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The Music Industry, Technology and Inequalities

‘Technology has made the world smaller’: a familiar and apparently ever more relevant saying, the sentiment of which is reflected in this quote from Wallis and Malm:

Technologies that allow for music industry participation have been made available worldwide to even the most forgotten villages since the 1980s” (1984)

However, in my research I have found this statement to be fundamentally untrue. Despite the global expansion of digital infrastructure, differentiated access, exacerbated by poor institutional educational conditions, has led to unequal participation in the music industry (Kaiser, 2017).

Image credit: 4782083 (Pixabay)

Online networks allow people to access the music industry from almost any location (Théberge, 2004:2012). However, this has created a dependency on digital architectures to which access is highly differentiated. This leads to what Zillen describes as a ‘liaison’ between new technologies and existing inequalities (2009). What Zillen (and Kaiser) mean is that existing educational inequalities and recording studios subject to ongoing technological changes (Gibson 2005) create an industry in which it is especially hard for some people to participate.

Consequently, artists and producers cannot learn from one another, missing out on the important tacit knowledge acquired through socialization in the music industry (Porcello, 2004). Jargon, metaphors, metonyms, and practical experiences that cannot be formally taught (Kaiser, 2017) are essentially inaccessible. As an artist myself, I find this inequality most significant. While I can provide only anecdotal information, in the experience of myself and fellow artists the informal ‘on the job’ has had the biggest impact on our careers. I would be far less developed without it.

This double educational inequality does not exist in isolation; other factors cause further asymmetrical access to the music industry. One example is the male-centrism of music production acts as a further barrier to women and these technologies: “the number of female producers has been on a constant low level” (Burgess, 2013). Aside from this gender imbalance, a potentially curious example could be inequalities in music production on the basis of religion, but as Kaiser points out there has been virtually no academic publications in this area (2017).


Burgess, R.J. (2013). The Art of Music Production: The Theory and Practice. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gibson, C. (2005). Recording Studios: Relational Spaces of Creativity in the City’. In: Built Environment. 31, 3

Kaiser, C (2017). Analog Distinction – Music Production Processes And Social Inequality. In Journal on the Art of Record Production. 11

Porcello, T. (2004). Speaking of Sound: Language and the Professionalization of Sound-Recording Engineers’. In: Social Studies of Science. 34, 5

Schmidt-Horning, S. (2004). Engineering the Performance: Recording Engineers, Tacit Knowledge and the Art of Controlling Sound’. In: Social Studies of Science. 34, 5

Théberge, P. (2004). ‘The Network Studio: Historical and Technological Paths to a New Ideal in Music Making’. In: Social Studies of Science. 34, 5

Théberge, P. (2012). ‘The End of the World as We Know It: The Changing Role of the Studio in the Age of the Internet’

Wallis, R. and Malm, K. (1984). Big Sounds from Small Peoples: The Music Industry in Small Countries. New York: Pendragon Press.

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