Musicians have always been mouthpieces for change. Sometimes the message is met with almost messianic fervour – like the quintessentially conscious Dylan or Lennon. And sometimes, it appears that preaching about social issues, such as climate change and the environment, is more about the artists keeping it cool than keeping it real.
Take for instance the massive undertaking that was 2007’s anti-climactic -and some say anti-climatic – Live Earth, which was meant to unite the world over through music to inspire climate change and reduce our carbon footprint.
Instead, NBC got higher ratings for broadcasting re-runs, as nobody seemed to care that the Madonna-featured epic rock show was amok with pretense.
While the well-intentioned multi-day, multi-continental extravaganza seemingly drew a large number of viewers online and inspired many to sign online petitions to reduce fossil fuels, this result seems lacklustre considering the amount of energy required to put on such a large scale event in the first place.
“With large scale productions there is always going to be that hypocrisy,” mused local indie-pop singer-songwriter Todd Hunter. “They are a business and that kind of scale is necessary to generate huge revenue streams.”
Hunter, who just released his first solo album Star in 2009, pointed out that despite its history of creating social awareness through song, the music industry doesn’t exactly lead the way when it comes to sound environmental practices – the key word in that assessment being industry.
“I don’t think the entertainment industry are exactly leaders when it comes to reducing carbon footprints. There are those larger acts that try to be more conscious. U2, for example, just did a tour where they tried to minimize their impact in every way possible. But by the same token, I’m pretty sure Bono flies around in a private jet.”
There is also the debate as to whether the shift to online media will actually reduce the waste created by the very tangible, very plastic compact disc.
“One of the promises of music going digital was that it would eliminate the wasteful manufacturing of CDs. But if you look at digital music, people have stopped buying as many CDs but other products have come up to take their place – MP3 players for example. Those also just sit in a landfill and they aren’t going to decompose very quickly,” Hunter said.
On a more micro-cosmic scale, local artists looking to create a presence for themselves in the Winnipeg scene in the absence of moneyed, music industry production methods, find that utilizing online networks helps alleviate the need for such support.
“Trying to market and promote with basically zero start-up is tough,” guitarist Mark Giroux of the theatrical rap/acoustic trio The Breakaway Point said by e-mail. The group just self-released their first full-scale album. “We do so much of our promoting online.”
Until the industrial aspects associated with popular music goes all out green, artists themselves are taking up the cause at a grassroots level.
David Fort of electronic post-rock outfit Absent Sound explained how his band mate Robert Menard created a unique packaging system in a step towards something more economical and simplistic, as well as environmentally sound.
“We have always made a lot of our own promotional materials. We do a lot of homemade stuff and now we have a packaging system that uses no plastic, which Rob created,” Fort said.
While the standard for radio promotion is the jewel case, Absent Sound insist that it is not necessary. Hunter is also hopeful that new practices may eliminate the need for it altogether.
“Radio is now more and more accepting digital files,” he said.
For locals at least, the message of a more environmentally healthy planet seems increasingly in conjunction with what is practiced. Small business appears to make change all the more possible, and there is less of a gap between talk and action.
“There are a lot of things artists can do,” Hunter said. “Using recycled paper with organic ink for example, as it decomposes more quickly. When we go out of town we take as little gear as possible. We rent smaller amps and take smaller vehicles, which reduces carbon emissions and is more efficient. But these are also things that we do because they are cheaper for us as well.
“When you are an artist you have a podium and a voice. You want to lead by example.”