The climate crisis is a matter which cannot be ignored, from increasingly extreme global weather patterns to rising sea levels and the devastating wildfires of 2021. Additionally, long periods of introspection during national lockdowns have heightened the global consciousness on many topics, including long term sustainability and our planet. This heightened emotion is understandably shaking up the music and advertising industries alike; as we see artists, rightsholders and brands react to consumers’ increasing expectations by taking steps towards meaningful change, with varying degrees of success and authenticity.
Summer 2021 brought widespread and welcomed ‘reopening’ of markets, with ‘return to live’ being seen in many regions, albeit with various covid protocols and capacities. But what have we learnt from our time indoors and opening up once more? Are the new challengers to ‘physical live’, in the form of virtual talent and metaverse experiences, the genuine solution to building back better? And what are the opportunities for brands as the music industry adapts to a more sustainable focussed consumer landscape?
It’s no secret that the environmental burden live events have on the planet is extensive: from artists flying on private jets, shipping staging & backline, to widespread single-use plastics in venues and the energy required to bring events in arenas and stadiums to life. Artist’s efforts to combat this issue are nothing new, with ‘green touring’ pioneered by Neil Young and Bonnie Raitt decades ago. In addition, Maroon 5 pledged to make their tours more sustainable back in 2007 and now sit on the board of Reverb. This non-profit environmental organisation increasingly works with musicians to reduce the environmental impact of their tours. However, we have seen in recent years the hyper-rapid trajectory of sustainability issues in the global consumer consciousness and its ripple effects amongst the artist community, particularly amongst the younger generation.
Partnering with talent
Artists are increasingly feeling the responsibility and pressure to advocate and act for positive change. From Coldplay recently pledged that their 2022 world tour will cut Co2 emissions by 50% through a range of tactics, including kinetic dancefloors, to Camila Cabello unifying global talent to lobby industry execs around Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ agenda, the notion of artist integrity in the sphere of sustainability is fast becoming a defining feature of the modern music landscape. In the UK, Massive Attack’s self-funded report on carbon emissions puts pressure on the Government to bring entertainment emissions cuts into law. What’s safe to say is that sustainability is reaching the top of many artists’ agendas (at least externally) as they feel the increased scrutiny and expectation from their audiences. This gives brands with authentic sustainability credentials and ethos a solid hand when considering partnering with talent, especially those who are open to collaboratively making an impact in this space. Authenticity is essential; as with any cause-related brand activity, authentic commitment must be seen throughout the business versus being treated as a short-term marketing tool. Take, for example, the 2020 H&M x Billie Eilish sustainable merchandise line. Although H&M has made firm commitments to improving sustainable practices, this line still fell under criticism from some consumer groups for ‘green washing’, as a business that relies heavily on fast fashion.
However, talent-led, high-profile actions and commitments have not been made against a clean backdrop of progression in sustainability across live music events. Thinking back over the summer, we remember images of thousands of discarded tents, camping chairs and waste following high profile festivals such as Reading and Leeds. Although it cannot be said for all consumers, we learned that even within the much-touted environmentally conscious Gen Z demographic, sustainable actions aren’t always at the forefront of personal action or prioritised over convenience in an ‘opened’ world. We have also seen that many artists have fallen straight back into the pre-pandemic global touring mode to drive sorely missed revenue streams, even in the face of the known impact on the environment.
Bridging The Gap
It would be unfair to say that artists and rightsholders commitments in the space are just rhetoric tailored to appease audiences at the peak of global consciousness, as they often represent authentic beliefs. However, balancing the delivery of live experiences that consumers have desperately missed, whilst acting in a manner that doesn’t negatively impact the world we live in and remaining profitable for Artists, is a difficult task. Brands that want to work in this space have a clear opportunity to support consumers and the industry by bridging the gap between experience and sustainability, bringing expertise, resource, and budgets to a partnership to facilitate a more sustainable live experience.
Within a more sustainable live model, we cannot ignore the rapidly growing virtual world. In the form of digital-only or digital recreations of artists, virtual talent provides high levels of flexibility to generate hyper-relevant campaigns and experiences. Still, as they don’t need to be transported, this can remove the enormous environmental burden of flying artists and personnel across the globe. The explosion of virtual worlds and the metaverse into mainstream understanding is a slightly more complex phenomenon. At first glace it provides an opportunity to remove nearly all the real-life environmental implications of ‘physical’ live – though the technology is not yet advanced enough to make this comparable to live events. There are still environmental issues to consider, from the electricity used by gaming devices (which in 2020 was estimated to be the equivalent of 50 million cars or 34 terawatt-hours annually), to the power required to maintain servers and internet infrastructure. With this in mind, and as with the music industry, the gaming industry is increasingly shifting focus to sustainability. Brands with credentials in this space who are committed to change can be part of that movement.
Two Worlds Coexisting
As the world rapidly becomes two co-existing universes, there is environmental benefit in shifting live music experiences from the physical universe to the metaverse. So again, the opportunity is clear for brands to facilitate, resource, and finance these more sustainable live models of utilising the virtual talent and virtual worlds. However, ‘true live events’ are not likely to go anywhere anytime soon, nor would music consumers and fans want them to.
We’re already immersed in a period where these two worlds exist simultaneously, servicing audiences at different times and for other moments. As such, brands must achieve a degree of authenticity in both spheres, recognising the pivotal role they play in bringing meaningful, sustainable changes to live events and exploring the rich new avenues that virtual events represent.
The key takeout for brands.
- Your sustainability credentials & ethos are essential but compelling tools when working with artists.
- Consumers increasingly expect brands, rightsholders and artists to act in the sustainability space.
- There is a clear opportunity to support artists in the facilitation of a more sustainable live event model.
- That model can and increasingly will include virtual talent and metaverse experiences.
- There will always be a role for ‘physical’ live; therefore, taking action to create more sustainable live experiences, physical or virtual, should be genuinely authentic.
If you’d like to speak to Fuse about how your brand can play a meaningful and authentic role in gaming and entertainment – email us at [email protected] or drop us a line in the comments below.