.
“Live music is the best community engagement tool. It promotes health & wellbeing, participation & collaboration, plus access & equality.” (Survey Respondent 532)
“[Live Music] creates wellbeing, goodwill, excitement, aesthetic, intellectual and emotional stimulation… Time set aside purely for focussed, extended listening in company of others creates social cohesion.” (Survey Respondent 1483)
“Live music adds to the fabric of our community. People form groups, friendships, do things together. Relationships are built through making and listening to music.” (Survey Respondent 1383)
Venues also observed that live music served as a focal point for communities and that they could foster this by providing a safe environment.
One venue owner observed,
“Live music is the community, we just provide the space.” (Venue Owner 3)
In addition to improved social capital, consumers also associated improved physical and psychological welfare as a result of experiencing live music, which was also described as a distinct benefit. Respondents reported, for example, that attending live music made them feel healthy; optimistic; inspired and enabled to achieve goals (improved self-efficacy); and helped them manage anxiety and depression.
“Music gives me a reason to live, makes me think, makes me feel, inspires and challenges me to keep singing my own song.” (Survey Respondent 1441)
“It is uplifting to get away from the work sleep work sleep cycle. Great mental health benefits for me and my friends who struggle with anxiety and depression.” (Survey Respondent 986)
“It keeps me healthy, if it weren’t for music I would be a recluse.” (Survey Respondent 1021)
The commercial benefits associated with live music included acknowledgement of the obvious profit motive of venues; although interestingly, less than half of the producers interviewed identified commercial benefit as their motivation for hosting live music.
When asked what constituted a successful event, the ‘vibe’ of the show was mentioned almost as many times as turnover from bar or ticket sales. Vibe might appear an ambiguous term, but it is in fact quite clearly explained in research, particularly in relation to dance music audiences. In this context vibe refers to interaction within and between audiences and performers associated with feelings of collective experience (Fikentscher, 2000). Vibe may help explain why increased social capital was mentioned so frequently as a benefit of live music attendance. Among the producers interviewed, vibe was often cited as more important than audience size or profit. Describing vibe, one venue owner explained:
“…if the band was great and the audience loved it then we consider we have had a good night. [It c]an be a small audience, but a cracker of an evening.” (Venue Operator 32)
Both producers and consumers also believed live music had an impact on local and national economies through jobs creation, sales and tourism. A number of consumers further reported benefitting professionally from their attendance at live music events. Although this may reflect the number of performing musicians and industry professionals who took part in the survey, it was typically associated with increased social capital, as well as gains in what might have been described in literature as ‘knowledge capital’ (Hiser, 1998).
Cultural benefits associated with live music were primarily described in terms of the exposure and promotion. Producers and consumers both identified venues’ roles in nurturing and breaking new talent as well as providing access to established and acclaimed performers.
Factors Impacting Audience Attendance
We asked a series of questions to gauge what factors, if any, positively and negatively impacted audience attendance. Firstly we asked if consumers were more or less likely to be attending live music in three years’ time, and why. We followed this by asking consumers to identify reasons why other people might not attend live music and what might encourage them to do so.
These questions were designed to elicit consumer sentiment and factors influencing their own and others’ live music attendance. We asked producers a corresponding set of questions to have them identify what factors they believed impacted attendance, whether they would be more or less likely to host live music in three years’ time, and why.
Table 3: Are producers and consumers more or less likely to promote or attend live music in three years?
Both producer and consumer sentiment, signalled by their three year outlook, was largely positive, with a majority of venues and 36 per cent of consumers expecting to be more or much more engaged with live music. Only one venue reported that it was expecting to be less likely to be hosting live music in three years’ time, due to issues associated with regulation and enforcement (discussed further below). Venues that believed they would be more likely to host live music typically cited emerging venue reputation, market growth, investment, and improvements to their venue’s environment for their optimism.
Among consumers less likely to attend live music in the future, the main reasons were related to their stage of life and access to venues. These two issues appear to be related and represent a section of consumers who are aging out of the market and whose ability to attend live music is impacted by family responsibilities. Many of those who identified stage of life as a factor related that they are no longer able to attend live music events with late start times or in locations requiring significant travel due to having children. A smaller number of consumers felt they would be less likely to attend live music in the future due to constraints on their time and income, as well as declining interest. A very small number (less than one per cent of total respondents) expressed concern for their safety and negative impacts on health and wellbeing.
Respondents who were more likely attend live music in the future also listed stage of life as a factor as, for example, they moved from a period of study to paid employment or were at an age where they had fewer family or work responsibilities. A similar number identified an increase in available income and time as likely to result in increased attendance, and these appear to be related. About a quarter of respondents cited professional or personal involvement for increased live music attendance, indicative again perhaps of the high number of performing musicians and industry professionals who took part in the survey.
These same themes recurred when we asked consumers what they felt encouraged or inhibited other people attending live music. In both cases, access was identified as a major factor; as was cost, interest, awareness, and the positive and/or negative impact of other entertainment options. In particular respondents felt that poor public transport options, limited parking, and the limited availability and cost of taxis and event times was constraining the number of people attending live music. A number of respondents also identified government activity as a factor that might enable more live music attendance through changes to licensing, regulation and enforcement, improved infrastructure and the provision of grants.
Examined collectively, the most commonly identified factors influencing live music attendance among respondents were access, then cost and interest. Producers, on the other hand, most commonly identified programming as influencing attendance, followed by some combination of band draw; cost; promotion; venue reputation; venue environment; and the weather. Programming and the ability of a band to draw a crowd are clearly related and could be combined, however some venues identified both as distinct factors influencing attendance.
Producers appear to have only identified factors that can be directly observed and, at least to a degree, controlled or allowed for in planning live music events. For example, access was not identified by venues suggesting this is either unobserved or wasn’t commented on as it was outside of venues’ direct control. This discrepancy suggest access to venues may be an important consideration for policy makers and a beneficial area for future research, particularly given our findings that audiences appear willing to travel to experience live music.
Promotion and Engagement
As part of the producer interviews we asked how much time and money was spent promoting live music across several categories (mainstream media; community media; street and online music press; social media; email databases; posters and flyers; other online media; and other). By volume, the greatest expenditure of time and money was apportioned to social media, street press, posters/flyers and other. The most time (41.2 per cent) was spent on social media, and most money on ‘other’ (37.3 per cent). Only two venues reported spending money advertising their live music offerings in mainstream media but both had a monthly spend of more than 2,000 dollars. This likely reflects a diversity of audiences, profile and business models at play among venues. By contrast consumers reported relying mostly on word of mouth for information on live music events, followed closely by social media, with other online sources more important than traditional media. ‘Other’ spending mostly comprised out-sourcing promotional activity to a third party and, alongside producer responses to other questions, suggests much of the promotion of live music is not handled by venues. Where a third party is not directly employed, some or all the responsibility, and costs, of promoting live music typically fell on bands and promoters.
Barriers to venue operation
We also asked producers what they perceived as barriers to success for live music venues in their area. Venues in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide most frequently identified issues relating to government regulation and enforcement. While the specifics varied between cities, these included concerns over restricted opening hours, licensing conditions, sound abatement and the costs associated with compliance.
Costs, particularly rents, were also identified by several venues in Sydney as significant barriers to success. Venues in Melbourne, by comparison, were more concerned with competition, market saturation, location and gentrification. Venues in Adelaide were most concerned with gentrification.
In Hobart, venues identified location and market saturation as the main barriers to success, commenting on its smaller population, relative isolation and difficulties in attracting touring artists.
A small number of venues also identified issues relating to the management and operation of venues as barriers to success, though these were typically more to do with new venue owners’ actions and experience, rather than market imposed constraints.
Investment and Risk Mitigation
Finally, we asked producers about how they managed external factors outside of their direct control, such as regulation and enforcement, and where they intended to invest in their business over the next twelve months. These questions were intended to provide a sense of how venues planned for the future and what they did to respond to change.
Producers most often identified equipment, infrastructure and related maintenance as important for investment in the next twelve months. Food and beverage offerings, promotion, performers, staff and stakeholder engagement were also reported. Some of this investment was related to noise abatement and other concerns over regulation and enforcement. Several producers noted that they could only afford to reinvest into the day-to-day running of their business and did not have available funds for capital expenditure.
Based on their responses, producers appear proactive in anticipating and responding to external factors affecting their business. Particularly in relation to changes in licensing regulations, many venues identified actively engaging stakeholders and putting in place preventative measures as effective strategies. A similar number of venues identified they would adapt, diversify and underwrite losses to keep operating; although this was often framed in a way that suggests they were resigned to having little control or influence. A small number of venues acknowledged they did nothing to manage external factors.