Evidencing work within the creative industries

Dawn Bennett
| November 17, 2014

This article is the first in a series of Music Journal articles focused on music industry and careers. We aim through this series to highlight and explore a number of topical issues and to produce ‘snapshots’ of these for use by practitioners, advocates and educators.

The series is being driven by Music Australia’s newly formed Music Industry and Careers Advisory Group, which provides expert advice, input and feedback on relevant Music Australia activities and policy development, and contributes to advocacy. In line with current Music Australia priorities, the group is currently focusing on careers development and support.

This first article provides a snapshot of the creative industries sector in which music is positioned. It highlights what the national datasets reveal (and what they cannot reveal) about the sector, and then moves to a more nuanced picture of the realities of creative work. The article takes a deliberately broad stance, writing about the creative industries as a whole rather than focusing on music.

This larger picture illustrates that music is part of an important industry group that contributes more to Australia’s GDP than agriculture, forestry and fishing; electricity, gas, water and waste services; or accommodation and food services. According to Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) data, creative professionals outnumber mining sector employees three-to-one, and those of agriculture, fishing and forestry two-to-one. As researcher Stuart Cunningham says, ‘This gives some feel for how this sector is emerging relative to two traditional ‘backbone’ industries’ (CCI 2013a).

Based on the latest census data (2011), creative employment in 2011 totalled 5.3% of Australia’s national workforce, or 531,000 people, and the creative and cultural industries contributed over $86 billion to Australian GDP. The CCI’s 2013 “report card” reports that the creative industries and creative work in other industries (embedded work) are one of Australia’s strongest performers, with annual employment growth of 2.8% from 2006 to 2011 (see Figure 1). This growth is 40% faster than in the general economy. The report notes that 370,000 people work within the creative industries (71% of whom work in creative services) and a further 161,000 people work in creative occupations within other economic sectors.

A breakdown of employment across sub-groups helps explain why many music professionals will not feel they are experiencing such healthy growth. The creative services industries, which include architecture and design, advertising and marketing, and software and digital content, grew by a healthy 4.5 per cent per annum. In line with that, creative service occupations grew by 3.3%, which was 2.4 times the national average. These services contribute to multiple sectors from manufacturing to entertainment. Music, however, forms part of the cultural production segments together with film, TV and radio, visual and performing arts, and publishing. Employment in this sub-group rose only 1%, which was half the national average.

Creative employment in 2011 totalled 5.3% of Australia’s national workforce.

In reality one of the greatest difficulties in understanding the size, activities and health of Australia’s music sector is that creative work is simply too complicated to be captured in statistical collections such as Australia’s national census, which still collects data on the basis of a single employment. One attempt to provide more specificity is the CCI’s “creative trident” of occupations (Higgs et al. 2008) in which workers are categorised as either specialist creatives employed in core creative occupations within creative industries (for example, performers), embedded workers employed in core creative occupations within other industries (for example, music therapists), or support workers employed in other occupations within the creative industries (for example, music retailers). People working outside the trident are defined as non-creative workers.

Creative Industries Growth Rate tableFigure 1: Creative industries employment (CCI report card 2013b, n.p)

The Trident model has advanced understanding of the creative industries sector and has made significant advances in our ability to work with the limited national datasets. There are, however, some aspects we need to bear in mind when working with these more nuanced data. This first is that teaching is deemed a ‘non-creative’ activity within the trident model. Teaching and performance are almost certainly the activities in which musicians spend the most time (Bennett 2008) and they are arguably the primary uses of musical skills and knowledge, so musicians’ work is arguably not represented within the creative trident. When reading the data it is also important to realise that the Trident categorises individual workers within a single trident mode: for example, if my main occupation according to the census was as a studio teacher, I would be recorded as ‘non-creative’ regardless of my other music activities. Given that creative workers commonly work across more than one creative trident mode, the Trident is not yet able to capture the complexities of creative work (Higgs, Cunningham & Bakhshi 2008).

There is a growing amount of empirical research on creative work; however, there is a dire need for more! One study in Perth, Western Australia, illustrated the complexities of work across the career lifecycle: of 182 individual creative workers who detailed all aspects of their work, 63% held multiple roles and 83% worked across more than one trident modes (Bennett et al. 2014). There were no significant differences between the average number of hours in each role; between sexes; between new and established practitioners; or between employed/self-employed workers, contractual or casual work. Respondents managed their own careers, worked mostly in small firms and on a by-project basis, gained employment through networks, and stayed employable by learning new skills and ensuring that they were visible to the market. This suggests that complex and changeable patterns of creative work exist throughout a career and across creative disciplines and genres.

In short, census data are not reflective of the realities of creative work including that in music, and the creative workers least represented are those whose work involves multiple and changing roles. However, the size and value of the creative industries sector is such that advocacy activities could make far better use of the existing data in conjunction with empirical research. The CCI Trident model enables far greater use to be made of the national datasets, but it is unable to record the work of individual workers across multiple modes of practice. Modifications to the census instrument itself would make this possible.

Empirical research such as that conducted in Perth is beginning to evidence what many practitioners know from experience. Work in the creative industries demands the skills required to create and manage a small business and the resilience to negotiate work that is intermittent, complex and challenging. Practitioners are likely to hold multiple concurrent roles within a changing portfolio of work, and to undertake some if not all their work within another economic sector. New work is likely to be gained through networks, often because tight budgets and timeframes lead employers and clients to hire those they know and trust. Throughout the career lifecycle, practitioners remain employable by learning new skills, ensuring they are visible to the market, and knowing the market and those within it.

In practical terms, one of the key questions is how we should prepare for and support such complex careers, how we can stay abreast of the most critical issues facing the music sector, and how industry and both formal and informal education providers might work together to make this possible. We hope to explore these issues in future Music Journal articles.



ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) 2013a, Australia’s creative economy surges, viewed 6 October 2014

ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) 2013b, Australian creative economy report card 2013, viewed 6 October 2014

Bennett, D 2008, Understanding the classical music profession: the past, the present and strategies for the future. Ashgate Publishing Limited, Aldershot.

Bennett, D, Coffey, J, Fitzgerald, S, Petocz, P & A Rainnie 2014, ‘Beyond the creative: understanding the intersection of specialist and embedded work for creatives in metropolitan Perth’, in G Hearn, R Bridgstock, B Goldsmith & C Bilton (eds), Creative work beyond the creative industries: innovation, employment and education. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham.

Higgs, P & S Cunningham 2008, ‘Creative industries mapping: where have we come from and where are we going?’ Creative Industries Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 7-30.

Higgs, PL, Cunningham, S & H Bakhshi 2008, Beyond the creative industries:

mapping the creative economy in the United Kingdom. NESTA, London.



Leave a Reply

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

Stay in the loop

Music Australia updates straight to your inbox

Follow Like
Quick Links


  • National clearing house for policy & development

  • Music Journal

    Features articles about the Music Industry Sector

  • Music Talks

    Series of seminars exploring music