The myths of empowerment through information communication technologies: An exploration of the music industries and fan bases

Rachel McLean*, Paul G. Oliver, David Wainwright

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The aim of this paper is to examine the impact of the digital culture on the music industries through an analysis of official and unofficial web sites, media reports and discussions with musicians. Design/methodology/approach – A critical social theory approach is adopted to examine structures and processes related to communication between artists, fans, the media, as well as commercial and independent labels. The authors draw upon Habermas' theory using the concept of “communicative action” to inform an analysis of three vignettes or short case studies. Findings – At first glance it would appear that technology has brought about greater opportunities for independent musicians to communicate, network, promote and distribute, which previously could not be widely published, and to organise against the commercial power of major labels (Majors). Research limitations/implications – In many spheres of the music industries this “empowerment” does not appear to be realised. For example, previous studies have shown that the domination of the Majors continues to impact on local music scenes to restrict and ultimately prevent the creative ideal deliver a situation that is necessary to empower independent musicians. Current media manipulation and corporate interests restrict and alienate independent musicians who often have more of an intellectual ownership and culture within their local music communities. Practical implications – Although steps to enable improved visibility and cooperation have been made we are still a long way off musicians having a powerful enough voice to organise against the commercial power of the large labels and media conglomerates (e.g. Apple i-Tunes). The ideal speech situation remains elusive and the hegemonic state remains unchallenged. Social implications – Music continues to be commodified and fans are increasingly constructed as “consumers”; the ultimate power remains in mass media and broadcasting rather than independent “narrowcast” and DIY artistry. Originality/value – This paper extends debate on the impact of the developing “digital culture” focusing on independent musicians and the music industries. It raises issues for further research in this area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1365-1377
Number of pages13
JournalManagement Decision
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2010


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