What are the most frequent topics in the music you listen to?
Regardless of your go-to genre, I bet heartbreak, relationships in general, and some kind of loss make the list. After all, they are all universal topics that pretty much anybody in the world can relate to at any given point in time.
What worries me is that another current topic vital to the survival of humanity makes up only a small percentage of contemporary musical compositions. Sadly, I’m referring to climate change.
At the 2018 ARIAs, singer-songwriter Montaigne made headlines despite not having been nominated for any awards. And it wasn’t because of her fashion choices for the evening, even though she sported an interesting pale pink frock with tulle and colourful feathers.
It was because of her political statement. The artist chose to wear a #stopadani inscription on her cheeks. Her aim was to draw attention to the environmental issues caused by the construction of the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. And it wasn’t the first time she boldly made a point about her views at the ARIAs.
Montaigne is very vocal about the environment, quite literally. Apart from manifesting her activism at public engagements, she sings about it and uses her platform to advocate for climate conservation. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she became the First Ambassador of the newly established Environmental Music Prize.
Thankfully, more artists in Australia care about nature conservation and the climate emergency we’re facing globally. Folk or roots singer-songwriters tend to be the “greenie” artists. In Australia, it’s evident in Ziggy Alberts‘ or Xavier Rudd‘s back catalogue, for instance.
But many representatives of “less likely” genres also fiercely advocate for change on the environmental front. Amongst them is the Australian metal outfit In Hearts Wake. The band released Green Is The New Black last year, a documentary about their efforts to become a “sustainable” act that is premiering in the US, UK and Canada as I’m writing this post.
There are beautiful and moving Australian songs out there about nature conservation and doing something about climate change. Not all of them are pessimistic because what we need most now are messages of hope.
Yet, it’s still just a drop in the ocean compared to the level of irreversible damage to the environment we’re guilty of as humankind. And especially in the face of the urgency to save the planet for future generations.
According to Edwina Floch, the Environmental Music Prize’s Founder, the overview of triple j’s music selection is a good barometer of the current state of things on that green front Down Under.
Only 1% of all songs included in the last five Hottest 100 rankings organised by this popular youth broadcaster reference climate change or nature conservation in some way. At the same time, approximately 75% of Australians care about the topic. So where does this huge disconnect come from?
When I first heard about the accolade Edwina established, I myself wondered whether “environmental music” was a thing at all.
Googling the term will send you either to ambient music or environmentalism in music. It’s often linked to new age and nature recordings popular in the 70s as well. So I doubt there’s one universally accepted definition at this stage. And it’s clearly not a separate genre, stylistically speaking. It’s just not bound by any formal songwriting frame or technique.
In the 21st century, environmental music has become more of a holistic concept. The songs are small works of art that transmit an important message in a palatable way. They reference mother nature, bring awareness to an imminent issue requiring our utmost attention, and, ultimately, call to action instead of just pointing out the problem.
Very often, the environmental topic is expressed in the lyrical layer. On other occasions, the video clip tells the story. And sometimes, the two go hand in hand, creating a powerful medium that helps amplify the underlying call-out.
Apart from the songwriting and lyrics, the visual aspect forms one of the criteria, based on which the selecting committee evaluates the songs for the Environmental Music Prize. That’s because Edwina believes in the power of images and videos in creating an emotional connection. She used to work for Documentary Australia Foundation and is well aware of the impact a beautiful movie can have on inspiring action.
Although an outsider in the music industry, the Founder of the Prize is an activist herself. She’s lived in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. So she’s been directly exposed to the detrimental effects of climate change on the environment in different corners of the world.
As a member of NEXUS, a global group of young philanthropists, very early on she was inspired by initiatives creating technological and social incentives to benefit humanity. One of them was the XPRIZE concept which “fosters high-profile competitions to motivate individuals, companies, and organizations across all disciplines to develop innovative ideas and technologies that help solve the world’s grand challenges”.
After conducting some research, she’s decided that video clips for songs are the best medium to bring more awareness to green activism. Why? Because “music is intrinsic to human nature”. According to Edwina, artists have the perfect existing platform to engage fans in meaningful ways. They might just need a little encouragement to do it sometimes.
Plus, the timing in Australia is critical right now – the federal elections are underway. So it’s time to remind political leaders of their environmental responsibilities. They must stop blocking global progress on that front.
Thus, Edwina has established the AUD 20,000 Environmental Music Prize.
Amazingly, since its inception in November 2021, she’s convinced Greenpeace, Green Music Australia, Universal Music, Ocean Impact Organisation, and APRA AMCOS, amongst many other Impact Partners, to get involved in selecting, sharing and promoting the songs and the prize. That’s probably because they all benefit from being able to spread engaging environmental messages that actually connect and resonate with their audiences.
When we spoke about it, she was genuinely surprised (same as me, actually) that no recognition of this sort had existed before on a national or international level. But there’s certainly a need for it, as well as interest from artists – that was evident in the 205 entries received for the inaugural prize! And they paint a compelling picture of the environmental music situation Down Under. Check out some statistics in this IG post:
The entries have been narrowed down to about 20 that the public can vote on now. It was the idea from the start – Edwina wanted music fans to be the last step in the selection process. That way, they can learn about some pressing environmental issues and how to take action directly from their favourite acts.
But the Prize is also about getting to know new music and sharing it with your networks. Because artists who dedicate their platforms to educating audiences on climate activism deserve recognition. Hopefully, it will also be an incentive for more musicians to incorporate green topics in their craft. So that every year from now on we’ll have a beautiful Earth Day playlist full of touching contemporary songs carrying a message of hope.
If you believe climate change is not a hoax and want to do something good for the environment, visit the Prize’s website now. You’ll find there more information on how to choose the music clip that speaks to you the most. Apparently, over 1000 votes have already been cast since voting opened on Earth Day (22 April).
Keep an eye on the Prize’s socials as well (Instagram // Facebook // LinkedIn). And if you love the concept and are moved by the music, please consider making a donation (it’s tax-deductible if you’re in Australia) to support this philanthropically funded startup initiative, so it can deliver on the vision this year and launch globally next year.
Finally, learn more about the whole concept, other Ambassadors, and what’s in it for participating musicians from my chat with Edwina in the Silly & Green YouTube series below:
Get social with Silly McWiggles here:
Check out these posts about other environmental music topics as well:
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