#IMMusicMondays: The Big Impact on Touring for Independent Artists (Opinion)

As music fans, there’s something special about seeing one of your favorite singers or bands on tour. It’s an experience like no other, seeing someone you’re such a fan of in the flesh right in front of you. And, overall, the same goes for the artists. Touring allows musicians to really connect with their fans on another level.

But is there a point where touring can go too far?

A lot has changed since 2020 when the pandemic hit, and one of those things may very well be the touring industry. In October, Animal Collective announced the cancellation of their UK/EU tour, which was set to take place in November. The group cited two main reasons: COVID-19 and the economy.

The Impact of the Pandemic

In 2020, many artists were forced to change their plans and cancel their tours due to COVID-19, resulting in quite a bit of lost income. However, as the saying goes, the show must go on, and that is literally what happened as restrictions began to be lifted. But new tours brought on new problems. 

While artists were thrilled to be performing in front of fans again, if they or a member of their team found themselves testing positive for COVID, the show (or often multiple shows) must be canceled to avoid getting anyone else sick. This happened to Animal Collective when three members had bad cases of COVID. According to the group’s statement, by canceling shows, they “lost large amounts of the income that sustains us and our families.”

When this happens, ticket holders receive refunds and these shows may never get rescheduled. The end result? The artists not only lose out on ticket money, but any potential merch sales (a big moneymaker) go out the window as well.

And What About the Economy?

Ask anyone: the economy is a disaster. This is true for the United Kingdom, the United States, and just about every other country. Between high shipping prices and the increasing cost of transportation, musicians are finding that putting a tour together is more likely to lose them money than earn them anything. 

Putting a tour together is supposed to generate income for artists. The flow should go like this: fans buy tickets, fans come to the show, then fans purchase merchandise. All of this helps the artists make a living. Big-name artists like Taylor Swift or Beyoncé will see a huge profit. Not only are they well-known with tickets and merch bound to sell out, but they have huge teams behind them that can easily afford the expenses that come with a huge tour.

Independent artists aren’t so lucky. Such artists are already working within a tight budget, and, with how much money it costs to travel around and stay overnight, they risk not breaking even by the end of the tour. And that’s a risk no one should have to take.

A Rigorous Tour Has Other Negative Effects

While the financial strain is a major concern, rigorous touring can have other negative impacts on independent artists. Yes, many artists indeed thrive off of a crowd’s energy. After all, is there a better feeling in the world than having a passionate group of people singing your lyrics with you? But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some downsides as well.

Being on the road and performing on-stage night after night can take a toll on one’s mental health. Not only is it an exhausting experience physically, but it can drain one mentally as well. Touring can be an isolating experience. You’re away from friends and family, sometimes for months at a time, and your closest companions are your bandmates (if you’re in a band) and your audiences. Those are, of course, welcome companions, but is it enough?

The long-held belief may be that suffering produces great art and that the best lyrics come from a place of pain, but does that mean we should encourage artists to suffer? How can we expect our favorite musicians to perform at the highest level when they are experiencing mental turmoil?

How Can We Improve?

One of the largest issues with touring is that so many artists depend on it for their income. No matter how successful their song or album is, heading on tour can be grueling. However, until recently, there has been little discussion of it.

Some things can’t be solved easily. After all, artists have no control over inflation or how many out-of-pocket expenses they will encounter when planning a tour. Nor can they anticipate just how much of a toll it will take on their mental and physical well-being. But what we can do is normalize these discussions and allow artists to share their feelings on touring and its hardships, whether financially or mentally. Give them grace when they express their emotions, if they cancel tours. 

Be forgiving, be understanding, and be mindful of how your comments on social media may come across to the artist. Put yourself in their shoes and, perhaps most importantly, support your favorite artists in other ways. Buy their music, buy their merch, introduce their art to a friend and share their Spotify links and YouTube videos on social media.

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