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How To Integrate Sustainability And Activism Into An Indie Music Career

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(Hypebot) — Independent musicians Ayoni and Malin Pettersen talk about their experiences and tips on leading a sustainable and involved music career.

by Meredith Nadeau from The Orchard’s Daily Rind

The Orchard team recently attended the SXSW Panel titled “How Do You Talk To Your Audience About Climate?” Speakers included two of our distributed artists, Ayoni (self-released), and Malin Pettersen (Jansen Records) as well as Bad Activist Collective’s Tori Tsui and Julia Gentner. The conversation was not your typical, tips and tricks for going green. Instead, this group of changemakers talk about just that, how to influence change.

The conversation was honest and powerful. Topics also covered the unfortunate hurdles that often discourage public figures from taking a stand and speaking their truth. What if you’re not in a financial position to spend more on eco-friendly options? As a woman, or a member of the Black or other underrepresented community, how do you convey your point without the harmful effects of prejudice? How do you make people care across political spectrums?

“Do what you can.”

The answer to all those questions: Do what you can. If you can afford to have your merch made from recycled materials, do it. If you can sing about social justice and just maybe have a few folks see a new perspective, sing it. If you have a following who can donate or sign petitions, spread the word.

Activism is NOT one size fits all. As Ayoni stated in her discussion it’s important to, “Just be yourself and find what feels authentic to you. It can be really easy to overthink your way into inaction.”

For those who fear negative feedback, Malin Pettersen gives helpful advice, stating, “I think the good you can do by using your voice outweighs the followers/audience that might not like the message. You might lose some, but you will also gain some. And the more engaged you are you will also gain engaged followers!”

So if you’re passionate about a cause, take it one step at a time. Activism can take on many forms and small steps can be made throughout every piece of the creative process. For example:

Writing Music

  • Lyrics/message
  • Studio time – consider those traveling to and from the studio, the plastic, goods or electricity wasted on site

Tour

  • Offering merch booth spaces to local organizations throughout tour
  • Asking fans to bring empty reusable water bottles to shows rather than buying plastic. Ask the venue to provide free water refills.
  • Hire local talent when possible, rather than flying crews long distances

Merch

  • Donate a percentage of merch sales or sales from one specific limited edition item to an organization. This could even help incentivise sales.
  • Look into creating merch from recycled materials

Marketing/Promotion

  • Consider music video crews that are local
  • Participate in panels, in-person or online, to advocate for positive change
  • Amplify other artists, activists, organizations or brands that are doing great things

Finally, ask questions. Ask publicists, venues, festivals, studios, merchandisers, marketers, how you can incorporate climate justice into your plans. Better yet, build a team with passions that align with your own.

As musicians, a major strength can be invoking empathy. Artists like Ayoni, find inspiration in activism and feel it is nearly impossible to separate your opinions and truth from your art. In a further conversation with Ayoni, she states how her favorite platform for activism is via music and meaningful conversation:


“I appreciate being able to write stories about the issues that make living a healthy life less possible for me. I think humans long to feel connected and understood and sometimes storytelling is a powerful way to connect to others. Beyond my personal contributions to my artistic universe I also think participating in conversations and community is important. Coming out of the pandemic I’ve been isolated for an extended period of time, so I’m feeling the loss of community more than ever. Being able to meet others that challenge and expand my worldview makes me a more responsible global citizen.”

AYONI

Another major takeaway from the conversation was to know your options. Educating yourself and being aware of alternatives can make it much easier to ask those important questions. While the default of many institutions is ‘affordable’ there could be alternatives that are better for the environment and still don’t break the bank.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Follow other activists on social platforms
  • Engage with friends, artists and other activists to ask questions and learn from one another
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses and make space for others whenever necessary (be sure to fact check before sharing)

In conversation with SXSW, Malin mentioned that one could simply ask a vendor for eco-friendly fabrics for an event.

“Ask questions. There is nothing wrong with pushing venues, artists, festivals etc towards more climate friendly solutions. Do a little research so you know what information you can share with the different stockholders so you’re not just pushing empty critique.”

Malin Pettersen

Another fascinating fact referenced in the conversation was related to questioning sources and even language. For example, Tori mentioned that the language around “carbon emissions” was coined by big oil companies to pivot the conversation away from gas and oil, to “carbon.”

To reiterate points from both Ayoni and Malin, it is important not to get overwhelmed to the point of inaction and don’t aim for perfection.Instead, do what you can and take it one step at a time. Build community around the things that matter most to you and engage in communities you want to be a part of. The more of us that are aware of our options, question the norm, and request change, the greater an impact we can make.

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