The trickle of artists cancelling tours is becoming… well, not a flood exactly, but certainly a stream. Santigold is the latest, publishing an explanation laying bare the challenges that many artists are facing as they return to the road post-lockdown.
“As a touring musician, I don’t think anyone anticipated the new reality that awaited us. After sitting idle (not being able to do shows) for the past couple years, many of us like everyone else, earning no or little income during that time, every musician that could, rushed back out immediately when it was deemed safe to do shows,” she wrote.
“We were met with the height of inflation – gas, tour buses, hotels, and flight costs skyrocketed – many of our tried-and-true venues unavailable due to a flooded market of artists trying to book shows in the same cities, and positive test results constantly halting schedules with devastating financial consequences. All of that on top of the already-tapped mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional resources of just having made it through the past few years.”
“Some of us are finding ourselves simply unable to make it work,” she added. “In my case, I have tried and tried, looked at what it would take from every angle, and I simply don’t have it. I can’t make it work.”
Santigold’s cancellation follows Arlo Parks’ recent cancellation of a series of concerts in the US. “I find myself now in a very dark place, exhausted and dangerously low,” she said in her message to fans at the time. A recent Guardian article outlined some of the other examples this year, including Yard Act, Disclosure and Sam Fender.
US artist and author Damon Krukowski, always a perceptive observer of the challenges facing streaming-era artists, addressed the bigger picture of all this yesterday in a blog post.
“As self-employed gig workers, artists absorb all the risks of live performance – unexpected cost increases, cancellations, travel changes, illness, etc. And obviously there are currently many more risks, with more of them more likely to occur, than before the pandemic,” he wrote.
“A friend of mine in the industry who always knows a ton about what is really going on told me she could count on one hand the independent tours that truly came off as they should have this year – audiences in place, shows in place, no financial hardships.”
“With a huge loss of people working in the industry, a failure of old models for both live and recorded music under current conditions, and the stresses of the situation showing up in mental health crises as well as financial ones… I don’t see how we flip back to where we were, virus or no.”
If not flipping back, then what? That’s one of the most important challenges for the music industry to come together and tackle in the coming months. There are undoubtedly plenty of artists who are relishing being back on tour and doing well out of it. There are lessons to be learned from how and why, but it’s also important to heed the artists who are at the end of their tethers trying to navigate the new live realities.