America’s first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970 protesting the degradation and pollution of our planet’s air and water after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Silent Spring detailed the effects of pollutants, chemicals and pesticides on the environment in the U.S . It marked the beginning of an environmental movement still happening today.
Singer-Songwriter’s of the 60’s and 70’s flocked to using environmental values as the main themes in their music. Musicians like Neil Young, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell used their music to spread concerns about the state of the environment, and how the public was treating the planet. Music has been agent for change and advocacy throughout history. In itself, music is a form of strategic communication.
Music uses elements of public relations and other communication skills to relay a certain message to a wider audience. Song lyrics are crafted with the intent of spreading a message in a unique and memorable way. Using message structure and association techniques, similar to what brands use when constructing key messages, artists are able to strategically communicate their opinions, beliefs, or ideas in song. In music videos, this is combined with an authentic and high quality performance that enhances their idea. The performance and the use of visual representation of their lyrics further brings their point home. Music is an honest, open and creative form of strategic communication that can be more effective for their targeted audience.
The music revolution for the environment has continued long past the 60’s. In 1979, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt helped organize Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), which presented multiple concerts in Madison Square Garden featuring some of the major musical stars of the day, including Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Crosby Stills and Nash and the Doobie brothers. Others collaborated on a CD against fracking, titled “Buy This Fracking Album”.
In recent decades, other artists have used this progressive folk model to continue creating songs of protest. Now, in the 2000’s artists are doing more than just writing music for activism. Musicians like Jack Johnson, The Dave Matthews Band, Coldplay, and Green Day try to reduce their carbon foot-print while touring and producing music. In addition, they play at concerts advocating to protect the planet and partner with non-profit organizations to make their environmental efforts go further. Jack Johnson’s studio, Brushfire Records, is an entirely sustainable building. The roof is comprised of solar panels and the entire building is insulated with blue jeans. His CDs are composed of primarily recycled paper.
As an aspiring professional communicator, when I see the use of music as a strategic communication technique with action that backs up the message in their music, I can’t help but smile. While these artists must have a great PR team behind them, they’re staying authentic and true to their values and making a difference in the state of the planet.
If Jack Johnson has time to make music, go on tours, and help the environment, then so do you.