we tried this

How to Be a Music Fan with a Low-Carbon Impact on the Planet

Make your own music? Walk three hours to a gig? Here's everything you can do instead of streaming Drake so much the earth burns.

by Rosie Hewitson
17 April 2019, 11:00am

All photography by Ivo Garland 

The planet is in big trouble mate. You know it, I know it and the music industry knows it too. According to leading climate scientists we’ve got at best two decades to sort it out before the damage is irreversible and the earth becomes uninhabitable for humans, and yet we really don’t seem to be doing all that much about it, do we?

I mean yes, we’ve all bought one of those boujie metal water bottles and started using paper straws even though they turn into soggy mush after two sips. It’s great that they’ve brought in a cycle-to-work scheme at the office and the canteen now does Meatless Mondays. And well done for taking your recycling a bit more seriously. 'A' for effort. But unless something changes drastically we are probably still absolutely fucked.

It isn’t that easy though, especially when governments refuse to do anything meaningful, leading to all the responsibility being foisted onto the individual, who don't have as much influence. That said, we’re often completely unaware of the environmental impact of some of our most fundamental habits. For example, bet you had no idea that streaming music may be wreaking more carbon emission havoc on the environment than CDs or vinyl? You probably wouldn’t have thought that, would you?

But according to a study published last week by the Universities of Glasgow and Oslo, while the music industry uses way less plastic now that we're no longer buying as much physical music, “the transition towards streaming recorded music from internet-connected devices has resulted in significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music.”

So not great news, then. But as the study’s lead researcher Dr Matt Brennan says, “We hope the findings might encourage change toward more sustainable consumption choices and services that remunerate music creators while mitigating environmental impact.” And with that in mind, we thought we’d come up with a few ideas for how to not fuck up the environment quite so much as a music fan, as well trying a few of them out. You can bookmark this, and thank me later.

BUY EVERYTHING SECOND-HAND, WE CAN JUST SHARE AROUND WHAT WE'VE GOT

Amy Winehouse record shop photo for Noisey
Vinyl second hand image for noisey

If you’re one of those hip young things that actually collects and plays vinyl, you could try buying second-hand instead of new. Not only will it be way cheaper, but you’ll also be saving on the energy used to produce new records and reducing plastic waste at the same time! It’s a win-win, as long as you’re happy spending your weekend at Camden Market trawling through box after box of ‘all time classic’ Van Morrison albums to find the one record in the whole place that was made during your lifetime, like I had to do to find this one battered old copy of Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. You could even pick up a few ‘real vintage’ band tees while you’re there, as long as you’re into AC/DC, The Smiths, Joy Division and absolutely nothing else.

DON'T GET A 7-MINUTE UBER TO A GIG: CYCLE! OR WALK?

CityMapper to Robyn gig image for Noisey
cycle to gigs instead photo for noisey

Instead of driving or using public transport, you could reduce your carbon footprint by just walking to gigs instead. I mean, it’s not so feasible when CityMapper is telling you to set off at 3.30PM to make the two-hour pilgrimage to Robyn’s Ally Pally gig in Zone 24, which is what happened to me last Friday. You could try cycling there on a hire bike, though, couldn’t you? I mean, again, extremely inadvisable to attempt cycling up Muswell Hill unless you’re literal Chris Froome. Absolutely not worth it, even for Robyn. Probably best to just stick to gigs at your local instead.

BUY ONE OF THOSE WIND-UP RADIOS FOR CAMPING

Yeah, strong chance that the only station that isn’t just near-constant static will be one that just plays Jess Glynne on repeat, but at least you can relax knowing that you haven’t burned any fossil fuels. And your upper arms will get a really good workout from having to wind it up again every three minutes. Then you can recycle the whole radio when it goes kaput, I guess?

GET YOUR FAVOURITE ARTISTS ON BOARD

writing letter to favourite artists about climate change image for noisey
warner music environment letter

Sometimes it can feel feel a bit futile trying to be more eco-friendly when your individual efforts are just a tiny drop in the (dangerously polluted) ocean, so it makes sense to try and get more powerful and influential people involved too. For example, I recently had the pleasure of attending one of Drake’s nights at the ‘O3’, and while it was a really great gig, I couldn’t help but feel that the massive light display and extensive pyrotechnics probably produced a huge amount of carbon emissions, so I wrote him a letter to ask if he might consider going ‘unplugged’ on his next tour, or at the very least maybe he could use electric tour vehicles or, like, plant some trees in every city he visits or something. Haven’t had a response yet but he’s still on the road so he’s probably just really busy. Expecting a Twitter DM any day now.

MAKE YOUR OWN MUSIC?

wooden image instrument for noisey

Obviously it takes years of practise and dedication to properly master a musical instrument, but anyone who’s done GCSE Music can bash out “Wonderwall” on guitar or that Noah & the Whale one on everyone’s absolute favourite stringed instrument, the humble ukulele. It goes without saying that anything electronic is off limits, but who knows, maybe you could be the next Ed Sheeran if you really put your mind to it for like four days. Perhaps you could even write a hit single that educates people about the Paris Agreement or something. I didn’t manage this due to lack of available equipment, but I did waste half an hour messing around on a weird homemade banjo thing I found on the shelf with all my housemate’s (not second-hand and therefore forbidden) vinyl, despite the fact that it only had two strings and neither of them seemed to be in tune.

CHARGE YOUR DEVISES USING CLEAN ENERGY

I know it’s a huge faff. I mean you’d have to email your landlord for permission and it’d probably take him four months to get back to you and another month to actually sit down with all of your housemates and do all the stupid admin. But if you switch to green energy you can charge your iPhone all you like while resting easy in the knowledge that compulsively streaming Blonde isn’t fucking up the planet too much. And it might even be cheaper too.

EAVESDROP ON SOMEONE ELSE'S MUSIC

listening to buskers in brick lane for noisey
watching buskers on brick lane for noisey

Instead of writing a passive-aggressive message to your building’s WhatsApp group next time one of your neighbours is blasting Sean Paul at 9AM on a Sunday, perhaps you could just open all your windows and join in? Or just stand in a record store for a bit and enjoy whatever it is they’re playing, like I did until they told me I had to leave if I wasn’t going to buy anything. The trick is to stop seeing yourself as somebody that only likes ‘indie’ or ‘grime’ or ‘deep house’ or whatever, and learn to love all types of music, whether it’s whatever is playing on Smooth Radio as you’re buying tobacco from the off-license at 4AM, or a couple of 12-year-olds rocking out to Jimi Hendrix covers on Brick Lane on a Sunday afternoon, which is what I did this past weekend. For like three hours.

PAINT OR SOMETHING INSTEAD?

james blake drawing made from second hand chalk noisey

Maybe you could start your own sourdough culture and get Really Into Baking. Or I heard cross-stitching is actually really relaxing, you know. But if it absolutely has to be music-themed, maybe instead of listening to your favourite band you could try doing a beautiful watercolour version of their album artwork while singing their entire discography to yourself a cappella. For instance, I recently whiled away a whole 20 minutes recreating the cover of James Blake’s third album, The Colour in Anything, using some chalk pastels I found in a charity shop. And yeah, it wasn’t as fun as actually listening to the album, but I still had an OK time, and I think you’ll agree that the results are something to be truly proud of. Quentin Blake whomst?

james blake chalk drawing noisey

So there you have it; a few great ideas to get you started! And please do hit me up with any more suggestions you have. Seriously... that’s all I’ve got.

You can follow Rosie on Twitter and Ivo on Instagram.