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The Environmental Connections within Music

By: Elizabeth S.

Music on a Dying Planet

Image source: Getty


The pandemic wreaked havoc on musicians, who make the majority of their money performing live. During lockdown, many musicians came together to support one another by holding virtual concerts, promoting less established musicians, and advocating for better royalties from Spotify and other streaming services.

As the world opens back up, musicians are touring again. However, they now face performance cancellations due the effects of climate change. For example, due to tropical storms on the east coast, artists including Jason Mraz and Harry Styles had to postpone concerts. Similarly, artists scheduled to perform on the west coast, like Brandi Carslile and Death Cab for Cutie, had to reschedule or even cancel concerts because of wildfires. These cancellations affect big artists like those mentioned above and small artists, who tend to rely more on concert revenue.


As the climate crisis worsens, the effects on musicians and the music industry will only grow. However, the music industry, as with other industries starting to feel the effects of climate change, has contributed to climate change for decades.


Streaming platforms, merchandise, and, most notably, musicians’ constant touring all give the music industry a massive climate footprint. Both CDs and vinyl records are made of plastic, which is obviously harmful to the environment. In the year 2000, when CDs were the primary way people listened to music, music consumption caused one hundred and fifty-seven million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions.


Given this information, it might seem like streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music are the answer to creating a more sustainable music industry. However, streaming music can be much worse for the environment than producing records and CDs is; in 2016, streaming generated between two hundred million and three hundred and fifty million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions just in the United States.


These streaming platforms, which barely pay the artists whose music they use, have also made it virtually impossible for musicians to make a living without constant touring.


Some successful bands are financially able to make a change for the better, as Coldplay did in 2019 by refusing to tour until their travels not only would be sustainable but also would be environmentally beneficial. However, less-established bands and musicians who have little control over the industry are left with seemingly no choice but to constantly tour in order to make a living. While one band’s impact might seem insignificant, all together the effect of touring on the environment is massive.


Just as musicians came together during the pandemic, some musicians are organizing and pushing for a more “green” music industry. One notable organization is REVERB, which was founded in 2004 by an environmentalist and her musician husband. REVERB assists touring musicians in reducing their carbon footprint, and therefore in reducing the carbon footprint of the industry as a whole.


Another organization is Music Declares Emergency (MDE), which was founded in 2019 by musicians. MDE organizes people who work in the many different sections of the music industry to help urge the government as well as the music industry to take action about climate change. MDE believes that because of the music industry’s unique cultural and economic influence, musicians and others employed by the industry “can lead the way in demanding the systemic changes required to secure all life on Earth.”


Other notable organizations include Julie’s Bicycle and EarthPercent. Julie’s Bicycle was also created by people who work in the music industry. The organization helps measure and reduce the negative environmental impacts of the arts and cultural events. Musician Brian Eno founded EarthPercent, which encourages musicians to donate a percentage of their income to help deal with climate change.


Billie Eilish famously wore a shirt with the phrase “No Music On A Dead Planet.” It shouldn’t have to fall on musicians and fans to create a sustainable music industry. Nonetheless, artists are stepping up and taking responsibility where large record corporations and streaming platforms have failed. “We love music,” said drummer Fay Milton, a co-founder of MDE, “but it doesn’t exist without the planet.”


Discussion Questions:

  • What other industries have recently begun to feel the effects of climate change?

  • How can touring be more sustainable?

References


Coldplay refuse to announce world tour for environmental reasons. (2019). euronews.green. https://www.euronews.com/green/2019/11/21/coldplay-refuse-to-announce-world-tour-for-environmental-reasons


Corner, A. (2021, April 27). ‘Time to shake things up’: music industry confronts climate crisis as gigs resume. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/apr/27/music-industry-confronts-climate-crisis-gigs-resume


EarthPercent. (2021). https://earthpercent.com/


Julie's Bicycle. (2021). https://juliesbicycle.com/


Lavigne, S. (2021, July 22). No Music On A Dead Planet – why the music industry must address climate change now. The Forty-Five. https://thefortyfive.com/interviews/music-industry-climate-change/


McDonagh, S. (2021). From Billie Eilish to Coldplay: Here’s how musicians are confronting the climate crisis. euronews.green. https://www.euronews.com/green/2021/05/26/from-billie-eilish-to-coldplay-here-s-how-musicians-are-confronting-the-climate-crisis


Music Declares Emergency. (2021). https://musicdeclares.net/gb/about

Petrusich, A. (n.d.). The Day the Music Became Carbon-Neutral. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-day-the-music-became-carbon-neutral

REVERB. (2021). https://reverb.org/


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