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Earth Day: Remaking A More Environmentally Sustainable Post-COVID Music Business Will Be Hard, But Necessary

The music business needs to become more sustainable and now is the right time to do it.
One World Earth Day

Normal. It is a word we heard millions of times over the past year. “The new normal” was something we were told to deal with in the conditions of the pandemic, while also looking forward to “going back to normal.” These competing normals were often polar opposites, but as the pandemic continues to rage in some places and subsides in others, the music industry starts to envision how it will shape itself in a post-COVID world.

Much of the discussion has been about hybrid events and how to safely manage the transition from no fans to full capacity events, but there needs to be another discussion – sustainability. Since today is Earth Day, it feels right to push the envelope that the music business cannot just go back to the way it was without some changes, some of them potential radical. A complete reset to 2019 would be ignoring the climate emergency we face. Sticking your head in the sand as the trash piles up, carbon emissions continue to mount and our path to irreparable harm on this planet continues without end is not an option.

This seems obvious and it is something I have said over and over, but flying on private jets is a non-starter for musicians if you want to care about your carbon footprint. That is obvious, so I will leave it at that. For the rest of musicians, tour routing needs to be get more efficient to avoid traveling across the world for one show. A recent study by Clean Scene showed just how much carbon DJs emitted by flying, with the top 1000 RA DJs in 2019 emitting 35,000 tons of CO2 over 117,000,000 kilometers. Trains could be a viable alternative, especially when traveling within Europe.

One of the innovations of the past year in the US where car culture is strong has been car gigs. Pods are created around people’s cars where they can stay distanced from other attendees, but when the pandemic is over, it may not be necessary to continue these events. As noted in a recent short film released by Massive Attack about decarbonizing live gigs, shows dependent on cars would only increase the carbon footprint of the music industry.

Instead, public transport should be encouraged by events, even provided in some form to mitigate tired / inebriated driving and carbon emissions. When that isn’t possible, groups to find carpools should be encouraged.

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Artists and venues should become partners on green riders that use less waste with reusable containers, bottles and make sure unused food isn’t thrown away, but either donated to a local food bank or composted. Stupid and wasteful gags or things to “test” the promoter should be left in 2010.

Events need to get better at creating less waste, with recycling and less packaging for food and drinks. It should be encouraged for attendees to bring reusable bottles, while also providing cheap ones on site. Big festivals use a lot of power, which at this point, promoters should be making the effort to get 100% of their energy from renewable sources.

Vinyl is getting more environmentally efficient from shipping, to production and packaging, but labels and distributors should push producers to be better. And if they find suppliers aren’t living up to promises or goals they have set as a company, then switch suppliers. That can be difficult with so few producers, but there are some vinyl suppliers using fewer resources in their production. Economic pressure does work.

This goes beyond events and travel as well. Other music businesses can reduce their carbon footprint. This week Beggars Group and Ninja Tune pledged to go carbon negative. They plan to do this by reducing carbon emissions along their entire supply chain of music production, increase usage of renewable energy, reduce travel, use more recycled goods, create less waste and more. This is something more music companies should commit to doing at a corporate level and I hope employees take that into their personal lives.

There are no magic solutions to making a more sustainable music business. It won’t happen overnight, but the work has to start now. It is the perfect time to do so with habits being shifted and interrupted by COVID. Now is not the time for lip service about climate change and sustainability as the music industry continues with the status quo with the same levels of carbon emissions and pollution. The party cannot carry on like nothing is wrong. There is no music on a dead planet.

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