Animal Collective have cancelled their European tour, which was due to take place next month, explaining that – while preparing for the shows – they realised they were looking at “an economic reality that simply does not work and is not sustainable”.
In a statement issued yesterday, the American band say: “Friends, we are absolutely gutted to announce today that we are making the decision to cancel our UK/EU dates for this November. We love playing music for you and truly wish we could be there”.
Noting previous COVID-caused show cancellations earlier this year, they go on: “It has been a wild year for us trying to push through a mountain of touring obstacles related to COVID and the economy. Three of us got bad cases of COVID [and] we were forced to cancel shows and lost large amounts of the income that sustains us and our families”.
Nevertheless, “the one constant has been that we have had an incredible time playing music in front of our fans at every show. You are all amazing. We chose to push through because we love to do it”.
However, they then add, the economics of touring at the moment – and especially international touring – mean they can’t simply push on with the planned European shows. “Preparing for this tour”, they add, “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”, they explain.
“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. We hope you understand and that you know we would not make a choice like this lightly. We truly want nothing more than to make it out there again.”
They then conclude: “Thank you so much to our team, the promoters and venues who worked so hard on this tour for us. We look forward to getting back out to play for all of you and hope you will be there with us when we do”.
This frank explanation of Animal Collective’s tour cancellation follows a similar statement issued by Santigold last month when she was forced to call off shows in the US.
She talked about how most artists were keen to get back out and play shows once the COVID restrictions of 2020 and 2021 started to lift, but “as a touring musician, I don’t think anyone anticipated the new reality that awaited us”.
“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 [COVID] test results constantly halting schedules with devastating financial consequences”, she added.
“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”, she said. “Some of us are finding ourselves simply unable to make it work”.
While there has long been a narrative that, in the 21st century, live performance is where artists make the good money, the truth is that the live side of the business has always been top heavy.
Once artists are playing the bigger venues, live can be very lucrative indeed. However, smaller capacity shows often operate on incredibly tight profit margins, which means that if costs suddenly rise across the board – but artists don’t feel ticket prices can increase at the same rate – then gigs can very quickly become loss-making.
And even if you can cut overheads and increase ticket prices so that shows are budgeted to make a slight profit, the tighter the profit margin the more risky touring activity becomes financially speaking. Which can add significant stress for the artist and their team on top of the physical strain of actually being on tour.
Some of the current economic challenges around lower-level touring are a hangover from the COVID-forced lockdowns, which resulted in a very saturated marketplace this summer once things were back up and running.
That in turn made it harder to achieve sell-out shows, which – coupled with the cost of living crisis – made artists and promoters very nervous about increasing ticket prices to meet rising costs. Plus, of course, in some cases artists were performing postponed shows where the tickets had actually been sold more than two years ago.
Meanwhile, the surging costs of staging shows are obviously linked to the wider economic challenges that are impacting on people and companies in all industries, especially those which operate on tight profit margins.
As we get further away from the pandemic, the challenges created by COVID specifically should start to subside. However, that alone doesn’t deal with the issues raised by Animal Collective and Santigold. And even when the economy at large starts to recover – whenever that happens – some reckon that the mechanics and margins of lower-level touring need to be overhauled in some way to make that side of the music business more sustainable in the longer term.
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