Can We Make Music More Sustainable?
As we approach Earth Day, we often reflect on our impact on the environment. Each of our actions has consequences, from the food we eat to the vehicle we drive, but these are the obvious ones; we usually don’t think about the way we listen to music when we think about saving the environment, but we should.
Before streaming, recordings were material objects, and they still are as the resurgence of the vinyl industry demonstrates. In 2020, 27.5 million vinyl were sold in the United States, up 46 percent compared to 2019 and more than 30-fold compared to 2006, so this is certainly not negligible. Plus, the current trend to release vinyl with different colors just encourages fans to buy even more of them, as I know of people buying albums twice just because the re-release was a blue or pink vinyl. How stupid is that? How nonecological is that? But can we make music more sustainable?
In the early 1900s, most gramophone records were made with a resin called shellac and harvested from an Indian bug. After 1950, we switched to plastic, and even though we are talking of different kinds of plastic whether it is vinyl, CDs or even cassettes, plastic is the worst thing for the planet.
If CDs and cassettes seem to be a thing of the past for most people –although, as I said, people still buy vinyl – most of us are streaming music from platforms like Spotify, while we were all buying mp3s not so long ago. But if you think this dematerialization of music is harmless for the environment, think twice as digital music actually has an ecological impact: they require energy. Every time we store, download, and stream musical data, we use electric energy: the digital is also physical as Kyle Devine, author of Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music said in an interview for Vulture.
Electricity is a secondary energy source, generated from primary energy sources like fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum) and nuclear energy. A small part of this may be renewable energy, but it still is a small part, which barely represents 20% in the US.
I guess the pandemic has increased this digital consumption as we were all stuck at home, streaming music but also movies and TV shows. A positive thing for the environment was the lack of touring, imagine all these tour busses and cross-country flights that did not happen in 2020. This article of Futurism says that the research found that five touring musicians ‘added 19,314 kilograms of CO2 to the environment in only 6 months — the equivalent of taking nearly twenty flights back and forth from New York City to London.’
For now, we have to find new solutions, in terms of concerts and festivals, many artists are already trying to reduce their impact, but so much has still to be done to make music more sustainable.