Lorde is the latest artist to go public about the challenges facing the live music sector at the moment, explaining how for an increasing number of artists the economics of touring currently don’t add up.
Surging costs and increased competition caused by the COVID shutdowns of 2020 and 2021 have had a big impact on the live music industry this year, hitting the grassroots and middle-level shows the hardest, because they already operated on pretty tight profit margins.
Ticket prices need to increase on those kinds of shows to make things viable again, but everyone is nervous about price rises given the current cost of living crisis.
Santigold and Animal Collective are among the artists who have previously spoken about the challenges of touring at the moment, confirming that the economics just don’t add up for an increasing number of shows. Lorde says that she is lucky to be operating at the level where shows are still generally financially viable, but even at that level there is increased risk which results in increased stress.
Outlining the challenges faced by the wider artist community in her latest bulletin to fans, she writes: “For artists, promoters and crews, things are at an almost unprecedented level of difficulty. It’s a storm of factors. Let’s start with three years’ worth of shows happening in one. Add global economic downturn and then add the totally understandable wariness for concertgoers around health risks”.
“On the logistical side there’s things like immense crew shortages, extremely overbooked trucks and tour buses and venues, inflated flight and accommodation costs, ongoing general COVID costs, and truly mind boggling freight costs”, she goes on. “To freight a stage set across the world can cost up to three times the pre-pandemic price right now. I don’t know shit about money, but I know enough to understand that no industry has a profit margin that high”.
“Ticket prices would have to increase to start accommodating even a little of this”, she notes, “but absolutely no one wants to charge their harried and extremely-compassionate-and-flexible audience any more fucking money. Nearly every tour has been besieged with cancellations and postponements and promises and letdowns, and audiences have shown such understanding and such faith, that between that and the post-COVID wariness about getting out there at all, scaring people away by charging the true cost ain’t an option. All we want to do is play for you”.
Confirming that artists like her, who are playing the bigger shows, can still more or less make it work, Lorde then explains: “For pretty much every artist selling less tickets than I am, touring has become a demented struggle to break even or face debt. For some, touring is completely out of the question, even if they were to sell the whole thing out! The math doesn’t make sense”.
“Understandably, all of this takes a toll – on crews, on promoters and on artists”, she adds. “You’ll notice a ton of artists cancelling shows citing mental health concerns in the past year, and I really think the stress of this stuff is a factor – we’re a collection of the world’s most sensitive flowers who also spent the last two years inside, and maybe the task of creating a space where people’s pain and grief and jubilation can be held night after night with a razor thin profit margin and dozens of people to pay is feeling like a teeny bit much”.
“Me personally? I’m doing pretty good”, she confirms. “You guys have come to the shows in such mammoth numbers – we sold almost 20,000 tickets in London, like what the hell – and not having crippling stage fright hanging over me for the first time is such a fucking blessing that you could tell me I had to cycle from city to city and I’d still be loving it. But I’m not immune to the stress – just a month ago I was looking at a show that was pretty undersold and panicking, only for it to sell the remaining 2000 tickets in ten days. Wild stuff”.
She concludes by writing: “I wanted to put all of this in your minds to illustrate that nothing’s simple when it comes to touring at the moment, and if your faves are confusing you with their erratic moves, some of this could be playing a part”.
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