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Get involved with Green Music Australia's Sound Country

Story Published Thursday 11 August 2022
Sound Country campaign from Green Music Australia - illustration by Stephanie Hughes

Green Music Australia works with musicians and the broader industry to create a greener, safer world.

They recently published Sound Country, a working guide is for musicians at all levels; from local pub acts to stadium rock tours.

We asked Green Music Australia CEO and Campaigner Berish Bilander about the guide and where to start within the music sector to make a difference.

Can you tell us a bit more about Sound Country and why Green Music published it?

There are so many ‘how to’ guides out there for event organisers wanting to go green, but very few written for musicians. We wanted to fill this gap.

So we teamed up with revered Bundjalung arts executive Rhoda Roberts AO and environmental expert Matt Wicking to produce Sound Country – a 60+ page sustainability handbook and interactive website that features the latest scientific evidence, local case studies and First Nations ideas and perspectives.

A working guide for musicians at all levels, from local choirs to stadium rock tours, Sound Country aims to connect and empower artists to take charge across all aspects of their careers, from involving their teams to incorporate more sustainable practices into their touring operations to becoming increasingly vocal ambassadors for change.

What does it mean to have a First Nations First approach?

A First Nations First approach is about actively educating yourself on the diversity of First Nations histories, ideas, worldviews and approaches. It’s about leading with care, commitment, humility, patience and a respect for self-determination. It’s recognising the nuance between and within First Nations communities, and accepting that some tasks aren’t for you (if you’re a non-Indigenous person). It’s valuing and employing First Peoples for their unique skills, knowledge and perspectives, and giving credit / paying them appropriately. It’s about making meaningful, informed ‘Acknowledgement of Countries’ when at shows and building relationships with Traditional Custodians. And it’s normalising First Nations leadership, so your fans get to hear and learn from a wealth of indigenous voices.

The Guide contains seven chapters on Going Green – can you give a tip or elaborate a bit on each?

  • First Nations First
    Raise First Nations work and voices – check out this epic list of First Nations artists and radio stations – and remember to Pay the Rent to Traditional Custodians - it’s a step up from acknowledging, and creates a tangible transfer of power.
  • Speaking Up
    Our cultural influence as musicians is our most powerful force. Use your platform to talk about current issues and events and model your care and commitment to the cause. When you lead by example you not only influence your fans, but your peers too. As you go, remember that none of us are perfect - we’re all part of these systems we’re trying to change.
  • Office & Studio
    Green your office & studio! It’s probably the space you spend most time in. Consider waste reduction techniques, energy-efficient appliances, LED lights and greener printing, plus investigate if you can install solar panels or buy renewable energy from the grid.
  • Waste
    Our precious resources are finite. The more we consume, the more we have to dig up and, ultimately, waste. First - do you really need it? If yes, then choose preloved over new. If you have to recycle, do it properly - soft plastics, clothes and electronics can all now be recycled through different systems across Australia. And don’t forget to compost your food scraps!
  • Transport
    Touring large distances in Australia is often unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reduce our impact. Plan smart by trip-linking gigs with other engagements like work meetings, minimise equipment transportation by hiring locally and wherever possible, opt for surface travel over flying. Also, audience travel is the biggest contributor to your show's footprint, so choose venues that are readily accessible by cycling, walking and public transport, and make sure to tell your fans. Or even better, incentivise them to use it.
  • Food
    Do you know where your food comes from and how it was made? To avoid nasty chemicals and unnecessary food miles, buy local, support regenerative farming practices and eat less meat. You don’t have to be perfect, either: by just replacing the carbon-heavy beef on your plate with organic chicken, you can cut your diet’s carbon footprint in half.
  • Fashion & Merch
    Fast fashion, synthetic (aka plastic) fibres and water-intensive production make most merchandise production highly unsustainable. Ask your provider to source products made from recycled materials or organic hemp / cotton (that means no harmful pesticides) that adopt fair trade working conditions.

New merch isn’t the only merch either. Try screen-printing new designs onto old, unsold merch or onto your fans’ tee shirts at gigs.

The Guide suggests “Rather than just cleaning up the mess at the end, go as far up the chain as you can.” What are some examples of this?

Switching from single use to reusables is one of the easiest ways to go upstream and avoid waste. This could be as simple as bringing your own water bottle on tour and making sure the venues you play at are equipped for refills (check out our BYOBottle campaign for more). The logical next step is to travel with a reusable coffee cup and purchase bulk food and take-out in reusable containers. Then of course, if we all communicate our waste wins (and challenges) with our fans, there’s huge potential to scale our impact.

Lost Lands Bottle Library (Photo: Green Music Australia)

Can you recommend how independent touring artists – with very tight budgets – can implement green changes to their operations?

While it’s true that some sustainability measures require deep pockets, going green doesn’t always have to cost the earth. In fact, when we think laterally, harnessing the same creativity we bring to our music making, we can often do a great deal with very little.

Take merchandise for example. Instead of purchasing new t-shirts, we could follow The 1975’s lead by re-printing over old stock or directly onto fans’ clothes, saving dollars and avoiding waste. Similarly with set design, what about swapping out virgin materials for reused and/or recycled components – there’s nothing cheaper or more evocative than trash turned to treasure. To tackle transport related emissions, focus on planning the most direct route, pooling by car/bus (where possible) and getting your fans out of their cars by booking accessible venues and incentivising cycling, walking or public transport.

What are some other ways music creators can go green in different settings e.g., rehearsal studios, recording studios, travel, business/office?

The electricity sector is the largest source of greenhouse emissions in Australia, so switching to renewables is essential. If you can’t install solar panels or batteries, go with a green electricity provider. Or, if you want to stay with your current provider, you can immediately switch to 100% renewable electricity by buying GreenPower™.

The other big thing you can do is divest your money from companies investing in fossil fuels: this means your bank, insurance company, super fund, healthcare provider and any investments you make.

If you want to step up your game, check out In Hearts Wake's carbon neutral album Kaliyuga. The band worked hard to reduce their impact and then offset the remaining 26.37 tonnes of CO2e through the purchase of carbon credits in the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor of Western Australia.

How can APRA AMCOS members help spread the word about the Guide and get others (artists, businesses, organisation) to get involved?

The best way you can help spread the word is by sharing Sound Country on your socials (here’s a tile and some suggested text) and emailing your team, a private music group or even three musos you know!