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Our industry should be a global example of sustainability

Paradigm director and agent Tom Schroeder outlines why the live music business must buy into the sustainability agenda

14 Apr 2021

Tom Schroeder

We all need a break. I really need a break. The last 12 months have been testing in every facet of our lives and I cannot wait to be on holiday, in the sunshine and warmth, and later in the year, in the snow.

I can’t wait to escape London and the UK. I deserve it and I am sure you do too. And I am not going to feel guilty about that either.

I know air travel is bad for the environment, but I need to escape from time to time. Covid-19 has shown us all that we need to live our lives, as we just don’t know what is around the corner.

There’s a misconception that unless you live a perfect carbon-neutral life, you can’t be part of the debate

So, why am I starting an article about sustainability and climate change by saying this? Because there remains a misconception that unless you live a perfect carbon-neutral life, you can’t be part of the climate change debate, least of all part of the solution. And that just isn’t true. And I need you onboard.

Live touring and the movement of production and people around the globe – which is absolutely what I do for a living – is horribly damaging for the planet. We, as an industry (and I am talking the entire industry from touring to labels to broadcast, etc) are so far behind the rest of the world. We are about to start looking incredibly stupid – that is, unless we do something about it.

Saving the planet for our children and theirs should be adequate motivation for us all to get on with this but if it isn’t – and I really am not judgemental on this – then get motivated by the fact that live touring, in particular, is not ‘sustainable’ in its present form. We cannot continue touring as we have been pre-Covid. Here are some of the reasons why. All of them will turn our business upside down, much in the way that Covid has.

[Artists’] fanbases will not tolerate huge carbon consumption with complete disregard for the consequences

The artists. They are the bosses, and it is their decision how and when they tour. But their fanbases will not tolerate huge carbon consumption with complete disregard for the consequences. Personally, I believe that this applies to both young people as well as the older generation, who are now thinking about their grandkids and their legacy. As we all know, this will be directed at the acts themselves. Unless we address this, it will impact sales.

To give you a perspective on the power of the public on these matters – Greta Thunberg’s profile has risen from nothing to literally mobilising millions of kids with a tweet, over the course of just two years. So the length of a normal first album cycle…

We are a business, and what is totally clear is that even pre-Covid, every major government in the world was going to start taxing the shit out of anything that was destroying the world as we know it. Post-Covid, these governments are now skint and looking at where they can generate income. They will come knocking on our door at some point.

We can do something quickly, effectively and without destroying any of our business models

One of the biggest lessons I have learnt as an agent and business owner, is that it is easy to spot problems and failures, but much harder to work out and implement solutions. There are an awful lot of very clever people who can tell you how we are damaging the planet, and what the consequences are.

I would like to offer you some hope that we can do something quickly, effectively and without destroying any of our business models. Though let me reiterate, I don’t think any of our business models are ‘sustainable’ mid to long-term anyway.

Pre-Covid, I went around every major agency with a couple of my key managers. We discussed a system whereby all agents proposed to their managers that, at the point of confirming a show or tour, the show or tour would be offset.

Offsetting and the footprint of a show must be a discussion from those very important first shows

An industry-standard calculation on the cost of that offset, based on scale, location and method, with the subsequent financial contribution going to a centralised industry foundation, run by experts, is needed.

Tours that are carbon neutral are advertised as such, and this process becomes as routine as contracting/deposits/announcements/ticketing. What is enormously important is that this process works for every act – from the first headline tour up to the biggest bands in the world. This is completely achievable. Offsetting and the footprint of a show must be a discussion from those very important first shows right through to the final victory laps.

So we have a starting point where artists will be choosing to offset, and the industry as a whole supports them in doing this in the most effective way. From there, the work continues with venues refining their own impact, and promoters addressing the movement and consumption of the crowds coming to the shows. With this all as part of our DNA, the net casts wider, and labels will have to react to the agenda – artists will demand it.

Carbon positive, not neutrality, is, after all, the real goal

There are always exceptions, and I could happily list the major acts and events that are already tackling this head on. There is always scope for going above and beyond with what you are passionate about. Carbon positive, not neutrality, is, after all, the real goal. But artists have their individual passions too, and I have absolutely loved seeing the different initiatives and charities that our musicians and industry have backed.

The Green Agenda cannot and shouldn’t get in their way. We just need an industry-standard solution that respects artists own agendas, and makes it all work easily.

So, what happens now? Well, we have a bit of a reckoning as we head towards Earth Day on 22nd April. A charter of goals, a system of calculation and distribution, and resources to help people understand and improve their approaches. That is (almost) all ready to go. What it needs is the whole ecosystem to come together to make this change, but without the partisanship that has dogged the industry forever.

We should be a global example of how to do it, not behind the curve

Live music is now full of some truly visionary leaders – by far the best I have seen in my 20 years. But now is our time of reckoning on the biggest of topics. I am sorry to say that you are going to be bombarded over the next few years with headlines of ‘you thought Covid was bad, well just wait for climate change.’

Let’s get ahead of this and show the rest of the world how impressive we are as an industry – we have some of the best brains around, and one of the loudest voices as an industry. We should be a global example of how to do it, not behind the curve. I am not interested in personal agendas and promotion, oneupmanship, and posturing. This is a change we have no choice but to make, and it needs absolutely all of us to play our parts. Enjoy your holidays, we all deserve them.


Tom Schroeder is a director and agent at Paradigm Talent Agency