Our inability to gather at the altar of music, to share in the joy of its many communal gifts, has taken a toll on us all, especially the tens of thousands of brilliant, committed members of this industry. By now we are all comfortably numb to the losses of lives, health, wellness, experiences, time, confidence in too many institutions to count and, perhaps most of all, justice for too many Black lives and too many names we can never stop saying.
It has been and remains a devastating time. But as our beloved and critically essential industry emerges slowly from the darkness, there is something beautiful appearing; abundance of hope and a renewed commitment to coming back stronger, more united and more urgently focused than ever before.
As a sustainability innovator, connector and advocate for this industry for 30 years, I’m more convinced than ever in the power of music to create positive change, drive economic value and be a transformative force in our existential battle against climate chaos. The signals for a more just and sustainable future are all around us.
For really the first time since the Moondog Coronation Ball in 1952 introduced the planet to the idea of a rock ‘n’ roll concert, the touring industry was able to step back and look at itself, do some soul searching and uncover some provocative insights. Granted, it came on the heels of the industry’s first full-on screeching halt since that show in Cleveland almost 70 years ago, as well as the ongoing murders of Black women and men at the hands of law enforcement, but this sobering period of introspection has indeed led to some profound and long-overdue changes.
The biggest signal that is fueling my hope is the dramatic pivot from competition to collaboration. Former and current adversaries have started working together on common goals, creating different coalitions, Facebook groups, webinars, Zoom calls, concepts and gatherings that have produced a dizzying series of acronyms: MCR, TPA, TPG, SEA, AGF, SCWG, BYOB, PPC, AMPED, NIVA, NITO, LESA and on and on (sorry if I left anyone off).
All of these efforts are showing a powerful and human side of an industry that is asking the tough questions that are so critical but have many times been pushed aside in our endless drive for putting on the show and profitability at all costs.
What is the industry doing to support the mental health and wellness needs of its crews and staff?
Where can it take responsible, transformative actions that fundamentally reduces its impact on the planet?
How does the industry lead the justice and inclusivity revolution by example and from the front?
How do we make sure our people are taken care of in an emergency?
How do we build a more resilient industry overall that can navigate future disruptions?
Each one of these questions alone is substantial, complex and bigger than any one company, consultant or non-profit can solve. What COVID and the climate emergency are teaching us all is that each of these questions is deeply interconnected. They need to be tackled as one shared superordinate goal: to build a truly sustainable future for this industry we all love.
That’s why this pivot from competition to collaboration is so exciting and essential. Already tremendous progress is being made in many areas, with new tools being created, connections being made, and big audacious visions being formalized, with more and more people getting engaged, learning, participating and sharing.
It’s in this spirit of partnership and unity, and at this moment when festival lineups are being finalized and tour routes are being contemplated, that I wanted to share the five actions we all can take to seize this moment and gain momentum.
Continue Radical Collaboration: We can’t let the return of live events become an excuse for slowing down. We need to continue to nurture and support the nascent organizations, gatherings, collaborations and unity campaigns. We are far stronger together than we are apart. Let’s continue open-sourcing our solutions and avoid reinventing the wheel. There are tons of resources available to the industry on how to operate more sustainably. Let’s focus on implementing this change, not thinking about it.
Ultimately, the live industry may benefit from the approach taken by other significant industries like sports, construction, real estate, food, clothing and farming and form a Music Industry Sustainability Association. A centralized operating model that helps make industry-wide best practices, tools, resources, economic analyses, quantification of benefits, life cycle assessments, standards, rewards and recognition all easier, more efficient and standardized. These resources will save money, save time and ultimately allow the industry to live up to its responsibility: modeling the change we need to be to the tens of millions of fans. As evidenced by the explosion of participation in the current groups forming, there is a strong demand for this type of solution at the grassroots level. Long-term sustainable change will happen when it is embraced at the top, so, industry leaders, please lead.
Pursue Systemic Solutions That Can Drive Profits: With the new sector-based organizations and tools that are being formed, it is our responsibility to take advantage of this change and create true-systemic solutions for the industry. In the same way the Biden Administration is putting climate solutions at the center as a driving force to “Build Back Better,” the music industry can and must do the same. Over the years, the obstacle to creating real meaningful change in how the music industry embraces sustainability is that ideas have been led by a few individuals who raise their hand and say, ”Uh… why are we going through billions of single-use plastic cups?” or “Why don’t we donate our excess food from catering?” or “What do we need to be providing for mental health and wellness for crews?” or “What can we do to make our production lighting more energy efficient or the production design less wasteful, but still powerful, on this tour?” However, there has never been a system-wide effort to educate, create standards, tools, and measure the impact with a common set of data and shared vocabulary. Climate issues are an ecosystem-wide problem that requires systemic, macro solutions to truly get right.
Fund New Innovations and Entrepreneurs: There is a clear need for more investments in transformative systems innovation. To seize this moment to drive systemic change, create new jobs, and generate economic benefit to the industry, we need to better support entrepreneurs and tap new sources of wisdom for inspiration – especially those who for too long have not been seen or heard. The climate emergency is beyond louder advocacy and commitments (though those are important, too). There needs to be more fuel for innovations across the entire industry of live events and an ongoing culture that supports rapid transformation of the business model. We need to build a new future from the ground up and tap the creative ingenuity of everyone who is touched by live events and music.
Listen to, Engage and Empower Your Crews To Lead: As we reopen, we need to rethink every purchase and decision through the lens of reducing our impact on climate change. Eliminate single-use plastics and disposables. Implement touchless transactions, green power solutions, electric vehicles, mass transit communications and promotions to fans, merch options and on and on. The individuals who more often than not have the best ideas for new, less impactful and more efficient solutions are your own crews and staff. And yet, too often we leave their critical voices and insights on the sidelines. It’s time we follow their leads, as opposed to simply dictating they follow ours.
Use Your Platforms To Support Science and Demand Change: This last year has proven the power of and need for a unified voice that defends and protects the viability of our industry. That voice needs to grow louder still and not shy away from promoting difficult messages and setting high standards. Climate denialism should find no home in our industry. And climate justice requires all of us to center those communities, most often Black, Brown and Indigenous, who are most at risk from pollution and other environmental dangers. Don’t succumb to the plastic industry’s efforts to push single-use plastic. You [are overwhelmingly unlikely to] get COVID from touching surfaces. Stop the “Hygiene Theater” the plastics industry and misinformation has created. Putting on rubber gloves to hand over plastic serveware wrapped in plastic does not prevent COVID, it just sells more plastic that generates more toxins and waste that pollutes communities of color and erodes your margins. And, if you don’t see the suppression of voting rights or the ongoing brutality peaceful protesters consistently face in our streets as part of our industry’s collective fight for a more sustainable future, I implore you to think again.
Ever since Paul Williams and his Hucklebuckers headlined that Moondog Coronation Ball back in the day, the live music and touring industry has been on an epic, fast-paced road of change and evolution. Throughout generations, artists have been the “canaries in the coal mine,” speaking out powerfully on the critical issues of the day. So many of our leading artists, from emerging talent to elder voices, have kept that tradition alive even during this awful pandemic. The music industry has a unique platform and opportunity no other industry has to unify, heal and inspire change in the world and we each have a responsibility in our own roles to constantly ask, “How can I use my superpowers to help build an environment where we all can thrive?”
Effect Partners is continuing its legacy of building climate solutions with entertainment industry partners and is actively developing a Music Industry Sustainability Association. They encourage anyone who is interested in shaping it and participating to reach out to [email protected].
Eskinder Debebe / UN Photo / Handout / Xinhua – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a virtual briefing to update on preparations for COP26, at the UN headquarters in New York, on Feb. 8, 2021. Guterres told the member states that 2021 is a “crucial year” for climate change.