The economics of house music

The beat goes on.

For DJ (and chartered accountant) Ali Miraj, house music is still on the rise. And the numbers back him up.

"Not everyone understands house music", as the words of one club anthem make clear. How times have changed. From its humble origins in a Chicago nightclub in the 1980s the genre – now dubbed electronic dance music (EDM) – has exploded into the mainstream.

And the financials reflect what has happened. According to a report commissioned last year for the International Music Summit, the EDM market is valued at approximately $4bn annually with recorded-music sales revenue representing 5.1 per cent of the global music market.

James Palumbo, an Eton- and Oxford-educated former investment banker who established the Ministry of Sound (MOS) – a nightclub in South London – in 1991, was one of the first to recognise the huge money-making potential of the industry. Having successfully built a global brand, the MOS group is now a multi-million pound business spanning merchandising, events, radio, mobile applications and bars, as well as a number of record labels including the hugely popular HedKandi. Others such as Pacha and Space from Ibiza have also leveraged their brand identity internationally.

The appeal of EDM has also been driven by DJ/producers such as David Guetta and Calvin Harris who travel between venues on private jets commanding up to $100,000 a night. Cracking the US market has been key. According to Nielsen Soundscan – an industry data-provider – 46.6 million digital electronic/dance tracks were sold in the US in the first half of 2012, making it the fastest-growing music genre with a 65.2 per cent increase compared to the previous year.

As well as music sales there is real money to be made in events. Last December Swedish House Mafia saw tickets to their performance at Madison Square Garden in New York sell out in just nine minutes. Beacon Economics, a consultancy, which was commissioned to assess the financial impact of the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas this year on the regional economy, found that the event generated an estimated $136m for businesses including hotels and restaurants. The Ultra Music Festival – where the industry's great and good hobnob by swanky hotel pools and engage in panel discussions on challenges facing the industry – attracted some 200,000 people.

In the UK, Live Nation Entertainment acquired Cream Holdings Limited in May this year for £13.9m ($21.9m) and intends to launch new festivals in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia. Pete Tong, a UK-based DJ who has long been at the forefront of the scene, has said there is increasing interest in emerging markets demonstrated by the Sunburn festival in Goa, India as well as huge potential in China.

With the numbers showing anything but a slow down, some fret about the fickle nature of the music industry and predict the hype may die down. But for now, at least, the beat goes on.

This story was originally written for economia.

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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.