“Big Yellow Taxis” and the Cost of Live Music

By: Davey Komisar

I was six years old when I saw my first live concert. In April of 2000, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young played at the United Center in Chicago. That day forever changed my life. Music has a funny way of doing that, eliciting emotions you never knew existed. It can be inspiring, nostalgic, even comforting. Music is also a tool used by artists to express their own emotions and passions. One such passion that many musicians share is their desire to for a healthier environment in an everchanging world.

The Problem

Ironically, the industry that gave musicians the platform to spread their messages is a major contributor to the evils they denounce. In 2007, there were about 1,2000 tour buses and trucks in use for touring annually. [1] These buses and trucks travelled over 60 million miles and used more than 13 million gallons of fuel. [2] That equates to 30,000 cars releasing 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. [3] Between 2018 and 2023, the music industry grew at an annual rate of 9.1%, amplifying its environmental impact, regardless of measures taken to mitigate their presence. [4] When Dave Matthews, of the world-renown Dave Matthews Band, was asked how he felt about his carbon footprint in 2001, he replied, “my karmic debt to the environment is enormous.” [5]

Unfortunately, it’s not just the artists who contribute to the music industry’s carbon conundrum. In the United Kingdom, 75% of total emissions caused by the music industry are attributed to live performances. [6] Of that, 43% alone derives from audience transportation to and from the show. [7] Music festivals pose an even greater challenge as they face the same audience logistical issues. At festivals, it is typical for each person, both fan and employee, to be responsible for 25kg of carbon dioxide. [8]

So where do we go from here? Coldplay thinks “Something Just like This”

Chris Martin became concerned with his band’s carbon footprint, and in 2018, he declared that every Coldplay tour would reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 50% in relation to its previous tour. [9] Putting their money where their mouth was, Coldplay’s 2021-2024 Music of Spheres Tour enacted a 12-point focus, which included emissions, electricity, merchandising, and food and waste management, to name a few. [10] In practice, these key points equated to using sustainable aviation fuel on all their flights, both commercial and chartered. [11] Stage crews used a combination of reusable lightweight materials for building the stage and surrounding structures, and they placed solar panels behind the stages and around the stadium or concourses to generate electricity. [12] The band even launched a free app to raise audiences’ awareness on low-carbon means of transportation both to the show and on their way home. [13] These are all viable and effective methods of reducing Coldplay’s carbon footprint on the road, but is this feasible for bands who don’t take in millions of dollars in revenue?

Another, often debated, method of environmental responsibility in the music industry is carbon offsetting, where you can pay or take some action to offset the amount of carbon dioxide you release into the atmosphere. [14] One way artists and venues attempt to circumvent their emissions problem is to create carbon offsets through ticket purchasing. [15] These offsets are typically marginal in comparison to the price of the ticket, making up about 1% of the total cost. [16] Connolley, Dupras, and Séguin, authors of An Economic Perspective on Rock Concerts and Climate Change, offer a two-pronged approach to determine when to bake the cost into the ticket and when to offer it as an add-on at ticket purchase. [17] After pages of mathematical reasoning and economic models, they concluded that if the average willingness to pay for carbon offsets is larger than the actual costs of the offsets, the event organizer should bundle the ticket with the offset if their goal is to maximize profits. [18] The music industry is, after all, a business and must be thought of in that perspective.

Many people criticize these types of models and accuse them of greenwashing, a term used to describe an organization’s misleading information about its environmental practices. [19] These critics are probably both right and wrong. However, this should never stop you from seeing your favorite bands live. We have a personal responsibility to ensure we are being environmentally responsible and that should never be taken for granted. So next time you attend a show, throw your garbage out in the designated bins, reuse your water bottles, and just like Julian Casablancas would tell you, if you missed the last bus, take the next train. We see that you try, it’s not hard to explain. [20]


[1] Evan Serpick, Tour Industry’s Green Revolution, ROLLING STONE 1028 (2007).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Jannik Lindner, Must-Know Concert Industry Statistics [Latest Report], (last updated Dec. 16, 2023), https://gitnux.org/concert-industry-statistics/#:~:text=This%20indicates%20that%20the%20concert,increase%20from%202021%20to%202026.

[5] Serpick, supra note 1.

[6] Marie Connolly, Jérôme Dupras, & Charles Séguin, An Economic Perspective on Rock Concerts and Climate Change: Should Carbon Offsets Compensating Emissions be included in the Ticket Price?, 40 J. Cult. Econ., 101, 105 (2016).

[7] Id.

[8] José Miguel Pascual Labrador, How to reduce the emissions associated with concerts, tours, and music festivals? (Apr. 11, 2023), https://www.cepsa.com/en/planet-energy/sustainable-innovation/reduce-emissions-from-concerts-tours-and-music-festivals#:~:text=Given%20such%20significant%20figures%2C%20it,160%2C000%20tons%20emitted%20in%202019.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Larry Gilman, Offsetting, 2 Climate Change: In Context, 693, 693 (2008).

[15] Connolly, supra note 6, at 104.

[16] Id.

[17] Id. at 108.

[18] Id. at 111-12.

[19] Id. at 107.

[20] The Strokes, Is This It (RCA Music Grp. 2001).


Photo courtesy of Vishnu R. Nair