The Dark Side Of The Tune: The Hidden Energy Cost Of Digital Music Consumption


This report reviews current research on the costs of data traffic and highlights some of the energy costs inherent in a range of existing digital music services. These costs are both startling and surprising.

Author/s: Dagfinn Bach

With Greenpeace and others highlighting the escalating environmental costs of the server farms underpinning the businesses of tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, Dagfinn Bach of Bach Technology has produced a new report for MusicTank that aims to open up debate around the hidden energy costs of digital music consumption and implications for the music business.

The report focuses on the environmental impact of current shifts in music consumption from ‘ownership’ of physical or digital products towards the range of ‘access’ or cloud-based services and highlights some of the energy costs inherent in a range of existing digital music services. These costs are both startling and surprising.

Streaming an album over the internet 27 times can use more energy than the manufacturing and production of its CD equivalent

“An expected by-product of digital growth has always been a decrease in the perceived heavy environmental cost associated with physical products,” writes Bach. “Yet there is a hidden cost to digital that receives scant attention outside the ICT sector – energy.

“Digital music isn’t distributed in an environmental vacuum. While pressing plants for CDs and vinyl are becoming rarer, and with fewer lorries on the road transporting stock to stores, the growth in data traffic caused by digital content services comes with its own environmental risks and problems.”

The report considers a number of ways that energy inefficiencies can be offset, leading to a clarion call for further urgent research concerning the environmental impacts of our burgeoning digital content industries.

‘The uptake of smart devices, combined with the advent of mass connectivity and high speed broadband continues to revolutionise our consumption of music. These changes also have considerable implications for the environment. Whereas, in the pre-digital era, music fans stuck a needle on the groove or hit a play button, today they are increasingly turning to cloud-based streaming services powered by energy-hungry server farms.’ Keith Harris, Chair MusicTank & Director of Performer Affairs, PPL.

Following today’s publication, the author will discuss his findings with leading experts in the music and digital industries at an evening conference, to be held at University of Westminster’s Fyvie Hall, Regent Street (date TBC).  MusicTank members will be eligible for a discounted conference rate of just £35 (full price £75). Queries.

A brief taster of what the report covers can be found below – a video interview with the report’s author Dagfinn Bach, presented at this years’ Great Escape music industry conference, Brighton.

Watch Interview Here: