Sustainability & Music: The Industry

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

We’re half-way through Plastic Free July, and I thought this could be an opportunity to talk about sustainability in the music industry. This will be a 3-part article with weekly focus on:


1. The Music Industry

2. Opera and Concert Halls

3. Eco-Friendly Performers


Today, we’ll explore the music industry, highlighting streaming, physical recordings, and live concerts, with aims to open the discussion, see the options that exist and explore how we can do better.


Streaming

With the pandemic, live music had a setback and streaming was basically all we could rely on. When we think about the carbon footprint of streaming high definition videos and audio, the two main aspects we need to consider are: internet and electricity generation.


About the electricity generation, the sources can be listed as coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewables (hydropower, wind, solar, and others). The low-carbon sources include nuclear and renewables.



According to Our World in Data, the world seems to be developing well in terms of generating electricity using low-carbon sources, however, when you include the transport and heat, the total energy percentage is still very low. Check the map below to see how your country is doing in terms of low-carbon electricity sourcing.



By 2023, there will be 5.3 billion total Internet users in the world - nearly two-thirds of the global population. A study released by Germany’s Federal Environment agency found that “streaming video over fiber optic cables results in the lowest amount of CO2 emissions — 2 grams per hour. Using copper cables produces twice that amount.” The 5G technology will help cut down the carbon footprint, with an estimated emission at 5 grams of CO2 per hour, against 3G’s emission of 90 grams per hour. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze also suggested that more public WiFi hotspots could be a more eco-friendly way to stream data.


What does it really have to do with music? According to this article for Varsity, streaming music will generate around 200 to 350 million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions across the 2000s. So should we go back to physical copies? Apparently, it depends on how many times you listen to the same song: if it's just a couple of times, streaming would be more eco-friendly; but if you'll listen to a song/ album over 20 times, a CD would be best. Another good practice is to download the songs that you listen on the repeat, which would require less from the server and data.



Live Concerts

As vaccination advances all over the world, we see live music crawling back to action. Music festivals and touring will soon (hopefully) reset to their busy schedules, with fans looking forward to enjoying their favorite bands live. Unfortunately, Live Concerts typically leave a huge carbon footprint and tons of plastic waste. What should we do then?


If you’ve never heard of Reverb, please meet them here. It’s a non-profit that partners with musicians, venues and festivals to make their concerts greener. Some of the measures that they take are: refillable filtered water stations, sustainable biodiesel in tour buses, composting and donating food wastes, among others. They are currently engaged with touring projects for Dave Matthews Band, Guster and Dead an Co. In the past, they’ve worked with Pink, Tame Impala, Billie Eilish, among other artists.


To know more about artists and what they are doing to go green in their concerts, check this article by Isabel Sebode and this blog post at Flowater.



The Recording Industry

If you want to get a historical trip over the recording industry, exploring materials from shellac and vinyl to polycarbonate (in CDs), Alex Ross wrote a very thorough article for The New Yorker about Kyle Devine’s book “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music”.


Devine’s main argument is that, against how we may feel nowadays, “there’s no such thing as a nonmaterial way of listening to music.” He brings attention to the energy consumption of the devices we use to stream, the impact of keeping servers and coolers, among others. There’s even a discussion over the fact that streaming platforms, such as Spotify, are not really interested in the music itself, but in the consumer data.


He hopes for a shift in the consciousness of consumers. He wishes we would ask ourselves: “Under what conditions was a particular recording made? How equitable is the process by which it has reached us? Who is being paid? How are they being treated? And—most pressing—how much music do we really need? Perhaps, if we have less of it, it may matter to us more.”


Have you ever had thought about sustainability in the Music Industry? Did you find this content helpful?


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