As its attempt to eliminate physical CDs proves unfeasible Mojave finds another way to green up its music distribution
Every report from the last few years has revealed a decline in physical CD sales and a rise in digital album sales for music. Most music fans will tell you they don’t buy CDs, and all the CDs they own just sit collecting dust (or, worse, are now in a landfill) since the music is now on their iPod. So it would seem CDs are going the way of the cassette and eight-track, to be replaced by mp3s and iTunes.
As an independent band that’s trying very hard to be environmentally conscious in every decision we make, Mojave opted to not make any physical CDs for our album Stories and just sell it through digital distribution such as iTunes, AmazonMP3 and CDbaby—so we wouldn’t contribute to the millions of tons a year that CDs add to landfills.
We also wanted to show other independent bands that there’s another way—a much greener way—to sell music, and we even printed up small business cards—on FSC stock, with veggie soy inks and no coating—stating why we didn’t have an album and where it could be downloaded, so people could remember the day after a show who they had listened to and where to get the music.
Selling physical stuff a touring band's biggest money maker
As as independent band that tours often (both in Canada and the U.S.), our main source of income comes not from playing shows but from putting on a great show then going directly to the merch area and selling stuff. We learned the hard way that if someone wants to buy our music and we give them a business card instead, they probably aren’t going to buy the music later: they connected with moments during the performance and want to act on it immediately afterwards by purchasing a CD.
So although we did do some fairly decent digital sales, when we toured just with those business cards and talking about where our music could be purchased online, the results paled in comparison to when we toured again with CDs.
Green CD packaging and donations for neglected llamas
Nine months after we released Stories digitally, we did a short run of a couple hundred CDs. But, being that we were still trying to be as green as possible, we opted to get them on spindles, without individual packaging, and package them ourselves in recycled cardboard—with no plastic cellophane wrap.
And, to assuage our guilt of making a physical product, we donated a portion of each sale to an animal charity that cares for abused and neglected llamas (but that’s another story).
We used resleeves from the Sustainable Group, now called ReBinder, which makes a pretty awesome product.
These physical CDs sold quickly after every show—so quickly, in fact, we outsold our digital sales from months past in just a couple shows and had to make another order. (And I thought CD sales were dead?)
But what is the “greenest” CD packaging?
Obviously it’s not the standard 100 percent plastic jewel case, wrapped in cellophane. We have a new album coming out in the summer, Crow’s Funeral, and we’ve still not given up our quest for finding the most environmentally sound way to sell the music. It felt like we were onto something with our resleeve packaging, since no plastic was involved, but you can’t add a barcode or package them for retail sales in a resleeve. And even though we want to be green, we also know we need to make money with music in order for it to be sustainable for us.
So we searched far and wide for the best packaging option for this new album. Most CD manufacturing companies now offer “recycled digipacks,” but these still employ plastic to hold the CD and wrap the digipack, so we wanted to go one better.
Biodegradable packaging Q&A
Then we found a Canadian company, Music Manufacturing Services, that was a couple steps ahead of other manufacturers with their green products. Not only did they offer recycled and FSC cardstock for their digipacks, but they also use water-based coatings that aren’t toxic and vegetable-based inks, plus their trays are either recycled or made from a potato-based product, and they also had something called biodegradable overwrap in place of cellophane.
So our album could be made with no plastic (except for the actual CD, for which there is still no non-plastic alternative). I even called up the president of the company, Lindsay Gillespie, to chat about their green products and reasoning behind them. We talked about supply and demand—and how if more people ask for more sustainable products, more manufacturers will create them.
And as demand increases, unit prices will decrease. This obviously works for more things than just CD manufacturing... So because we’ve found there’s still a large demand, we are making a physical CD for the next album—despite falling physical CD sales, our commitment to the environment, and the fact that digital sales are ever-rising.
For an independent touring band, CD sales after shows still account for the majority of our income, and we can’t turn our backs on such a huge seller, not yet anyway. In the future, we will probably try a digital-only release again—and really hope the demand is there this time. Right now, however, we’re glad for an “as-green-as-possible” option.
We will still be carbon-offsetting all travel through TreeCanada, donating to environmental charities with One Percent for the Planet, donating shows to environmental events and talking about sustainable issues at every show with our audiences—and mentioning the music is also available digitally.
Paul Jarvis is the guitar player for Mojave, a Vancouver-based acoustic band that tries to find the most sustainable option in everything they do.