In a lot of ways, the music supply industry hasn’t caught up to the zero-waste movement: most things you buy come packaged in plastic or have excessive packaging to protect fragile instruments. There’s also often overconsumption among musicians in the pursuit of always having the latest, shiniest new gadget.
Additionally, certain necessary parts of being a working musician, like frequent driving, don’t have obvious sustainable alternatives. Remember, it’s not about being perfect: it’s about doing your best. Place extra emphasis on your, since not all of the tips below may be accessible to everyone. Some people may be limited by financial restrictions, for musicians have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Other limitations may include ability, living situation, or access to technology. With that in mind, here are 7 ways to be a more eco-friendly musician.
1. Carpool or Take Public Transportation
If you’re lucky enough to have in-person gigs, it’s a good idea to take public transportation to the venue if your equipment allows for it (we’re looking at you, singers and horn players). Otherwise, carpooling is a good option for you gear-heavy folks for reducing your carbon footprint. Plus, it’s easier to find parking when there’s only one car to park! So invite as many of your friends that will fit in the car with you to see the show.
2. Ditch the Hard Copies
How many times have you been sent the “final” version of the sheet music, printed it out, and had it ready for rehearsal only to have the “FINAL final” version sent out the next day? If you can make the investment, using a tablet to read PDFs of music not only means you’ll always have the right version on hand, but it’s also music-stand-friendly and saves paper. If now is not the right time for you to invest in a tablet, consider saving old charts to practice with or reuse as a fun and recyclable alternative to wrapping paper.
3. Keep Your Gear Organized and Take Care of It
Taking good care of your gear is the best way to avoid buying replacements and backups that you don’t need. The most sustainable gear you can use is the gear you already have, so have fun with it and create an organization system to help you keep track of where everything is.
In a similar vein, find a way to store your inventory to help your gear last longer. Avoid storing wooden and metal items in wet or humid areas, or storing fragile items in high-traffic areas where they are likely to be knocked over or stepped on. Learn to wrap your cables correctly so they don’t get pulled or bend and prematurely break. Keep your gear clean with the appropriate cleaning tools and make repairs early on when possible.
4. Be intentional with Your Purchases
If you’re considering expanding your gear collection, think about if you really need the new item you’re seeking. Are you buying it because it’s shiny, new, and everyone else is buying one? Or are you buying it because it will serve as an essential tool in helping you make the kind of music you want to make? Being intentional with your acquisitions helps limit purchases to things you actually love and will use.
5. Buy Your Gear Secondhand
Every type of gear is different, but consider looking into secondhand gear for your next purchase. If you’re lucky enough to find gear that has been discontinued, it can be really interesting and give you a new sound quality to experiment with. This is especially true for woodwind and brass instruments, which were often made by true craft-masters. You can also find gear like pedals, cymbals, and cases that work just as well as their new counterparts for a significant discount.
You can find secondhand gear at your local brick and mortar music store. Craigslist is also a good resource: just be sure to meet up in public and examine your purchase before paying to avoid scams.
6. Unload your Unwanted Gear in a Local Trade-in Group
Have a lot of gear you don’t use anymore or gear that needs replacement parts? Check Facebook for a gear trade-in group. There, you’ll meet other musicians looking for your gently used gear or people who want your non-functioning gear for parts. It’s a great way to keep electronic waste out of the landfill and give functional gear a new life. Depending on the rules of the group and the condition of your gear, you may even be able to make a little money selling your gear in the group instead of simply trading.
Don’t have a gear trade-in group in your area yet? Start one! Get a small group of your musician friends to help you administer the group online and set group policies together. Then, spread the word.
7. Find your local e-waste drop off
For gear that is truly broken or unusable, the best way to dispose of it is through an electronic waste recycling program. Check your city/town’s Department of Sanitation or Department of Public Works website to see if there is a local e-waste recycling program. If not, Best Buy, Apple, and other retailers have drop-off programs that accept certain items.