The future of the music business

The music industry, especially in the form of big live events, accounts for a chunk of the total carbon emissions of our species. Is there a place for music concerts in a sustainable future? Let’s find out, as always, together.

Last fall, frontman of Coldplay Chris Martin announced that the band was going to take a break from performing live to try to make their spectacular shows more sustainable. They were the last of a long list of famous stars of the music industry who openly embraced the cause for a sustainable future, including Adele, Green Day, the legendary rockstar Neil Young, Radiohead and many more.

We could summarize the main emissions of a live concert of big proportion into 3 main groups: emissions of fans travelling to the venue, the energy needed to power all the equipment (band and food stand/merchandise) and material used by the venue to serve food and beverages.

Getting the fans to the venue is an underrated problem that creates a huge environmental impact. Festivals are often organised in the countryside, far from the cities and residential area, to avoid the unavoidable noise and disturbance that such a gathering of people generates. Being far from cities, these places are often hard to reach via public transport, therefore people might decide to drive to the venue. And here’s the double blade: it’s not only about the car emissions of people driving to a concert but also the impact that an open car park with thousands of cars has on the land. This is because these places hardly have any paved car park, and so thousands of car lie for days on the grass, destroying vegetation and seeds (which will prevent newborn plants) and also obstruct with the ecosystem by scaring away for many miles animals, a crucial part of the food chain of the area. If we also consider that these kind of events are recurring each year, we have a perfect combination to completely eradicate or, in the luckiest scenario, to hugely affect vegetation of the countryside where the event is taking part. Last but not least, let’s not forget the number of people who decide to fly from abroad to the venue, increasing the emissions of travelling to a festival.

When it comes to energy, people always underestimate the problem. Speaking about cars, an argument well-spread among people is that “an electric car doesn’t have emissions”. This is partially true: of course, the motion of the vehicle is not produced by an engine burning fossil fuel, and so there are no emissions out of the pipe. However, most of the energy used for producing electricity in power plants around the world is produced by burning fossil fuel: the problem is not which energy we use, but how we produce it. It is important to bear this in mind because in some extreme situations if we consider that to make fuel we only produce emissions during the extraction, refinery and freight (to summarize), in an oil-rich country the emissions of a petrol car could be the same of an electric car, manufactured thousands of miles away in an energy-hungry state. And so many bands are shifting into freighting their musical equipment by boat rather than by plane and also are moving into biofuel-powered buses when touring.

The last is just the easiest of all: do not sell single-use plastic, biodegradable or wooden cutlery are already spreading in fast-food chains. Of course, safety first: it would be risky to sell glass bottles in a concert, and so here is my proposal. What about a deposit scheme: you come for your first drink and deposit £5 for a plastic glass, then get it back at the end of the day and if you lose it, you will have to pay again for another one. I am well aware of the limitation of this proposal and how hard it would be to apply it during events with hundreds of thousands of people attending: it is just a little inspiration for companies that are looking at ideas on how to make people having fun sustainably.

Things are changing though: RedBull has a list of sustainable concerts across Europe and Green Touring Network has produced a wonderful guide for artists and managers filled with tips on how to tour sustainably.

In a sustainable future, I do believe we will still be able to enjoy spectacular live events but if we are serious about reducing our emissions, this is one of the many industries that will need a complete revaluation. If we are not serious and we only like to make big claims, as many people on the internet seem to do nowadays, we can just don’t care as always and carry on, business as usual. I feel sometimes politicians and people with particular media attention just sell us some ideas, to keep polls favourable and social media stats up, and then do nothing. So do not expect them to change the future: it is normal people, like me and you, who can and most certainly will change it.

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