Current: Green Issues in the Music Industry

By Resonate | February 13, 2020
Words by Anna Partridge

Unless you’ve been living under a plastic-coated rock, you’d have noticed that 2019 saw a huge increase in the awareness around about global warming and the ecological crisis. Never before has ‘climate change’ been searched so many times on Google. Extinction Rebellion became an unmissable movement, and a seventeen-year-old climate change crusader Greta Thunberg is now a household name.

There has also been motivating shifts in attitudes and habits. Take the decrease of single-use plastic bottles, the rise in waste-free refills, and cafes giving a discount when you bring your disposable cup. Yes, there are visible changes and efforts on a smaller scale. Positive moves are being made, but with Australia’s unbelievable fires earlier this year, the current effort simply isn’t enough. Resonate collectively thinks that 2020 is the time the music industry, and the world, to step up.

The Music Industry

The music industry is never first to come under scrutiny when it comes to environmental issues. We could be fooled into thinking that in this post-CD era. the footprint of the industry has reduced over the years. However, gig travel is still a big contributor to pollution and with UK festival attendance at new highs, transport remains a considerable factor.

Similarly, data storage for streaming services is burning through energy at an increasing rate. When Google estimates that ‘one web search’ equates to a 60watt lightbulb being on for 17 seconds, we might assume that listening to Spotify uses more energy than we’d all like to think.

There is plenty of demotivating information out there to suggest our individual choices can make little difference to the overall picture, but rather than feeling demoralised when you arrive to a gig on the bus and you see a jam-packed car park, remember the existence of the tipping point. The tipping point is a proven psychological phenomenon whereby it only takes a small percentage of the population to adopt a new idea, over a long period of time, before everyone else joins in rapidly over a short period of time. Let’s look at the fashion industry. Over recent years, influencers are now daringly digging out their parents dungarees from last century creating a vintage phenomenon. Suddenly, they are more common than the average pair of jeans.

But, what is the industry doing?

So, beyond the individual’s intent, how do we get to this tipping point on a public scale? One successful method is to incentivise the public. We can look at the festival industry for examples. In recent years, festivals have been under the pressure to tackle their negative impact on the countryside. Especially with the ethos such events hold, revolving around community and living within nature! Cup deposit systems, water refill stations and rubbish bag bonds are becoming standard, but organisers have had to look beyond monetary incentives and have taken a psychological approach to start changing attitudes amongst festival-goers. At Shambala, for example, the festival looked at the likelihood that people will litter when there is already a lot of mess on the ground. This led to a switch between mass rubbish collecting sessions in the early hours, to a constant litter picking team throughout the day. Historically Shambala have been the trailblazers for sustainability. They also made the festival catering meat and fish free in 2016, and an astonishing 94% of attendees voted to keep it that way after the 2017 festival. Good steps in the right direction with many other festivals following suit.

This year at Boomtown, artist Filthy Luker created the Tent Demon out of broken tents, drawing attention to the wasteful atrocity of festival tents deserted after just one use. This has helped to encourage a change in attitudes around campsite waste, alongside other initiatives including their new Eco Camp area acting as a zero waste space.

This is a small part of their comprehensive green mission to make a change in the festival landscape. Like many festivals, they have partnered with organisations like Energy Revolution, Julie’s Bicycle, Go Car Share and Red Fox Cycling for additional support. That’s what we like to hear!

Elsewhere in the industry, there are further movements towards sustainable change. We can see this in the surge of climate change themed record releases, as well as individual artists developing original ways to take action. Check out some examples from a variety of artists at the end of this piece.

Looking forward…

Virtual reality and new tech are already exploring the realms of remote live performance. This will give fans another way to experience their favourite live acts, without contributing to the problem. Clearly, we need to make fundamental changes if we want to avoid the chaos of climate change. By changing the direction of prevailing attitudes, we’ve got a chance to not only reduce our impact but influence others to do the same.

So, next time you’re the only one in the cafe queue who has bought your own cup, or the bus made you later than you would have liked, remember the importance of your contribution to the collective attitude. It starts now.

What can I do as a music fan?

Make suggestions to venues and artists – Things like suggesting a venue goes plastic-free or enquiring about the source of merch from your favourite artists will show them that you’re keen to see these kinds of changes.

Do the little things – It all adds up, and you don’t have to be waving a placard to be making a difference. Simply do it with your disposable cup, or arrive on public transport or use car share pools. It may not feel like much, but these shifts in attitudes are all chipping away at the bigger picture.

Dig a little deeper – There’s nothing like hearing about inspiring projects to fuel the changes you can make. So hop onto your socials and start following the organisations who are leading the way for the things that matter to you! Just do it. Yes, right now…

What can I do as a musician?

Use your voice! – Talk to your fans about the climate state and system changes they can be part of, and share media from the organisations and causes you believe in.

Embrace opportunities – Can you incorperate awareness or action into your lyrics or art? Again, share the things that are inspiring you to make changes, as these are likely to speak to your fans too.

Set aside time – Be proactive in regularly measuring the effect of your environmental impact, such as; where you can reduce your waste, keeping tour routes as efficient as possible, or using train travel over flying.

What can I do if I work in the industry?

Start the conversation – Get the ball rolling and you might just find some top ideas sparking directly from within your team. Consider the practices of the companies you choose to work with, or when working with a new company.

Keep the priority! – Nominate a team member to be responsible for keeping an eye on the environmental impact of the business.

Do some homework – Look into the wealth of resources online about changes you can make from small daily actions, to big system overhauls. You might just find that there can be more benefits than you expect!

Artists taking action

The 1975 – The band repurposed old unsold band t-shirts by printing new designs over the top and encouraged their fans to bring the old merchandise to their gigs in order to have the new artwork printed on them.

Foals – The indie rockers released Like Lightening to raise awareness about climate change with the music video getting its first play on the Music Declares Emergency website.

Nick Mulvey – The singer created Ocean Vinyl with Sharps Brewery and Universal Music. It’s the first vinyl made from recycled plastics from the Cornish coastline with all proceeds going to Surfers Against Sewage.

Massive Attack – The Bristol legends have said no to plane travel within Europe and instead will travel by train when touring from now on.

One final word of motivation

Every share of an article on climate action from a band you love. Every suggestion to your local event space about their use of plastics. Every purchase of merch that is proudly sustainably sourced. Every difficult conversation with the friend who ‘doesn’t see the point’. It all matters.

By taking action and making changes, we can push forward into a more sustainable future for the music business, and steer towards an industry that makes the world feel as good as we do after a great gig.