It’s Earth Day, which should be every day, but for the music industry, its celebration is tough to accommodate.
Here are the basic tenets of a successful music career, by and large: recording material, selling recordings touring, merchandising, licensing.
Recording music requires energy and generally requires space and a bunch of equipment (excluding those four-track players in a bedroom like early Iron & Wine or some GarageBand action from Owl City in a factory basement). Acts like Cake and Jack Johnson have created their latest efforts in carbon neutral spaces, fueled by solar energy. But what of the Brooklyn bands that can’t even afford a van? Is unplugging everything after you’re through worth the trouble?
Selling said recordings has become greener since the advent of the internet age, with physical copies of records being bought over the internet instead of being shipped to stores, or digital versions of those recordings being sold in the place of a physical copy. But what copies of those songs go onto burned discs, plastic that has its own carbon footprint? How about that iPod, how many times has that run out of juice on you, or broken altogether?
It’s been suggested that digital sales of music have plateaued. Meanwhile, music sales and general continue to plummet, which is cheaper for the consumer, bad for the musician, which means less money is being dispersed for that musician to collect — less money for the struggling musician to put toward getting those Disc Makers “eco-wallet” CD packages instead of cheaper, normal CD packages. On top of that, what label is willing to stop shipping to stores (a carbon gobbler), or to question the shipping and stocking methods of the big box retailers like Wal-Mart or Target?
Touring — whether you fly or drive — generally means the consumption of fossil fuels, unless you’re Willie Nelson or Neil Young and have a 100% veggie-friendly vehicle? Is a Prius around town enough, Miley, after thousands of miles of not being in a Prius? Music festivals are a struggle, too: a weekend or a day, there are thousands of fans mingling, eating, drinking, dependent on disposable materials. Bonnaroo has taken so many initiatives to “green” their farm-based fest, from organizing car pools, to stocking biodegradable utensils, the ilk. But what’s it take to get everyone there? Green Apple fest in New York is a starting point, but what of the 364 other days of large-scale productions at those same venues which host it?
T-shirts and other merch clothing made from sustainable or green materials are generally more expensive than non. Posters are cheaper if you go with the normal stuff, instead of the specialty paper. Record labels have rarely exhibited eco-friendliness when it comes to disseminating promotional materials to writers like me (and, believe me, I have my own bad eco habits to fix).
Licensing is it’s own discussion: how do earth-loving artists decide if a brand, show, movie, etc., is green enough for them? When there’s a check being written for you, that question is likely the last on your mind.
There are phenomenal advocates for the environment out there: Thom Yorke speaks for the trees politically, conventionally; the Roots are outspoken Green Music Group advocates; Green Day promotes the NRDC efforts with videos and sponsorship dollars; Pearl Jam dished out dollars to help offset their tours.
But what of the musicians without pennies to spare? The resources of stable career artists?
Organizations like Reverb have teamed with artists large and small in developing cost-effective ways of lessening carbon footprints on tour. Neighborhood and artist organizations meet in every corner of the nation to connect musicians to other musicians who care about the ecology economy, so that little goes a long way.
Tell an early career artist that they shouldn’t tour — period — in order to save the planet (like Cake’s singer suggested) and find an artist iterating, in their choice of words, explitives optional: “Easy for you to say.” The answer isn’t easy. Being green isn’t easy, and is often more expensive. Which is why any artist actively going “green” should be applauded, even if the move comes off as self-serving, promotionally. Environmental activism shouldn’t be inspirational, its should be the everyday conversation, and the more musicians talk about it to each other — how difficult it is, how they wish it weren’t — the more things will change.