Much existing research argues convincingly that live music makes a valuable and positive contribution to the community. However there is almost no acknowledgement, let alone critical consideration, of these otherwise reasonable benefits in light of the financial and social costs of production. These include basic cost of producing live music as well as broader costs borne by society such as those associated with regulation, policing, hearing loss, excessive drinking, use of illicit substances and violence.
Acknowledgment of these costs is implicit, if mostly unquantified, in research examining the night time economy, where the discussion tends towards issues of costs, regulation and enforcement (Flew, 2008). Yet such studies rarely distinguish live music from recorded music venues, and are silent on the attribution of cause in this regard. For example, despite evidence of higher incidences of intoxication and drug use among nightclub and electronic music event patrons (B. A. Miller, Byrnes, Branner, Voas, & Johnson, 2013; P. Miller et al., 2014), similar studies of live music patrons are insufficient and inconclusive. One study in Glasgow identified the use of recorded music could both positively and negatively influence patron behaviour (Forsyth & Cloonan, 2008), but did not examine primary use live music venues. A small number of authors have also discussed the health risks associated with noise exposure, alcohol consumption and illicit drug use at music festivals from the perspective of treating doctors (Hutton, Ranse, Verdonk, Ullah, & Arbon, 2014; Zhao, Manchaiah, French, & Price, 2009); however population data describing the prevalence of these risks among live music patrons is scarce.
In Australia government and community concerns over the safety of after-dark audiences have been expressed through changes to licensing regulation aimed at curbing anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related violence. Live music venues suffer from de facto inclusion in regulatory reforms designed to address high-risk drinking behaviour such as violent assaults (Homan, 2010), even though a growing body of research suggests there is no empirical evidence that identifies live music as a cause of such behaviour (Giesbrecht, Bosma, Juras, & Quadri, 2014; Green & Plant, 2007).
Other costs identified, but again unquantified in the available literature, relate to business and labour practices (see, for example, Cloonan (2011)). The aesthetic labour of musicians is also acknowledged as precarious and dependent upon significant investments of social and cultural capital (Hracs & Leslie, 2014). Relatively few performing musicians are able to generate a living wage from their music, with the median income for practicing musicians in Australia calculated at just 7,200 dollars per year (Throsby & Zednik, 2010). This suggests that a significant proportion of the costs of live music performance may be subsidised by other industry.
A critical appraisal of the impact of live music must therefore connect the economics to the increasingly understood cultural significance of the activity, without glossing over the financial and social costs of production. This report addresses many of these limitations through robust and holistic primary data collection and the ultimate application of a cost-benefit framework to deliver a more complete picture of the economic, social and cultural value of the live music industries in Australia.