Music, Environmentalism, and the Economics of Mass-Production

We currently live in a difficult age regarding music and environmentalism. Music has greater online accessibility, which means less of an incentive to mass produce paper, plastic CD cases and CDs, vinyls, and other physical music items that are often discarded without thought to their lack of biodegradability and recyclability. We cut down less trees and contribute less to the global epidemic of waste as a result. However, musicians have fewer outlets or mediums to be compensated for their art, as online accessibility and loopholes in copyright and artist compensation laws can allow for musicians' works to be online for free or little pay, and are facing a financial crisis. Additionally, radio apps like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora are known for paying musicians poorly and mediating the pay that they receive so that the company receives more money than the actual artist. This in turn can also incentivize more ways for musicians to earn money outside of buying files online, like playing more paid concerts. Often times concerts entail production of more concessions, merchandise, which is often strewn about after shows and left to destroy the outdoors by failing to decompose and contributes to greater global landfill. Concerts do not prioritize environmentalism as much as finances.

Some people still want to create CDs for the sake of the special attributes of a physical copy despite online accessibility – credits, artist information, personalized art or writing, etc. that you would not be able to see online. It is often a more emotional and personal experience to have a tangible copy of music. Again, environmentalism is not at the forefront of this. In a time of poor financial compensation, artists strive to profit the most by finding the cheapest and most efficient possible way to produce CDs. This will not involve thought put into environmental effects, which often takes more money and mental energy than artists are willing to put in to something that is not the music itself. After all, they are often solely focused on getting their music across to as many people as possible while being able to have a stable personal financial situation, and will do whatever they can to get there. But this lack of environmental consciousness means these CDs can contribute to our landfill by being produced in the cheapest and fastest way – in a factory setting with cheap plastic and laminated paper, both of which are often not biodegradable. We know things like these pollute both our land and our oceans, harming wildlife of all kinds.

There are ways to reconcile this challenge between declining musical profits and compensation and the destructive environment of music related mass production, and musicians need to start seeking out these solutions before we have done irreversible damage to our planet and thus our own well being.

For teaching purposes, musical texts and books being copied as PDFs (as long as they are regulated in terms of exclusive access and compensate the authors) can be reused for teaching purposes, saving trees and paper. Selling charts or music files online with heavy regulation to online accessibility and proper copyright enforcement gives artists additional opportunities for financial compensation.

Creating biodegradable CD cases with exclusive links attached will allow for the beauty and personalization of physical CDs, incorporate financial compensation, and still remain environmentally conscious. This is what Fabian Almazan's record company Biophilia is in the process of pioneering (you can read more about it here). We can use recycled plastic and paper or source plastic that is biodegradable or made from plants for the CD materials. Additionally, record companies and artists can make it part of their agendas to donate to environmental programs or activist groups, make a point to elect environmentally conscious candidates for government, and do benefit programs and concerts to raise money for environmental contributions. Record companies and artists can appeal to their established audiences and motivate them to support the environment. It is implied that if an artist's audience will support them, then they will support everything else they stand for that is essentially inseparable from their art. Artists who have the platform and voicedness to advocate for environmental change, an issue that affects everyone (whether they want to believe it or not), need to take advantage of this before our planet is beyond the point of repair. There cannot be art without a safe, habitable planet to create it on, and it is easy for us to take this fact for granted. For the future generation of musicians to be able to pass on the privilege and liberty of creating their own art like us, we cannot afford to be passive about environmental consciousness both in our work and outside of it.