Music by Numbers (Book)

The Use and Abuse of Statistics in the Music Industry

This edited collection examines statistics within the music industry. Its aim is to expose the historical and contemporary use and abuse of these numbers, both nationally and internationally. It addresses their impact on consumers’ choices, upon the careers of musicians and upon the policies that governments and legislators make.


The music industries are fuelled by statistics: sales targets, breakeven points, success ratios, royalty splits, website hits, ticket revenues, listener figures, piracy abuses and big data. Statistics are of consequence. They influence the music that consumers get to hear, they determine the revenues of music makers, and they shape the policies of governments and legislators. Yet many of these statistics are generated by the music industries themselves, and their accuracy can be questioned. Music by Numbers sets out to explore this shadowy terrain.

This edited collection provides the first in-depth examination of the use and abuse of statistics in the music industries. The chapters are written by noted music business scholars and by practitioners in the field. The book addresses five key areas in which numbers are employed: sales and awards; royalties and distribution; music piracy; music policy; audiences and their uses of music. The authors address these subjects from a range of perspectives. Some of them test the veracity of this data and explore its tactical use by music businesses. Others are helping to generate these numbers: they are developing surveys and online projects and offer candid self-observations in this volume. There are also authors who have been subject to statistics; they deliver first-hand accounts of music industry reporting. 

The aim of this collection is to expose the culture and politics of data. Music industry statistics are all pervasive, yet because of this ubiquity they have been under-explored. This book provides new ways by which to learn music by numbers.

Richard Osborne is Senior Lecturer in Popular Music at Middlesex University. He is the author of Vinyl: A History of the Analogue Record (Ashgate, 2012) and co-editor with and Zuleika Beaven and Marcus O’Dair of Mute Records: Artists, Business, History (Bloomsbury, 2018). Outside of academia, he has worked in record shops, held various posts at PRS for Music and co-managed a pub.

He publishes widely in the field of popular music studies, including the blog ‘Pop Bothering Me’ (


Dave Laing’s books include The Sound of Our Time (Sheed and Ward, 1969); Buddy Holly (MacMillan, 1971); The Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock, co-authored with Karl Dallas, Robin Denselow and Robert Shelton (Eyre Methuen, 1975); Encylopedia of Rock, co-edited with Phil Hardy (HarperCollins, 1976); The Marxist Theory of Art (Prometheus, 1979); One Chord Wonders (Open University Press, 1985); The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, co-authored with Phil Hardy (Faber & Faber, 1990); The Guerilla Guide to the Music Business, co-authored with Sarah Davies (Continuum, 2006); and Popular Music Matters: Essays in Honour of Simon Frith, co-edited with Lee Marshall (Ashgate, 2014).

Richard Osborne, ‘Introduction’


PART ONE: Winners and Losers

  1. Richard Osborne, ‘At the Sign of the Swingin’ Symbol: The Manipulation of the UK Singles Chart’
  2. Richard Osborne, ‘The Gold Disc: One Million Pop Fans Can’t Be Wrong’
  3. Richard Osborne, ‘“I Am a One in Ten”: Success Ratios in the Recording Industry’


PART TWO: Policy

  • David Arditi, ‘The Global Music Report: Selling a Narrative of Decline’
  • Shain Shapiro, ‘Popular Music Funding in Canada’


PART THREE: Live Music

  • Adam Behr, Matt Brennan, Martin Cloonan and Emma Webster, ‘Stop Making Census! Some Experiential Reflections on Conducting a Live Music Census’
  • Dave Laing, ‘What’s It Worth? Calculating the Economic Value of Live Music’
  • Richard Osborne, ‘Live Music vs. Recorded Music’



  • Lucas Logan, ‘Selling the Numbers on Music Piracy to Burn Down the Digital Library’
  • Lola Costa Galvez, ‘Educar para crear: The Use of Statistics and Surveys in Spanish Music Anti-piracy Policies’
  • Vanessa Bastian and Dennis Collopy, ‘Measuring the Unmeasurable’


PART FIVE: Digital Solutions

  • Mike Jones, ‘One Penny from Brazil: Music Publishing Revived but Untransformed’
  • Marcus O’Dair (Middlesex University), ‘Tokens and Techno-Economic Paradigms: On the Value of Blockchain Technology to the Music Industries’
  • Craig Hamilton, ‘The Harkive Project: Computational Analysis and Popular Music Reception’
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