All those that know me know that I am obsessed with music. Maybe not the type of music that is popular with most listeners or the type of music that your parents want you to listen to (not that your parents have a say), but even ugly music needs some love. Anyway, I was digging through my absurd collection of vinyl, CDs, and tapes for an old classic to blare in the lab when it dawned on me just how wasteful music can be. Not so much music, but the music industry. I know that the industry talks about their recycled jewel cases (yeah, that’s what CD cases are called) and cheap recycled plastics for their records, but in the past that was straight-up un-recycled, synthetic material that potentially could be waste. Especially because the moderate listener would trash the album if they didn’t like it and collectors would catalog the record/CD then trash the sleeve/case. A lot of this waste has been eliminated in the last few years with the introduction of digital albums. While I love having a physical copy rather than a digital one, the digital age of music has made the industry much more sustainably conscious.
Too bad other areas of the music industry are not. It’s interesting to find research that has been done on the “greenness” of music recording and performing. However, there is also an interesting trend; lots of artists love to start a sustainable non-profit or donate hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars to these organizations for – what I will only assume to be – publicity. Yet, they fail to actually be green and sustainable. “Google” green musicians and you’ll find everyone from U2 to Willie Nelson to Cake to Green Day supporting and donating money to causes ranging from climate control to promoting locally-grown produce to saving the whales. However, most of these artists are more interested with boosting sales than lessening environmental impact in our community.
For instance, I know there are a lot of U2 fans out there that believe in U2’s mission to lower the environmental impact. However, did you know U2’s 2009 tour produced the same amount of CO2 emissions as 6,500 British residents do in a year? Or in other words, those forty-four shows created enough carbon to fly 90,000 people from London to Dublin, which is also the equivalent to leaving a lightbulb on constantly for 159,000 years. While the tour was massive in terms of show production, the real culprit of the impact was in the transportation of the stage from show to show. The three massive stages required 120 tractor trailers to transport them. This boils down to carbon-waste production of 65,000 tons.1
Unfortunately, that’s only scratching at the surface of the music industry. This industry is considered the second “dirtiest” industry in the world behind the construction industry. Every year tour buses produce approximately 150,000 tons of CO2 emissions and a single stadium performance (cue the U2 fans) can contribute anywhere from 500-1000 tons of CO2 emissions, while a midsize venue can produce about 470,000 plastic cups, 200,000 napkins, and 600 lightbulbs per show!2 Yikes! And that’s only the half of it! Let’s not forget music recording and album production. Have you ever been a music producer? Well, neither have I, but album production consists of recording, mixing, and mastering; all of which require equipment such as computers and computer software, microphones, speakers, cables, stands, amps, preamps, primary monitors, secondary monitors, converters, and on and on. That’s a lot of equipment and a lot of energy consumption.
Luckily, there are bands that prefer lower key venues and production, as well as a handful of studios working to be more sustainable. This includes Tree Sound Studios,3 which promotes greenness with amenities that include a completely self-sufficient solar array for all electricity on the property, the use of biodegradable cleaning supplies, organic food catering for clients, an on-site vegetable garden, water-saving toilets, and a bio-fueled vehicle for client transport. Even with all of that, they have produced some of the most popular artists of today; Beyonce, Usher, Whitney Houston, etc.
Again, I love music. I actually obsess over it. So if it sounds like I am bashing, I’m only bashing a little. Since I couldn’t find any sources to tell me the average energy consumption of my favorite metal band, I am just going to assume that they are green and popular music is not (yep, I win). All jokes aside, just be aware of the consequences and impacts the next time you pick up your favorite band’s new limited edition, three-disc album or head out to your neighborhood football stadium to catch a show on a gigantic three-piece stage in the shape of an alien spacecraft.
U2 tour has out of this world stage – and carbon footprint (2011). Retrieved August 17, 2014, from http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2011/07/u2_360_tour_environmental_impact_st_louis.php
Greening the music industry: eco-friendly bands (2012). Retrieved August 17, 2014, from http://blog.wegowise.com/2012-03-29-greening-the-music-industry-eco-friendly-bands
Tree Sound Studios. Retrieved August 18, 2014, from http://www.treesoundstudios.com/clients.html