For many artists, 2022 has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows between the exhilaration of performing for massive festival audiences again and a gauntlet of soul-crushing challenges. This includes: a global COVID hangover, rampant inflation putting a damper on ticket sales and profit margins, staff shortages and, possibly, too many shows on tour. Add it all together and there’s a good chance that something’s gonna give.
In September, GAYLE announced she is canceling her upcoming tour, saying, “I’m learning how to be an adult and how best to do this new life. I love it so much and I’m trying to do it the best way I can.”
Just a few weeks earlier, Gang of Youths frontman David Le’aupepe was a bit more direct, writing in a lengthy social media post of the Australian band’s cancellation of the final few shows of its 2022 North American tour. “In the words of Warren Zevon, my shit’s fucked up, and I need to take some time off to address these concerns before we pick back up again.”
British singer-songwriter Arlo Parks on Sept. 16 most poignantly informed her fans that “I pushed myself unhealthily, further and harder than I should’ve. I find myself now in a very dark place, exhausted and dangerously low – it’s painful to admit that my mental health has deteriorated to a debilitating place, that I’m not OK, that I’m a human being with limits. With that in mind I’m having to cancel the shows from Boston to Salt Lake City and recommence the tour in Portland.”
There has been a noticeable uptick in cancellations and postponements, whether of a couple of shows or the remainder of a tour, in 2022 with myriad reasons behind them.
Other artists who have interrupted tours in 2022 for various reasons include Sam Fender, Wet Leg, Disclosure, Russ, Santigold and stars like Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes.
Mendes, who canceled his 77-date “Wonder Tour” of arenas in July after one month, told fans, “… I had to postpone the past few weeks of shows since I wasn’t totally prepared for the toll that being back on the road would take on me. … I was not at all ready for how difficult touring would be after this time away.”
Santigold announced the end of her “Holified” tour Sept. 27 and thoroughly enumerated reasons for the annus horribilis that is 2022 for many artists in an open letter to fans:
“As a touring musician, I don’t think anyone anticipated the new reality that awaited us,” the artist posted to her website. “After sitting idle … 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. 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.”
Whether because of COVID- or non-COVID-related illness, exhaustion, mental health concerns, mounting tour costs or poor ticket sales, cancellations and postponements hurt. They’re costly. Fans are disappointed, crews lose work and trucks sit idle.
And, particularly when COVID is involved, they’re not always insured. Decisions to pause tours are not made lightly.
And especially not for emerging artists trying to build careers. Prior to calling off her fall tour, GAYLE – on her way to mainstream pop stardom – was averaging hard ticket counts of 449 per show and a gross of $6,885 as reported to Pollstar. Gang of Youths, for two years unable to perform in support of its new music, was averaging 1,184 tickets for $68,305 per show. And Arlo Parks, another young and highly lauded emerging artist, was moving 336 tickets per show for a gross of $5,227.
And then consider that most tour expenses, including paying crews and commissions, comes out of the artist’s gross and it’s not hard to imagine many of them just breaking even or even taking losses for performing.
It’s not just emerging artists taking a hit. Mendes was averaging 11,870 attendance and $755,193 gross prior to taking his break. But those averages were poised to grow with the “Wonder Tour” – the first four shows completed on the outing all sold out and grossed nearly $4 million while playing to just more than 47,000 fans.
For top acts, the concert firehose of 2022 may still seem to be at full blast. But for others, it’s become an exceptionally hard year. Pressures may be purely financial – can they now afford to embark on tours that penciled out financially when they were planned months, or even a year or more ago?
“I think there’s a lot of factors at play, but I do think we’re seeing, especially post-pandemic, this larger conversation that has always existed under the surface,” says Terra Lopez, community manager for Backline, a nonprofit organization that connects music industry professionals and their families with mental health and wellness resources.
“We’re starting to see younger and younger artists stepping out and saying that they’re hurting, that they’re overworked. There’s so many other issues at play other than mental health. It’s a very difficult time with inflation. There’s so much that goes into putting on a tour – bus prices, gas, housing and food per diems, all of that is at a nearly all-time high, and obviously it affects everyone. It affects the venue staff, the promoters, venue management. It’s a whole ecosystem that’s having a difficult time right now,” Lopez, herself a veteran touring artist as one-half of electronic pop duo Rituals of Mine, says.
“There are so many shows that, prior to the pandemic, would be instant sellouts and that’s not happening now for clubs or secondary venues. And that would cause extra stress for the artist and team as well. It’s a different environment post-pandemic. It was difficult prior.”
Lopez suggests that artists and their teams can mitigate problems on tour before they happen. Daily check-ins, and even making a therapist part of the artist’s road crew can help keep stress and other potential derailers at bay for the duration of a tour. Backline, which is launching its “Take Care” wellness kit and sending “care packages” directly to those in need on the road, and other organizations like MusiCares are available to artists and their teams should a crisis arise.
And, if there can be a silver lining, it’s that artists and their teams are beginning to be more transparent about mental health on the road – taking self-care measures, however painful, and communicating those to their fans via social media.
“There are a lot of artists that are still on the road,” Lopez says. “But I think we’re just scratching the surface and starting to see artists talking about this more.
“And I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more and more cancellations or postponements. But I also think it’s really going to help evolve the conversation, and also the industry, and hopefully give some much-needed repairs to cracks in the system.”