The True Cost of Live Music

Image Courtesy: Billboard

What would you give to see your favorite band in concert? How much would you cash out to see their songs performed live, rather than just played full blast on your car stereo? If you are a Beyoncé fan, her average ticket prices usually don’t dip below a hundred dollars The same goes for Chance the Rapper, the Weeknd, and Justin Bieber tickets. If you are trying to see Taylor Swift on her two date U.S. tour, I wish you the best of luck finding a ticket priced less than six hundred dollars, adding up to a whooping average of $3.50 per minute for a three-hour show. Cashing out the money to see your favorite artist is not budget friendly, yet music lovers across the globe accept this steep price tag on their entertainment, as fans continue to sell out stadium after stadium, night after night.

The financial burden of seeing a live show may not come as a surprise to you, but have you ever considered the environmental cost of our global music fanaticism? I surely hadn’t, until I read the news that Coldplay had decided to postpone touring their most recent album, Everyday Life, until they can find a way to make their shows not only carbon neutral, but “actively beneficial,” Lead singer Chris Martin told BBC news.

Martin’s Interview with BBC

In a video interview with BBC news, Martin shares, “We’ve done a lot of big tours at this point. How do we turn it around so it’s not so much taking as giving?” This environmentally conscious attitude toward the music industry is so uncommon, that it causes us to stop in our tracks and ask ourselves, what is the environmental impact of a world tour? How bad could it be? If I want to be a good steward of the environment, should it come at the cost of my Lizzo tickets?

According to the Green Touring Network, it may be worse than we imagined. The most recent measures conducted by Julie’s Bicycle, a London based creative Environmentalist charity, states that the live music industry produces approximately 446,436 US tons of greenhouse gas emission in the UK annually. Shockingly, the U.S. has no stats on the environmental impact of the music industry, so we will need to use our imagination to equate that to the music scene on our home turf. The same study found that per show, live stadium and arena tours emit approximately 28 US tons of greenhouse gas. When considering the total impact of merchandise, equipment, lights, concessions and travel for both musicians and fans, concerts begin to seem like an environmental nightmare.

This “claw” structure that U2 used in their 2009 tour is an example of an exponential environmental cost of touring. This massive structure required 120 trucks to shift it around. (BBC News) Image Courtesy: Getty Images

Although not a common stance, a handful of influential musicians are taking after Coldplay’s environmentally conscious attitude toward the harmful effects of touring. Five time Grammy winner, Billie Eilish is using her global platform to help champion environmental consciousness, recently announcing that her 2020 world tour would focus on being not only environmentally sustainable, but also educational. Eilish shared her vision on Jimmy Fallon saying, “There will be no plastic straws allowed, the fans are going to bring their own water bottles. There’s going to be recycled cans everywhere, because it’s like, if something’s recyclable – it doesn’t matter unless there’s a recycle bin.” In addition to the interview, she released an emotional call to action titled, “Our World is on Fire” now boasting 3.6 million views on Youtube.

Billie Eilish’s 3.6 Million Viewed Youtube Video

When researching this topic, I was reminded of Oliver’s post about the humanitarian and financial cost of the Nashville Soccer Club’s new stadium. He reached the conclusion that we as global consumers of entertainment are willing to give almost anything for the love of sports. I believe his sentiment is not only true, but applicable across multiple entertainment industries. When viewing the music industry through this lens, the price is steep. Live music is a highly cherished experience across the globe, and is considered the pinnacle of musical entertainment. It has the power to unite, and move us emotionally, but at what cost? How much longer will we continue to cash out money to see our favorite artists for a few hours at the cost of 28 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per show? In a world spiraling toward environmental demise with each day, these are the questions we will need to begin asking ourselves. What luxuries will we be willing to sacrifice for survival as we strive to save humanities only home? Time will only tell.

Shannon Flynn

3 thoughts on “The True Cost of Live Music

  1. Hi Shannon – interesting post! I remember seeing mixed reactions on Twitter to Coldplay’s announcement, and I found it really surprising that they hope to surpass carbon neutrality and be “actively beneficial” as you mentioned. It’s definitely a lofty goal, and the changes Chris Martin mentioned seem to align more with offsets for neutrality rather than active benefit. I’m curious as to how far along they are with developing solutions; if they come back empty-handed in a few years & end up going on an unsustainable tour, their claims of environmentalism will of course be severely undermined…

    Alternatively, I know some musicians choose to donate ticket sales to various organizations that champion sustainability, social justice, etc. One of my favorite musicians has a significantly smaller audience than big names like Coldplay, and she donated a dollar from every ticket sale to raise $25,000 for GRID Mid-Atlantic, which provides clean solar energy & solar jobs to underserved communities. (I’m sure that Coldplay & others who sell out 15,000+ capacity stadiums could easily raise even more.)

    These two courses of action make me wonder if people see one as a more “right” answer to addressing environmental concerns. Is it more productive to draw environmental awareness by completely ceasing tours until sustainable solutions are found, or is more awareness created by still touring but donating the proceeds toward environmental organizations?

    – Christina

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  2. Hello!

    You picked a really interesting topic and one that has so many moving parts that there isn’t one clear-cut solution.

    First — I think a lot of what you’re talking about is a symptom of audiences becoming increasingly dissatisfied with a more straightforward show. (This is especially true for female artists, but that’s a whole separate issue.) Concerts have increasingly become this massive spectacle, which is definitely fun, but at what cost? It’s things like U2’s “claw” or (as much as I loved them) Taylor Swift’s mechanical snakes which cause the most adverse environmental impact.

    On the point of Coldplay’s pledge, I found it intriguing if a bit disingenuous. After all, a group like Coldplay can afford to not tour for this reason and be fine economically and concerning exposure. But what about the artists who are just making it big? Their shows definitely aren’t producing the large-scale emissions that are the most concerning, but they’re the ones that need the revenue and exposure the most. In the age of streaming, it’s rare for artists to make money off of sales alone. If we push back against touring, are we getting rid of the space for artistic innovation from anyone who isn’t established and/or rich?

    It’s steps like Eilish’s which I think are the most reasonable and actionable, and I love seeing them implemented. Maggie Rogers did a similar thing on her tour with forgoing plastic straws and water bottles, providing reusable cups and branded aluminum water bottles instead. I think that’s where the future of the environmental intersection with live music lies.

    -Taylor

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  3. Hi Shannon,

    I think you make a great point that I hadn’t even considered. It’s truly disturbing how environmentally harmful just about everything we do is. I’m glad that the issue is gaining more awareness though, even (especially) in pop culture. I think it’s really necessary for celebrities to use their fame to raise awareness. Even then, though, I’m not sure we’re doing enough, given the magnitude of the problem. 
    Your post reminded me of the coronavirus travel ban—I wonder, what would happen if people cared about the climate crisis as much as they seem to about individual health? Because air travel itself contributes significantly to climate change, and perhaps in the longer term, anything we do would be just as deadly as any virus. (In fact, we read that one potential effect of climate change is the emergence of ancient viruses).

    – Teresa

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