New Directions in Music and Sustainability Research

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Culture & Creative Arts


In September 2015, leaders from around the world met in New York to formally agree the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, which are designed to underpin the UN's socio-political agenda for the next fifteen years (until 2030). "Sustainability" is a watchword of the early twenty-first century, with activists, academics, and politicians all struggling to balance the wide-ranging meanings and interpretations of "sustainability" to address the urgent economic, environmental, and humanitarian challenges facing the planet.

The arts and humanities have an important role to play in such debates, and the aim of this Leadership Fellow project is to imagine new ways of addressing current environmental challenges through the arts with a focus on the theme of music and sustainability. My first task is to compare and critique how, why, and to what effect such concepts as "sustainability," "ecology" and other environmental studies terminology are now being deployed across various sub-disciplines within music scholarship, with a view to encouraging interdisciplinary dialogue in this area. I will also examine how music professionals outside the academy navigate the challenge of environmental sustainability against challenges of the sustaining their livelihoods in the digital economy.

The project draws on a sociological model of sustainable behaviour change to explore three case study areas. First, it investigates music-making and music-listening technologies. I will use the history of drum kit as a lens to explore the growth of the musical instrument manufacturing industry, and develop the argument for an ecological turn in both musical instrument and music consumption research. Through participant-observation and interviews, I will then explore how members of the global DIY music "maker" movement addresses sustainable consumption of music technologies through building their own instruments and other music technologies. Both of these studies will shed light on the hidden costs of music - be they economic, social, labour, or environmental - and how they change.

Second, the project builds on previous collaborative AHRC research to develop an ecological approach to understanding live music, focusing on how organizers, artists, and audiences currently balance issues of economic and environmental sustainability across the British live music sector. I will work with stakeholders from relevant organizations in the live music sector to (a) assess the infrastructure and environmental consequences of live music in the UK and (b) foster an emerging community of practice across live music organizations that seeks to adopt environmentally sustainable production practices and encourage sustainable audience behaviours.

Third, the project will draw from new research into music and arts sustainability research to envision what a "green cultural policy" might look like. I will analyze approaches from existing cultural policies across the Global Greens (a network linking Green political parties from around the world) in relation to the cultural policies of other political parties within the UK, and create an account of the current state of green cultural policy - as well as recommendations for how it could fruitfully develop in future.

Finally, in addition to exploring new directions in music and sustainability research through the case studies above, I aim to build new links between music scholars and relevant wider networks across the arts and humanities (e.g. environment humanities, energy humanities, and petrocultural studies) with a view to enhancing the impact of arts and humanities research in sustainability development studies as a whole.

Planned Impact

I have deliberately structured my project according to Southerton et al's (2011; see also Visual Evidence 1) "Individual-Social-Material" model of sustainable behavioural change. I therefore aim to deliver impact across individual, social, and material contexts. Specific targets for impact are outlined below.

INDIVIDUAL CONTEXT: In addition to interrogating the sustainability of my professional practice as an academic with a view to creating impact within the academy, the fellowship allows me to consider my behaviours and practices as a musician, maker, and artist. I intend to develop a dialogue with other individual MUSICIANS, MAKERS, and ARTISTS about the balancing different types of sustainability in their professional practices. I will engage with MUSICIANS, and in particular the amateur and professional drumming community, via public engagement work relating to my research on the history of the drum kit at UK drum shows. I will engage other MAKERS via participation at maker faires as I exhibit my work and build connections with others operating in the DIY music maker movement. I will engage recording ARTISTS through both my research methods (interviews, participant observation) and my creative practice in partnership with Chemikal Underground Records and the wider DIY music scene in Scotland and beyond. Finally, I aim to engage AUDIENCES of the events and activities above, using my own work as a spark for general audiences to reflect on the sustainability of their own behaviours in their everyday lives.

SOCIAL / INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT: Through my prior collaborative work as part of the Live Music Exchange (, I have built up a working relationship with a range of REPRESENTATIVE BODIES FOR THE MUSIC INDUSTRIES including UK Music, the Musicians' Union, and the Music Venue Trust. In my recent "Fields of Green" project I have also built links with key ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS for the arts and cultural sector including A Greener Festival, Julie's Bicycle, and Creative Carbon Scotland. My fellowship research into the challenges of balancing economic and environmental sustainability within the live music sector will draw on the organizations above as research subjects; however, afterwards I will feed back my research findings to the above groups and continue to engage with them, with a particular focus on encouraging environmentally sustainable practices to be shared and implemented more widely across the live music sector (particularly outside of England). I will achieve this by working in close partnership with Creative Carbon Scotland, the leading Scottish charity in this area (see letter of support).

MATERIAL / POLICY CONTEXT: This fellowship allows me to continue to build on my track record of cultural policy research and impact. Having worked throughout 2015 consulting with a wide range of stakeholders to advise the refresh of the Scottish Green Party's cultural policy, I will expand the scope of that work by interviewing POLICYMAKERS across other Green parties via the Global Green network, (which has members in over 90 countries) and comparing their work against the cultural policies of other political parties. The aim of this strand of research is to gather data on emerging Green Cultural Policy and envision how environmental sustainability should be integrated into the heart of cultural policy. I will then disseminate my findings back not only to the Global Green network but also policymakers across other UK parties via the lobbying bodies mentioned under the "Social / Institutional" context section, with the overarching aim of encouraging green cultural policy irrespective of political party affiliation.
Description "Sustainability" is an incredibly slippery concept which has migrated from the field of sustainable development and infiltrated the discourse of arts and culture. As a result, the term is now much used (and sometimes abused) by academics, industry lobbying groups, and policymakers to make sense of the creative sector. This project investigated the relationship between music and sustainability in all its various connotations (e.g. economic, social, environmental), resulting in 11 research and public engagement outputs across the following themes:

Key output: Brennan M, (2020). The Environmental Sustainability of the Music Industries. Cultural Industries and the Environmental Crisis - New Approaches for Policy. (pp. 37-49).

This chapter discusses the environmental sustainability of the music industries. A world where music does not have an environmental impact is a world without music. I do not want a world without music, and it is not my intention to ruin one of life's great pleasures - the enjoyment of music - by pointing out its environmental impact. But music can be framed not just in terms of its value, but also its cost - including the whole range of production and consumption behaviours that those who participate in music often take for granted. This chapter therefore explores three key sectors of the music industries - recorded music, live music, and musical instruments - and considers them from the perspective of environmental sustainability and political ecology. It also offers a critique of the assumption that the growth of these industries is an unquestionable good.

Key output: Matt B, (2021). The Infrastructure and Environmental Consequences of Live Music. Audible Infrastructures - Music, Sound, Media. (pp. 117-134).

This chapter offers a backstage perspective on the physical and organizational structures of touring and concertgoing. In doing so, it addresses the global challenges of climate change and environmental sustainability through the lens of the live music sector, focusing on the UK as a case study. More specifically, the chapter investigates how actors in the live music industry-made up of artists, audiences, and organizers-perceive and address climate change and sustainability, one of the most urgent problems facing the wider global community. The chapter develops the concept of a "live music ecology," arguing that an ecological approach to live music draws attention to three other factors: (1) the materiality of the infrastructures and buildings in which live music happens; (2) the interdependence between the actors who identify themselves as operating within a music scene versus other nonmusic work spheres who have a significant impact on live music; and finally (3) the sustainability of live music culture, where all the factors above contribute to meet the needs of the present ecology "without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The underlying argument of this chapter is that the infrastructures at play in the production of live music are often directly at odds with the escapist ideology often found in live music performances as cultural events. Indeed, the chapter highlights some of the ideological contradictions embodied by concert spaces that style themselves as utopian and "green." Ultimately, it argues that we need more efficient and sustainable musical infrastructures, and that a crucial part of achieving that goal involves developing critical infrastructural imaginaries.

Key output: Brennan M, (2020). Kick It - A Social History of the Drum Kit. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The drum kit-the combination of kick drum, snare drum, and cymbals-has provided the pulse of popular music from before the dawn of jazz up to the present day pop charts. This book is the first social history of the instrument. It covers a broad range of themes, but in relation to this project it explores the political ecology of the instrument, documenting the materials used in its construction and dividing them into three overlapping historical eras grouped by the principal materials used to manufacture the drum kit as a product: (1) renewable materials (i.e., the wood and metal used in traditional acoustic drums and cymbals); (2) non-renewable plastics and e-waste (i.e., the electronic circuitry and synthetic materials used in electronic drum kits); and finally (3) data (used in drum replacement and augmentation software).

Key outputs:
Brennan M, Devine K. (2020). The cost of music. Popular Music,

Brennan M, Devine K. (2019). Music streaming has a far worse carbon footprint than the heyday of records and CDs - new findings.

Archibald P, Brennan M. (2019). Dataset: The economic cost of recorded music: findings, datasets, sources, and methods. .

Brennan M, O'Hara G. (2019). Video documentary: The cost of music.

Brennan M, Devine K, O'Hara G. (2019). Video essay: What is the environmental cost of recorded music?.

Brennan M, O'Hara G. (2019). Video essay: How Much Should We Pay Artists For Listening to Their Music?.

Brennan M, (2019). Artwork and interactive exhibit: SCI?FI?HI?FI.

Brennan, M, (2019). Public engagement zine: The Terrifying Miracle of Recorded Sound. Glasgow : University of Glasgow.

The above represent a portfolio of work the examines the relationship between the economic and environmental sustainability of recorded music. The findings are summarised in the Brennan and Devine (2020) article 'The cost of music', abstract below:

What is the cost of music in the so-called Anthropocene? We approach this question by focusing on the case of sound-recording formats. We consider the cost of recorded music through two overlapping lenses: economic cost, on the one hand, and environmental cost, on the other. The article begins by discussing how the price of records has changed from the late 19th to the 21st century and across the seven most economically significant playback formats: phonograph cylinder, gramophone disc, vinyl LP, cassette tape, compact disc, digital audio files on hard drive, and streaming from the cloud. Our case study territory is the United States, and we chart the gradual decline in the price of recorded music up to the present. We then examine the environmental and human costs of music by looking at what recordings are made out of, where those materials come from, and what happens to them when they are disposed of. Despite what rhetorics of digital dematerialisation tell us, we show that the labour conditions in the digital electronics and IT industries are as inhumane as ever, while the amount of greenhouse gases released by the US recording industry could actually be higher today than at the height of any previous format. We conclude by asking the obvious (but by no means straightforward) question: what are musicians and fans to do?
Exploitation Route The outcomes above will be relevant to users interested in the relationship between popular music, the music industries (e.g. recorded, live, instruments), and environmental sustainability.
Sectors Creative Economy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description BACKGROUND TO IMPACT: As part of his AHRC Leadership Fellowship on "New Directions in Music and Sustainability Research," Matt Brennan produced collaborative research with Dr Kyle Devine (University of Oslo) that compared the changing economic and environmental costs of recorded music across formats and over history from the time of the Edison wax cylinder up to the current era of streaming from the cloud. Using the USA as a case study, the research confirmed with quantitative and qualitative evidence to what degree the price consumers were willing to pay for purchasing a unit of recorded music (indicated as a percentage of average weekly salary) has gradually fallen. Over the same period, the research showed that even using the most conservative estimates, the carbon emissions produced by consuming recorded music have increased dramatically in the transition from the plastic era of recording formats (e.g. vinyl, cassette tape, compact disc) to the data era (downloads and streaming). Meanwhile, Brennan wrote and recorded an album of original music as a means to cross-publicise and maximise press coverage of his collaborative research findings. He engaged in a deep and sustained collaboration (over two years from 2017 to 2019) with both academic partners (electronics engineer Peter Reid and metalworker Mark Reynolds at University of Edinburgh) and non-academic partners (London-based phonography artist Aleks Kolkowski, Sheffield-based artisan Duncan Miller, Glasgow-based record label Chemikal Underground, and the environmental charity Creative Carbon Scotland) to release the album in the form of an interactive sculpture called the SCI?FI?HI?FI. Brennan designed and built the sculpture with Reid, Reynolds, Kolkowski, and Miller, which included pressing his own music onto new phonograph cylinders and gramophone discs that could be played be on antique devices. Brennan devised the release and distribution strategy for the album with Chemikal Underground (a leading Scottish independent label), and collaborated with Creative Carbon Scotland to produce and host the live launch event in 2019. Finally, Brennan engaged in a long-term collaboration (2017-2019) with non-academic filmmaker Graeme O'Hara to produce four short films - including one documenting the full two-year journey of the project - and a bespoke infographic communicating the above research for audiences outside of Scotland who were not able to attend the live event. The result was not just an album release, but a series of outputs aimed at a range of audiences discussing two key sustainability challenges for contemporary recording artists: the devaluation of the album as a commodity (and consequent difficulty in recouping labour costs) on the one hand, and the environmental waste produced in its dissemination (both on traditional and digital formats) on the other. IMPACT IN PROGRESS: The album was released on all major digital streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) via Chemikal Underground Records on 5 April 2019, accompanied by a joint authored press release and short essay for the Conversation website outlining the key findings of The Cost Of Music project, and a launch event for the SCI?FI?HI?FI the following week. All of these events were timed to coincide with the annual Record Store Day event in the UK and United States, which took place on 13 April 2019, so that their publication could fruitfully capitalize on any press interest around Record Store Day and the changing fates of recorded music and physical formats. The impact of the launch was much greater than expected. Within a few days Brennan and Devine's Conversation essay had been read more than 40,000 times, republished by media ranging from the Weather Network to Newsweek, and translated into Spanish, Japanese, and Indonesian. The press release was also picked up by the ABC, the BBC, the CBC, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Billboard, and a host of other media outlets. At the time of writing this application (12 November 2019), our Conversation article has been read over 56,000 times and is the third most read article (and ranked first in the College of Arts) published in 2019 by a staff member at University of Glasgow. Meanwhile, the four public engagement films - respectively titled "The Cost Of Music"; "How much should we pay artists for listening to their music?"; "What is the environmental cost of recorded music?"; and a lyric video for the song "Limbs and Bones" - accumulated over 25,000 views across Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube, while the live launch event in Glasgow was attended by over 150 people (Creative Carbon Scotland also produced a podcast of the event including audience responses explaining how the event changed their understanding of the relationship between the environment and everyday culture.) One of the video essays for this project, 'How much should we pay artists for listening to their music?', was shortlisted in the 'Best Research Film' category for the 2020 AHRC Research in Film Awards. The findings from another video essay, 'The cost of music', were heavily featured in a 7-minute Sky News feature during COP26:
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural