The New York Times has a well-deserved reputation for data journalism, but anyone can have a bad day. There’s a piece by Steven Johnson on the non-extinction of the music industry (which I think makes some good points), but which the Future of Music Coalition doesn’t like at all. And they also have some good points.
In particular, Johnson says
“According to the OES, in 1999 there were nearly 53,000 Americans who considered their primary occupation to be that of a musician, a music director or a composer; in 2014 more than 60,000 people were employed writing, singing, or playing music. That’s a rise of 15 percent.”
He’s right. This is a graph (not that you really need one)
The Future of Music Coalition give the numbers for each year, and they’re interesting. Here’s a graph of the totals:
There isn’t a simple increase; there’s a weird two-humped pattern. Why?
Well, if you look at the two categories, “Music Directors and Composers” and “Musicians and Singers”, making up the total, it’s quite revealing
The larger category, “Musicians and Singers”, has been declining. The smaller category, “Music Directors and Composers” was going up slowly, then had a dramatic three-year, straight-line increase, then decreased a bit.
Going into the Technical Notes for the estimates (eg, 2009), we see
May 2009 estimates are based on responses from six semiannual panels collected over a 3-year period
That means the three-year increase of 5000 jobs/year is probably a one-off increase of 15,000 jobs. Either the number of “Music Directors and Composers” more than doubled in 2009, or more likely there was a change in definitions or sampling approach. The Future of Music Coalition point out that Bureau of Labor Statistics FAQs say this is a problem (though they’ve got the wrong link: it’s here, question F.1)
Challenges in using OES data as a time series include changes in the occupational, industrial, and geographical classification systems
In particular, the 2008 statistics estimate only 390 of these people as being employed in primary and secondary schools; the 2009 estimate is 6000, and the 2011 estimate is 16880. A lot of primary and secondary school teachers got reclassified into this group; it wasn’t a real increase.
When the school teachers are kept out of “Music Directors and Composers”, to get better comparability across years, the change is from 53000 in 1999 to 47000 in 2014. That’s not a 15% increase; it’s an 11% decrease.
Official statistics agencies try not to change their definitions, precisely because of this problem, but they do have to keep up with a changing world. In the other direction, I wrote about a failure to change definitions that led the US Census Bureau to report four times as many pre-schoolers were cared for by fathers vs mothers.