Eco Tunes

How does the music industry fare on its ecological footprint?

By Edmund Wee        12 March 2020

From buying CDs and streaming music to partying at multiple-stage music festivals with big-ticket prices, much of the media spotlight has been cast on the carbon footprint of music fans.

In today’s milieu that calls urgently for sustainable development, how do the professionals in the music industry stack up in terms of their ecological footprint?

Associate Professor Chan Tze Law (Vice Dean, Professional Integration) of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST) at the National University of Singapore believes that the music business is already making good headway on sustainability.

He says: “The industry is already aligned with the environmentally friendly movement. Some actions include the management of waste at large music gatherings and limiting of the use of plastics.”

Indeed, a good example was the “Rock the World – Save the Planet” concert held in Dubai last November. Organised by Neutral Fuels, a company that converts waste into biofuel, the concert had “net-zero emissions” and was powered entirely through net-zero biofuel, waste recycling and carbon offsets, among others.

The music industry is also looking at additional ways of being more sustainable, adds Teo Shao Ming, who performs with the Singapore Armed Forces Band: “Catering for transportation to concert venues may be one effective way to curb carbon emission. Another is having organisers source for eco-friendly merchandise. This is also a great way to promote eco-friendly products such as organic cotton items and reusable bottles.”

But more can be done by the industry, adds Prof Chan. “Much more research is required to address issues such as the environmental impact during music performances, the location of these performances and how people reach them, as well as the energy use of music technology and reproduction,” he says. “This is a challenging one. There are no easy answers.”

NSman takes a look at some ways that the music industry is tackling the sustainability challenge.

Eco-friendly festivals

To reduce pollution and waste, organisers of music festivals are coming up with more innovative eco-friendly initiatives. For instance, Coachella will add new water refill stations for partygoers to reuse water bottles and set up dedicated “energy playgrounds” for guests to recharge their mobile phones. Glastonbury Festival has banned the sale of single-use plastic drink bottles, while South by Southwest, commonly known as SXSW, currently produces all its standing signs on a 100 percent recyclable material.

Less touring

Concerts can incur an enormous carbon footprint, according to a concert touring study done by German sustainability organisation Green Touring Network. The study added that carbon emissions from music touring are mostly from the transportation of musician/band and audiences, as well as sound and lighting effects.

Aptly, in a bid to tackle such emissions, British band Coldplay recently announced that it will not embark on a world tour to promote its newest album, all in the name of saving the planet.


Digitisation of products has gone mainstream, and it is no exception for the music industry, especially for music professionals. Traditionally, musicians who perform at classical concerts had to rely on printed music scores, which they have to purchase.

Prof Chan observes that in a bid for classical musicians to be more environmentally friendly, there has been a “gradual move away from printed music scores”. Teo concurs: “Right now, many musicians are moving towards music scores that are in digital format, such as e-scores and others music application that are available for download.”

Teo Shao Ming says that the digitisation of concert collaterals helps to reduce unnecessary paper wastage.

Eco-friendly instruments

From guitars and drums to violins, the sustainable sourcing of musical instruments is becoming increasingly more important for eco-conscious music professionals. Teo, a flutist, provides an example: “Woodwind instruments makers are exploring different types of materials such as plastic and carbon fibre in order to meet demand. Traditionally, a woodwind instrument cannot function without reed, which is perishable. But in recent years, some companies managed to produce instruments made of synthetic reed, which are of the same quality as those made from reed.” YST will soon offer Skillsfuture-supported courses for individuals who wish to further their musical training. More details are available at