Africa: 'Toasting the World's Most Natural Talent' - UN Museum Campaign Recognizes Nature's Contributions to Music

22 April 2024

New York — Spearheaded by the Museum for the United Nations, a new campaign brings together music and ecology to spark people's interest and engagement in environmental conservation through consciously listening to music.

On April 18, 2024, the Museum for the United Nations--UN Live, along with its partners, officially launched Sounds Right, a global initiative that recognizes nature's contributions to music with the purpose of increasing conservation funding for the environment.

The Sounds Right initiative brings together environmental groups, nature sound libraries, and members of the global music industry to bring attention to the environment and encourage collaboration through music. Through this campaign, nature is now recognized as a verified artist, with a stage name to boot: NATURE. On major streaming platforms such as Spotify, NATURE has its own profile and includes several audio tracks under its 'name.'. Already to NATURE's name are recordings of the sounds of nature around the world, from rainstorms to bird calls to nocturnal activity.

What further distinguishes this campaign is that musicians can include NATURE as a featured artist, through which NATURE earns royalties. Artists from different parts of the world, including India, the UK, Colombia, Norway, Denmark, Kenya, and the US, have already joined Sounds Right. As part of the campaign's launch, these artists released new songs or remixes featuring NATURE, wherein the songs include nature sounds. So far, fifteen songs have been released 'feat. NATURE', and are available on Spotify, with the promise of more releases to come throughout 2024.Through these outputs, NATURE is able to earn royalties for their contribution when people listen to these verified tracks on streaming sites like Spotify.

"So far as we know, Sounds Right is unique in its approach to making NATURE an official artist whose royalties are donated to conservation initiatives," said UN Live's Global Lead Programmer, Sounds Right, Gabriel Smales. He confirmed that NATURE tracks are also available on other music streaming platforms such as Apple Music, YouTube Music, Soundcloud, and Deezer. There is also interest in making NATURE tracks accessible through streaming services in countries in the Global South, such as India's JioSaavn. It's been projected that Sounds Right will make USD 40 million through royalties, with 600 million active listeners over the next four years.

The distribution of royalties, or fund management, will be overseen by one of UN Live's partners, EarthPercent. The US- and UK-based charity brings together artists and members of the music industry to pledge a small portion of their income to climate causes.

According to their CEO, Cathy Runciman, they, along with UN Live, formed an expert advisory panel for Sounds Right's conservation fund, which includes environmental activists, conservation scientists, and indigenous rights leaders. The panel will review and advise on grant applications that are received and determine whether they meet the impact model that they've determined. At present, the conservation fund will go towards addressing biodiversity loss in key biodiversity areas in India, the Philippines, Madagascar, and the Indian Ocean Islands.

According to Runciman, through the pure nature sounds, 70% of royalties will go towards the conservation fund, with 30% going towards the two sound partners that have collected and shared the sounds: VozTerra and the Listening Planet. These non-profit groups will use their shares to continue to make recordings. In the case of music tracks and remixes, royalties will be split evenly by 50 percent between the musician and the conservation fund at minimum. As Runciman told IPS, this is an example of the company's passionate belief that artists need to earn a living from their work.

"At EarthPercent, we've always felt that these two things go hand in hand. The absolute win-win situation is that artists should be successful and earn a living in order to create more art because otherwise we have no music," she said. "The other participant in the world of music, who should be a stakeholder, is the planet. In this case, particularly 'nature.' We are working to fund nature's restoration and protection...Artists need just compensation for the work that they do. Without artists being fully paid, we will have no music. Sounds Right couldn't exist."

It was through EarthPercent that several musicians who have released tracks for this campaign were first brought on to join Sounds Right. Musicians present at the launch event told IPS that they were already working with EarthPercent when they learned of Sounds Right and were invited to contribute their music to the initiative.

UK rapper Louis VI has previously used his music to talk about climate change and biodiversity loss, giving a platform to the narrative of the Black and Brown diaspora worldwide. "Let's be honest; for us to move forward to a more livable future where nature is at the heart of it, we need all the narratives," he said. "I felt like music was so well placed to put that at the forefront. So to have Sounds Right making that official was so special."

Norway-based artist AURORA remarked that Sounds Right allowed for a meeting of the brain, the heart, and the soul. In other words, the logic of science, finance, and philanthropy was combining with the emotional resonance that is brought on through music to bring the Sounds Right initiative forward. Speaking of her own experience with bringing nature to her music, she told IPS: "I've been working for and breathing for Mother Earth because I grew up with her around me and only her around me, so it was easy for me to understand her beauty. I know that the world doesn't necessarily have that access to see her beauty so clearly, so naturally in your core."

As an affiliate organization of the UN, the Museum for the UN--UN Live's mandate involves generating progress against the SDGs and adhering to the mission values of the UN, which they achieve through mass culture campaigns. Smales explained to IPS in the case of Sounds Right, their programs typically involve three factors: the science or social cause that needs attention (biodiversity loss), a cultural genre through which the message could be carried to people (music), and finally, a scaling platform that can engage people (music streaming platforms).

Through employing popular culture to advance the UN's mission values and the SDGs, UN Live is able to reach people and take risks on creative ventures not often seen in bigger organizations. For the average music fan, the act of listening to music can now have a direct impact on protecting the environment. Sounds Right also has the potential to empower musicians to use their work to raise awareness. The initiative has taken steps towards raising up the voices and perspectives of musicians from the Global South, particularly in countries that will suffer disproportionately from climate change and biodiversity loss.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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