ACT NOW: shesaid.so speaks to Music Declares Emergency
Maddy Read Clarke, active member of the MDE working group, explains more about the movement’s aims and how we can strive for a more sustainable industry. [Clare Everson]
How and why did you get involved with MDE?
Over the last few years I have become increasingly concerned about the state of our planet and the lack of action coming from world governments to tackle this very real issue. The science about climate change has been available for 30 years and yet, despite all the evidence and technological advances, nothing has been done to prevent us from heading over a cliff edge. If we don’t take urgent action within the next 5–10 years, climate change will almost certainly lead to mass extinction and unprecedented human suffering. The poorest countries are the ones most hit by climate change and the developed countries are doing very little to meaningfully reduce their emissions or stop the brutal destruction of the natural world. This has all happened under my generation’s watch and I was beginning to feel deeply hopeless about the future for my children and their future children. Then, in November last year, I discovered Extinction Rebellion. XR is a powerful movement that uses non-violent direct action and hard-hitting messaging to put pressure on governments to tell the truth about the climate emergency and to demand immediate and radical action.
I have worked in the music industry for a long time and decided to use my contacts and event planning skills to help programme and manage the stage at Marble Arch during XR Rebellion week back in April. Rebellion, together with the call to school strike from Greta Thunberg — who came and spoke on the Marble Arch stage — and David Attenborough’s documentary, which we broadcast live that same week, felt like a glimmer of hope. Perhaps something might actually be going to change — perhaps people can take back power and force governments to ACT NOW!
Stage-managing and programming Marble Arch was an amazing and inspiring experience. The amount of artists and musicians that wanted to get involved was incredible and we ended up with both Massive Attack and Beth Orton playing amongst many others. I kept thinking, if we can do this, on-the-hop, in the midst of a rebellion, what could we achieve if the industry came together in a really cohesive way to put pressure on governments and speak up and out to a wider audience about the emergency?
Music Declares Emergency was a beautiful synergistic thing that came together as a result of several people who work in the industry, all having the same thought at exactly the same time. In May, I had a phone conversation with Fay Milton, the drummer with Savages, who was also talking to a number of other people about the idea of making an industry-wide declaration of emergency, and a week later, MDE was formed. Together with representatives from Julie’s Bicycle, an environmental charity that helps creative industries improve their sustainability and who were also working towards an industry declaration, we formed a brilliant working group that seemed to bring together all the right people for the job. The group comprises of myself; musicians, Fay Milton, Sam Lee and Tom Hardy; Peter Quicke from Ninja Tune; Nigel Adams from Full Time Hobby, Chiara Badiali from Julie’s Bicycle, Lewis Jamieson from Loud Hailer Press and Tom Oakley from Warners. It has been a lot of work — I have spent a LOT of time in meetings recently — but it was important for us to establish ourselves as an independent pressure group, representing the particular issues unique to our industry, so getting the wording of the declaration and the information on the website right was really important. The hard work has paid off though, and It’s been really exciting to see Music Declares Emergency emerge into something much greater than anything we had dared to hope for. It feels like we created a space that the industry desperately wanted to fill and the response has been overwhelming.
Would you say the key environmental issues with the music industry are reflective of the wider world, or specific to the industry?
I would say there are definitely certain issues that are reflective of the wider world, we all need to change our habits, to reduce our carbon footprint and make changes to our lifestyles but there are definitely environmental issues that are specific to the industry. We are a high carbon-omitting industry. Artists depend on flying around the planet to promote their music and developing artists and DJs are dependent on touring for income and promoting their careers. We still make non-biodegradable physical products: vinyl, CDs and often unsustainably produced merchandising, which then gets air-freighted and shipped around the globe. Festivals create a lot of rubbish and can be impactful on the natural environment and fans will travel, often long distances, to follow or see their favourite artists perform.
These are all issues that Music Declares Emergency will be addressing in the future through round table events, discussions and practical advice.
What can we do to make the industry as a whole more sustainable?
The MDE website suggests a range of helpful actions for artists, labels, venues, promotors, publishers, festivals and more and Julie’s Bicycle offer a bespoke, Creative Green Framework for Sustainability action service.
You are the co-owner of Famous Times Recording Studio: how would you describe the issues and advice specific to studios? And can you give a couple of examples of advice common to more than one sector.
The recording process has become much more sustainable over the years as we are no longer dependent on physical formats for recording. When I first started working in studios, every album would create a giant pile of multitrack tapes, DATs. cassettes and discs. This is no longer the case. The need for air-conditioning is one of the greatest problems facing recording studios, as all that gear and acoustic treatment can get hot. Studios should try and use 100% renewable energy and even consider generating their own power. Premises Studios are really inspirational being the first solar powered studio in Europe. Our studio is in our home and we are lucky in that the studio is in the basement, which is naturally cool, so we don’t use air-conditioning. We have changed our electricity supplier to 100% renewable energy and have installed LED light bulbs. We are avid recyclers and use only ecologically sustainable products. As a family, we have decided that, as much as possible, we’re not going to buy anything new. This extends to the studio too, where possible. Sean Read, my husband, is a big fan of vintage gear and is also really good at repairing, maintaining and upgrading the equipment so we’re not endlessly replacing it.
The industry as a whole needs to look at ways it can reduce waste and save energy by making simple operational changes as well as introducing green and sustainability targets to reduce carbon emission.
Regular flying and travel is common in live touring, festivals, and in international corporations. How can we minimise this environmental impact whilst supporting international promotion of music and artists?
At the moment touring is an important part of any artist’s career but there are options an artist can choose to help make touring less impactful. Route planning is a big one — as is making the decision to reduce the amount of times they visit any one country in a year. Alternative methods of transport: train, tour bus or boat are all options to explore and not travelling first or business class when flying is another. Off-setting is also important, if an artist can’t avoid air travel then they can invest in a great carbon offset programme or climate justice scheme. Although they are not actually, reducing their own carbon emissions, at least they are helping to support green initiatives elsewhere.
One could say that targeting a particular industry makes our global environmental goals easier to break down in to direct impactful actions. What is your lobbying power as an organisation in terms of affecting higher-level policy locally and internationally?
Music has an incredible and unique power to reach people. There is a long tradition of music influencing and supporting social change and political action. It is more important now than ever that artists speak up and out to their fans about the environmental emergency. Fans vote and have the power to make environmental changes in their own life-styles. They also have the power to put pressure on governments to take urgent action. The industry can lead by example but in the end, it is governments that need to act: the solution to the crisis we are facing will only come about though radical and systemic change. Music can help deliver that message and motivate people to take urgent action.
Does MDE have current or future-planned partnerships with research bodies or other environmental organisations?
We are working with Julie’s Bicycle to assist the industry to become more sustainable. The Association of independent Music has started a Climate Action Group, which members of MDE are instrumental in implementing and we are going to be partnering with various organisations and venues in the future to deliver forums, talks and exciting events.
What would you say are the barriers facing change in the music industry and how does MDE hope to overcome these barriers?
I think the industry as a whole has to look at the way it has traditionally operated. Do we really need those conferences in Miami and Amsterdam and Nashville for example? Are there alternative ways that we can network without flying thousands of people around the globe? Who really needs to go on tour with an artist? Does a band really need a convoy of 25 articulated lorries to create a great show? There are so many ways that the industry can examine itself and find ways to adopt best practice. The greatest barrier to the music industry and to us all, however, is that governments are not doing enough to make radical change happen more quickly. Water points and single-use plastics bans at festivals and off-setting our carbon footprints are all well and good — and of course, essential — but it won’t stop the fossil fuel industry from destroying the Amazon rain forest (even though we already have the ability and technology to transfer to renewable energy sources) or a third runway from being built at Heathrow. Government action needs to happen NOW. The Music Industry can lobby and pressurise and speak to fans and audiences but until governments act on a global scale and treat this as the war-time style emergency that it is, we are all facing a very bleak future.
Can you describe your hopes for the organisation’s impact on wider society?
I think MDE has the potential to reach a lot of people very quickly through the artists and institutions that have signed the declaration. I think the movement will get bigger and more exciting and that we will engage a new generation of voters and climate activist to put the necessary pressure on governments.
What does it mean to sign up to Music Declares Emergency?
Signing up can mean what you want it to mean. It can be as little offering your name in support and committing to make, even small, operational and personal changes as an individual or as a company to help reduce your environmental impact, to working with us towards making a much wider impact. One of the labels who have signed up have made the decision to stop making physical product altogether for instance and we are hoping that many artists will join us in finding ways to create a strong and influential collective voice.
Any recommendations for helpful resources if people want to read more or seek advice?
www.juliesbicycle.com have lots of practical advice to offer, AIM have started a creative energy project offering a good-value sustainable energy partnership https://www.aim.org.uk/#/resources/join-the-creative-energy-project-for-good-value-renewable-energy
Sign the declaration at www.musicdeclares.net