Lucy Daley in Conversation with Lewis Jamieson, co-founder of Music Declares Emergency

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Last year saw the pause button pressed on life, slowing down all human activity which gave us a brief glimpse of a world with a smaller human footprint. Wildlife roamed city streets, the number of flights halved and the roads were clear of cars but despite the last twelve months feeling like an eternity, it has been far too short a period to have any positive lasting effects on the environment. 

Now with the PM’s plans laid out, life will slowly but surely return to ‘normal’. Finally seeing the return of live music with gigs, festivals and tours filling up our summers. But can and should the music industry be resuming business as usual?

I spoke with Lewis Jamieson, co-founder and communications director at Music Declares Emergency to see what changes the music industry should be making to become more green and what Music Declares Emergency are doing to ensure that. 

Music Declares Emergency is an organisation that was collectively created in 2019 by like-minded individuals that, according to Jamieson, felt the music industry needed to “speak with one voice on their commitments to action”. Their idea was “to build a narrative that the music industry was pioneering change because [they] felt that was [already] happening”. As director of communications, he speaks on behalf of Music Declares Emergency explaining “the principle of that action would be two-fold. One; for the industry to commit to actually changing business practice to increase sustainability, reduce carbon emissions and pioneer new green business strategy”. “The other side of it was to encourage artists who individually had been speaking out about climate, some very notably, to feel like they were part of a community that was taking action. So to increase the voice of all artist, across all sectors of music, all genres of music so that there was a feeling of community.”

With founders of Music Declares Emergency coming together from other organisations such as Extinction Rebellion and Culture Declares Emergency and others who were just concerned with the sustainability of the music industry, Jamieson says they “all came with the guiding principle that music had always been a pioneer of social change. Rock n roll gave us teenagers, Elvis gave us sexuality, … [the] Vietnam war, racism, gender politics, sexual politics, music [has] always been there”. 

Now with over 4000 declarers, they have “successfully identified a desire in the artist world and in the industry world” and are launching groups in France, Germany, Sweden, Chile and Canada. 

What Lewis made clear though is that Music Declares Emergency can not single-handedly save the world but that they offer a platform/hub for people within the music industry to collect and combine their voices to influence the public and incite governmental action.

When asked about what artists could be doing to become part of the movement, Jamieson expressed it is dependant on where that artist is in their career. 

We, as consumers, need to be willing to pay a higher price for merchandise that is produced ethically and environmentally friendly

“If you’re an artist that’s signed to a label or produces physical product, the first thing you can do is look at what you’re producing. If you’re producing vinyl, there [is] a tendency to print on 180gsm. We all love very thick vinyl, it makes us feel, because of the price of vinyl, like we’ve got something that’s really valuable. The truth of the matter is though, you can drop it to 140gsm and there’s no difference in terms of sound quality”. “What are we wrapping that vinyl in…get rid of the shrink wrap… that is a literal definition of a single-use plastic”. Stop and think seems to be fundamental to this process of change; being conscious and aware of how you’re creating and selling your product are small but impactful actions.

Lewis explained that it is not just the job of the artist to implement this but as a fan your relationship to product needs to change. We, as consumers, need to be willing to pay a higher price for merchandise that is produced ethically and environmentally friendly. Music Declares Emergency set a great example as their “t-shirts are made by a company called Tee Mill… [they use] solar power, wind power, it’s all renewable energy. The t-shirts are printed to order, there’s no overstock. The cotton used is sourced and certified, the water reduction is as much as they can get it to make the cotton, the inks are non-polluting and when you’re finished wearing the t-shirt you can bring it back to them, they’ll shred it and put it back in the process.” Find your size here

The more artists push through this door, the more change will come

Musicians can also think about the products they’re consuming; “look at your riders…obvious things, meat, dairy, etc. and there’s advice on [the Music Declares Emergency website] about green riders via Julies Bicycle”. “Look at the wider rider within the venue, try to coach them not to use single-use plastics, try and encourage them to find ways to be more aware”. Jamieson encouraged artists to seek out venues that are consciously making an effort to reduce waste and be more eco-savvy.  “The more artists push through this door, the more change will come”. He reiterates the importance of community and collaboration between artists and between audiences, “it all comes down to the audience… if the audience are on board then they will accept paying a £1 deposit in a cup that they keep all night”. 

think about the other things you might be able to convince the company to do, ask them about what their sustainability policies are if you’re in a position to do that

For artists who are yet to be signed or looking for management Lewis points out that you are in a position to “think about what you want from that…think about the other things you might be able to convince the company to do, ask them about what their sustainability policies are if you’re in a position to do that. Use your power, when you have the power”. 

An unsigned artist is less likely to be touring and be producing large amounts of merch therefore do not have the same environmental impact as signed artists. However, doing simple things like encouraging fans to car share to your gigs or creating merchandise to order are all things that reduce the music industry’s footprint but more importantly they engage the audience in the conversation about climate. During our interview this seemed to be the most important idea according to Lewis, other than getting rid of jewel CD cases. His contempt for jewel cases is unparalleled; “jewel cases are evil, end of story . They are non-recyclable plastic muck”.

More profound advice he gave is that “the most powerful thing artists can do is to engage with the issues and use their art, however big they are, whether they’re playing the Brudenell or whether they’re playing the Royal Park whether that still exists… or they’re playing the O2”. What Music Declares Emergency does is provides a platform for artists to be “starting conversations, bringing people in”. That’s when Jamieson believes “we’ll be in a place where it’s achievable”. 

Small but collective actions seem to be the way forward but what about the bigger issues like touring? How do artists and labels tackle that? When I put these questions to Lewis, he believes touring is “the biggest challenge for the industry”. This is an area that he feels the government need to assist on to help offer alternatives like providing bursaries, funding and incentive schemes.

there needs to be a business model that works, nobody is going to benefit from crippling themselves financially in order to virtuously tour because there will just be no touring

Music Declares Emergency are in talks “with some people from an electric vehicle solution for touring. In terms of electric sleeper buses there are companies developing these… obviously new technology is expensive and this is where the government comes in… there needs to be a business model that works, nobody is going to benefit from crippling themselves financially in order to virtuously tour because there will just be no touring.” Stopping touring all together is not a viable solution as, other than touring being an essential income to artists, what Lewis points out is that “when artists don’t tour and they play domestic shows, the audience comes to them… instead of moving a crew of 20 around you move an audience of thousands”. There needs to be a compromise, an equilibrium reached between accessibility and sustainability. 

What Lewis suggests musicians can currently do while touring is “look at their riders, they can make them as green as possible. They can look at their back line, they can look at the way they source their instruments, they can look at the size of their touring party and make sure it’s no bigger than it needs to be… but beyond that what can they do?” A question not asked only by Lewis Jamieson but the whole of the music industry. 

Other organisations such as Julies Bicycle, Festival Republic, Ecolibrium and Moving Arts that work alongside Music Declares Emergency are all great resources available to artists, managers, fans etc. to help strengthen the voice of this community and create some serious change. Lewis feels that “every voice saying what they want and why they want it is what we need this year”. But after a year without live music, I imagine fans are eager to book in as many gigs as possible, artists to put on as many gigs as possible almost to make up for last time. I asked Lewis whether he thinks this desire to get back to gigs will take priority over making the music industry more sustainable? 

“The experience we’ve all had has almost created two opposing desires, [it has] created an awareness for the immediate reality of the environment we live in…[but] there’s that interesting opposition of where we can find this sweet spot between those two. I think there is a balance, any solution to the climate crisis is going to have to be based on a balance. People do not want to throw away everything about modern life in order to save their lives conversely we can’t keep everything about modern life if we want to save our lives so we’re going to have to find a new way out”. There is nothing idealistic about Lewis’ or Music Declares Emergency’s outlook towards the climate emergency, every concept discussed and recommendation made by Jamieson are well thought through and achievable. What resonated throughout our conversation was the importance of one collective, powerful voice to make this change a reality. 

Head over to Music Declares Emergency to see how these words of advice are put into practice.

We’ve been following MDE since 2019, check out this video from their first march as an organisation from 2019, filmed by Becca Cribb and James Ward.

Climate Crisis Features