Another prominent artist’s tour has bitten the dust, with American band Animal collective announcing yesterday that they have cancelled their upcoming tour of the UK and Europe having spent months “trying to push through a mountain of touring obstacles related to COVID and the economy”.
Those obstacles have included catching Covid-19 and having to cancel individual shows as a result, but yesterday’s announcement was a bigger decision.
“Preparing for this tour we were looking at an economic reality that simply does not work and is not sustainable. From inflation, to currency devaluation, to bloated shipping and transportation costs, and much much more, we simply could not make a budget for this tour that did not lose money even if everything went as well as it could,” explained the band in an Instagram post.
“We have always been the kind of people to persevere through the difficult times and get on stage unless our health prevented it. We are choosing not to take the risk to our mental and physical health with the economic reality of what that tour would have been.”
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Here’s the problem. Animal Collective are a well-established, critically acclaimed band with 11 studio albums under their belt, and a decent live following. Their streaming numbers are okay – more than 574,000 monthly listeners on Spotify – but they’re exactly the kind of artist who many people would blithely assume ‘can make their money from touring’ nowadays, rather than streaming royalties.
It’s that assumption that’s being challenged by this and other tour cancellations, whether for explicitly economic reasons, mental health concerns, or a combination of the two. So, while Live Nation hailed the fact that “every key operating metric is at an all-time high” in its last financial results, that’s not the full story of the post-lockdowns live industry.
Yes, there are plenty of tours that are selling out and making a profit even with the economic headwinds outlined by Animal Collective in their announcement. But when artists who should be able to make touring work, can’t, there’s a problem.
As an industry, we can’t control inflation, currency devaluation, the prices charged for shipping and transportation, and a myriad of other economic trends in 2022. We can’t tell Vladimir Putin to stop invading Ukraine and to turn the gas pipeline back on; nor can we tear up the red tape caused by the UK’s hardline Brexit from the European Union.
So, what can we do? Reining in the ‘live music is back and everything’s brilliant’ and ‘good artists who don’t do massive numbers from streaming can survive on touring’ assumptions is the first step. Then some more hard thinking about what factors we can control and improve – within the live and recorded music economies alike – is required.
The most important answers may not be quick fixes, but that’s all the more reason to ask the questions more loudly.
Photo credit: Hisham Bharoocha