Sunday, November 25, 2007

So long, and thanks for all the fish...

Well, it's time again for another semester to come to an end. Actually, it's not just any semester, it's my final semester here at the UA. I have a lot to think about as I'm hurtled towards graduation at what seems like the speed of light, but I guess I can say a few words about green living, music, journalism, and college in general. Getting 15 blog posts out of music and the environment was...trying at times, but there's definitely some interesting stuff out there on the subject. For instance, I had no idea that my guitars were made out of rare woods that are going extinct, or that there was so much complexity on the issue of CD cases. When I started out with this blog, I wasn't sure there would be much more to it than sad hacks like Bono (sorry, I really don't like him) blathering on about saving the world from their soapboxes. However, I quickly found that there are many artists and other people who are doing their part to make and inspire real change when it comes to conservation, and that gave me a little hope in this crazy world of ours.

If there's any advice I can give to future Cat Scan students, it's to find and stick with something you're interested in and passionate about. As long as you can blog about it all semester, that is. Anyone who knows me knows that I love music and can't live without it. It's gotten me through some rough times in the last 4 1/2 years, and been the soundtrack to the good times, too. So, without further delay, here are the 10 bands/artists who have influenced and amazed me in the time that I've been in college (with links so that, hopefully, you can fall in love with them too):

1. Sleater-Kinney
2. Against Me!
3. Jawbreaker
4. Tegan & Sara
5. Mastodon
6. Bad Religion
7. Lemuria
8. Converge
9. The Clash
10. Hot Water Music

Even though I'd be the first to say that I've gotten a little sick of hearing about green issues and conservation over the past semester, it's only because of all the hard work that myself and my classmates have put into informing people about the different things that we can all do to help the Earth. I may joke around, but I'd be lying if I said that our treatment of the environment isn't one of the most important things facing our world right now. And if there's anything I've learned over the last few months, it's that even the smallest things can make a difference.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Biodiesel tour buses

One of the biggest trends in the eco-friendly music scene is going from concert to concert in your shiny new biodiesel-fueled tour bus. A short list of bands and artists who have biodiesel tour vehicles includes Jack Johnson, Bonnie Raitt, Gomez, Guster, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and KT Tunstall. For those who don't know, biodiesel is a form of alternative fuel that is made from vegetable oils, animal fats, and other natural byproducts. It's cheap, and can get upwards of 40 to 50 miles per gallon. Best of all, though, it does not release dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere. The best news for these artists is that it isn't difficult to convert a regular diesel vehicle to biodiesel (all you have to do is replace a fuel line filter). But how easy is it for the tour convoy to get between fueling stations?

Photo courtesy of

The map shows biodiesel fueling stations around the country. As you can see, it's pretty easy to get around the Midwest, as there is an abundance of sites there, but the number of stations gets a little thin once you get out west. Conceivably, this could affect tour routings and the number of cities that a band visits on tour. After all, they can't get very far without fuel. Now, this conversion is generally for more successful and, well, rich artists who can afford tour buses. Most bands don't have the benefit of a fleet of vehicles, and have to rely on the tried-and-true passenger van. So, until they create hybrid versions of 15-year-old Ford vans with loose fan belts, it looks like a lot of groups will be hung out to dry.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Brushfire Records

A while back, I did a post on green record labels, specifically Earthology Records. It seems that this kind of trend is starting to catch on. Brushfire Records was started in 2002 by singer/songwriter and college kid favorite Jack Johnson so he could produce soundtracks to surf films that he was creating. Since then, the label has expanded and signed such artists as G Love, Matt Costa, and Rogue Wave. While Brushfire may not go to the ecological extremes that Earthology Records does, they do donate 1% of their profits to the aptly-named One Percent for the Planet movement.

One Percent for the Planet links corporations and companies to non-profit environmental organizations to fund conservation projects around the world by encouraging those companies to donate, you guessed it, one percent of their profits. Currently there are more than 700 companies involved in the program giving to more than 1,500 non-profits on six continents. Brushfire Records also provides links to many different environmental causes, including a story about surfers protesting the killing of whales in Japan (Johnson is a surfer himself). With Brushfire and Earthology labels making an effort to go green, and Rick Rubin encouraging Columbia Records to engage in more eco-friendly habits, we could have a full-scale green movement in the record industry on our hands.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Talking the talk

In the last couple of years since the green movement has started gaining mainstream acceptance, we've had all kinds of musical artists climbing up on the soapbox to extol the virtues of greener living. Whether it's Bono giving his latest speech about saving the planet, or Sheryl Crow advocating more responsible toilet paper use, we've gotten used to hearing from celebrities and musicians about this kind of stuff. Some artists have even started implementing greener touring methods, such as using alternative fuels in their buses. But, if there's anything that I've learned from watching celebrities preach about causes, it's this: People don't like it. For many, a rich actor or rock star going on and on about world issues comes off as condescending. Even many political candidates are rejecting endorsements from celebrities because the attention they receive is often negative.

All that being said, why don't more bands and artists just sing about these issues instead? A nice catchy pop song or fist-pumping rock anthem about the planet would certainly be an easier pill for fans to swallow than another sermon given at a press conference. If you look at the kinds of bands that do things like play Live Earth or are the most vocal about conservation, it's hard to find any of them that actually write songs about the problems that they want to address. U2? Nope. Coldplay? Not really.

Sure, you might say that it would sound a little weird for bands to sing about how much they love trees and the outdoors, but if some bands can write appealing and insightful songs about politics, surely they can do the same about the environment. Maybe the key is to do it in unorthodox and creative ways. Take the song "Forest King" by the thrash metal band 3 Inches of Blood. The lyrics are about creatures of the forest that come to life and fight back against men who try to destroy their habitat. Sure, the idea may be a little silly, but can you think of a better way to send an Earth-friendly message to a bunch of surly metalheads? Some artists take a more straight-forward approach, like folk-rock artist Chuck Ragan, formerly of the now-reunited punk rock legends Hot Water Music. His song "It's What You Will" from the album Feast or Famine has the line "Mind the world that's dying, it isn't yours to kill." It's a nice sentiment about being kind to the Earth without beating the listener over the head with slogans and preaching.

So, before rock bands plan their next hyped up benefit concert or pet cause, maybe they should reconsider and figure out a way to get their message out in a more palatable way. After all, they are songwriters first and foremost, so what better way to get the word out?

Monday, October 29, 2007

CD vs. LP: Which is greener?

The website recently put together a list of 10 artists that are going green through different methods, whether it's using more eco-friendly tour vehicles, using recycled materials for CD packaging, or simply singing about and raising awareness of conservation issues. This got me thinking about the different music related things I own that would be considered green. I've blogged about CD cases before, and the different ways in which they are packaged, but I decided to take a closer look.

As you can see, I have a pretty good size CD collection (somewhere in the ballpark of 200 or so, but I haven't counted recently). After browsing through all of them, I could only find one that had any kind of recycled packaging: Potemkin City Limits by Propagandhi (the booklet is printed on 100% post-consumer, recycled paper). This wasn't too surprising, seeing as the Canadian punk band is very active in animal rights and environmental issues. After doing a little research, I discovered the type of plastic that CD cases are made from, polystyrene, is not recyclable, so all of those CDs, when they're thrown away, will just end up in a landfill somewhere. Whether or not you can recycle the paper booklets that come with the CD is a different story, and depends on the kind of paper that it is printed on.

But what about other musical mediums? I also own a few vinyl LPs, thanks to my recent purchase of a record player:

According to The Vinyl Institute, which deals with recycling vinyl products in all forms, anything made of vinyl can be recycled and reused. So, unlike CDs, records don't have to be thrown away. I recently made the decision to start purchasing most of my music in LP form. Not only are more artists (especially those on independent labels) releasing new albums in this tried-and-true format, but the sound quality is in some ways superior to CDs, and thanks to their larger size, LP sleeves often have more artwork and generally give a richer musical experience. Sometimes, they can even be cheaper than CDs. Plus, trying to find rare releases or all of your favorite albums in vinyl format can be a fun challenge for any music collector. So, before you dismiss the vinyl resurgence as just another hipster fad, think about the ways that this versatile format can help the planet.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Something for the kids

It's like the old saying goes: the children are our future, unless we stop them now. Okay, so that's not exactly how it goes, but it is true that kids today are growing up hearing about global warming and environmentalism, so it's important that they are educated about the planet as much as possible. Well, that learning doesn't have to come in the form of stuffy documentaries by Al Gore, it can be fun!

Photo courtesy of the Banana Slug String Band website

Case in point: the Banana Slug String Band. They're a band made up of teachers and musicians from Santa Cruz, California who play children's music and encourage learning about the environment, nature, and science. They also use interactive demonstrations to get kids interested in learning about the world around them. Think Raffi crossed with Sesame Street. They've released several CDs of music, and have won many children's music awards. You can even schedule them to give workshops and perform at your school. In addition, they support organic farms and other Earth-friendly resources. To check out some of their music, you can listen to a clip of the song "Singing to the Moon," and you can find more clips on their ordering page.

Sure, it may sound kind of silly to us, but anyone who has children or younger siblings will tell you that kids love colorful characters and fun songs and really embrace that kind of learning. Even those of us who are older can maybe take a break from reading all the gloomy warnings about global catastrophe and have fun singing along to a song about a moose.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A follow-up on guitars and the environment

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the effect that guitars and guitar making can have on the environment, due to their use of exotic woods. It turns out that this is a much more widespread problem than I previously thought. Greenpeace has launched the Music Wood Campaign, which seeks to find alternatives to using exotic woods in instrument making and also to educate people on where the materials that make their instruments come from. According to a Kansas City Star article posted on the website, instrument makers have had to either find different woods to create their instruments, or drastically raise prices to reflect the scarcity of the materials.

For instance, Martin acoustic guitars made of Rosewood may have cost $600-$800 3o years ago, but now go for an astronomical $10,000-$12,000, well out of the price range of the average guitar player. Also in danger is the Sitka Spruce, which is used in a variety of instruments. The species itself is not endangered, but there are fewer and fewer trees of the right age and size to make good instruments. Manufacturers have turned to cheaper, more available species of wood to use, but at the cost of changing the tone and character of the instrument.

This can be seen as a microcosm of conservation in general. As we use up more and more of the planet's resources, we find that the things that we took for granted are simply not there anymore, and we are forced to find inferior alternatives. Every guitar player and musician deserves to get the finest sound quality available when they play, but that won't be possible unless we take greater care of our resources.