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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How to think about the EU result if you voted Remain

A belief in democracy means accepting the crowd is wiser than you are as an individual. 

I voted Remain, I feel sick about this result and its implications for what’s to come. But I’m a believer in democracy. This post is about how to reconcile those two things (it’s a bit unstructured because I’m working it out as I go, and I’m not sure I agree with all of it).

Democracy isn’t just fairer than other systems of governance, it’s smarter. It leads to better decisions and better outcomes, on average and over the long run, than countries that are run by autocrats or councils of wise men with jobs for life. It is simply the best way we have yet devised of solving complex problems involving many people. On that topic, if you’re not averse to some rather dense and technical prose, read this post or seek out this book. But the central argument is that democracy is the best way of harnessing ‘cognitive diversity’ — bringing to bear many different perspectives on a problem, each of which are very partial in themselves, but add up to something more than any one wise person.

I don’t think you can truly be a believer in democracy unless you accept that the people, collectively, are smarter than you are. That’s hard. It’s easy to say you believe in the popular will, right up until the popular will does something REALLY STUPID. The hard thing is not just to ‘accept the result’ but to accept that the majority who voted for that result know or understand something better than you. But they do. You are just one person, after all, and try as you might to expand your perspective with reading (and some try harder than others) you can’t see everything. So if a vote goes against you, you need to reflect on the possibility you got it wrong in some way. If I look at the results of past general elections and referendums, for instance, I now see they were all pretty much the right calls, including those where I voted the other way.

One way to think about the vote is that it has forced a slightly more equitable distribution of anxiety and alienation upon the country. After Thursday, I feel more insecure about my future, and that of my family. I also feel like a foreigner in my own country — that there’s this whole massive swathe of people out there who don’t think like me at all and probably don’t like me. I feel like a big decision about my life has been imposed on me by nameless people out there. But of course, this is exactly how many of those very people have been feeling for years, and at a much higher level of intensity. Democracy forces us to try on each other’s clothes. I could have carried on quite happily ignoring the unhappiness of much of the country but I can’t ignore this.

I’m seeing a lot of people on Twitter and in the press bemoaning how ill-informed people were, talking about a ‘post-factual democracy’. Well, maybe, though I think that requires further investigation - democracy has always been a dirty dishonest business. But surely the great thing about Thursday that so many people voted — including many, many people who might have felt disenfranchised from a system that hasn’t been serving them well. I’m not sure you’re truly a democrat if you don’t take at least a tiny bit of delight in seeing people so far from the centres of power tipping the polity upside down and giving it a shake. Would it have been better or worse for the country if Remain had won because only informed middle-class people voted? It might have felt better for people like me, it might actually have been better, economically, for everyone. But it would have indicated a deeper rot in our democracy than do the problems with our national information environment (which I accept are real).

I’m not quite saying ‘the people are always right’ — at least, I don’t think it was wrong to vote to stay in the EU. I still believe we should have Remained and I’m worried about what we’ve got ourselves into by getting out. But I am saying they may have been right to use this opportunity — the only one they were given — to send an unignorable signal to the powers-that-be that things aren’t working. You might say general elections are the place for that, but our particular system isn’t suited to change things on which there is a broad consensus between the two main parties.

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.