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.

Dancers from the Olympics opening ceremony. Photograph: Getty Images.
Getty
Show Hide image

The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era