Recently, a tweet by Little Simz set Twitter on fire after she cancelled a US tour because it was financially unsustainable. While many supported the British rapper, others questioned why such a successful rapper cannot make the tour happen. One thing is for sure – the Little Simz tweet continued to shed light on the music industry and why many artists are struggling to tour.
The return of live music
Undoubtedly, the return of live music in many countries has been far from smooth sailing. Many live industry professionals left the industry in favour of something else; many venues had to close their doors; promoters and festival organisers lost loads of money; and inflation has affected every aspect of the industry.
Musicians are bearing the brunt of this series of unfortunate events. Therefore, artists are struggling to tour. After the tour ends, they have little or no overhead. Add more costs, like visa costs, and tours can leave artists in debt.
Recently, a viral Twitter thread related to SXSW costs sparked a conversation about touring costs. The Texan showcase festival attracts artists from all over the world in the hope of showcasing their goods to an American audience. However, there’s a hefty price to pay.
The indie-rock band Wednesday tweeted the costs associated with their SXSW stint. The band played seven shows, but only got paid for one. At the end of the SXSW tour, the band spent $2,182.39 and earned $2,084, leaving them with a loss.
The band’s lead singer, Karly Hartzmann, went on the comment: “We are technically a band that is “doing very well” at the moment!! It’s even harder for bands who are more in the DIY side of things who went to SX. I ain’t complaining about doing my dream job, but do wanna show why being paid fairly from streaming would make a difference.”
“A reminder that music is simply an industry that is very inaccessible to people without a safety net of time/money. Very relieved that we are close to being able to live off our music cause working in retail and doing music full time was not sustainable for me forever. Def a good idea as always to support any bands that are struggling rn if you’re a fan and have the means!”
While many bands agreed with Hartzmann, others shockingly suggested that band members should sleep in a van and shower at truck stops. Others chastised the band for opting to stay in an Airbnb. A fellow band said, “Ya’ll gotta do some DoorDash/instacart on your days off. We paid for our 3 night, $70 a night stay in Raleigh that way.”
The Wednesday tweet highlighted how fans romanticize the idea of being in a band when in reality, many artists are struggling to tour and make ends meet. While sleeping in a van might be viable for some, it may not work for other bands. In addition to being extremely uncomfortable and sometimes inhumane, it may not be an option for minorities who may be harassed or in physical danger if they sleep in a random parking lot.
In fact, the band DIIV retweeted Wednesday’s tweet and said, “man the replies to this completely normal tweet reveal so much about the value that music ‘fans’ place on the material conditions of the actual people who make music. our labor is around making + playing music, not fulfilling some quota of suffering for a bunch of f* morons.”
COVID-19 has added additional travel costs. While sleeping at friends or fans’ houses used to be an option pre-2020, artists doing that now would be putting themselves and their hosts at risk.
This is because the chances of catching COVID are obviously high if you are exposed to hundreds of different people a night – not to mention the added toll of touring on the body. In addition, with rapid COVID-19 tests costing about £20 for a pack of seven in the UK and about $15 each in a pharmacy or supermarket in the US, precautions can quickly leave artists in debt.
Venues hindering artists
In the UK, The Guardian found that music venue chain Academy Music Group (AMG) are taking a 25% cut from gig merchandise sales. AMG is responsible for several venues in all major UK cities. Moreover, Universal Music Group, one of the world’s biggest labels, is taking a share of profits – even if the artists performing at the venue are not signed to UMG.
Some artists are taking action and setting up their merch stand elsewhere. Dry Cleaning – an English post-punk band – recently played at an AMG venue, but set up shop at a nearby pub. Others are following suit. In addition, the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), a UK-based non-profit organisation for featured musical artists recognises that a lot of artists are struggling to tour. Therefore, it has set up a public database with a list of venues that do not charge bands for selling merch.
Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19, along with all the costs and bureaucracy associated with touring, means that more and more artists are struggling to tour. Therefore, many will reduce live dates or forgo touring altogether. As one Little Simz fan tweeted , “Big changes are needed in the industry if a hugely valued and successful artist like Little Simz is having to do this. So much respect to you for knowing your worth.”