Music biz focuses on a new kind of green
By Preston Jones
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
By Preston Jones
The music industry is turning green.
No, it has nothing to do with slumping retail sales, endless label mergers or leaked albums being downloaded online. Instead, the intense focus on greening everything from tour buses to CD cases stems from what "Pollstar" editor-in-chief Gary Bongiovanni calls "part of the shifting consciousness of the American public."
"I think the music business might've been a little ahead of the curve on that," Bongiovanni says. "The Dave Matthews Band, in particular, comes to mind as being someone who advocated green touring ... (but) it's certainly more in people's minds."
More than ever, artists of all stripes — from the arena-packing Fall Out Boy to the indie-rocking Andrew Bird — are employing various methods to reduce the environmental impact of touring, recording and releasing albums.
"What's nice is that (going green) has obviously caught on," says Adam Gardner, guitarist/vocalist for rock band Guster and co-founder of eco-minded nonprofit organization Reverb. "It's gone from 'What's biodiesel?' to — I call it the post-"Inconvenient Truth" era. There's a lot more awareness now. Everyone now is interested and wants to take action."
That heightened interest doesn't surprise Neal Turley, co-founder of Austin-based Sustainable Waves, which provides Earth-friendly equipment such as solar-powered stages.
"What's cool is that musicians seem to take causes on," Turley says. "I think that one of the natural elements of music is a reaction to society and to not be content with things. ... It makes sense that you have artists that are (environmental) role models or show leadership in some way, because they have that voice."
The most visible area of the music industry being affected by environmental awareness is touring. Numerous nonprofit organizations (such as NativeEnergy, Global Cool and Reverb) work with artists as diverse as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Norah Jones to draw up plans that, among other things, help reduce waste, offset carbon dioxide emissions, promote eco-friendly merchandise and encourage recycling.
Gardner, who co-founded Reverb with his wife, environmentalist Lauren Sullivan, stresses that bands don't have to start from scratch to go green. For some musicians, thinking more globally can be as simple as powering armies of trucks and buses with biodiesel, a clean-burning alternative fuel typically produced from such renewable resources as vegetable oil.
"It's not all or nothing," Gardner says. "We're not this group that's pushing bands into this — we're just there to help bands that want to do it anyway."
Of course, individual artists and bands aren't the only ones thinking greener — most major music festivals, from Austin City Limits (helping the city maintain the grass at Zilker Park, where the festival is staged) to South by Southwest (offsetting energy used at venues during the festival), are working to limit or undo potentially harmful environmental effects.
Many tours and festivals take the seemingly small step of reducing waste or purchasing carbon credits to offset CO2 emissions, but in Turley's mind, these actions represent a giant leap forward.
"(Greening) has definitely accelerated," Turley says. "It's really amazing in the last three years where this has come. When we were trying to make this happen 10 years ago, it was a pretty tough sell. Five years ago, it was starting to turn the corner, and now it's just amazing."
Gardner sees a similar spike in interest, citing Reverb's involvement with more than 500 tours since its creation in 2004 and the more than 15 projects Reverb has undertaken so far in 2007.
"At this point, we have so much coming in from bands and management, bands solicit us, (but) it didn't start that way — it started with me calling my friends (in) touring bands," Gardner says.
But Reverb's not the only greening game around.
An increasing number of artists, such as Perry Farrell and G. Love, are turning to Sustainable Waves, which recently paired with Austin-based Green Mountain Energy to create Eco-Tunes, billed as "the first comprehensive program for carbon-neutral music tours and events," providing such Earth-friendly amenities as solar-powered stages and sound systems.