The following MBW op/ed comes from Mike Smith, Global President of Downtown Music Publishing. Here, Smith introduces EarthPercent, a new music industry-affiliated charity founded by Brian Eno that is asking music-related companies to donate a small percentage of their annual income, which will then be directed to the “most impactful organizations dealing with climate change”
In my time in music, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a host of artists who share one crucial thing in common; their art reflects, comments, and critiques the world around them. As a believer in the power of music to change the world, it’s no surprise that I have been repeatedly drawn to such artists.
It’s a belief that was begun when The Clash and 2-Tone showed a different world to a kid in white, suburban Liverpool, was reinforced by teenage years in St Paul’s, Bristol, discovering reggae at the carnival, and cemented in the mid-80s by the words of NME journalists and the pro vegetarian, anti-monarchist Smiths in their pomp.
It’s a belief that has stayed with me throughout my adult life, reinforced by the impact and success of Rock Against Racism, Live Aid, Free Tibet and Warchild and by working with contemporary social chroniclers like Stormzy, Skepta and Dave.
As someone who has worked within the UK music industry my entire adult life, I am also a believer in our industry as an innovator. We may have been the first to feel the force of the new digital economy, but we were also the first to tackle the problem and create solutions. Harnessing that reservoir of talent and economic power to tackle the big social issues is something that we have done and must continue to do.
Like all right-minded people, I am concerned about the state of the climate and our environment. I believe we are at risk of fundamentally impacting the viability of human life on earth within a century if we do not take swift and comprehensive action.
Currently, less than 2% of global philanthropic funding is dedicated to addressing climate change, not nearly enough to meet the scale of the global challenge. Given that any other charity initiative is, by definition, ultimately futile unless climate breakdown is addressed, this motivated me to look for ways in which music could change that dynamic.
Working in an industry that I knew had impacted on that situation through touring, marketing, and distribution increased that desire to take positive action.
What stopped me was the complexity. A myriad of options, a menu of actions. Deciding where funding could and should be targeted, being clear what funding would enable, and what outcomes it would create, were uncertain.
The work of Julie’s Bicycle for over a decade demonstrated that there was real change happening in the wider cultural sector and the music industry specifically and the launch of Music Declares Emergency in 2019 underlined that many of my colleagues and contemporaries shared both my view that we needed to be a part of this and my desire that we step forward but how we did that was still uncertain in my mind.
So, when Lizzie Payne-James introduced me to the concept of EarthPercent, a charity founded by Brian Eno and designed specifically to engage the music industry in funding climate charities, I was keen to be involved.
The basic concept was that EarthPercent would include Planet Earth as a stakeholder in the music industry. It wasn’t a difficult decision to come onboard with the project as a trustee.
“The music business faces a business reality. With governments committing to net zero targets enshrined in law across the world, innovation of our practices to achieve reductions in emissions is a necessity.”
EarthPercent believes philanthropy – through its power to take risks, be disruptive, test ideas and scale solutions – can play an important role in accelerating change and realising our vision, particularly through collaboration with like-minded allies in the music industry, climate movement, science community, government, and civil society. That belief chimed with my view of the music industry, the risk taking, the disruption, the continuous flow of new ideas and my deeply held belief that we needed to work collaboratively with other sectors to achieve real progress.
With a board that included friends and contemporaries from music like Alison Donald, Jamie Oborne and Pete Tong it was clear that EarthPercent understood the music industry.
With scientific experts and advisers that included such names as Professor Brian Cox, Dr Tamsin Edwards of King’s College London (lead author on the 6th IPCC report), and Dr Saleemul Huq – Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, it was clear that they understood the science.
By creating a simple funding mechanism that allowed businesses to assign a small percentage of their income to climate charities as third parties in their systems it was clear that they were proposing a solution that was efficient and effective.
EarthPercent offered the correct solutions.
The simple donation system ensured that these revenues would form a fund that would be directed to the most effective and impactful programmes as assessed by this amazing brain’s trust. It offered long term stability of funding to those like Music Declares Emergency, Julie’s Bicycle and others which would allow them to plan their work and focus on achieving results.
But, EarthPercent offered more than just an opportunity for the music industry to support worthy causes, however positive the outcomes.
The music business faces a business reality. With governments committing to net zero targets enshrined in law across the world, innovation of our practices to achieve reductions in emissions is a necessity. Here in the UK, we have a net zero full stop of 2050. Solutions and strategies to achieve this are now a necessity for us all. The charities funded by EarthPercent will not act merely to salve our conscience that we are ‘doing something’.
They will actively progress knowledge and understanding of how we all get there. Julie’s Bicycle’s work in the field has already done much to assess and address carbon emissions, Music Declares Emergency acts to bring music businesses and artists together to share knowledge and innovate solutions to everything from manufacture, packaging, distribution, and merchandise to touring, event power and audience impacts.
We also face a moral reality. The music business is a global business, and, in the age of streaming, increasingly the stars of the present and future are not defined by territory. The climate emergency is a global emergency. Its impacts are already being felt in catastrophic terms by those in the Global South and across Australia and the USA.
Reports here in the UK on the viability of topsoil, essential to continued food production, make gloomy reading and the possibility of further global pandemics driven by environmental destruction and degradation are no longer the preserve of science fiction. For the music industry to play a leading role in responding to that, the greatest challenge humanity faces chimes with my belief in music and in our industry.
We can, and we will, change the world again, as we have done before, and act as the standard bearers for a green economy that both entertains and preserves the things we love and value. As the music industry comes together with Music Declares Emergency to ‘Turn Up The Volume’ this week, EarthPercent offers an immediate and effective way for the industry to play a full role in the response to the climate emergency.Music Business Worldwide