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Less Streaming, More Downloading Is Better For The Environment

And besides, it's easier than detoxing from oil and gas, right?

streaming music
Photo: cottonbro

For those about to rock, we request that you do so sustainably…. well, not really. But a new Earth Day feature in Rolling Stone suggests that downloading music to your device will reduce carbon emissions, compared to repeated streaming.

The theory goes a little something like this: When you are downloading a song, the same amount of energy is consumed as if you were streaming it. But, once you’ve downloaded the song, emission of greenhouse gasses is substantially less with each additional play—far less than if you were to repeatedly stream the song from anywhere other than the cloud. Also, the functional interchange between the DSP and the listener creates emissions, but the listener creates the majority. Hence, if songs were to be downloaded instead of streamed, there would be an "80% reduction in CO2 emissions after the first listen." Spotify's 2020 Sustainability Report was cited throughout the piece.

Elsewhere, the article states that if one is going to listen to an album 27 times or more, the more environmentally responsible thing to do is to purchase a CD, that is "assuming that people still have CD players and don’t have to drive to Radio Shack to buy one." (Disclaimer: This writer does not have one. America has a clutter problem, after all.)

There's also the possibility that downloading songs could actually help artists financially, as a download is apparently one of Spotify's many algorithm jump-starts that can facilitate more listens from your favorite artists—which should be music to their ears. Headphonesty reported earlier this year that Spotify paid artists $0.0033 per stream—which seems like an atrocity, and likely is for 99 percent of artists. Though, if one does the math, it's actually not a bad deal if you're Metallica, Korn, or AC/DC, for example.

"Enter Sandman" has tallied nearly one billion streams on Spotify as of this writing. AC/DC were late to the stream scene, slow to make their catalog available via DSP. But since doing so, they've collected nearly three billion streams combined of their three most popular tracks on Spotify: "Back in Black," "Highway to Hell," and "Thunderstruck." It's a big payday, and undoubtedly underscores the broader schism the streaming era presents, where surface optics can show either another classic case of the rich getting richer, or a more nuanced situation in which the equity placed on music writ large is in existential upheaval.

One thing is clear, though: the debate will continue long after the next tech revelation sends the DSP the way of the dinosaur. In the meantime, however, we could probably improve the state of the environment much faster by focusing on bigger concerns, like less dependence on oil and gas, not to mention a reasonable plan to provide Broadband for All. But, I'll save that for another time.

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